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Cities in planning spotlight

By Kevin Rudd - posted Monday, 2 November 2009

Around the world, nations are grappling with the challenge of planning for the cities of the future. The forces of the global economy are driving rapid urban growth and requiring governments to rethink their approach to the planning and development of cities.

Last year, with very little comment, the world passed a remarkably significant milestone. For the first time in history, (most) humans live in cities and towns, rather than rural areas. In other words, we have tipped the scales and become an urban planet. Or, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, we have entered the urban century.

Cities today are essential to the prosperity of our national economy. They produce a large share of the goods, services, ideas and people that shape our world. In many ways the competition for investment, skilled workers, international events and business now occurs between cities rather than countries. Because cities are now so vital to economic success and citizens' wellbeing, national governments are playing a much greater role in planning and delivering growth.


As the (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's) 2006 report on Competitive Cities in the Global Economy argues, national economic strategy can no longer ignore the characteristics of cities that shape economic performance, social cohesion and environmental conditions.

"National urban policies in the past have been reactive and remedial, not proactive and dynamic. Urban issues (must) be given greater visibility and higher priority in national policy."

Australia, famously, is one of the most urbanised nations on earth. The nation that once rode on the sheep's back now rides the M2, M4 and M5 into Sydney and the Epping, Lilydale and Werribee lines into Melbourne.

In 2006 our capital cities produced at least 65 per cent of national (gross domestic product). And more than two-thirds of new jobs are created in capital cities. Capital cities are the hubs of our innovation economy, gateways to the global economy and the centres of our road, rail and broadband networks. Nearly two-thirds of the value of international sea freight is handled through a major city port. And more than 80 per cent of international passenger movements take place through Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane airports.

Cities connect our farms, mines and rural areas to world markets. They often hold the corporate headquarters of regionally based companies.

One of the mistakes in debates about infrastructure and planning is thinking that cities and regional areas are in competition and governments must favour cities or the regions. Having spent most of my early years growing up in country Australia, and most of the past three decades in different cities, I'm convinced this is a myth.


The prosperity of urban, suburban and regional Australia are strongly interlinked. Our cities and regions depend on each other, so that planning for the separate needs of regional Australia and metropolitan Australia is in the interests of the whole nation.

City transport bottlenecks can undermine the competitiveness of regional exports. Poor regional water infrastructure can raise prices for the fresh food consumed in our cities. That is why tackling the future challenges of our major cities is so important to our nation's long-term prosperity.

To quote Sir Rod Eddington, (chairman) of Britain's 2006 Eddington Transport Study and now (chairman) of Infrastructure Australia: "Good transport systems support the productivity of urban areas, supporting deep and productive labour markets ... Transport corridors are the arteries of domestic and international trade."

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First published in The Australian on October 28, 2009. Edited from an address to the Business Council of Australia on October 27, 2009. 

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Kevin Rudd is Prime Minister of Australia.

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