The Federal Government’s populist ploy to appear to be relieving Australian capital cities of their growing pains by forcing migrants to live in country towns is the wrong solution.
The migrants we are talking about are the skilled migrants that are needed to balance the increasing number of retirees leaving the work force.
The NSW Intergenerational Report issued a year ago indicated that 40 years ago there were seven income-earning workers for each retiree; this has now dropped to four and projected to fall to 2.4 in 40 years’ time.
It is the big bulge of baby boomers who are moving out of work that signal the need for skilled migration.
The people we need are IT experts, finance experts, creative industry workers and these people are urban dwellers.
Just like their equivalents in New York, London and Singapore, they want the excitement of a big city. Look at Atlassian as an example. This computer software company is now a world leader and its office is in Martin Place right in the middle of the city.
What kind of cities do we want?
Sydney has a choice; we can keep growing and be a world leader with the best jobs underpinned by a metro rail network or we can pull up the draw bridge and say we do not want global connections.
In the first model we need to follow the lead of New York and London with the way they have managed their growth. In the second model Melbourne, Singapore and Shanghai will move forward while Sydney slides.
London, for example, is developing new urban renewal projects that are on top of new underground rail lines that are all about a mixture of jobs, homes, amenities, parks, child care and schools.
The hard and soft infrastructure comes with the development not after. Battersea Park urban renewal in London is a classic example. There are 3,500 new homes in apartments, 15,000 new jobs including the 1,400 staff at the Apple campus, along with parkland and community facilities.
Across the Atlantic, New York is building a whole new town within the city structure called Hudson Yards on 28 acres of underused railway land. This development includes 4,000 new homes and 100,000 square metres of office space as well as three parks, a school, a hotel and extensive retail space.
London and New York were once cities the same size as Sydney is now at 5 million people but both have grown to 8 million. They went through growing pains and built new subway and underground lines. London now has two crossrail projects as the city keeps humming by moving commuters from cars to trains.
Sydney is at the threshold of catching up with the economic dominance of London and New York, but we won’t get there if we falter in our transition and try to push the growth to country towns.
Growing pains can be eased
Part of the current growing pain is caused by the appearance of a new urban form of living in apartments.
This is a different way of living than that of the low density suburban model but at the 2016 census, 30 per cent of Sydney’s homes are in apartments. A growing number of people are preferring this lifestyle.
Yet politicians often say that apartment living is not the Australian way, it not what the community wants, but a third of the community already live this lifestyle.
Previous governments have tried to get more growth in regional cities like Albury and Bathurst and they have failed. There may be some potential to get people to move to coastal cities like Wollongong and Newcastle, but this will be in small numbers.
What we need to do is not to blink at the concerns over the growing pains of Australian cities, but continue on the growth path set by our state governments.
It is the NSW Government and the Greater Sydney Commission who are targeting Sydney’s growth up to 8 million and they have a plan to achieve this, including a long-term transport plan.
Just because we have reached a tension point in Sydney’s growth doesn’t mean we change tack.
We need strong advocacy to ensure Sydney becomes a different place, but one that has the amenities and lifestyle that makes the city special.