Executive Summary

COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on Greater Sydney – both through the virus itself and the restrictions put in place to stop its spread.

Our behaviours have had to adapt to new circumstances. Our work environment may have changed, our economic security harmed. How and where we travel, shop, spend our leisure time and access services are all affected. The infrastructure we use and rely on may have shifted. Our physical and mental health, our wellbeing may be compromised as a result of these changes.

In some cases, there may be positive impacts. Many people are spending more time with family and surveys show significant increases in walking and cycling and connecting with others in local communities.

Understanding the city-shaping impacts of the pandemic must also consider the economic and health impacts that people are feeling across Greater Sydney and how to support economic recovery.

When the pandemic first emerged, the NSW Government’s policy settings and the city’s communities and businesses adapted quickly to restrictions to minimise the spread of the virus. Many businesses closed and many workers were stood down or lost their jobs.

The easing of some restrictions as the spread of COVID-19 slowed, enabled Greater Sydney to transition to a half-open city where social distancing and preventive health measures remain in place. Nevertheless, for many the changes and impacts are ongoing.

The Greater Sydney Commission (the Commission) has worked with stakeholders across Government to gather and interpret data to investigate the changes and the impacts on Greater Sydney. The Commission has also consulted with Greater Sydney’s 33 councils, industry and other stakeholders to make sense of the data and what groups and individuals are experiencing.

 

 

This report analyses the first six months of available data. From this and our consultation with State agencies, councils, industry and stakeholders we identified nine critical focus areas of city-shaping that we believe will be fundamental to recovery and resilience.

They are:

  1. Community wellbeing is essential to resilience.
  2. Rapid recalibration of jobs and productivity through training and skills and developing specialised precincts is critical to economic recovery.
  3. Changes to where we work is revitalising some centres and may influence where we choose to live.
  4. Changes to where and when we work and shop alters demand for transport services and freight logistics.
  5. Digital technology is vital infrastructure and universal access is needed.
  6. Investment in open, public and shared spaces connects communities and supports healthy lifestyles.
  7. A metropolis of three connected cities supports local outcomes.
  8. Collaboration and evidence are central to responsive and efficient government.
  9. Scenario planning provides for adaptive management and agile responses.

The NSW and Australian Governments have already implemented a range of significant policy responses to support people and the economic health of Greater Sydney.

The Commission will keep a watching brief on the changes, impacts, challenges and opportunities that the pandemic presents to Greater Sydney. This will include monitoring and analysing what the data tells us about how to maintain and optimise liveability, productivity and sustainability across our three cities. It will also tell us what it means for recalibrating policy settings and/or implementation approaches to Greater Sydney’s strategic plans.

This work reflects a point in time, a snapshot of how the early months of the pandemic have informed government, business and community planning for Greater Sydney’s present and future. The complex and far-reaching impacts of the pandemic are still evolving. Any future scenarios will be highly sensitive to the length and severity of the health crisis, the gravity of fiscal and institutional damage, and the extent of government support and leadership.

This is the first ‘City-shaping impacts of COVID-19’ report to keep abreast of how our city is changing as we move through the stages of the pandemic.

We will continue to collate data and provide city planning insights over the coming months. It is anticipated that further insights will be presented in the next edition of The Pulse of Greater Sydney.

 

 

Consultation

Cities are complex and the ability to adapt and recover requires an understanding of the challenges and opportunities in all aspects of Greater Sydney’s liveability, productivity and sustainability.

To gain this understanding, the Commission consulted across State agencies, including Transport for NSW, Infrastructure NSW, NSW Health, Department of Education, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Department of Customer Service, Department of Premier and Cabinet, and Department of Communities and Justice.

The NSW Government’s Data Analytics Centre has made a significant contribution and we received strong support from the Department of Planning Industry and Environment, particularly in relation to digital infrastructure and public spaces.

The Commission spoke to Greater Sydney’s 33 councils, industry and other stakeholders. This included social and environmental peak groups and planning and development organisations. We used the Greater Sydney Region Plan’s performance indicators and canvassed available data and evidence to inform the consultation.

The Commission focused on four questions:

  • How has the city and people’s behaviour changed since the pandemic began?
  • What should revert to normal, in keeping with health objectives?
  • Which of these changes can be embraced and how can we optimise their benefits?
  • What are the future uncertainties and how can they be managed?

Shifting trends

COVID-19 is accelerating existing trends – some of these may return to ‘normal’, others may endure to a certain extent; we cannot be sure yet. What is clear is that the negative impacts are affecting some more than others, increasing the inequities that already exist.

This may be as a result of where people live across the three cities, their age, family or personal circumstances, gender, socio-economic status or a combination of these.

For example, with 47 per cent of Greater Sydney’s employees able to work from home, the uptake of digital technology has accelerated as pressure is reducing on the transport system1. More health services are being delivered digitally in telehealth conferences and more consumers are shopping online.

The COVID-19 period also highlights the importance of designing cities, neighbourhoods and homes in ways that support wellbeing. Individuals and families are creatively utilising available space at home, adapting to evolving circumstances and relying on nearby open and public spaces. Connections to surrounding communities remain a fundamental consideration.

Serious impacts continue to be felt from the virus itself, the restrictions and the knock-on effects to the economy. These impacts are being felt unequally across Greater Sydney with 53 per cent of workers unable to work from home2. In addition, many people were temporarily stood down as workplaces closed, while others lost their jobs altogether, with an estimated 5.2 per cent of jobs lost in Greater Sydney between March 2020 and August 20203.

 

 

Looking ahead

The Premier’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan (Recovery Plan) focuses on priorities that are embedded in the Greater Sydney Region Plan – A Metropolis of Three Cities, the State Infrastructure Strategy – Building Momentum and the Future Transport Strategy 2056. These include the acceleration of large city-shaping infrastructure and major development projects to create jobs.

These strategies will underpin the government-wide efforts to respond to the Premier’s Recovery Plan. The focus areas identified in this report will inform updates of the Greater Sydney Region Plan, District Plans and a range of state and local initiatives to support recovery and long-term resilience.

Outcomes will continue to be monitored through The Pulse of Greater Sydney, the Commission’s comprehensive monitoring and reporting framework for Greater Sydney, which can be accessed via the Commission’s website.

City-shaping focus areas

Analysis of early data and consultation across agencies, councils, industry and city stakeholders brought nine critical aspects of city-shaping into sharp focus. Understanding these focus areas and their impacts is fundamental to recovery and improving resilience.

  1. Community wellbeing is essential to resilience

People’s involvement in the community, mental health and social connections are important in shaping a city that is resilient to future shocks and stresses. This includes consideration of intergenerational impacts, wider social and environmental impacts of policy and the quality of economic responses. The challenges for young people and elderly are particularly acute highlighting a need to enable social connections, and to focus on jobs and training for youth, and health and community services for the aged.

  1. Rapid recalibration of jobs and productivity through training and skills and developing specialised precincts is critical to economic recovery

Impacts on job sectors have been uneven. While some sectors are likely to be affected only in the short term, some may continue to be affected and others may be presented with growth opportunities. Education and training must respond to these changes to match industries with skills and people with jobs. The economics of place means successful job creating precincts and corridors benefit from agglomeration and proximity to other businesses and productivity networks. The spread of industrial lands across the cities are also an important consideration.

  1. Changes to where we work is revitalising some centres and may influence where we choose to live

Flexible locations for work have increased rapidly and there are indications that a portion of this increase may continue. This would lead to the revitalisation of local centres and an evolving role for CBDs. It may also mean that people who can work flexibly have a greater choice in where they live.

  1. Changes to where and when we work and shop alters demand for transport services and freight logistics

Increased working from home and greater flexibility in work location and work hours have shifted peak hour travel demand. This has the potential to change the focus from planning for a growing peak hour to supporting increased demand for a 24-hour transport network across the three cities. The rapid acceleration of e-commerce requires land use responses to support increased and efficient freight and logistics activities, especially ‘last-mile’ delivery systems.

  1. Digital technology is vital infrastructure and universal access is needed.

Never has it been more striking that digital infrastructure should be prioritised as essential infrastructure alongside physical and social infrastructure. Digital technology is transforming established business models, use of services, community networks and how we use public spaces. Greater incorporation of digital with spatial planning will ensure the virtual and physical city complement and support businesses and the community. This requires a risk-based approach to information and cyber security that incorporates citizen support.

  1. Investment in open, public and shared spaces connects communities and supports healthy lifestyles

The increase in local activity in open, public and shared spaces and its positive input to wellbeing underscores their value as community infrastructure. Public spaces support increased physical activity and healthy lifestyles and play a central role in connecting communities. Recognising how the community views and uses public spaces will enable better support for a wide range of social and economic functions.

  1. A metropolis of three connected cities supports local outcomes

Greater Sydney’s urban structure and the existing strategic planning framework are robust and well-suited to support recovery and resilience. The vision of a metropolis of three 30-minute cities is designed to rebalance and grow economic and social opportunities. The focus is to refine and accelerate its implementation within the context of COVID-19 and recovery.

  1. Collaboration and evidence are central to responsive and efficient government

Quick evidence-based decision-making is enabling government, individuals and businesses to adapt to optimise health and business outcomes. New collaborative models of working across government and with stakeholders have emerged to deliver high quality and efficient decision making on key operational issues for Greater Sydney. These models are principles driven, ensuring the best evidence, resources and skills are made available.

  1. Scenario planning provides for adaptive management and agile responses

Acknowledging that change is constant for cities, the testing of scenarios that can incorporate a range of interrelated variables will enable more agile responses to support business recovery and changes to population growth.