One of the current truisms about Australia’s biggest cities is that they’re full and we need to find ways to reduce the population because there are just too many people in ’em.
It’s an excuse which has been used to justify everything from immigration cuts to massive expressway projects, and it’s taken as a given that our cities are “full”, almost as though each Australian city is a hermit crab with a shell it simply cannot remove.
And look, living in big cities can be crowded and stressful.
And yes, Sydney contains just shy of five million people, depending slightly on what bits you consider “Sydney”, with Melbourne not far behind – making them the the biggest and most crowded cities in the whole wide world!
Sorry, that should read “85th and “90th Biggest And Most Crowded Respectively”.
Among the cities that have more people – and again, it’s worth noting that different sources use different definitions of where said cities begin and end – are such metropoli as New York (over 8 million), London (just under nine million), Mexico City (also just shy of 9 million), Jakarta (10.6 million), Moscow (13.2 million), Tokyo (13.5 million), Istanbul (just over 15 million) and three Chinese cities: Beijing (21.7 million), Shanghai (over 24 million) and Chongqing, which contains more than the entire population of Australia with over thirty million people.
So why can dozens of cities get bigger than Sydney, yet our largest city remains mysteriously at capacity?
The McKinsey Institute in the US has looked at the question of whether or not there are hard limits on how big a city can realistically get and concluded that yes, there is: it’s dependent on the competence of the government.
And that’s it.
If the government wants to make a city work, they plan accordingly – and think long term to do so.
They also look to questions of how to make the economies of scale in things like service provision work (it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to provide services to a huge but centralised population than a more diffuse one spread out over a vast area) while investing in core areas like transport and affordable housing.
Get that balance right and you get London and New York, vibrant places that are economic and population hubs. Screw it up and things go less well.
And that is a complicated job, not helped by state governments that proudly trumpet how they’re letting, for example, the construction industry operate without much regulation, and then act admit that hasn’t worked when said companies create buildings that become uninhabitable.
So next time you hear a politician talk about how a place is “full”, remember that they’re actually making excuses for not doing their job.