Greg Clark: Sydney on cusp of being global leader

Landmark research by international cities expert Professor Greg Clark launched last week has found that Sydney risks failing to live up to its brand promise and seeing its future appeal eroded if it is does not consistently benefit from investment, leadership and institutional support to address its emerging weaknesses.

The four-volume report, commissioned by the Property Council of Australia, compares Australia’s cities against similar ones in Canada, Scandinavia, Germany and Southwest USA as well as Asia’s most innovative cities.

The report received strong media coverage in Sydney and other cities with key issues such as congestion, digital connectivity and density discussed widely.  

“This research holds a mirror to our progress as a city and when compared to the world’s best, there is still work to do. Sydney is on the right track, but we still have a long way to go to operate optimally and leverage our strengths” Property Council NSW Executive Director Jane Fitzgerald said .      

“The research found that Sydney is perceived globally as being a top ten city, so our brand is strong, yet when looking at performance across key benchmarks, our performance is not ranked as highly.” 

Global benchmarks show that Sydney is now among a group of global ‘contender’ cities, a second tier of cities that include San Francisco, Boston, Toronto and Madrid, all on the cusp of becoming global leaders.

This new research finds Sydney’s key strengths to be its student economy, lifestyle, and internationally renowned brand. 

Professor Clark and colleagues at The Business of Cities found that areas requiring improvement were related to transport, congestion, the city’s low density and fragmented local government. They recognise the significant progress made recently with the infrastructure investment surge, creation of the Greater Sydney Commission, the Western Sydney City Deal, and the new Growth and Infrastructure Compacts. Professor Clark and his team argue that these must be deepened and fully embedded.  

“We are in an enviable position as a city both nationally and internationally, but to embrace and manage megatrends such as an aging population, climate change, the rapid change of technology and greater urban growth we should not be complacent,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“We are at a critical juncture about how to manage Sydney’s future growth. The establishment of the Greater Sydney Commission, Growth Infrastructure Compacts and Planned Precincts, the Western Sydney City Deal and the requirement for robust business cases for infrastructure investment are all significant and welcome steps. The hard work now begins.”

Like the other large Australian cities, Sydney has fallen behind international counterparts such as Montreal, Phoenix, and San Francisco in terms of congestion, journey times, and physical and digital connectivity. Sydney is also among the least efficient in land use relative to its competitive global peers contributing to a higher cost of providing transport and much longer commutes.

Other cities, such as Toronto, San Diego and Copenhagen also benefit from lower governance fragmentation and have more established and better resourced metropolitan institutions. 

“Professor Clark’s report shows us that we need to face the facts; Sydney isn’t operating as well as it could, and we need to get our planning and city policies right to ensure we don’t fall behind comparable cities across the world – we have made inroads, now we need to deliver outcomes.”  The full research can be read here