Page 466 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 18 February 2015

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The challenges are similar for Canberra. Fortunately for us, at Canberra’s young age they are less acute. We have the chance to act now, early in our development. By doing so, we can avoid and mitigate to an even greater extent the problems that face growing cities. Similarly, we can maximise the benefits that come with concerted efforts on urban renewal and modern, environmentally friendly public transport.

As an example of what I consider urban renewal, consider the extensive benefits that will accrue to the community associated with the construction of light rail in the Gungahlin to city corridor. They are billions of dollars of benefits and a long-lasting positive legacy for the community. They are environmental, social and economic benefits. In contrast, consider some of the alternative plans—if you can call them plans—that we have heard.

These suggestions emphasise inaction. They instead talk vaguely about building more car parks and expanding roads. They seem to pretend that the corridor will not grow, that congestion will not get worse or that there is no such thing as pollution or oil price volatility. They are not interested in the future of the city in 10, 20 or 100 years from now. They are not interested in the fact that car-dependent development places economic pressures on households or that it entrenches social disadvantages.

Members may be interested in a series of papers recently released by the London School of Economics cities research program as part of a global cooperative flagship program called “The new climate economy”. In one of the papers “The transformative role of global urban growth” the researchers emphasise that well-managed cities in high income countries like Australia could continue to concentrate national economic growth through re-densification and the rollout of innovative infrastructure and technologies.

In contrast, poorly managed urban growth is likely to have substantial economic costs. Urban sprawl and poor public transport infrastructure, amongst other things, can hinder accessibility and mobility, increase air pollution and exacerbate urban poverty, which reduces the economic benefits of urban concentrations and increases costs. This growth pathway also tends to lead to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, social exclusion, and a range of other environmental and social costs.

The report states that the choices that countries and cities make today about managing urban growth will lock in the economic and climate benefits or costs for decades to come. The report particularly emphasises the cost of business-as-usual growth. It says that while the abundance of cheap energy, land, capital, labour and resources has supported the economic growth of cities in past centuries, today the business-as-usual trend of poorly managed urban growth in cities is leading to substantial costs.

The economic and social costs include growing financial and welfare costs related to traffic congestion, escalating economic and social costs due to air pollution, the lock-in of inefficiently high levels of energy consumption and a wide range of other economic and social costs, including those related to road safety, community severance, low activity levels with health implications, reduced ecosystem services and food security. These are all challenges facing the ACT in the decades to come, perhaps not to the same extent as faced by some other rapidly developing cities but certainly the same questions and challenges are relevant here in the territory.

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