Australian cities must transform for population growth

SYDNEY Mon Mar 15, 2010 1:12am EDT

1 of 4. A computer-generated image file released by Australian Institute of Architects' Venice Biennale exhibition shows a futuristic Gold Coast in Queensland.

Credit: Reuters/Arup's proposal for the Australian Institute of Architects' Venice Biennale exhibition/Handout

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia circa 2050, population 35 million, climate change induced rising sea levels have flooded the Gold Coast resort region, apartment blocks are now used to grow food and people commute in monorail pods above the sea.

In another city, Australians live on floating island pods with apartments both below and above sea level, the population has shifted from land to the sea because of the sky-rocketing value of disappearing arable land.

Climate change has also forced many Australians to move inland and create new cities in the outback, relying on solar power to exist in the inhospitable interior.

These are just a few urban scenarios by some of Australia's leading architects shortlisted for "Ideas for Australian Cities 2050+" to be staged at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.

While these images may sound like science fiction, many architects and demographers say Australian cities must radically transform to cope with the pressures of population growth and climate change or face social unrest and urban decay.

"If we don't get this right ... all hell breaks loose, or our cities break down, there's not enough water, there's not enough power," said one of Australia's leading demographers Bernard Salt.

Australia survived the global financial crisis, due largely to China buying its resources, and while resource exports will continue to bolster its economy for decades, future prosperity may be threatened by a growing, aging population, according to an Australian government report released in February.

The report said Australia's population was set to rise by 60 percent to 35 million by 2050, mainly through migration, yet cities are already groaning under the present population.

"One of the major frontier issues for Australia over the next decade will be the future of our cities," said Heather Ridout, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, which is calling for major infrastructure investment in cities.

Among the beneficiaries of such development would be property firms like Lend Lease, Stockland and Mirvac Group, building material groups Boral Ltd and CSR, Australia's top engineering contractor Leighton Holding Ltd, and the country's biggest private hospital operator, Ramsay Health.

But demographers warn that Australian cities need to not only expand infrastructure, but ensure future residents have equal access to city facilities.

Racial riots at Sydney's Cronulla beach in 2005 and a series of attacks against Indian students in the past year are signs of growing social tensions in Australian cities, say demographers.

"If we have a rising population, we need to make sure that we have appropriate infrastructure, so that we don't lose the social cohesion that we take for granted," said Larissa Brown from the Center for Sustainable Leadership. "We need affordable access to housing, to transport, to healthcare."

While Australia is double the size of Europe, three-quarters of the country is sparsely populated countryside or harsh outback, leaving the bulk of the population to inhabit a thin strip down the southeast coast. In fact, around 50 percent of the population live in the three largest cities -- Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane -- on a combined land area that is about the size of Brunei or Trinidad & Tobago.

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Comments (15)
paintcan wrote:
The illustration is nonsense. A city doesn’t have to exist on arable land. It could live in the desert. Unless a great deal has changed or will change in building technology and materials are designed to last more than a few decades, there is little practical reason for Australians to worry about clinging to coasts that may be liable to sea level rise. American cities are full of buildings that may look substantial and be almost new and yet die because they are no longer worth keeping alive. People have been walking a way from new homes because they can’t pay the mortgage. They loose value and are sold to the next tier down. They will suffer for lack of repair if that condition persists and they rapidly turn to garbage. Whole neighborhoods can became less attractive and turned to slum conditions that are only good for milking the last rents from those less able to pay them. They are then abandoned because the owners realize it is cheaper to let the municipality take them for unpaid taxes than to try to keep them alive. They aren’t design ed to last for centuries.

It is an appealing and very practical idea to go out to sea in floating cities. That’s one option. While the buildings on land are aging and falling apart, steps could be taken to start new floating acreage.

But because Australia has such vast stretches of outback, the Australians could consider putting new fully planned cities in the dry areas. And no government agency has to build it all. They lay it out and provide infrastructure and let private development do the rest as Brazilia was built.

Wouldn’t one of the side effects of global warming also be a general trend for warmer air and therefore more rain? Cities provide a lot of roof area for water collection. Perhaps? Desalination plants are running with filters that could be more economical in the future and better use of water over all – more recycling and less use of potable water for purely utilitarian purposes, could make the translation of a city from one location to another almost painless. Modern society tends to be restless anyway. Real estate is very sensitive to fads and fashions and the ability to attract paying tenants or investors. It doesn’t take much for money to fear an entire city. The South Bronx and large areas of Philadelphia are proof of that. A city that floods is not going to be an attractive place to live. People will flee long before anyone ever gets around to building monorails in to get them out of their flooded high rise lobbies.

High rises tend to be built either of reinforced concrete or steel frame construction. They really can’t stand to have their “feet wet”. If the illustration is intended to show an adapted existing city, all those buildings would likely have problems with damp and wicking action through the reinforced concrete foundations.

If they are build with new waterproof materials, who would live in a city that would be prone to flooding when the sea gets rough? The floating option at least could ride the waves and there would be little reason to build high rises at all. If you have the surface area – why go up?.

Mar 16, 2010 9:51am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Cinardo wrote:
Dude, your post should be shorter than the story!

Mar 16, 2010 10:56am EDT  --  Report as abuse
breezinthru wrote:
Wouldn’t it be infinitely smarter to intentionally reduce the birth rate?

Mar 16, 2010 10:58am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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