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AHURI conference explores city futures in a post-COVID Australia

25 Nov 2021


A COVID induced pivot to a completely virtual event was an appropriate backdrop for the hosting of AHURI’s National Cities Conference, ‘Uncharted urban futures: Australian cities post pandemic’ last Thursday 19 November.

A program packed with national and international speakers explored three key themes – population, social infrastructure and urban transport systems across a series of keynote presentations and panel conversations.

The first panel session, ‘Population mobility after the COVID-19 crisis’, explored how COVID-19 has affected population movements within Australia and reduced migration to Australia. The panel members confirmed that although more people are choosing to move from the capital cities to the regions because of the pandemic, that trend has actually been increasing across Australia since 2016; what is new is that fewer people are leaving the regions to come to the cities. Due to the pandemic there has been a loss of economic activity in the central business district and inner suburbs, but there has been ‘a discovery of our suburbs’, with people seeing benefits of working from home especially in regional areas. According to panelist Dyan Currie, Chief Planner at the City of Brisbane, even in that city, which had a very different pandemic experience to Victoria and NSW, the city has seen a shift of spending: reducing in Brisbane’s CBD and increasing in the suburbs. It reveals that the importance of neighbourhood is growing, for economic growth and people’s desire for green spaces.

Due to the pandemic there has been a loss of economic activity in the central business district and inner suburbs, but there has been ‘a discovery of our suburbs’, with people seeing benefits of working from home especially in regional areas.

Whether these population and spending/employment changes will be permanent or not, none of the panel would commit as they all agreed it’s too early to say. However, cities are likely to see a hybrid of CBD work and working from home, and as a consequence, cities will need to create exciting activities and events to bring people to the CBD into the future.

The panel discussion ‘Social infrastructure delivery in a post-coronavirus context’ explored a number of key take away messages. Social infrastructure is the facilities, spaces, services and networks that support the quality of life and wellbeing of our communities, yet the panel agreed that in the outer growth suburbs there are great delays in building this infrastructure even though this is where most population growth is occurring most rapidly. Indeed, with these suburbs housing many young families and people on lower incomes, social infrastructure and services are needed from the beginning of new greenfield developments. It’s also important that real time data sources, collected by government and big business, are able to be used to track changes in urban areas to ensure social infrastructure is delivered quickly to those who most need it.

Social infrastructure is the facilities, spaces, services and networks that support the quality of life and wellbeing of our communities, yet the panel agreed that in the outer growth suburbs there are great delays in building this infrastructure even though this is where most population growth is occurring most rapidly.

The third panel session, ‘Urban transport options during a pandemic’, sprang off new AHURI research led by Professor Jago Dodson from RMIT University into innovations in public and private transport systems. The panel considered mass transit railway systems in Europe and the UK, in the context of looking at the new Melbourne Suburban Rail Loop (SRL). Frankie Carroll, CEO of the Authority, described how the SRL aims to deliver a city of different business/ health/ educational centres at each of the major stations, reflecting the community, economic and cultural histories of each place.

The conference opening keynote address by Romilly Madew AO, CEO of Infrastructure Australia is available to view above. All other recordings remain available to conference delegates at this stage but will be available more widely in early 2022.

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