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Global study shines a light on the future of post-COVID cities

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News | The Greater Sydney Commission today has released an international study on the future of cities, finding Greater Sydney has the opportunity to reimagine itself as a global jobs magnet and a more equitable place to live.

Over the past year, the Greater Sydney Commission has conducted global research with leading UK-based urban consultancy The Business of Cities to examine how 20 of the world’s great cities are repositioning and preparing for post-pandemic life. The resulting report, Our Metropolitan Futures, reveals that without exception, all interviewed cities are planning for vibrancy and growth to return.  

Chief Commissioner Geoff Roberts AM said: “The evidence is clear that returning to pre-COVID times is not the future for Greater Sydney. While the pandemic has been deeply challenging and disruptive, the changes and accelerations that have come with it present an enormous opportunity to recalibrate our cities. Our future CBDs aren’t just places where people work. They must evolve into vibrant 24/7 districts with an important mix of commercial, cultural and recreational offerings for residents and visitors alike. We must plan for that future, and it’s exciting.” 

Key findings include: 

  • There are fewer signs of an exodus from their inner city than some first predicted, and fewer reasons to believe working from home will become as widespread as initially anticipated. A 10-15% decline in demand for office space is forecast in major cities as some businesses relocate and a portion of people continue to work from home. However, more flexible work patterns could deliver higher long-term economic activity and productivity. 
  • Cities are rebalancing between their central and suburban CBDs. Greater Sydney was ahead of its time in this respect with its “three 30-minute cities” concept that moves away from one central CBD and brings jobs and services closer to where people live. 
  • Affordable housing is a global challenge and the right to shelter is a complex issue, intertwined with broader economic and social considerations.  
  • Many cities are establishing innovation precincts in which businesses collaborate with startups and universities, potentially co-locating with research and development and lab space. 
  • Cities in the post-pandemic era will require high-quality place making, encouraging open streets, arts, culture and nature, to ensure their central CBDs and suburban areas have distinct identities and clear areas of industry specialisation. 
  • A strong, connected and engaged community is critical for future resilience and success. Cities are using data and technology to understand and reach their citizens in new ways. Understanding equity – and addressing inequality – is likely to become an ever-increasing urban issue. 
  • Cities must preserve land for important post-pandemic logistics uses, such as data storage centres and delivery hubs, while at the same time planning reforms can support more flexible land and building use, and co-location of residential, commercial and industrial activities.  
  • Bold environmental policies, such as investing in clean energy sources or carbon-neutral neighbourhoods are becoming the norm as cities commit to ambitious net-zero carbon emissions targets by 2030 or 2050. 
  • Access to high-speed broadband is now as essential as electricity or clean water. In the wake of the pandemic, it is a fundamental economic resilience issue.  
  • Cities need to take a strategic approach to unlocking and optimising high-demand and high-value land, particularly around train stations or close to key jobs clusters as well as improving public transport links between the city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods, including cycle lanes, park and ride schemes and end-of-trip facilities, can help support mixed use. 

Mr Roberts said the study provides vital input for the Commission’s current review of the Greater Sydney Region Plan.  

“This report is awash with insights into how we plan for the best possible Greater Sydney. It also highlights it’s time to tell Greater Sydney’s story to the world. It’s not enough to just be thought of as Bondi Beach, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It’s time for a city-wide story that embraces our diversity across Greater Sydney, and that shows how our city can work for all of its 6 million residents,” Mr Roberts said 

A summary of key findings and the full study are available at www.greatercities.au/metrofutures.