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Why suburbs need to be the next frontier for cities policy

By Ross Elliott - posted Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Another favoured shibboleth of these boosters is the notion that the inner city is where "all the jobs growth" has been and will be into the future. But the evidence doesn't support this. Strong inner city jobs growth has driven much positive change in our CBD skylines but compared with jobs growth across the metro regions, it has been jobs growth in suburban locations that has been the engine room of metro wide employment growth in the ten years to 2016, as the next graph shows.

In terms of the share of metro wide jobs, the inner city regions of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne represent 14%, 8% and 15% of the metro region respectively. (Sydney is understated as the ABS definition of inner Sydney does not include North Sydney). So broadly 85% of people who call themselves residents of these cities are going to work in suburban workplaces.


Here's where the policy imbalance comes in. We are a highly urbanized nation but, just as observed in Infinite Suburbia, our urbanisation is chiefly suburban in nature. Roughly nine in ten people who would say they live in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne awake from suburban beds each day – not inner urban ones. And roughly 17 in every 20 travel not to inner city workplaces but to suburban ones.

Australia's cities policy would do well to reflect this economic and demographic reality. What has been achieved in inner urban renewal and enhanced community infrastructure has been outstanding but it is time to spread the focus wider to be fairer. The quality of life and employment opportunities of future suburban city dwellers – however they may continue to be sneered at by some inner city elites – are just as worthy as anyone else's.

If we fail to re-balance cities policy to more accurately reflect where the majority of us live and work, we will risk creating cities of two classes of people, based on geography. This is just as anathema to the Australian tradition of "a fair go" as is a feudal class structure of Kings and Clergy ruling over a peasantry – with positions in the social heirarchy defined by birthright.

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This article was first published on The Pulse.

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About the Author

Ross Elliott is an industry consultant and business advisor, currently working with property economists Macroplan and engineers Calibre, among others.

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