Tim Williams, one of Sydney’s highest profile urbanism commentators, has resigned as chief executive of the Committee for Sydney to become head of cities at Arup.

The move emphasises the increasingly fierce push for leadership in the cities space among the leading consulting companies who not so long ago were known primarily for their engineering work.

Today, with pressures mounting from the population squeeze in major cities, the need for and failure of infrastructure to keep pace with demand and the pushback against bad or overly dense development spilling over strongly into state politics, the opportunity is to lead the discussion or seize the “thought leadership” positioning.

Most of the big consulting firms now have a cities agenda, especially since the states are hamstrung by their budgets and need to lean on the federal purse to fund big-ticket transport options – and since the Feds, under the Abbott regime, somehow saw the cities agenda as left leaning or perhaps even worse, climate enhancing, and so dropped the Major Cities Unit (now replaced with some kind of cities-light version).

See a number of his articles here, including a recent one that controversially but effectively claimed evidence for a much shorter lifespan for people in western Sydney compared with the city’s east.

Williams is not known for his reticence. He knows how to stir notice with pithy swipes at pithier governance devoid of courage or understanding of what drives a liveable city.

He famously took a devastating swipe at WestConnex – the hugely expensive and destructive freeway that will bully its way almost to the very heart of the city in Sydney – only to have his then committee chair Lucy Turnbull, wife of the PM, convince him to sign a joint media letter distancing the committee from the piece.

If Arup is looking for a strong position in the cities debate it would struggle to find someone more likely to succeed.

Current Committee for Sydney chair Michael Rose said, “While we are obviously disappointed to see Tim move on we are delighted for him and want to wish him all the best in his new role.

“During his term as CEO, Tim has made an extraordinary contribution to both the Committee for Sydney and Greater Sydney. He has provided great intellectual leadership, sound policy advice and compelling advocacy on the wide range of challenges and opportunities that exist for Greater Sydney. He has helped drive game changing innovations, create new institutions like the GSC and change the conversation in relation to the future potential of Sydney. He has also strengthened the Committee by broadening its membership base, expanding its network of global collaborators and building an exceptional team around him. Tim will be leaving the Committee in great shape.”

Williams will continue in the current role until the end of December and starts with Arup on 1 January.

The search is now under way for a replacement.

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