Photo credit: The lights of Broadway in Sydney. Ivan Vanderbyl/Flickr.

The Centre for Australian Economic Development report on the future of Australia’s workforce calls for a radical rethink in urban planning to deal with workforce changes to come and it’s not all about cities, it says. We need to factor in congestion, urban flooding and huge housing prices among other rising trends.

Australia’s Future Workforce? released by CEDA this week looks at the economic, technological and industrial drivers around workforce changes to come, but it also makes a clear case for better planning of the places most of that work is likely to occur – our cities.

Two clear trends were identified. The first is a call by CEDA for urban planning that complements Australia’s innovation policies and ensures our cities are “liveable”.

Highly skilled employees who increasingly drive prosperity are able to work globally and are highly mobile, the report said. “City liveability is a strong predictor of economic activity and wage growth because such areas are able to attract the innovative class of people who drive this activity.”

The report calls for discrete city-wide entities with the responsibility for whole of urban planning for its urban centres that could be vested with “hypothecated funds” from sources generated in the jurisdiction such as fuel excise and congestion pricing.

Australian Futures project Director Fiona McKenzie was one of the 28 contributing researchers and authors. In her paper, Megatrends and Australia’s Future – older and wiser? she said that the cost of crowding in growing cities is a megatrend that will have direct implications for planners. Shifting ways of working could form part of the solution to the difficulties engendered by densification and concentration of employment in city centres.

Threat to cities from climate, congestion, housing costs and more…

There is also a threat to our cities from climate change, as more people agglomerate in urban centres on the coastline that are at risk from rising sea levels, extreme weather events, earthquakes and tsunamis.

“Urban flooding has already become the leading form of disaster in the world, and the United Nations forecasts that the number of people in large cities exposed to cyclonic winds, earthquakes and flooding will more than double in the first half of this century,” Ms McKenzie wrote.

The cost of urban congestion is expected to more than double by 2020 to $20.4 billion, and there will be added pressure on the infrastructure, social fabric and environment of from city density with 30 per cent more people predicted to live in the capital cities by  2030.

“City leaders will be presented with difficult choices if growing cities are to remain liveable cities. As urban populations grow, substantial improvements in urban governance capacities will be needed to make cities resilient against complex and interconnected risks,” Ms McKenzie said.

Regional growth will struggle to compensate

“As populations decline in regional areas, and traffic congestion and unaffordable housing increase in urban areas, governments will no doubt be pressured to do more to promote population and economic growth in regional areas. However, policy measures attempting to increase population growth in regional areas will struggle against demographic forces of decline.

“For those wanting to live and work in major cities, public transport and new transport infrastructure is important, but housing affordability will also need to be addressed. At its most basic, this will require more streamlined planning and zoning rules to enable the building of new homes in inner-city suburbs.”

Local environments will be key

Ms McKenzie also said that housing and urban development will need to create accessible local environments to meet the needs of an ageing population and enable them to continue workforce participation. With more people working past the age of 60, a rethink of how to ensure people retain mobility and connection to work opportunities is required.

“Improving accessibility can include relatively simple measures like reliable transport options for those with mobility problems, well-maintained footpaths without trip hazards, low kerbs with wheel chair ramps, places to sit and rest, and safe and well-lit streets with a good police presence.”

She questions whether the current thinking about innovation clusters and professional networking with its emphasis on physical proximity, often in inner-city locations, is perhaps ignoring examples such as creative industries located in the outer suburbs of cities including Melbourne and Brisbane where networks can “thrive outside the dense ‘proximity clusters’”, asking, “might this not be the case for other industries as well?”.

One of the trends she noted is the shift in consumption towards “experience-based consumption”, which could become a means of maintaining economic growth and delivering quality of life while conserving the natural world’s limited resources.

“On another front, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development foresees a bio-economy emerging by 2030 from the invention, development, production and use of biological products and processes. They estimate this could contribute up to 2.7 per cent of GDP in OECD countries.”

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