Reimagining Sydney with 3 CBDs: how far off is a Parramatta CBD?

One of the biggest strategic planning challenges of our time in Australia is to re-imagine the Greater Sydney metropolis with more than one CBD.

My students in the capstone unit of the Master of Urbanism program at the University of Sydney have worked on preparing a strategic plan for a Central City CBD at the heart of the Greater Sydney Region. This work built on the Greater Sydney Region Plan proposed by the Greater Sydney Commission, aka Our Greater Sydney 2056 – A Metropolis of Three Cities.

Figure 1. A Metropolis of Three Cities: the Greater Sydney Commission’s 2018 Greater Sydney Region Plan. Greater Sydney Commission

In this plan, the Sydney metropolitan region is re-imagined around three cities:

  1. Eastern Harbour City – built around the current CBD
  2. Central River City – built around a new CBD located in Greater Parramatta on the area currently known as Parramatta CBD and Westmead district
  3. Western Parkland City – built around the growth expected around Western Sydney Airport, Penrith, Campbelltown and Liverpool.

A key objective of the metropolitan plan is to rebalance economic and social opportunity toward Western Sydney and the Central River City, or “Central City”. The vision is for most residents to live within 30 minutes of their job, education, health facilities, and other services.

The first step to fulfil this bold vision is to understand how far Western Sydney is from having its own metropolitan CBD; and to assess how the Central City (in Greater Parramatta) measures up against the existing Sydney CBD, also known as the Harbour City.

How do the Central City and Harbour City compare?

Figure 2. A snapshot of Central City versus Harbour City. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

Currently, 2.6% of jobs in Greater Sydney are in Central City, compared to 14.5% located in the established Harbour City. While the Harbour City has many more jobs, the proportion of workers in the health and public sectors is much higher in the Central City – due to the presence of Westmead health precinct. While health will remain important in the Central City’s future, employment opportunities in the financial, tech and legal sectors need to grow significantly if the Central City is to become the next metropolitan centre.

Figure 3. Central City versus Harbour City: economic comparisons. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

Harbour City offers significantly more regional and local connectivity than Central City. Currently, 70% of Harbour City workers commute to work by public transport and only 13.5% by private vehicle, compared to the Central City’s 30% and 55.65% respectively.

Figure 4. Central City versus Harbour City: connectivity comparisons. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

With the number of trips to Central City predicted to triple or quadruple during morning peak periods from current levels to 2056, forecasts indicate that Central City’s travel-to-work mode split will remain the same. This would lead to increased road congestion, impacting the economy, liveability and sustainability.

To represent the depth of connectivity problems, Figure 5 shows how long it takes to get to and from the Central City. It assesses travel times between 16 strategic centres and the Central City during peak morning and afternoon periods and on the weekend, for commuters on public transport versus those on the roads.

Figure 5. How long does it take to get to and from Central City? Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

The results show the public transport commuters’ travel time from most strategic centres is already greater than 30 minutes. Commute time on the roads varies, going over 30 minutes during the morning peak. Moving commuters around Greater Sydney using the road network is only a temporary measure, as it does not have the capacity to cope with any of the proposed growth.

Figure 6: Central City versus Harbour City: housing, cultures and services. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Kun Fan, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Anjani Rao Gandra, Nithila Rajave, Rachana Chandwani, Tamanna Sultana, Author provided

Central City is culturally diverse. More than 140 languages other than English are spoken at home, with more than 65% of people born overseas.

However, social infrastructure to support and celebrate this great diversity is lacking. Access to community facilities such as aged care, child care, schools and non-Christian places of worship are limited. Without investment, the social infrastructure deficit will only be amplified as the population increases.

Harbour City has 11 museums and seven cultural centres; the Central City does not have any museums and only two cultural centres.

The final word

These assessments, from economy, connectivity, and liveability perspectives suggest the Sydney metropolis has a very long and bumpy way to go before we can re-imagine it with more than one CBD. Visionary and bold decision-making, supported by significant investment, is required for the Central City to transition to a metropolitan centre.

Figure 1. Central City location map. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

Reimagining Sydney: this is what needs to be done to make a Central City CBD work

The Sydney metropolis has a very long and bumpy way to go before we can re-imagine it with more than one CBD. Visionary and bold decision-making, supported by significant investment, is required for the Central City to transition to a metropolitan centre.

Figure 2: An overview of Central City 2048. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

Central City 2048 is a 30-year strategic plan, which builds on the Greater Sydney Commission’s Greater Sydney Region Plan. Central City 2048 presents a vision for a dynamic, connected and sustainable CBD at the heart of the Greater Sydney metropolitan region.

Employment, transport and housing targets to be achieved by Central City 2048 are listed in Table 1.

Employment, transport and housing targets to be achieved by Central City 2048 are listed in Table 1.

Economy

Figure 3. Key economic actions – Central City 2048. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

Central City’s economy is supported by two pillars: Parramatta CBD and the Westmead health and education precinct. There is a key strategic challenge to attract finance, tech, education and creative industries, while supporting existing health and government sectors. Essential to economic growth is the provision of dedicated commercial and retail floor space, and regional access to it.

There is a key strategic challenge to attract finance, tech, education and creative industries, while supporting existing health and government sectors.

Connectivity

Figure 4. Key connectivity actions – Central City 2048. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

Currently, commuter travel time to Central City from most strategic centres exceeds 30 minutes during morning and afternoon peak periods. By 2056, the number of trips to Central City is predicted to triple during these periods.

Without more investment in public transport, forecasts suggest the travel-to-work mode split will remain the same, increasing Central City’s congestion problems. Regional mass-transit connections and reliable local transport options are a priority for Central City’s future.

Figure 5. Central City 2048 regional connectivity map. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

In terms of digital connectivity, existing infrastructure is limited to copper wire infrastructure. Only small pockets are connected to the National Broadband Network. A more reliable network with increased capacity is essential for Sydney’s next metropolitan centre.

A more reliable network with increased capacity is essential for Sydney’s next metropolitan centre.

Liveability

Figure 6. Key liveability actions – Central City 2048. Image: Jamie van Geldermalsen, Mile Ilija Barbaric, Rao Umair Afzaal, Kun Fan, Author provided

At 41.5 people per hectare, Central City’s residential density is much lower than the Harbour City’s 64.8 people/hectare. Highly liveable cities such as Vancouver and Copenhagen, with residential densities of 167.64 persons/hectare and 61.8 persons/hectare respectively, suggest high-density cities can be liveable too.

To support increased densities, Central City 2048 proposes increased employment opportunities and investment in transport, social and cultural infrastructure. It capitalises on Central City’s cultural diversity, heritage and landscape to create a vibrant and liveable city. Affordable housing targets of 30% are proposed to ensure Central City is an equitable city.

To support increased densities, Central City 2048 proposes increased employment opportunities and investment in transport, social and cultural infrastructure.

Invest in city shaping

Central City 2048 proposes one new rail line, three metro lines, just under 300,000 additional jobs, and a 30% affordable housing target for all new dwellings. This looks ambitious, if not shocking, to many. But it portrays a compelling image of what it takes to build a metropolitan CBD at the geographical heart of the Greater Sydney Region. This is what city-shaping, and indeed nation-building, looks like.

The decision is now ours: are we willing to invest what it takes to make it happen?

Source: Tooran Alizadeh, “Reimagining Sydney with 3 CBDs: how far off is a Parramatta CBD”, The Conversation, October 18, 2018. Tooran Alizadeh, “Reimagining Sydney: this is what needs to be done to make a Central City CBD work”, The Conversation, October 19, 2018.

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Reimagining Sydney with 3 CBDs: how far off is a Parramatta CBD?