How to Future Proof a City

The race is on for policy makers and urban planners to cater for the 6.1 billion people who will live in the world’s cities by 2050. Australia is forecast to experience exceptional growth, with the population of our major cities set to double in just 50 years. However, a liveability crisis looms if we do not start acting now to future proof our major cities writes Nick Deeks.

Policy makers and planners need to anticipate future developments in society and act now to minimise the consequences of outdated structures. Australian planners have forecast the country’s growth for the next century, and must now focus on building housing, apartments, commercial property, retail spaces, open spaces, infrastructure and transport systems innovatively and sustainably.

Policy makers and planners need to future proof our cities for longevity rather than expediency. Planners needs to adopt a futurist mindset that looks 150 years ahead, not hastily respond to population demands with structures that whilst built to last 50 plus years will become obsolete in their usability within the next 20 years.


Major cities in Australia are filled with cranes and construction sites. It’s clear the country is in the midst of a construction and infrastructure boom, however the infrastructure boom is not future-proofing, it is catching up. Sydney has invested heavily in metro, light rail and motorways. Melbourne is building a metro expansion and highway upgrades. Perth has the proposed Metronet expansion. Brisbane keeps trying to get the Cross River Rail project to stack up and Canberra is building its first light rail.

This record investment follows years of neglect in dealing with growing population demands.

Australia continues to conceptualise and construct old fashioned infrastructure with no real difference to what we did 100 years ago. This results in second rate infrastructure that takes no account of future people movement requirements, faster travel times or innovative technology.

Australia’s major cities are increasingly at risk of losing their top rankings as the world’s most liveable cities. Melbourne is “The World’s Most Liveable City”, but it’s without a world class transport network and currently no direct rail link to and from the airport.

The Victorian Government’s Plan Melbourne strategy addresses Melbourne’s forecasted population by continuing to push out the growth boundary. Sydney’s public transport system cannot cope with demand, which will only intensify with population growth and jobs staying in the city. Australia’s two major cities are also on track for a major undersupply of housing and commercial property stock.

Inadequacies in infrastructure, transport and housing, combined with climate change and natural disasters present many challenges for the future liveability of Australian cities. Governments, urban planners, architects, engineers, builders and regulators need to make buildings more innovative, cheaper and sustainable. Here are seven steps for the industry to future-proof our cities.

#1 Polycentric cities.

Transforming monocentric cities to polycentric cities, similar to the urban villages of New York, London and Tokyo. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane should transform their cities into a series of urban villages with multiple CBDs. This would ease demand on housing and mitigate the urban heat island effect to create healthier communities and allow for an urban sprawl that is not just pushing people further out from one main city centre. However, for polycentric cities to be truly effective, we need efficient and comprehensive transportation systems that bring people together for greater liveability and wellbeing. This is a concept currently being assessed by the Greater Sydney Commission.

#2 Transport connecting our major cities – Multiple efficient connections between our major cities will enable our hubs of activity and commerce to thrive.

Future cities require efficient, affordable, high-speed connections and must prepare for the normalisation of autonomous and electric vehicles, both of which our Asian neighbours are thriving in. Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, which is being tested in Dubai and the US, could lead to dramatically reduced interstate travel times in Australia. Singapore is testing driverless cars and autonomous public vehicles on roads in real time. Australia needs to consider the implementation of these kinds of technologies to ensure connectivity between our cities.

#3 Multi mixed use buildings – maximising space and operations by developing and repurposing buildings for a multitude of services.

Buildings that are solely residential or commercial will need to become multi mixed use incorporating retail, co-location work spaces, accommodation, childcare, healthcare, recreation and medical facilities. While mixed use facilities exist in Australia, they are not as prevalent as in other cities, such as Hong Kong which takes on a “rail plus property” approach to create amenities for commuters. Multi mixed use buildings need to become part of the design of our cities.

#4 Micro apartments – delivering affordable housing stock to the market

Like other Asian cities, Australia’s population growth is coinciding with an increased desire to live closer to the central business district. To deliver affordable housing stock to the market, in the places where people want to live, developers must look at creating micro apartments and Australians must embrace smaller, high-density living.

Micro apartments provide a great opportunity to explore more economic, sustainable and efficient designs. Recent micro apartment developments such as Casuarina Square in Darwin and Carmel Place in New York, used modular design and prefabrication that halved construction times and the use of resources. These apartment developments maximised space with optimal design efficiencies and shared amenities to create healthy environments for residents.

#5 Greenification of urban developments – prioritising environmental and community health benefits

Natural drainage, vertical and rooftop gardens, solar panels and recyclables should all be part of the green infrastructure of a new property development. This ideology is becoming prevalent in London, Singapore and Vancouver. Developers often think that incorporating eco-friendly design is too much of a financial burden, but in reality, these design elements reduce maintenance costs over the long-term. They also provide large environmental and community health benefits. Frasers Central Park Mall in Sydney’s Chippendale was developed with sustainability at the core of its design. It incorporates a plethora of green elements, from vertical gardens to an onsite water recycling plant. More Australian developers need to follow suit and greenify their developments.

#6 Sustainable and efficient construction – embracing new technologies in the design and construction of cities

Building design, materials and implementation must change in order for construction to become faster, more affordable, adaptable and resilient to change amid a growing population. The use of technologies, such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence and robotics and materials such as prefabricated panels, composite panels and recycled materials will accelerate processes and produce more cost-effective and sustainable outcomes. By embracing more efficient processes and materials, the industry will be able to rapidly provide affordable housing stock to the growing population.

#7 Social change – changing our habits and expectations

Future proofing our cities requires heavy investment and funding, but also  social  change in accepting the long-term need for smarter and futuristic urban planning. We need to understand this to shift our attitudes in tolerating short-term disruption for the long-term and generational wellbeing of our population. Future proofing our cities in terms of urban planning and construction is protecting the Australian lifestyle. A liveable city contributes to our wellbeing and ability to live a high quality of life.

It is time to accept that cities in Australia and around the world must radically change, with the immense population growth that is forecast.

Governments and urban planners must produce infrastructure, housing and transport systems that will allow our ever-growing cities to remain liveable. Currently Australia is not equipped to meet the expected population growth. This can only change if our planning, development and construction is focused on future proofing cities through more sustainable, innovative and visionary thinking. Australia cannot be afraid of change; our planners must lead the way in embracing new technologies and policy makers must enable this leadership.

Australia needs to think in the long-term so we can ensure population growth is met with liveable, affordable and healthy cities.

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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