Hon. Mike Rann on revitalizing cities to become more liveable, productive and sustainable

17 August 2012

Hon. Mike Rann, Visiting Senior Research Fellow in Political Studies, speaks to the University of Auckland about revitalizing cities to be more liveable, productive and sustainable, on Thursday August 16, 2012.

In giving this lecture I will be telling the story of moves to revitalise Adelaide, a city with a population of 1.2 million and explaining how we embraced changes to planning and governance, with a much bigger investment in both infrastructure and public transport, and a comprehensive greening strategy to improve South Australia’s capital and commercial hub to help it become more liveable, more productive and more sustainable.

In doing so I am not laying down a blueprint for Auckland or any other city. To do so would be presumptive but my experience with states, regions and cities is that we can all learn from each other and that ‘ideas that work’ can be adapted, if not adopted, by other jurisdictions.

I am aware, for instance, of debate about an additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing, City Rail Link and consideration of building central city rail tunnels from Britomart to Mount Eden, Penlink, rail to the airport and the East-West Link. I have also read about funding constraints – the reported
$10-15 billion funding gap given Auckland’s future transport needs, its growing population and what rates and taxes can realistically cover. I am also aware of discussion about controversial issues such as tolls to fund new roads (which I rejected in South Australia unlike other states), regional fuel taxes, congestion charging and higher car parking fees.

I should also tell you that in 1993, the then South Australian Cabinet received a submission from the Chamber of Commerce urging us to adopt for Adelaide the ‘Auckland solution’ which involved building a giant North-South Motorway. A vast aerial photo of the Auckland motorway was rolled out on the Cabinet table. We rejected the proposal and I expressed concerns about the impact it would have on the character of Adelaide’s beautiful inner suburbs.

I will talk about roads, rail and planning later. But first let me tell you what we have been doing to further green a city famous for its design and the parklands that surround central Adelaide.

I wanted South Australia to become a leader in its embrace of renewable energy and in reducing our carbon footprint.

Advised by environmentalist Professor Tim Flannery, we first embraced public education about the importance of renewables. We installed highly visible arrays of solar panels on the roofs of our most visible and historic public buildings; the Museum, Art Gallery, State Library, Parliament, a million dollars worth on the roof of Adelaide Airport, $8 million worth on the roof of the Showgrounds’ new pavilion plus installations on the roofs of hundreds of schools.

This educative approach paid dividends and led to our introducing solar feed-in legislation that rewards people for the power put into the grid from their rooftops. We now have the highest per capita take up of solar power in Australia and derived more electricity from wind than we do from coal, putting us in a world leadership position.

Back in 2003, I established our Urban Forests Program which aimed to plant 1 million native trees and shrubs across the Adelaide metro area in a series of urban forests. This target was achieved in 2006 with the help of local government, schools, industry and volunteers.

So with the advice of one of our international Thinkers in Residence, Herbert Giradet, we extended the program and raised our target to plant 3 million native trees and plants by 2014 across 300 project sites. More than ten thousand people have participated including thousands of children and adults who have attended well publicised community planting days. We are delighted that twenty one local government councils have partnered with the State Government on this project.

We believe our Urban Forests Program, strongly embraced by local residents, will result in a more beautiful, cooler and more liveable city. It will improve air and water quality and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 600,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents.

Significantly, our Urban Forests Program is also creating and conserving habitat for precious wildlife. A report published in 2001 revealed that 97.3% of Adelaide’s original vegetation has been cleared since European settlement in 1836. Land clearance and urban development have had a most damaging impact on native flora and fauna, with many species now locally extinct or threatened.

Only indigenous trees and shrubs, native to the local area, are planted. This also helps reduce water use because exotic plants often require greater watering to survive our searing hot summers.

The program is on track to reach the 3 million target on time with 2,370,000 trees and shrubs already planted.

There are other things we have done to improve our city’s environment. We have now achieved a recycling rate of nearly 80%. Last year 4.3 million tonnes of materials were diverted from landfill to recycling. On a per capita basis this was the best result in the country, the equivalent of taking about 300,000 cars off the road.

Back in the 1970s we were the first state to introduce container deposit legislation. Today consumers are paid a 10 cent rebate on each can, bottle or drink container they return for recycling rather than throw away into the rubbish. This has stimulated a strong recycling industry and provided a popular fundraising tool for clubs and charities. Most importantly these incentives have resulted in a cleaner city, roadsides and waterways.

In 2009 South Australia became the first state to ban non reusable plastic bags used in supermarket checkouts. Around Australia, 3.93 billion plastic bags are used and discarded every year. Our share was about 400 million. These bags can take hundreds of years to break down. They are also an ugly blight within communities. When I announced our ban, retail interests protested. We were told it would be a real problem for shoppers, shops and shop assistants. We went ahead with the legislation even though all other Australian States caved in to retail pressure. I was warned that there would be a backlash from voters. In fact the ban proved immensely popular. People were proud to do the right thing for the environment. Polling shows 80% of South Australians support the ban.

But today my principal focus is on the importance of cities in the 21st century revitalising themselves by having a plan drawn from its citizens but delivered through strong leadership.

In Australia there is renewed national interest in cities, in better planning and infrastructure, after years of neglect. Under the leadership of the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, the current Australian Government is investing more in urban public transport than all previous national governments combined since Federation in 1901. It has also doubled its road budget to record levels during difficult economic times. This renewed national engagement with urban policy is both timely and appropriate and I am pleased to be a member of the Gillard Government's national Urban Policy Forum.

Australia, despite its outback image and the importance of its agricultural production and mineral wealth, is one of the world's most urbanised nations. Just over half the world's population lives in cities. In Australia it's 75%. 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coastline. Cities are also our biggest economic generators accounting for 80% of GDP and three out of every four of our workers.

And while four of Australia's cities - Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney - routinely rank in the top ten of the world's most liveable cities, they are under increasing strain with growing but ageing populations, housing affordability issues, increasing congestion, urban sprawl and other challenges. Congestion problems, if not addressed, will cost our economy some $20 billion a year in lost productivity by 2020. That's not surprising given that freight movements alone will double by 2030 and triple by 2050.

So Australian governments, through COAG, have committed to a reform process where planning systems must meet nine nationally agreed criteria. For instance, they must show how they are providing for nationally significant economic infrastructure such as transport corridors, airports and ports, intermodal connectors and utilities. They must show how they are providing for an appropriate balance between infill and greenfield development. And they must demonstrate how they are planning for population growth, housing affordability and climate change mitigation. They must also show how they can better connect people to jobs given that working closer to home is better for everyone; more productive, less congestion, cleaner air, more time with families.

There is a significant carrot for States and their capital cities to improve their planning. Future federal infrastructure funding will be guided by where the reform process has been successfully embraced.

So what was our approach for Adelaide and why is it regarded by the Federal Government as best practice in Australia?

Ultimately it was about embracing a plan and then showing strong resolve in implementing that plan.

In Adelaide, we have a Capital City Committee where the Premier, senior ministers and bureaucrats meet regularly with the Lord Mayor, councillors and staff to discuss issues. We also had a Minister for the City of Adelaide who was herself a former reformist Lord Mayor, Dr Jane Lomax-Smith.

In planning and transport I was strongly influenced by a visit to Portland, Oregon early in my Premiership. From that visit and from looking at the ‘Oregon Shines’ initiative we developed the South Australian Strategic Plan which lays down, following an extensive community consultation process, close to a hundred ten year targets across the economy, health, education, social inclusion, environment and many other areas of public policy to improve our state.

Our progress in meeting these targets is measured every two years by an independent group of experts, with the results being published. It became a deliberate 'rod to our back' in getting things done and in turning around a state whose future looked bleak. The Plan became the Government's ‘bible’ and compliance with it was driven by the Executive Committee of Cabinet, chaired by me and including senior ministers plus the Chair of our Economic Development Board and our Social Inclusion Commissioner.

Another idea that came from that trip to Oregon was to significantly improve public transport and to roll it out in a way designed to encourage economic regeneration. In Portland we met with Fred Hansen, for nearly 12 years the head of its acclaimed Trimet public transport system. I was particularly impressed with how the extension of its streetcar and fast, clean light rail system had generated $10 billion worth of private investment within 3 blocks of the line, helping to create new neighbourhoods and arts precincts, often in previously degraded areas.

Fred's approach is all about an investment in transformational infrastructure rather than spending money in a more ad hoc way to fix a particular local transport problem. He encouraged us to make strategic not reactive investments. Fred strongly influenced the government as we decided to invest several billion dollars to extend and modernise our tram system, electrify and extend our suburban rail network, modernise our bus fleet and embrace the strongest cycling culture with hundreds of kilometres of new, designated bike paths separated from traffic.

Fred Hansen’s influence became even greater than this. He eventually came to Adelaide, as one of our international Thinkers in Residence, to work with the government on transport and urban development policy. His report "All On Board" recommended that we substantially change our thinking to consult with the public better, earlier and in an ongoing way. He recommended that proposers of projects should be required to engage the community to resolve issues before they move into the formal government and council approval process. He recommended that we must put pedestrians - with cyclists not far behind - at the centre of a new transport master plan.

Some of Fred's recommendations were big in terms of financial commitment and policy change. For instance, he recommended further extensions to the tram system including a city loop and an increase in the frequency of public transport scheduling, including on weekends, public holidays and at night. He also recommended a greater investment in empowering passengers with real time information that people can obtain on line, using the latest technologies such as smart phones. This way rather than just giving passengers the established timetable it would provide a countdown in minutes of when the bus, train or tram would arrive.

Very importantly Fred recommended that a firm, non porous urban growth boundary for metro Adelaide be established in statute. This recommendation would complement our moves to protect through legislation the unique heritage of historic wine areas, the Barossa Valley to the north of Adelaide and McLaren Vale to the south.

Some of Fred’s recommendations were small but important, like suggesting we widen our footpaths to make them more pedestrian friendly and that the timing for a ‘Walk’ signal must be increased and should be part of normal traffic light sequencing - not requiring activation. He also said that the pedestrian must be given the right of way over a vehicle not just in law but in practice. He recommended that on wider streets pedestrian safe havens should be created.

For cyclists Fred argues that no transport infrastructure investment, such as new roads, should be made without a corresponding investment in bike or pedestrian infrastructure in the same corridor or area. He also recommended that current bike lanes be retrofitted to make them wider, and that laws surrounding driving and parking in bike lanes need to be enforced.

In terms of governance Fred proposed we establish a new Urban Development Authority that would acquire and consolidate land holdings to ensure all developments and redevelopments are of the highest quality, having choices suitable for different lifestyles and life stages, including affordable housing for people on moderate to low incomes.

I am pleased that my successors have recently established an Urban Renewal Authority with Fred Hansen moving to Adelaide as its head.

One of the most significant moves we made as a government, that has been applauded by our Federal Government, local councils and the private sector, is the development of a 30 year Plan for Greater Adelaide driven by former Planning Minister Paul Holloway. Again this was designed to be a much more strategic approach to the future development of our city.

Most people, in Adelaide as in Auckland, are concerned about the impact of urban sprawl. Having left Auckland in 1977 with fond memories of rural Albany and Silverdale, I have been shocked at how far Auckland has spread. In Australia and New Zealand we have seen a pattern of development that has gobbled up more green space in a so called effort to make housing more affordable. But this has too often proven to be fool's gold as residents in the outer suburbs of vast metropolitan areas become more dependent on cars, and expensive single occupancy travel . A more strategic, longer term approach to planning and development offers people greater choice on how they want to live.

The 30 year Plan for Greater Adelaide is being used by the State Government to guide the planning and delivery of services and infrastructure, such as transport, health, schools and community facilities. The main aim of the Plan is to better balance population and economic growth with the preservation of our environment and the protection of the heritage and character of our city.

The Plan wants Adelaide to be more vibrant, liveable and inclusive and to grow in a managed way that doesn't threaten key primary production land. Between November 2008 and May 2009 there was extensive consultation to produce a draft Plan, involving local government, state government agencies, industry and private sector providers. The draft was then released and exhibited for some months, during which the government held extensive briefings with citizens, community groups, local government and professional organisations. A big commitment to consultation generated debate - some of it heated - but this was crucial to getting the Plan right and enabling government to better appreciate how people wanted Greater Adelaide to grow and adapt during the next 30 years.

As a result of the consultation a series of changes were made to the draft including a commitment to ongoing community engagement and variations in the population targets for specific areas of Greater Adelaide. A principal challenge of the Plan was how we could cope with an estimated population increase of 560,000 over the next 30 years and in doing so how we would underpin the creation of at least 280,000 new jobs. So much of the debate arising from the consultation process centred on the proposed distribution of people, housing and jobs. For instance 11,000 people were added to the growth target for the city centre. But there was a reduction of 29,000 people in the target for the Barossa Valley region, given concerns about the impact on its unique character. This was offset by an increase of 29,000 in the nearby northern suburbs.

Policies concerning climate change were also strengthened. Additional safeguards and policies were added to address the impact of population growth on primary production in peri-urban areas and close to townships. Even though 560,000 is a relatively modest population increase - around 350 people a week - compared to estimates for other Australian cities, the make-up of our city will be transformed. There will be a greater proportion of people over 65, and a significant increase in households with one person or couples without children. This requires early action to ensure there will be a sufficient supply of a range of accommodation close to shops, services and public transport. The big growth in over 65s will also require long term planning for the expansion of health services and aged care facilities.

Perhaps the key recommendation of the Plan was that there was an urgent need to create a more compact and efficient urban form that takes advantage of existing, as well as our planned extensions and improvements to transport networks and infrastructure. We want to design Greater Adelaide to reduce car reliance and create more liveable, accessible and connected communities. This means a major rethink of how we plan and design new housing, new neighbourhoods, new suburbs - to break the nexus between growth and unsustainable resource consumption. Unless we do so we will risk our competitive advantage through inefficient land supply and inefficient and costly infrastructure requirements.

To achieve our goals we must move from the existing 50/50 ratio of infill development to fringe development to a ratio of about 70/30 in the last years of the Plan period. This will involve the much greater location of new housing along designated transit corridors to promote easier access to jobs and services and reduce our reliance on cars.

New transit oriented developments along transport corridors are at the heart of the 30 Year Plan. We want the vast majority of new dwellings to be within walking distance of public transport. To achieve this we will collocate medium and high density residential housing, major retail and service outlets and major employers around railway and tram stations and bus interchanges. This approach will revitalise urban areas, maintain village integrity and provide the critical mass of population needed to make the upgrading of infrastructure cost effective over the life of the plan.

For greenfield developments a different approach will be adopted in order to create more mixed use communities, higher densities, more efficient land use, walkable neighbourhoods, a greater mixture of housing types and new suburbs that are contiguous to main transport corridors. It will also involve the creation of greenways and open space precincts in transit corridors.

The Plan will support the achievement of a 25 year rolling supply of land for residential, industrial and commercial purposes. There will be a 15 year supply of land zoned at any given time. This will ensure that the supply of land and housing will contribute to keeping housing affordable. There will also be 5,300 hectares of new and regenerated employment land set aside to foster the creation of jobs.

The Plan will also support a more efficient planning system that will underpin economic performance and competitiveness. The introduction of Precinct Requirements and Structure Plans will reduce development times from the existing 5-7 years to a maximum of 3 years. This approach will also give investors greater certainty by making it clear what development can occur in key locations.

I cannot, in the time available, cover the entire 30 Year Plan but I'm pleased at its reception both locally and nationally. I'm also thrilled to see work well underway on the outstanding $1 billion Bowden Village development being built close to the CBD on the edge of our stunning parklands, within walking distance of the city centre. It is being built on a 16 hectare former industrial site next to the railway, our new tram extension, bus routes, bike and pedestrian paths alongside the River Torrens.

Bowden Village, now attracting national attention, will be our first showcase of highly attractive higher density living with three storey apartment complexes, town houses and terraced homes, and the highest standard of design. Fred Hansen, the head of our new Urban Renewal Authority, is heavily involved in its roll out. More than 2,400 homes will be built housing 3,500 residents. Retail and commercial buildings are part of the mix.

Bowden Village is at the western end of a multi billion dollar River Torrens precinct redevelopment running through the heart of the Adelaide CBD. ‘Riverbank’ is part of our plan to revitalise the heart of the central city to make it a destination that people will flock to, rather than retreat back to the suburbs. The redevelopment includes a new $2 billion plus central hospital being built on the site of unsightly railway yards. We chose this option rather than an expensive, disruptive and piecemeal redevelopment of the existing Royal Adelaide Hospital. It will be the biggest hospital development in Australian history and probably the biggest ground up building ever, anywhere in Australia. Patients will have a room and en-suite of their own and most with a view of the river. A state of the art medical research centre is under construction next door.

We have also embarked on a big redevelopment of our Convention Centre, again on the banks of the Torrens and there is planning for future revamp of the adjacent Adelaide Festival Centre.

On the opposite bank of the river the State Government is investing $530 million to redevelop the famous and beautiful Adelaide Oval cricket ground to enable it to host AFL football, other sports and performances. AFL has for decades been played in a stadium in the western suburbs posing real problems for transport and parking. I know there was a big debate here in New Zealand about shifting Eden Park to the Auckland waterfront. For us, bringing 'footy' to the city will bring tens of thousands of people to a central location close to every form of public transport from north, south, east and west with city car parks close by. The Oval will be linked by footbridge to the arts and entertainment precinct on the other side of the Torrens.

Further south, in the suburbs at the 61 hectare site of the former Mitsubishi motor vehicle plant - also purchased by the State Government - another $1 billion development is underway adjacent to key transport corridors. This Tonsley Park redevelopment will become a vibrant and integrated mixed use employment precinct. It is designed to be a major hub for innovative companies in sustainable technologies, including advanced manufacturing. It will be Australia’s first designated, clean-tech industry hub.

A cornerstone of Tonsley Park will be a $125 million Sustainable Industries Education Centre delivered through TAFE which will host 8,000 students and teaching staff. Last week Flinders University announced it will establish a teaching and research centre at Tonsley concentrating on computer science, engineering and maths undergraduate programs as well as research programs in nanotechnology, medical devices and clean technology. This $120 million centre will bring 2,000 students and 150 staff to Tonsley Park.

Across the board our annual infrastructure expenditure has increased fivefold in ten years, with record road and transport as well as public transport investments. Our Transport and Infrastructure Minister Pat Conlon deserves great credit for this commitment to the future. We have also, as an insurance policy against future droughts, built a $2 billion desalination plant, powered entirely by renewable energy, capable of providing 50% of Adelaide's water needs. This is an essential underpinning of what we are doing with our 30 year Plan to make planned growth sustainable.

There is also now a much sharper focus on design excellence. Here we again greatly appreciated the advice of one of our Thinkers in Residence, Professor Laura Lee, formerly head of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, now based in Antwerp. For decades in South Australia, and in Adelaide in particular, buildings and developments were considered and approved in a singular and fairly ad hoc manner. Even government projects closely located to each other were initiated and steered through by different Ministers and departments in an uncoordinated way. Local debate about projects and developments had for years been depicted as developers versus the heritage and environmental lobbies. No-one seemed to be talking about creating new heritage that future generations would be proud of. That’s where Laura Lee played a most useful role in encouraging us to think bigger.

Professor Lee, who has closely collaborated with Fred Hansen, is a forceful exponent of the need for integrated design, not just better design for buildings and the spaces in between, but for precincts and the entire city. Her residency, which recommended the establishment of an Integrated Design Commission and the appointment of a government architect, was all about fostering a greater design culture in Adelaide.

Essentially integrated design is a model for longer term thinking and 'intelligent investment’ based on the clear interdependence of design, planning and development activities to achieve mutually beneficial, long term outcomes. Integrated design takes into account economic, social and environmental values. The decision making process is designed to drive innovation and creativity and focuses on what's really important: the ‘user experience’ of the city.

City councils, planners and architects around Australia are very interested in Laura's work. So is the Federal Government which has given financial backing for an integrated design pilot project involving the SA Government, Adelaide City Council and seven inner city councils. Again there is a strong community involvement asking residents to re-imagine and re-invent Adelaide. It involved 12 months of briefings with 25 industry groups, 1,000 experts drawn from a variety of disciplines and 180,000 on-line contributions.

People were asked to see their city not as it is but how it could be. As the Integrated Design Commission argues: "While vision without execution is daydreaming, execution without vision is chaos. We need both. Design can imagine. Governance can implement". Significantly the overwhelming response was that people want more integrated decision making, explained better at the start.

For years 80% of the planning work for developments and projects happened first in-house, within governmental processes. Only 20% occurred in the public domain, usually later. This is no longer acceptable. People are saying this is their city and they want to be more involved in decisions that affect their lives from the very start.

Integrated Design, if properly embraced, is really about a new style of urban governance that takes a longer and wider view, but gets better results along the way. In Laura's words, "The very best of design is a research process that seeks to understand all the elements at play at any given situation. Defining problems correctly is the most powerful way to find the best solutions. Design is both analytical, creative and synthetic in its methods. To these ends design is collaborative, creative decision making about the problems and solutions needed to enhance our capacities to be in the world".

Finally I want to commend to you a small but important project. Following the work of another Thinker in Residence on social inclusion policy, Geoff Mulgan, we established The Centre for Social Innovation, TACSI. One of TACSI's first and most successful projects has been Renew Adelaide, an urban renewal project involving young people. With the support of government, council, local business and property owners, young, creative entrepreneurs and artists are using abandoned, unused and underutilised spaces - buildings, warehouses, lofts, lane ways - to establish small businesses ranging from art galleries, performance venues, coffee shops, bike repair and redesign, fashion design, web design and multi-media studios. The project has terrific employment, skills and confidence benefits for the young people involved. It is also helping to revitalise the CBD, enrich our culture and very importantly retain talented young people in our city and state rather than going to Sydney, Melbourne or overseas. Their experiences and contagious enthusiasm is also forcing the South Australian Government and the Adelaide City Council to review planning and building regulations, many of them petty, which impede rather than invite the participation of young people and smaller enterprises in our city.

So what is my overriding message here today.

In the 21st century cities can no longer either be neglected or be allowed to grow in a way that is destructive to their culture, character, liveability and environment. People are at the heart of cities and their needs should be paramount.

Sustainable, vibrant cities don't just grow organically. To improve our cities requires a plan that demonstrates that strong economic, social and environmental outcomes are not mutually exclusive.

Laura Lee showed us that integrated design incorporating all these values, and actively involving citizens in re-imagining their communities is the key to success. Fred Hansen puts the pedestrian and the cyclist before the car. He also places better public transport that drives economic and social development at the centre of urban renewal.

South Australia's Strategic Plan and 30 year Plan for Greater Adelaide tells us that while targets are important those targets must be supported by plans that are implemented, evaluated and measured.

Ultimately revitalising our cities for citizens and businesses alike will require strong leadership and a planning and decision making framework that goes beyond normal electoral timetables.

But ultimately great cities need strong leadership, backed by a plan.

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