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Polycentric cities

One of the utopian ideals for planners has been the polycentric city.

Unlike the model we currently have in most places around the world where cities are made up of one large CBD with satellite suburbs fanning out.  A polycentric city would have a number of similar sized centres, each offering the full range of opportunities to live work and play, self-contained cities.

With all the economic forces of the past decades leading to greater concentration in our major cities, a more realistic way to consider polycentric cities would be to still have one big CBD, with a few smaller CBDs.

But what does the population think about satisfying their employment, residential and entertainment needs within the one hub.  Will people buy into the polycentric ideal?

Macroplan decided to test the waters by actually asking the question.  We conducted 500 surveys of commuters in Parramatta currently travelling to work in the Sydney CBD, to see if they would be happy to substitute their existing city job for an equivalent one in Parramatta.

We chose Parramatta because it is the best example of a large-scale employment and retail node in Australia.  With a service population of over one million people, and around 70,000 people working in and around the CBD, it’s not much smaller than Adelaide’s CBD.  In addition, Parramatta has significant growth potential given that western Sydney will be the focal point of growth in Sydney over the next 15-20 years.  If a polycentric city has a chance to work anywhere, it’s Parramatta.

The results of our survey were a surprise to most in the planning field.  It was an even split.  The same number of people who would take the job closer to home, would continue with their long commute and keep their CBD job.  The reason for this is, when people take a job, they have an expectation about a future career.  As yet, places such as Parramatta can offer back-of-house jobs, but they can’t offer long-term career development.  They don’t have professional and social networks and they don’t offer the scope for promotion.

Macroplan has followed up this research with work around Australia to see what would be necessary to create a true polycentric city where in one metropolitan area there would be two town centres which were substitutable for the other.  What we’ve learnt is that even a place like Parramatta would need to have doubled the number of current jobs to make it an attractive employment substitute for the Sydney CBD.  And those jobs are coming . . .

Over time, it’s likely that Parramatta will assume elements of polycentric city, but it is the only non-capital Australian city which shows this potential.

From an investment perspective, costs of dwellings are significantly lower here than in the CBD, so the yields will be eventually greater.  If you have a longer investment horizon and want to buy something with redevelopment potential over 10-15 years, you might get a super profit as Parramatta reaches that critical mass.


About the author: 

Brian Haratsis is MacroPlan’s Founder and Executive Chairman. Brian is an economist and future strategist with over 30 years experience as an advisor to governments and major corporate clients throughout Australia and New Zealand. For more information or to discuss your property research requirements, please contact Amy Williams on 02 9221 5211 or amy.williams@macroplan.com.au.

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