Let’s start with some confessions. I am a pretty terrible business person. (although I think I still hold the record for the most number of Legacy badges sold by a NSW schoolkid). I realised that pretty early on in my life and steered my career into academia where I have had the pleasure of teaching urban planning students for many years.
Having a look at the material and some of the outcomes from a recent forum organised by business groups for West Harbour and you can see some of the issues when business interest groups decide they are urban planners. At the outset let me say it is great that business people want to get involved in planning. You can’t do successful city planning without business at the table especially when you are planning for a global city. The Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney recognises the importance of the business voice in city making and has joined the Committee for Sydney to join their very interesting and influential conversation.
But when plans are generated by business interests they often miss some of the most important elements of urban planning that involves a broader consideration of interests and goals – not just economic growth and jobs.
So what would a planner say about West Harbour becoming the engine room of Sydney’s economy. It will obviously play an important role – it already does. However, the engine rooms of global cities thrive on connectivity. Productivity is generated by employers being able to access employees from a very broad labour market – the very best person for the job takes the job. Places with good connectivity have access to the broadest labour markets. West Harbour lacks the connectivity at the moment that is available in the CBD, especially to the large labour market of western Sydney. Given the geography of the city, it will be difficult to provide that connectivity without very large levels of public investment. Perhaps that is not the best place to put this investment. Central-to Everleigh, located on the existing western heavy rail route might provide better productivity outcomes for the city, especially through its access to western Sydney.
In relation to the outcomes of the day, one idea that I was asked to comment on by the media was the use of cable cars to provide some of this much needed connectivity. All I can say it’s probably a better idea than I would come up with if I was asked to provide some business advice.
If you want to hear more ideas about cities and urban planning. Come to the festival events,
starting October 15th.
Professor Peter Phibbs
Head of Urban and Regional Planning Policy. The University of Sydney.