A Tale of Three Sydneys

As the global population continues to increase and urbanization rates reach all-time highs, cities must adopt new practices to accommodate to their growing needs. A new report created by the Greater Sydney Commission, an independent organization receiving funding from the New South Wales government, proposed a radically new manifestation of urban policy that could permanently alter how the world views cities. The Sydney Regional Plan: A Metropolis of Three Cities extensively details how Australia’s largest city can be divided into three independent bodies as a means to combat issues arising from rapid population growth. If successful, this innovative urban policy could be exported globally to help aid the near thirty percent of urban residents living in slums or suffering from other problems caused by overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure. Conversely, if unsuccessful, the Sydney Regional Plan could threaten the urban identity that binds residents together and cultivate tensions between the three new regions.

Why Split the City and What Does the Plan Entail?

By 2058, the city of Sydney expects to reach a population of eight million. If the city continues on its current trajectory, Eastern Sydney, home to the iconic Sydney Opera House and picturesque Bondi Beach, will be subjected to massive overcrowding and rising real estate prices, as it will continue to be the most sought-after place to live. The Greater Sydney Commission believes that focusing on developing regions to the west of the existing metropolitan region could evenly redistribute resources to those located far from the central business district. The result would be the creation of three new cities: Eastern Harbourside, Central River, and Western Parkland, which would be connected through new transportation infrastructure to form the Sydney Metropolitan Region.

Stylised map showing transport corridors, protected natural area and metropolitan rural area of the 3 cities of Greater Sydney.
An Overview of the Future Sydney Metropolitan Region

There are four key pillars of development outlined by the Sydney Regional Plan: infrastructure and collaboration, livability, productivity, and sustainability. “Infrastructure and collaboration” is the Greater Sydney Commission’s outline of how they plan to modernize the Sydney transportation network to accommodate future generations and link the three new regions. The development of a more robust public transit system has been a recognized need of the Sydney Planning Authority, which makes the extensive network outlined by the plan seem fitting for future-proofing the city and directly fulfilling the second key pillar.

“Livability” in the sense of the Sydney Regional Plan is primarily based on the creation of “thirty-minute cities.”  The Greater Sydney Commission envisions an environment where residents will not have to travel more than thirty minutes to reach a city center, thus giving current residents better access to urban resources. In a city that is nearly as car-dependent as Los Angeles, reducing traffic congestion and commuting times would directly impact Sydney’s livability. In addition, a commitment to the creation of affordable, moderate-tier housing seeks to mitigate the emigration of young professionals from the city who find the cost of living too expensive. By nurturing an affordable housing market, Sydney could become a more livable environment for younger generations and populate the growing job market that would emerge from the plan.

Through the creation of two new central business districts to alleviate stress on the existing one in Eastern Sydney, the city could experience massive increases to productivity. New job opportunities could potentially develop the Western Parkland and Central River regions in industries that historically would have been confined to the existing central business district. Furthermore, the Sydney Regional Plan goes beyond job creation as a regional development strategy and outlines how to build a sustainable environment that encompasses more than just an eco-friendly outlook. By emphasizing the importance of integrating education further into the community, the Greater Sydney Commission seeks to create a socially sustainable community that can foster strong inter-generational linkages.

Urban Uncertainties

While the Sydney Regional Plan itself appears to be a utopian solution for creating a better Sydney, it is important to look beyond the idyllic rhetoric employed in the two hundred page document. Concept imagery and buzzwords like “innovative” and “sustainable” can make urban projects seem both inevitable and obtainable, no matter how outlandish they may seem. What is different about the Sydney case is the sheer magnitude of the project. If executed, this plan will forever change what people think of the harbourside city.

Some critiques of the plan coming from local residents voice fear that the Greater Sydney Commission wishes to poise the city to become a larger player in the international economy while leaving its native citizens in the dust. Furthermore, a general lack of specific details on how this plan will eventually be executed from an economic standpoint has attracted criticism. Without a robust economic framework for creating two new central business districts, it is unclear how the city government would stimulate economic development in two new regions while also protecting the original. Native Sydney residents may find living near the Eastern Central Business District unrealistic because solicitation of the international industry could ruin any remnants of affordability in the region. Consequently, due to both the aesthetic and financial attractiveness of the Eastern Harbourside City, this region could very easily emerge as an enclave for rich ex-pat residents and as a point of tension. Furthermore, how are the two new urban regions supposed to connect to Sydney’s urban identity when the most iconic portions building this identity have been isolated to just the Eastern Harbourside City? Going forward, the Greater Sydney Commission should assuage these concerns through greater communication and a plan curated more to the needs of residents of the area, rather than one seeking international recognition.

However, with the support of former Lord Mayor of Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, and possible acceptance by the planning ministry, the Greater Sydney Commission could radically change how urban policy is viewed. If successful, the Sydney Regional Plan could be replicated in cities across the globe who are trying to reconcile international prestige with livable urban environments in the face of massive changes to the population. Only time will prove the effectiveness of this strategy, but nonetheless, if executed, the Sydney Regional Plan will serve as an important case study in twenty-first-century urban planning.

Edited by Natalie Gastevich.