Utopia, for me, would be a city that is well connected, uncongested, sustainable, green, clean, vibrant, resilient and safe. It would also be a city that attracts people from all over the world, from all backgrounds – a city that makes them all feel welcome. And, at its core, the ideal future city would offer the best platform for businesses to thrive and grow.
Australia can learn a lot from the rest of the world in terms of planning future cities. Look around and you can see every city is going through its own wide range of challenges in terms of population growth, urbanisation and rapid changes that have been brought about through new technology.
By sharing all these lessons about developing cities, we could really improve our ability to manage change, limit risks and ensure we are future-ready. That said, I believe Australia should get on the front foot and lead the change in those aspects where we are more advanced or have clearer insights. We have to be ready and willing to act.
How do I think our cities will look in, say, 15 years? We are undergoing some long-overdue infrastructure development now and, as a direct result of that investment, our cities will be much more accessible by public transport. That should reduce our reliance on cars and, in Sydney, cut some of the congestion in the central business district.
Already we are seeing some of the benefits in Sydney’s CBD of the decision to overhaul George Street and transform it into predominantly a pedestrian environment. That’s having a really positive impact on retailers, food and beverage outlets such as cafes and bars, and it has improved general movement through the area.
So, 15 years from now, I’d expect there would be very limited vehicle access in the central city area, thriving amenity, and much more public space – all technologically enabled.
JLL is assisting in supporting the growth of future cities. We have extensive connections and touch-points at all levels of the community, and that means we can focus information about what the community is seeking back to those who are making the decisions. We need to ensure that the overarching direction genuinely meets the needs and desires of the people who are the end-users.
JLL also draws on its global network to share best-practice ideas from other cities around the world.
I’ve used that term ‘best-practice’ deliberately; it’s an important concept. To future-proof our cities, to prepare them now for what they may face in the future, we must focus on ensuring that everything we do is the best thing possible.
That means we have to plan for what we don’t know now – plan for the unexpected. For example, we should be installing base infrastructure into buildings that will enable future capability or use changes – without having to go through the expense of a major refit some years down the track.
A good example of this is GPT’s new Parramatta development at 32 Smith Street. Here, the three above-ground car parking levels have been designed so that, should carparking no longer be required in the future, these levels can be converted into office floors with no structural changes required.
JLL deals with a broad range of clients with varied business needs, and their requirements for future cities differ markedly. We are subscribers to the concept of Sydney being a diverse, mixed-use city with a higher residential population and, inevitably, a higher population density in the future. Yet Sydney lacks what we believe to be one of the most important elements for creating a vibrant city – social infrastructure in and around the city.
Australia has very promising demographics for a mature economy, and it is ideally placed to be a provider of goods and services to the rapidly expanding middle-class throughout Asia. The investment opportunities are diverse, and highly dependent on the individual investor’s mandate and risk tolerance.
In Sydney, investors should ‘follow the infrastructure’. This city – Australia’s biggest, and its financial capital – is in the middle of an unprecedented infrastructure spending program. Roads, commuter rail networks, CBD access and zones, telecommunications and other services are being vastly expanded, modernised and re-developed to cater for continued strong population growth in the future.
Those projects are underscoring the significance of certain locations and sub-markets for shrewd property investors.