Building cities for our future

1 October 2018
By Yi Ho (BDesArch '13, MArch '15)
Our world is changing rapidly – technological process is accelerating, people and technology are becoming more interconnected, people are living longer and, urban populations are increasing faster than ever.
Yi Ho, current MBA student

Yi Ho, current MBA student

The UN’s population division estimated that more than 68% of the world will be living in cities by 20501. If not planned well, they run the risk of being over congested, and will result in a negative environment for the people who live, work and play in these cities.

Cities are the cornerstones of regional and national economies. To grow population and the economy, the delivery of supporting infrastructure is required. Currently, growth is centred around developing existing urban areas, leveraging existing infrastructure and building a network around them. This train of thought focuses on growing existing well connected, service based cities by reinforcing the existing agglomerations of industries.

The 2018 Infrastructure Australia Report by the Commonwealth government indicated that Sydney would get the most ‘bang for its buck’ if it focused its development and infrastructure provisions within its middle and inner rings. It can be said that this kind of infrastructure-directed growth is focused on delivering the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. It is generally tactical more than strategic and has shorter timeframes.

Retrofitting existing urban centres may seem efficient, but this could be a short term ‘band-aid’ fix to a long-term problem. Like in a business context, tactical fixes may not necessarily result in good long term strategic thinking. For example, if there is congestion, a tactical fix is to introduce congestion easing measures such as road widenings, traffic signal streamlining measures, introduce clearways or even move the population out by extending the urban area into greenfield peripheries. This was, until quite recently, the status quo for all major Australian cities.

Taking into consideration the three horizons model for business strategy, we have started investing in second horizon mass transit projects which would make our existing urban areas more efficient and effective. Improving the existing and decently well-functioning cities would keep these cities competitive, however, as a by-product of this competition, it often causes significant disparities of wealth caused by the concentration of resources within the existing economic geospatial framework.

As cities are the cornerstones of national economies, nation states should develop urban policies which not only focuses on tactical interventions for the short term to support and drive future growth by providing infrastructure in existing denser urban areas. They can also strive to be more aspirational and direct a mode equitable spread of population throughout the country.

Third horizon projects can be considered nation building projects with little return in the short run. They require a coordinated approach between the public and private sector. To encourage people to want to live out of well-established urban centres, as a foundation there should be greater economic opportunities for them at or near those locations. Jobs, particularly high valued ‘attractor’ jobs, need to be planned for in these regional locations before homes. Large anchor organisations are often willing to consider putting their workforce in various locations dependent on what kind of incentives they can receive.

There are plenty of examples globally where the planning and the delivery of entirely new cities has resulted in significant benefits for those countries. One example is New Songdo International Business District in South Korea. New Songdo is a greenfield city between Seoul’s international airport and Seoul city proper. This new city was driven by the concept of the ‘smart city’, knowledge based jobs, reduction of reliance on export driven manufacturing and connectivity. The city is now home to over 100,000 people and is increasingly becoming an important part of South Korea’s economic landscape.

Could Australia rethink how we do urban development and infrastructure and create new cities for the benefit of all?

Written by Yi Ho (BDesArch '13, MArch '15)
Senior Infrastructure Analyst, Department of Planning and Environment
Current MBA student, The University of Sydney Business School


1 “World Urbanisation prospects – Population Division” 2018. United Nations, United Nations, [Site accessed 18/06/2018].

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