In April 2016, the Australian Government released the Smart Cities Plan (DPMC 2016). The plan outlines the Australian Government’s vision for cities—metropolitan and regional—and how policy, investment and technology can deliver integrated long-term planning, targeted investment and urban policy reform. The plan joins a variety of national inquiries, reviews, reports, programs and policies undertaken to improve various aspects of Australia’s built environment. These include:
- the Council of Australian Governments 2011 review of metropolitan planning strategies to ensure matching and orderly infrastructure provision
- Productivity Commission inquiries into planning, zoning and development assessments (2011), and public infrastructure (2014), and the Harper review of competition policy (2015), all highlighting the need to reform land-use planning
- the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council report, Investing in cities (ASBEC 2015), aimed at ‘maximising the benefits created by the world’s most urbanised nation’
- the National Australian Built Environment Ratings System
- the Australian Infrastructure Plan
- state of Australian cities reporting (e.g. DITMCU 2013).
Recently, management has aimed to increase the levels of brownfield or greyfield development (brownfield is land previously used for industrial or commercial purposes; greyfield is outdated, failing or underused land in the inner city). Targets for infill development and an increased share of medium-density housing have been established for many inner city areas. Containing development within existing urban boundaries allows cities to preserve valuable rural land on the outskirts for other uses, such as agriculture, recreation and environmental preservation (Infrastructure Australia 2016). The lack of a model for redeveloping middle suburbs has, however, meant a preference by successive governments for continuing to release greenfield land on the fringe of the major cities (Newton 2012).
Land conversion for urban development can destroy habitat, and introduce disturbances and threats (Forman 2014). During the past 5 years, regulatory frameworks related to offsetting the loss of biodiversity as a result of development have emerged in all jurisdictions in an ad hoc and uncoordinated manner. Their effectiveness in conserving biodiversity is still in question, and the system is in need of harmonisation.
There are numerous plans to increase infrastructure investments, including several proposals to expand the capacity of urban passenger rail networks as high-priority initiatives on the updated Infrastructure Priority List. These investments will have long-lasting impacts on Australia’s cities (Infrastructure Australia 2016).