Sydney and Melbourne should be ‘polycentric cities’

Sydney’s three hubs (Greater Sydney Commission)

As the population of Australia’s two largest cities push towards the 5 million mark, increasing attention is being paid to urban sprawl and the need for people to live closer to where they work.

Many people in Australia say that Australia’s two megacities are getting too big, but they are minnows on the world scale. Sydney is the only the 84th largest city on earth, and Melbourne is 89th. There are more than 20 cities in China alone larger than either of them.

But, thanks to Australian’s love of the quarter acre block, both Sydney and Melboourne are physically large, which means comparatively low population density. That in turn means comparatively poor transportation links and long travel times.

Long commutes are exacerbated by the fact that both cities are centred on their CBDs. Many people travel to the city centre, which in neither city is at the centre of the larger metropolitan area, to work.

There has long been talk of decentralisation within the metropolitan areas, but it has been a slow process. Still, attempts are being made.

The Prime Minister’s wife, Lucy Turnbull, is a former Lord Mayor of Sydney and now heads the Greater Sydney Commission. On 21 October she handed the NSW State Government a draft for the Commission’s vision of a ‘a metropolis of three cities’.

They are the ‘Easter Harbour City’, centred on the existing CBD, the ‘Central River City’, centred on Parramatta, and the ‘Western Parkland City’, which is a ‘cluster’ centred around the Badgerys Creek Airport, Penrith and Campbelltown.

The Badgerys Creek Western Sydney Airport, due to open in 2026, is even referred to as an ‘aeropolis’.

 In Melbourne, consultancy PwC has outline a similar vision for ’30 minute Melbourne’, which refers to the maximum time it should take to commute to work. It talks of a ‘polycentric’ vision for Melbourne, without saying where the new centres should be – though it does mention locations such as Fishermen’s Bend and Monash as candidates.

Both documents call for a refocussing of transport links away from the existing radial model, where all roads lead to the CBD, towards a grid model that connects suburbs to each other.

Both Sydney and Melbourne have long suffered from a lack of coherent planning or a long-term vision. Transport infrastructure projects in particular are implemented in a notoriously ad hoc fashion.

These reports show that are some people able to take the longer view. Maybe – one day – politicians will listen to them.

The Greater Sydney Commission ‘A metropolis of three cities’ report is available here.

The PwC ’30-minute Melbourne’ report is available here.

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required