“The newly-created Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) has been assigned the ambitious task of envisaging the Greater Sydney region in 40 years’ time. But in a world where disruptive technologies are constantly shifting paradigms, are there alternative models we should consider ahead of a 40-year plan to best prepare for the future?”

22-02-17

Greater Sydney 2056

The Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) is an independent statutory organisation appointed by the NSW State Government to provide a “one government” planning approach to the Greater Sydney region in NSW. The GSC is tasked with developing holistic 20 and 40-year plans for the region, and has significant governmental power in order to put these plans into effect. There is no doubt that the GSC has many challenges to tackle in determining their long-term vision for Greater Sydney, most notably:

  • Population increases: The Greater Sydney population is expected to increase from 5 million today to 6 million by 2036, further growing to 8 million by 2056. 
  • Housing affordability: Sydney was recently ranked as the second most-expensive city in the world in a recent study by Demographia. 
  • Urban sprawl/densification: The debate over whether to have a dense or compact city, or an expansive, spacious region is a hot topic in deciding the look and shape of Greater Sydney in the future. 
  • Efficient and affordable transport: As the city continues to sprawl and densify, the commission will need to consider flexible transport solutions to take people from home to work or play.
  • Job availability and distribution: Whilst the unemployment rate in Sydney remains low, the majority of high-paying jobs are confined to the CBD, North Shore and Parramatta. As the population increases the GSC will need to work closely with industry to encourage the development of new jobs whilst also incentivising the distribution of jobs across the region.
  • Access to health, education and recreational services: As the shape and size of Greater Sydney changes, there will be enormous pressure on the capacity and access to health, education and recreation facilities.

How will technological disruptions shape the future of Greater Sydney?

In addition to the current issues facing Greater Sydney, there is the possibility of new challenges and opportunities arising from disruptive technological developments. The exact impact of these new technologies is hard to predict and their evolution and implementation will reshape the way a modern, global city functions. Current developments have the potential to change:

  • The way we move: The face of transport looks to change drastically over the next 40 years. The advent of autonomous cars, car sharing and high-speed travel all has the ability to radically shift the norm for transport across Greater Sydney.  What does this mean for future road and rail infrastructure planning in Sydney?
  • The way we work: As digital communication and collaboration technology improves, the need for offices and face-to-face working continues to diminish.  Industry-standard technologies such as Skype and Google Docs now make it possible for people to work together without ever having to be in the same room. Employer/employee relationships are certain to change even further with the development of virtual reality and work-sharing. Increased decentralisation seems unavoidable; could this mean there will be no need for a multi-story office block in the future?
  • What we do for work: As artificial intelligence and automation continues to penetrate the services market, more and more people will find their jobs outsourced to their digital alternatives. In addition, a recent study by the US Department of Labor predicted that 65% of today’s students will be employed in jobs that don’t even exist yet upon graduation. How do we plan for jobs that don’t exist? Can we influence and predict the development of new industries?
  • The way we learn: With the development of digital communication technology, it is likely that whole university courses could soon be taken from the comfort of your own home. The development of virtual reality also means that students may not need to congregate in a central location to learn in a collaborative environment. Does this mean that the traditional school or lecture hall will be empty in the future?
  • How we access services: Developments such as the My Emergency Dr App, online self-service for government departments and outsourcing sharing apps (such as Airtasker or Deliveroo) may mean that we don’t need to leave home to access services and buy products. Could the current development of large health precincts be completely unnecessary?

What considerations need to be made for the future?

The only definite outcome of these technologies is uncertainty about the future - which necessitates a flexible and nimble approach and the ability to introduce “course corrections” along the way... The Greater Sydney of the future will likely be dictated by drastically different technologies and industries to those that drive Sydney today, and perhaps the advancements that will shape the future of Greater Sydney don’t even exist yet!
All of this begs the question, if the future is so uncertain… is there a better way to prepare for it?  

An alternative could be to act as an experimental early-adopter of technologies, with a flexible planning approach as a means of adapting to change and achieving desired outcomes. To adopt a planning approach that embodies these values, planning organisations could look to implement the following:

  • Innovation Incubators: They could look for new ways to achieve their goals by considering and trialling promising new technologies (similar to the recent autonomous Uber trials in Pittsburgh) to determine their impact and suitability for adoption in the future. A fail-fast and fail-forward approach would be valuable in maintaining relevancy of the plans.
  • Success Checkpoints: Deciding the appropriate actions to fully realise the agreed goals is a complex task, however determining the ideal end-goal is much easier. The planning approach could be to set long-term goals in terms of productivity, liveability and sustainability which are then used as benchmarks to determine the success of actions at regular short-term intervals. 
  • Alert-Points: Given the relative uncertainty in regards to the potential changes and rate at which such changes occur, the approach could incorporate “alert” points for key benchmarking measures (population, density, housing affordability etc.) which induce a review of current plans when reached. Additionally, implementing “warning markers” which monitor undesirable changes could identify when plans are failing to achieve their goals.

When determining the most appropriate planning outcome for 40 years’ time, flexibility, adaptability and resilience are essential attributes.


This insight piece was prepared by the 2016/17 Sydney Advisian Undergraduate Futures Group, consisting of students from UNSW and UWA. To find more information about the futures program visit our website: APAC Futures Program.