The Future of Sydney: A Tale of Three Cities?
Rob Roggema,Peter Bishop , 10 Jan 18

Sydney’s west is growing at a staggering pace. Reuters

Sydney’s future is under constant scrutiny. Planners, politicians, landowners and developers constantly discuss and decide how and where growth should take place – and how that growth should best be managed.

Currently, a spurt of new neighbourhoods are being built toward Sydney’s west. These mushrooming developments have become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: each new development spurs more growth in its wake.

With a new airport planned for the same area, the Greater Sydney Commission defines this area as a “third city” in its regional strategy.

Sydney’s “first city” is the Harbour City – Sydney’s current CBD and surrounds. The “second city” is the River City, with Parramatta at its heart. The proposed “third city” would be the Western Sydney Parkland City.

The Greater Sydney Commission has put forward an ambitious strategy to transform the Sydney metropolitan area. But is it really the best way to go, compared with international best practice?

Does Sydney need a ‘third city’?

In fact, the necessity of this third city at a larger scale is not proven. It is based on the presumption that Sydney’s growth will continue in the same direction it has taken over the past few decades – and will therefore need a third city to accommodate it.

An alternative strategy is to focus on making Parramatta a successful central hub in the region (before even thinking about a third city), and providing housing for the growing population through densification of low-density areas, close to rapid transport options.

Only then might we be able to create a city that delivers beyond mediocre urbanism. Predicted growth to 8 million people will require a fundamental quality shift if the Sydney metropolitan area is to be a liveable, healthy, economically successful and resilient global city.

As it is, Sydney is facing serious problems with its housing stock and affordability.

While more Sydneysiders are living in more expensive, larger and more energy-intensive housing, the population has become overly reliant on cars as the primary mode of transport to take them to jobs far away from their homes.

The toll for both individuals and society is high. People need to pay for transport, energy and mortgages. And the frequency of social problems such as diabetes, obesity and violence are higher in western Sydney than elsewhere.


To take Amsterdam as an example, the city’s main transport hub (Schiphol Airport) is located 20km from the (old) city (Central Station). Despite what many people think, Schiphol is not an aerotropolis, as the airport has the same amenities as all other airports in the world: shops, and the occasional hotel.

 Author provided, CC BY-ND

The train station is directly under the airport for easy access.

Given these factors, the City of Amsterdam has shifted its traditional (old) centre to the south and created a real aerotropolis environment in the South Axis (Zuid-as). This area has transformed into a vibrant high-density mix of offices and residential properties, with shops, cafes and restaurants around the corner and a large park nearby.

The former highway separating south from central Amsterdam will be overloaded, connecting both sides for pedestrians and cyclists. A new metro station is the heart of the development, and will connect through a new metro line into the city. The direct and frequent connection brings you to Schiphol Airport in only six minutes.

Rijksmuseum building is pictured in this aerial shot of Amsterdam. Reuters


Over the past 50 years, London has slowly decentralised to become a city with more than one centre.

The present policy seeks to continue these trends with the development of Olympic Park in Stratford, the construction of Crossrail, and continued restrictions on cars.

No new roads have been built in London in the past 20 years, and transport investment has shifted to supporting public transport, walking and cycling.

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