Analysis has found that COVID-19 is accelerating existing trends. For example, with 47 per cent of Greater Sydney’s employees able to work from home4, the uptake of digital technology has accelerated as pressure is reducing on the transport system. More health services are being delivered digitally by 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. A University of Sydney study shows that 53 per cent of workers are unable to work from home5. 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 20206.
The economic and fiscal context
Australia is in recession after 30 years of continuing economic growth. The NSW Government’s economic response to the pandemic - the largest of any state in Australia, currently at more than $15 billion7 - together with Australian Government support, seeks to soften the economic impact. Despite this, the State’s economy contracted by almost 10 per cent in the second half of the 2019-20 financial year8.
Varying impacts across the three cities
The impacts of the pandemic have varied across the geographical spread of Greater Sydney. For example, as of August 2020 there were almost 50 per cent fewer people working in the Sydney CBD than in January 20209. Meanwhile, local centres such as Villawood, Auburn, Homebush and Padstow experienced a 40 to 50 per cent increase in spending in June 2020, compared with February 202010.
Knowledge economy workers are more likely to be able to work from home (50 per cent of people working from home were knowledge workers in 201611) which has contributed to an estimated 45 per cent drop in public transport use in August 2020 when compared to August 201912.
The Eastern Harbour City is characterised by a high proportion of workers in the knowledge economy (almost 37 per cent of its labour force13) and also has a relatively high reliance on the tourism and arts and culture sectors, which have been heavily impacted during the pandemic.
The closure of international borders is having a severe impact on tourism businesses and universities concentrated in the Eastern Harbour City. The reduction in international student numbers is also contributing to a more than doubling of residential vacancy rates in the Sydney 2000 postcode to 13.2 per cent in July 2020.
In the Central River City, many industries supply products to the health sector. Concurrently, investments in the Westmead health and education precinct, Parramatta Square redevelopment, and Parramatta Light Rail support the growing productivity of Greater Parramatta and the planned upgrade of the rail freight line to Botany also supports productivity, with the freight line ensuring continued access to global markets for export-oriented businesses.
In the Western Parkland City, workers are less likely to be able to work from home as a higher proportion of workers are in the health and education and service sectors. This has seen traffic volumes generally remain the same, compared with the reductions elsewhere in Greater Sydney. The higher demand for digital solutions in business and education has highlighted that households in the south west of Sydney have lower rates of access to home-based internet.
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