As the pandemic evolves, governments at every level are making rapid decisions to support public health and the economy through tightening and easing restrictions on movement and business, providing financial support to affected individuals and businesses, and introducing temporary changes such as flexible employment arrangements.
The pandemic has accelerated existing trends, is driving new changes and resulting in a wide range of ways to adapt to restrictions. Within just a few weeks, people and businesses changed how they operate in Greater Sydney. Operating hours were extended for retail trade, waste removal and for infrastructure and other construction work.
While stimulus initiatives include $3 billion for new or upgraded schools, hospitals and roads across NSW94, other initiatives to support positive behaviour changes include a $250 million program for councils to create new or improved public spaces for their communities95.
New provisions have been established for online planning processes including public hearings. The NSW Government has developed accelerated development assessment processes, illustrating how criteria for jobs and public benefit could be a framework for probity and rapid decision-making.
New trends will continue to emerge that require the people of Greater Sydney to adapt and governments to respond. With the potential for increased volatility, the importance of real-time or near-time data to understand behaviour changes is vital.
Initial analysis and consultation indicate several emerging risks to city planning. Of concern is the return of trends that strategic planning and investment have helped to reverse over many years. For example:
- while flexible working may change how and where many people work there is a risk that economic impacts will create even more imbalance in jobs across Greater Sydney's three cities, particularly for young people and casual workers
- while more people are walking and cycling and spending more time and money in their local areas, some areas offer less access to diversity and choice in terms of services, open space, entertainment or retail
- increased anxiety around personal safety on public transport means more people are likely to use their cars, which could reinforce car-based urban forms that do not support healthy active lifestyles and a pedestrian friendly public domain.
Despite these issues, the greatest opportunity comes from how the community and businesses have been able to shift their mindsets as they adapt to new ways of living and working. Changes such as the support for workplace flexibility and working from home show a greater willingness to move beyond traditional norms.
Quick evidence-based decision-making is enabling government, individuals and businesses to adapt to optimise health and business outcomes. New collaborative models of working across government and with stakeholders have emerged to deliver high quality and efficient decision making on key operational issues for Greater Sydney. These models are principles driven, ensuring the best evidence, resources and skills are made available.