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The end of the suburban sprawl

Infrastructure Australia’s executive director of policy and research, Peter Colacino, said the audit was “the first time we have really called out that type of growth as the holistic challenge facing cities”.

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He identified inner-Melbourne and Green Square in Sydney as areas that faced unprecedented levels of growth, as families looked to move closer to services and away from congested travel arteries to and from the outer suburbs.

The audit found that shift was likely to accelerate as commuters grew increasingly frustrated with gridlock on our road and rail networks, which is forecast to cost $38.8 billion in lost productivity over the next 12 years.

Mr Colacino said population forecasts, which relied on past estimates, were “not hitting the mark”.

“Population growth occurring at a higher rate or lower rate means that investment is not well targeted,” he said.

The audit found many hospitals and schools had reached capacity or were showing signs of age, requiring the construction of expensive new and upgraded facilities, especially in inner-urban areas.

Compounding the challenge was the lack of green space, turning some concrete-bound city suburbs into “urban heat islands”.

The report found some suburbs had temperatures up to 6 degrees higher than elsewhere because of the “heat island” effect.

“This is because the heat of the sun is absorbed and not reflected by urban surfaces such as buildings, car parks and roads. Human activities, such as traffic and the use of air conditioning, also increase the waste heat generated.”

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The effect was particularly noticeable in the outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, where urbanisation had reduced tree cover.

“The proportion of [Melbourne’s] cover located in outer suburbs is stark, indicating the majority of canopy cover is privately owned (in private residential backyards),” the report said.

It warned green canopy cover was increasingly hard to provide in cities as backyards decreased in size and more people moved into urban areas.

The report added that public green spaces and recreation infrastructure was already overused and the high cost of land made it difficult to fund the delivery and maintenance of this type of service in these cities.

“Our fast-growing cities risk not having adequate high-quality, accessible green and recreation infrastructure as they grow and densify, particularly in inner-urban areas.”

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