What smart cities and pizza delivery have in common

A few weeks ago I wrote about planning the smart city, which highlighted a range of urban planning issues I uncovered with Australia’s Planner of the Year in 2015, Chris Isles of Place Design Group. In this interview Chris highlighted the fundamental building blocks of a smart city, such as density, urban form, and mix of uses. In this article, the Greater Sydney Commission breaks down the region into core districts, encouraging mixed use and compatable zoning. With the plans now completed, we look forward to the Commission implementing the vision. — Adam Beck

Truly smart cities and good pizza delivery are a lot alike: in both, you get what you want in about a half hour.

Lucy Turnbull, the head of the Greater Sydney commission wants to turn the city into three “30 minute cities.” The idea is that within each, you would never be more than 30 minutes from what you need.

And Turnbull says this isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.

What’s driving this?
Rapid population growth. And not only is the population growing rapidly, the forecasts keep growing too. Under the latest forecasts, Sydney’s population will nearly double within the next 40 years. And if the latest forecast is anything like the prior forecasts, the actual growth rate may be much higher than even that.

Meanwhile, as the population grows, so too does the frustration of getting around. Already the city is struggling to keep typical commutes to about an hour.

What does a 30-minute city look like?
If the vision becomes reality, Sydney will become denser. It’s a vision that would make Sydney much more like its peers worldwide. For example, Los Angeles has more than double the density of Sydney.

Much of Sydney’s sprawl is caused by high living costs. Many people can’t afford to live in the central core so they keep pushing farther and farther out until they find something in their price range. The new district plans aim to help fix that by encouraging mixed-use housing developments near universities and major work centres. In the central core, planners are looking at improving building height restrictions and looking at other redevelopment options to make better use of the available space.

But housing is just one part of the equation. Putting citizen services close-by is also critical, which the plans address by emphasizing a de-centralised approach.

For instance, in the area of health care, the district plans call for turning the Northern Beaches Hospital area in the city's north district into a new health and education super precinct that can provide more care to more people. Similar health precincts are also planned in Randwick and Camperdown-Ultimo in the central district, and Westmead in the west-central district. Campbelltown in the southwest district would be developed into something the planners call "a health and medical university city." The Kogarah health district in the south would be advanced by improving the infrastructure that provides access to it.