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We need to increase Sydney’s resilience. Here’s how

The Greater Sydney Commission recently set out a strategy to reimagine Sydney as three cities – an eastern “Harbour City”, a central “River City” and a western “Parkland City”.

At its heart, this plan aligns with Resilient Sydney’s approach to building Sydney’s resilience, which in turn will strengthen the city’s liveability, economy and productivity to help make it fit for a bright future.

This article considers a number of related issues, such as the importance of green infrastructure, growing vulnerability to stresses and shocks, changing energy requirements and creating a water-sensitive city, drawing on lessons outlined in our recent report, Making Sydney Brilliant: A Manifesto for Sydney at 8 Million People.

Sydney’s resilience is likely to be tested by external threats

Sydney has always been prone to extreme weather events, including heatwaves, storms and bushfires. Climate change will exacerbate this problem and increase demand on energy and water supplies and affect public health, while potentially disrupting infrastructure. Furthermore, the potential for cyber-attacks or shocks to Sydney’s huge financial sector increase systemic risks that could affect all Sydneysiders. Sydney should promote collaboration among all stakeholders to better understand and manage underlying vulnerabilities and stresses, interdependencies and risks and to improve the collective wellbeing of the city.

Next-generation corridors

In planning for a resilient city, Sydney needs to build multimodal connected corridors that allow the movement of people, water and resources, not just vehicles. We need to reimagine future transport corridors as next-generation corridors enabling connectivity and driving high-quality urban development. They should meet the strategic needs of a city beyond core functions like providing transport, water and sewage services, and by also providing recreational and environmental benefits.

A fast-changing energy mix

Electricity generation and storage is becoming more distributed, while public transit and even private cars are becoming more electrified, adding to the demand and complexity in providing an adequate electricity supply. It would be beneficial for Sydney to optimise its electricity market in real time, using smart meters and sensors to manage performance and gain insights from data. Better demand management and response will empower people to better manage their energy, leading to improved asset utilisation and network reliability. Off-peak charging of electric cars and incentivising the use of electric car batteries as a storage mechanism to support the grid will provide additional benefits, such as reducing demand for liquid fuels.

Valuing green infrastructure

Despite providing habitat for urban wildlife, cooling buildings, intercepting rainfall and filtering air pollution while reducing energy use and making cities more appealing, too often green infrastructure is treated as a cost and not an opportunity to improve liveability. Urban trees are under threat due to the pressures of growth. We are therefore calling on government to fully value the benefits of green infrastructure through such measures as recognising green infrastructure as an asset class and including it in the state infrastructure strategy.

Creating a water-sensitive city

As Sydney grows, so too will the task of providing adequate water, especially during droughts. In addition, heatwaves can have deadly results, and the community of Western Sydney is especially vulnerable. The key to coping with these challenges is to create a water-sensitive city, and to encourage the responsible use of water while helping to cool the city. This can be done through a number of ways, as outlined in our manifesto, including increasing connectivity to our waterways for heat respite, recreational and commercial uses.

Adam Davis is technical director, sustainability & resilience at AECOM.

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