Made In Australia

A new book has exposed the elephant in the room regarding urban planning policy – bureaucrats aren’t exactly looking at the long-term picture, and many policies may not deliver the viable urban fabric they claim to promote.

Made in Australia – the Future of Australian Cities, by Dr Julian Bolleter and Dr Richard Weller from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre at the University of Western Australia, is a remarkable achievement in terms of the comprehensive and wide-ranging research sources it draws on.

Bringing together analysis of our nation’s resource capacity, ABS statistics, land mapping, vegetation mapping, transport routes, water resources, climatic zones, public policy, architectural trends and thought leaders, Bolleter and Weller develop models for the cities of the next century and beyond.

In the process, they reveal the fundamental flaws in the growth plans for Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. Darwin, Hobart, Adelaide and Canberra fare somewhat better, but, as the authors make clear, the likely Australian population in 2100 of 62 million people simply cannot be accommodated within current urban envelopes without a massive loss of the spatial amenity Australians prefer.

For all the weight and depth of the subject matter, it’s an extremely accessible read, and for those not up to speed with many of the concepts underlying urban planning, a very informative one – part of the reason it won the 2014 WA Medal for Landscape Architecture Research & Communication Excellence Award from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects WA Chapter earlier this year.

The extensive use of graphics to “show, not tell” key concepts is extremely valuable.

By visually overlaying the population growth projections in terms of eight-level buildings required to house the people on the existing urban fabric, it is obvious just how enormous the challenge is.

The same technique is used to illustrate the various styles of urban planning as they would look if applied to the new cities the authors posit will be required in new “megaregions” on both the east and west coasts. These, the authors argue, will be a means of absorbing population which will not fit in the existing capitals.

They also make a very strong case for a very fast train link between Brisbane and Melbourne, which would bind the south east megaregion and enable the successful development of regional cities along its route, facilitating connectivity between the new centres and the established capital city employment and capital nodes.

There are also graphics that show the visual footprint of future energy use, arable land requirements, water requirements and housing in relation to the Australian continent. For example, for a population of 62.2 million, if wind energy were to be the main energy source, it would require an area of turbines around the size of Tasmania, if it were solar panels the area is about double the size of the ACT, and if nuclear it would require 146 reactors.

The area required for carbon sequestration for a population of that size of emissions per capita continue at current levels is larger than Victoria, and could require 6,860,843,047 trees planted at 10-metre intervals.

The final section of the book is a selection of essays by leading academics including Shane Murray, Sara Stace, Dorte Ekelund, Dominic Arcaro, Stephen Alchin and Darryl Low-Choy on related topics including precinct redevelopment, street activation, green infrastructure, living with the land, urban resilience, water, finance, peri-urbanisation and urban design.

As a resource, and as an inspiration, this is a landmark text for anyone concerned with the big questions of how we design, develop and deliver a sustainable urban future where nature and the city can function in a mutually beneficial symbiosis.

2 replies on “Book Review: Made in Australia – the Future of Australian Cities”

  1. There really is an elephant in the room not remotely considered here.
    Because in a finite world exponential growth is only possible for a limited time, we should be recognising we are now as far advanced as we can ever be. There is no way the population will get anywhere near 62 million. In fact by 2100 we will have had a major population crash, a major loss of resources, a major loss of the society we have come to know. We will suffer this major correction at the hands of Nature if we don’t plan to cut back heavily on Business as Usual. We may just have 1 generation left to make changes, or face the existential threat, the end of our civilization. It’s not opinion, it’s a mathematical certainty if we don’t return to living within our means.
    City planning is a complete waste of time without taking this necessity into consideration.

  2. It’s great to see a new book looking at Australian cities. We need more of these. This book explores the physical built form implications of growth very clearly.

    One of the very serious problems for many of our so called ‘poly centric’ cities is how we can create cities where you can live near to where you work – this separation is a major cause of congestion and car based travel. Many centres just don’t attract high value jobs despite planning for them.

    Books such as Moretti’s ‘New Geography of Jobs’ goes some way to explaining these issues. It would be great if more Australian economists were interested in cities and added their voice to the debate.

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