Friday, April 10, 2015

Sydney - Australia's most valuable location but public transport its greatest weakness

Economist Ross Gittins has been reporting on the way in which cities are critical to modern economies, particularly to the knowledge economy with it’s emphasis on interconnectedness, networking and innovative business relationships and processes.

A pair of articles by Matt Wade in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald in April 2015 looks at how this is playing out in Australia’s largest city, Sydney.

In the first article, he lays out what has been happening to this mega-city, as different sub-regions in the city develop their own distinct economic strengths and paths. ‘The CBD is slowly becoming less important to Sydney. The city's economic centre of gravity – the point around which all economic output is evenly balanced – is at Concord, nine kilometres west of the CBD. And it has been drifting north-west for more than a decade. That's because emerging economic hubs such as Macquarie Park, Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta have been dragging the city's economic centre of gravity away from the CBD.’

Sydney skyline - base of Centrepoint Tower with tower crane

What this means is all too apparent. ‘The upshot? The influence of Sydney's alternative business centres is rising and the city needs much better transport connections between them if it is to thrive.’

In his second article, which analyses the implications of this massive and disparate growth, he points out ‘In 2013, Macquarie Park was Australia's 10th biggest local economy, with output worth $9.1 billion. It is likely to surpass North Sydney as NSW's second largest local economy in four to five years. Sydney Olympic Park, which is very close to the city's economic centre of gravity, also has growing clout. The output of the Homebush Bay-Silverwater area, which takes in Olympic Park, was $5.12 billion in 2013, nearly double what it was in 2001-02. The Olympic Park area now ranks as the seventh biggest local economy in NSW and the 20th biggest in Australia.’

The implications are serious. The major challenge faced by Sydney is to better connect these thriving economic hubs. There is considerable talk about Sydney as a global city, but the whole public transport system is a major weakness for a city claiming to be global and to operate in the global economy. Sydney relies heavily on the use of cars for transport compared to other comparable global cities and has a correspondingly low level of public transport coverage.

A massive weakness only too familiar to anyone who lives in or has lived in Sydney could derail the whole positive effect of economic growth within different mega regions inside Greater Sydney and hold back innovation and economic productivity. ‘The lack of effective, city-wide public transport threatens to stunt Sydney's knowledge-intensive industries, which are increasingly the life-blood of the economy. When separate Price Waterhouse Cooper research assessed the transport and infrastructure of 27 major cities in 2012, Sydney was ranked fourth-last behind several cities with much lower average incomes, including Istanbul, Mumbai and Shanghai. Our public transport infrastructure just doesn't match our global city profile.’

This has serious implications not just for Sydney or New South Wales but for the national economy. Cities have always been serious business but this just got a lot more so.

This article was originally published elsewhere in my blogosphere and has been revised for this blog.

See also

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Travelling together through the city
‘Public transport is such a central element in a modern city. It has fundamental implications for how productive a city is, how culturally active and just how personally pleasant it is to live and work in’, Travelling together through the city.

Sydney - Australia's most valuable location but public transport its greatest weakness
‘A massive weakness only too familiar to anyone who lives in or has lived in Sydney could derail the whole positive effect of economic growth within different mega regions inside Greater Sydney and hold back innovation and economic productivity. This has serious implications not just for Sydney or New South Wales but for the national economy. Cities have always been serious business but this just got a lot more so’, Sydney is Australia's most valuable location but public transport is its greatest weakness.

Our capital cities are growing and produce most of our income
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The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
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Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

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