COVID-19 economic recovery: Creating a positive legacy for Australian communities

Posted April 22, 2020

  • Local government
  • State government
SGS Economics and Planning Bondi Beach Closed COVID 19 outbreak April 2020

The chance to create a positive legacy through investment is a once in a lifetime event. That event is happening right now. Government investment in the right infrastructure will support economic recovery and improve how current and future generations live. It's time to hold steady, be focused and explore new ways to capture opportunities within existing strategic plans.

Existing plans are more important than ever

Existing strategies and plans set clear visions for sustainable places, communities and economies. They are more important than ever. Plans such as Plan Melbourne, The Greater Sydney Region Plan, Living Adelaide, Brisbane Vision 2031, and Perth and Peel @ 3.5million form important and shared foundations for decision making about how our cities should develop in response to global, national and local challenges. These strategies address some consistent themes such as housing, open space, infrastructure, centres, transport accessibility and the environment. Right now, we have a unique opportunity to create a positive legacy and to support the transformation of the cities and places outlined in these plans.

Consider new scenarios and adjust plans

It is time to consider scenarios for growing and transforming cities and regions, and how previous estimates of population and economic growth may change in response to the COVID-19 global health pandemic. Strategic planners need to consider these scenarios and make adjustments. With that said, many of the challenges that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic will continue including housing affordability, accessibility to jobs and services, and climate change. These problems are known and clear, and we have an opportunity right now to tackle these problems in a unique way.

Hold steady and focus efforts

The COVID-19 shut down will continue to affect Australia's places, communities and economies long after restrictions lift. Population growth is expected to slow and the demand for retail and commercial buildings will likely shift. Behaviours established or accelerated during the COVID-19 restrictions, including increased online shopping, working from home and active travel, could continue. It is important to hold steady on our efforts to address ongoing change and:

  1. Invest in infrastructure to shape our cities of the future.
  2. Invest in sectors that contribute to the vibrancy of our cities.
  3. Invest in our existing industry strengths while upskilling populations for jobs of the future.
  4. Leverage behavioural shifts.
  5. Improve the built form and the public realm.

Opportunities for creating a positive legacy

There is a real and significant need for government investment to both stimulate immediate growth and set up Australia’s cities for a prosperous and sustainable future. The right investment could fast track a future where:

  • Communities have access to the services they need locally as well as metro-wide opportunities such as employment and education.
  • People can get around easily using active transport.
  • People in need can access social and affordable housing.
  • Cities are built to help mitigate climate change and withstand the impacts of increased weather volatility.

Continuing this focus could also build community resilience and help businesses and government to respond, adapt and thrive during future shocks and stresses.

1. Invest in infrastructure to create cities of the future

The demand for investment in our health services to respond to future health risks and potential changes to the way we move around our cities will continue. Opportunities exist to consider programs, or packages of projects in particular areas, to cumulatively deliver place significant outcomes, for example:

  • active travel infrastructure including cycling, trail and pedestrian networks
  • cooling and greening infrastructure and other sustainability measures
  • establishing health and education precincts
  • social and affordable housing
  • early works to support urban renewal projects
  • community and social infrastructure.
SGS Economics and Planning Cooling and Greening Suburban Street Adelaide
Cooling and greening: Suburban Street, Adelaide

2. Support industries that contribute to cities

The effects of the COVID-19 restrictions are disproportionately hitting businesses across cities. Hospitality, arts and culture, retail, and recreation business, in particular, are experiencing significant challenges, and these sectors are part of what contributes to the vibrancy and quality of life in cities and regions. Planning can guide investment in infrastructure which provides the best opportunity for these sectors to recover, including investment in:

  • spaces and centres for arts and cultural activities
  • public realm and open space to increase the attractiveness of activity centres
  • markets, exhibition spaces and cultural precincts
  • spaces for community facilities and social services.
SGS Economics and Planning cultural festival melbourne CBD
Cultural Festival Melbourne CBD

3. Support a more resilient and productive economy

The Australian economy has received a shock with far-reaching effects. As new economic opportunities emerge, supporting infrastructure to enable economies to prosper will be essential. Priorities include:

  • Building on existing strengths and opportunities such as advanced/health manufacturing, food technology and processing.
  • Building on the strengths of existing health and education precincts to maximise the potential for innovation and knowledge transfer.
  • Upskilling the economy through investment in education and training.
  • Supporting the significant productive capacity of activity within central cities.
  • Building flexibility into spaces and infrastructure to support emerging industries.
  • Ensuring a sufficient supply of land to support a diversity of employment and productive functions in the right places throughout cities.
SGS Economics and Planning university hospital gold coast
University hospital, Gold Coast

4. Leverage behavioural shifts

COVID-19 restrictions across Australia's cities and economies have resulted in many changes in behaviour that could impact travel demand including a shift towards more active travel and accelerated online retailing and working from home, which is suggesting more flexible travel demand patterns.

This opportunity to shift travel patterns could be further encouraged by more flexible timetabling to help reduce crowds during peak travel times and investment in active travel infrastructure. It’s important to note that investment to promote confidence in and proactive use of public transport may be required while planning for existing and future projects continue.

SGS Economics and Planning active transport the goodwill bridge Brisbane
Active transport: The Goodwill Bridge Brisbane

5. Improve built form and the public realm

Construction-led recovery will contribute to economic activity, employing construction workers, designers and engineers and requiring goods from a range of sources. Once complete, the built form will also make a long term contribution to the public realm and character of Australian cities.

However, this contribution must be positive and developed as per plans established through due process and engagement, in the right locations and respond to local settings. Built form delivered as part of an economic recovery package that detracts from liveability would represent an opportunity cost, with impacts borne by the community.

Newcastle light rail contruction
Light rail works, Australia

Potential legacy projects

Projects that have the potential to leave a positive and lasting legacy:

  • East-west transport connections in the northern region of Melbourne, particularly public and active transport links. Improvements to bike lanes, paths and trails along the Upfield bike path, Cumberland Road Pascoe Vale, Brunswick Road, Diamond Creek to Hurstbridge and Burgundy Street, Heidelberg could be one package of work which would make a substantive difference to the connectivity and transport choices for communities in the northern region.
  • Coordinating land use and infrastructure for the Western City District. The Greater Sydney Region Plan identifies Western Sydney Airport and Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis as economic catalysts for Western Parkland City. Investment in early infrastructure to support these projects would help fast track economic prosperity across Western Sydney.
  • Early works at Fishermans Bend, including the extension of the tram from Docklands and sustainability infrastructure, would help catalyse development in a way which minimises resource use, contributing to climate change mitigation. This could include an integrated water recycling facility to supply a new third-pipe network.
  • Creating a positive legacy can also come about by using resources to fast track policy implementation. One Melbourne council has redeployed staff members, whose jobs in libraries, recreation centres and as school crossing supervisors aren’t currently required, and enlisted their efforts to help implement their Open Space Strategy by planting indigenous plants across the municipality.

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