Sydney and Melbourne GCCSA population vs with addition of Wollongong and Geelong LGAs (source data ABS)

In this week’s Tw3, The Urbanist comments on:

  • Is Melbourne already bigger than Sydney?
  • Bigger is better – small businesses once employed over half of private sector workers but no longer
  • Public transport is always greener on the other side
  • Doncaster hill’s next major apartment project verges on approval
  • Council wants toll for $5.5b West Gate Tunnel to be set by minister, not operator
  • Sydney park to be named after Green Ban-era community leader Nita McCrae

Is Melbourne already bigger than Sydney?

Sydney has a bigger population than Melbourne, right? Well, maybe. A lot depends on where you draw Sydney’s northern boundary. At the moment the official definition of Greater Sydney stretches all the way to Lake Macquarie, about 120 kilometres north of the CBD.  So if Greater Sydney did not include the Central Coast and Greater Melbourne did include Geelong, the Victorian capital would be Australia’s biggest city by a significant margin.

But conversely, if Greater Melbourne did not include the satellite cities of Melton and Sunbury and the shires beyond, and Greater Sydney did include the City of Wollongong, the NSW capital would be head and shoulders larger than Melbourne i.e. 5.2 million vs 4.3 million.

How long is a piece of string? Defining the geographical extent of cities is fraught, but arguably the best way is to include those outlying locations that have a strong economic and social relationship with the central urbanised area. Labour catchments are a useful measure and they’re mainly what the ABS uses to define Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (see also How big is Melbourne?).

Anyway, the author is a little casual with his measurements. Greater Sydney’s northern boundary isn’t 120 km from the CBD. According to Google Maps it’s 90 km to Point Wollstoncroft on Lake Macquarie. Further, Geelong isn’t “a little closer to Melbourne’s CBD than the central coast hub of Gosford is to downtown Sydney”; Geelong is 65 km and Gosford 50 km from their respective CBDs. While the author emphasises the stretch to the northern boundary, note that Greater Sydney’s southern boundary at Little Garie Point is 38 km from the CBD, much the same as the 39 km Greater Melbourne spreads in the west to Little River.

At present, the ABS estimates the populations of Greater Sydney and Greater Melbourne are 5.0 million and 4.7 million, respectively. If one suspects the ABS might’ve squibbed on including Wollongong and Geelong within the boundaries of Greater Sydney and Greater Melbourne for fear of outraging the locals, adding them reduces Sydney’s margin from 305,000 to 277,000. Not really a lot.

Bigger is better – small businesses once employed over half of private sector workers but no longer

Why have small businesses declined in relative importance? Many factors have probably contributed to the downward trend, including, among others…consumer preferences, with consumers preferring to shop at bigger stores with more variety and lower prices (as the bigger stores benefit from economies of scale)…

The story’s about the massive and rapid fall in small business’s share of jobs (in Qld, from 56% in 2007 to 44% in 2016), but it also illustrates one of the problems with the fashionable idea of the 20-Minute City (see Is the “20-minute city” mostly spin?).

Given travel by car is perceived as low cost, shoppers seek not only the economies of scale offered by malls and big box centres, but also the larger range of products and services they offer compared to smaller local centres. Large retail concentrations enable shoppers to compare prices and to buy multiple goods and services in the one trip. Then there’s air-conditioning, security, clean toilets, ease of parking, and more. They’re not for everyone, but it seems they’re for most everyone (see Do suburban shopping centres deserve all the hatred?).

Public transport is always greener on the other side

In Australia, public transport has to play catch-up constrained by an urban form designed by and for the car. This isn’t an impossible task, by any means, but it suggests that perhaps we’re comparing ourselves to the wrong cities.

What if we made more realistic comparisons? For example Portland, Oregon, is around the same size and has about the same population of Brisbane. It is held up as one of the “best transit cities” in the United States. Yet Brisbane has more public transport trips per capita – around 70 per year – than Portland, which has 58 per year.

The author, Dr Alexa Delbosc, followed up this week asking: “Which is more useful: to compare ourselves to cities with similar land use, or cities with amazing public transport but completely different land use?”.

Cities like London and Paris are useful aspirational models, but their land use pattern is very different to Australian cities. Even in the pre-car era, Australian cities developed at relatively low dwelling densities. Today, Sydney has a population of around 625,000 within the first 5 km radius of the CBD and Melbourne has approximately 430,000; in contrast, London has 1.3 million and Paris has 2.25 million (see Is public transport the only solution to congestion?).

However, as Dr Delbosc points out, our cities look quite good compared to north American cities. I’ve noted before that Sydney does better on active travel than transport poster-child Vancouver (see How does Sydney compare to Vancouver on travel?).

Doncaster hill’s next major apartment project verges on approval

Already holding the consent of Council planners, a positive result at next week’s Council Meeting will see 666 Doncaster Road add to the measured flow of high-density residential projects atop the hill. 

Doncaster Hill already has a growing concentration of high-rise residential buildings, yet it has no rail line or tram line, only buses. Conversely, an inner suburban train station like Dennis has very little high density residential development. The forces that drive development aren’t as simple as “build it and they will come”.

Council wants toll for $5.5b West Gate Tunnel to be set by minister, not operator

The council believes variable pricing could be one way to keep congestion in the CBD down – and wants the government to be able to impose it without having to renegotiate contracts with the $24 billion toll road operator. 

Tolls are set to maximise revenue, not to manage traffic flow. As I’ve noted before, the Government could implement a congestion charging tariff to manage traffic and compensate the operator for foregone revenue (see Is it time to get serious about road pricing?).

Sydney park to be named after Green Ban-era community leader Nita McCrae

The City of Sydney voted on 11 September to name a pocket park in Sydney’s The Rocks after the late community leader Nita McCrae. McCrae was the founder of the Rocks Resident Action Group, which mobilized in opposition to the NSW Government’s plans to redevelop the suburb as a high-rise commercial precinct in the 1970s.

Ms McCrae is doubtless a worthy person, but public bodies should learn the lessons from the international debate over statues and abandon the practice of honouring individuals by naming public spaces after them. As I noted recently, in a world where even Mother Theresa has feet of clay and the failings of the royals are continuously and forensically documented, there’s no one who mightn’t be beyond criticism as community views change over time. It’s especially contentious where the honouree reflects the political preferences of those currently in power (see Should public works be named after politicians?).