The past couple of weeks have seen state governments looking far into the future, with the Greater Sydney Commission’s draft plan, the NSW government’s Future Transport Strategy (both looking to 2056) and the release of a draft framework for Fishermans Bend in Melbourne (out to 2050).

It’s a difficult task, predicting the future, but there’s a couple of things we can almost be certain will happen.

One is that buildings are going to have to be much, much more efficient than they currently are. We know the building sector is responsible for a quarter of Australia’s emissions and tackling efficiency could save us a massive $20 billion.

If we’re going to meet our Paris targets we’re going to have to get efficient, and quick. There’s some good work progressing to update commercial building minimum standards, though residential is well behind where it needs to be.

And while raising minimum standards is obviously necessary, so too, is government leadership and making sure all new government-led development is best practice sustainability.

It was a little underwhelming then to read about development and building standards proposed in the Fishermans Bend draft framework released this week.

The government is selling Fishermans Bend as a unique opportunity to create a world-class destination.

“Fishermans Bend is an urban renewal project unlike any other,” planning minister Richard Wynne said.

“We have an opportunity to find new residential and commercial uses for 480 hectares of land that are within five kilometres of the CBD – a place for people, with great new public spaces, high quality jobs and distinctive character.

“If we do it right, we can make Fishermans Bend a global benchmark for smart, sustainable development and integrated communities where people both live and work.”

In many ways, the government is stepping up on the site.

There are plans for high walkability, water sensitive urban design, public transport integration, climate resilience, and a net zero goal by 2050.

But if it’s such an opportunity, why is the built form only initially targeting a 10 per cent improvement on minimum standards? Surely this is an opportunity to innovate and put in place the buildings, quite frankly, we needed yesterday. Ten per cent above what is legally required doesn’t say to us “world-class”.

In a world with Living Building Challenge, Passivhaus and high-efficiency Nightingale projects popping up everywhere, Fishermans Bend a great opportunity for the government to do something market leading.

In its defence there will be “clearly indicated future increases to performance requirements”, but why start so low? Particularly when building efficiency is such an important part of getting to zero carbon goals, and when the industry is now in a concerted push to get there quickly.

The reshaping effect of driverless cars

The other thing that could reshape how we plan our cities and precincts is driverless cars, otherwise known as autonomous vehicles. While we don’t know exactly when they’ll come, you can pretty much bet they’ll be a massive part of life by 2050 if not much earlier.

An event we went to last week, Landcom and UrbanGrowth NSW Development Corporation’s Co-Lab, revealed the thinking of Sydney’s Bays Precinct regarding how to manage driverless cars.

Research by the bodies and academics said the area could become “an experimental site for transport innovation” and “a pioneering site of shared, first-and-last mile [connected autonomous vehicles] for passenger autonomous last-mile delivery transport options”.

“There is an innovation opportunity to create Australia’s first new precinct in which forms of transport other than the private car predominate,” a report on the Bays Precinct project said.

It was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive innovation”, with the site needing to be planned carefully to make sure driverless cars were a positive experience, rather than a congestion causer with poor interfaces with the built environment.

Planning for driverless cars is happening at another urban regeneration project, Adelaide’s Tonsley, through the state government’s $10 million Future Mobility Lab Fund project.

The initiative includes trials of moving freight and people by autonomous vehicles at the 61 hectare site, the former Mitsubishi site at Clovelly Park. It also includes a partnership between Flinders University and eight partners to trial driverless shuttle services from the Clovelly Park train station, South Road and other points within Tonsley.

“Establishing a driverless car vehicle operation here in South Australia is the perfect bridge connecting our past in traditional vehicle manufacturing and our future in advanced manufacturing in a clean, carbon neutral environment,” SA premier Jay Weatherill said.

At Fishermans Bend, the government recently purchased the former Holden manufacturing site, with plans to turn it into an innovation, engineering and technology hub, though there’s not one mention of driverless cars in the framework, even though there’s a focus on car reduction.

How will the precinct respond to this coming technology, in terms of planning, and in line with its car reduction policies? This is especially important as NSW Future Transport strategy has predicted that metropolitan public transport use could fall to 18 per cent through a large increase in driverless cars.

In its defence, there is a strategy to design car parks to allow for future conversion to alternative uses, though you’d think the technology would be worth at least a mention.

Predicting the future isn’t easy business, but there’s some things you just can’t ignore.