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The rise of suburban CBDs

The rise of suburban CBDs

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Looking beyond the city to new centres and corridors


The pandemic has rebalanced economic activity in many cities between the central CBD and suburban CBDs, and even the wider region beyond. This trend looks likely to continue as businesses seek proximity to customers and more people work close to home.

The shift is particularly viable where smaller cities have clear strategies to pursue growth, are located along public transport corridors and offer substantially lower rents.

Sydney’s three-cities concept includes the eastern harbour city, the central Parramatta city and the planned Western Sydney aerotropolis; with many additional important and growing centres across the five districts.

Amsterdam aims to create nine secondary city centres around its CBD by 2050. Vancouver is being challenged for market share by Surrey and Burnaby, as well as third-tier Langley and Maple Ridge.

Cities need to collaborate across localities to preserve land for important industrial and logistics uses – such as big data storage and delivery centres. Many have moved to protect industrial land from commercial and residential development, or to support a mixed-use approach.

Another challenge is how to boost secondary centres without taking away from the main CBD. As they reposition post-pandemic, more large firms could relinquish a slice of their city office presence in favour of suburban satellites.

Alternatively, they might seek to create a consolidated presence closer to where their workers live. For example, Amazon is placing thousands of new jobs in the smaller city of Bellevue across the lake from its headquarters in Seattle.

Many cities are already rethinking how they interlock with the surrounding megaregion up to 250 kilometres beyond. For example, the vision for “Cascadia” – a single globally competitive and integrated megaregion linking Vancouver, Seattle and Portland by 2050, will require extensive government and business collaboration. The project will involve creating mixed-use developments and high-density housing on greenfield sites adjacent to high-speed rail.

Other initiatives include the accelerating innovation ecosystem within the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe Bay Area. The Toronto-Waterloo Region Corridor links Canada’s corporate headquarters with the second-highest density of startups in the world.