Creating resilient cities: why public transport is important

7 April 2014

Professor Peter Newman, world-leading expert in transport, land use planning and sustainability, recently visited Auckland to show how Perth has revolutionised its public transport system. We share his ideas on creating resilient cities.

Professor Peter Newman, Distinguished Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, invented the term “automobile dependence” to describe how we have created cities where we have to drive everywhere. In his talk at Auckland Conversations, a speaker series organised by Auckland Council, he discussed how cities have three ‘sub-cities’ within them: the ‘walking city’ (CBD and some suburbs/sub centres),‘transit city’ (alongside rail and tram lines), and the ‘car city’ (everything else). In order to create resilient cities it’s important to understand the basis of these three sub-cities.

  • The Walking city

The walking city is dense, offers housing and mixed use of buildings within a short walk. These factors enable people to meet and create projects efficiently. Walkability is an essential part of a city’s economic success. Cycle ways are also very important to walkability.

Professor Newman believes the conversations that are held in cities are the basis of economic development: this is how we progress as a society.

“Auckland city has grown with the car. It’s time for you to recognise, respect and regenerate the Walking and Transit cities,” he says.

He uses several examples of how development in Auckland, including the revival of Britomart and Wynyard Quarter, has rejuvenated the walking city in Auckland.

“Auckland is, as a city, beginning to regain its confidence. It’s slowly starting to discover, recognise and rejuvenate the walking city. As seen in cities around the world, if you build it, they will come, as long as it is walkable and there are amenities nearby. There is often initial outrage when change occurs, but once it happens, no one complains,” he says.

  • The Transit city

The transit city follows transit routes. Where urban development occurs alongside train and tram tracks, the fabric of the transit city is woven and development is regenerated.

“It’s not about transport, but about rebuilding the city. Transit cities need fast, efficient links between centres. Medium density housing and major institutions such as hospitals and universities should be built alongside transit corridors,” says Professor Newman.

In Perth, eight lanes of freeway were replaced with two high speed rails, which can carry up to 70 million passengers. Land value increased 42% through the creation of transport hubs, thus creating the fabric of the transit city. Land values will increase on transport routes in Perth because people want to live and work near transport hubs.

“These transport links have provided a significant boost to the city’s economic success. The city changes because where there is a good rail service, development is attracted to it,” says Professor Newman.

  • The Car city

The car-based city needs fast, high capacity roads to efficiently link major blue collar workplaces and displaced housing. In turn, these areas need to be regenerated as green, IT based areas. It’s important to regenerate suburbs for food production and water conservation.

A Korean case study:

In the 1970’s it was considered a symbol of progress when the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, Korea, was covered and a road and elevated freeway were built above it. By 2000, the Cheonggye area was considered one of the noisiest and most congested parts of Seoul. When Lee Myung-bak was elected Mayor of Seoul in 2001, one of his key campaign promises was to remove this freeway and restore the Cheonggyecheon River. 

He developed a dramatic plan to remove Seoul’s major freeway and to accommodate the displaced traffic by building a Bus Rapid Transit system and by cutting automobile use in half. Freeway demolition began in 2003, alongside a river restoration project, and the construction of Seoul’s first Bus Rapid Transit line, servicing the route of the freeway and accommodating the drivers of the 120 000 cars that used the road every day. Integrating the new BRT with the existing metro system gave the city a way of adding transit capacity quickly as it is transformed to become less automobile-oriented. 

Seoul_BeforeDongdaemunArea 400- x 282SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA  





Before and after the Cheonggyecheon River restoration and freeway removal projects. 

The Agglomeration Economy

An ‘agglomeration economy’ explains the clustering effect of activities ranging from the agglomeration of population around common infrastructure, from retail to housing to transport.

Characteristics of the agglomeration economy typically include:

  • Lower case use per capita
  • Increased diversity within cities
  • Young and wealthy demographics moving to the city
  • A GDP that is not linked to car use (in the past, a higher GDP has been linked to higher car use – this is no longer the case)
  • Better health
  • Better productivity
  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions

Professor Jeffrey Kenworthy, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, states that car use and GDP are decoupling: as people get richer, we use cars less.

“This completely debases the model on which road use and building is based,” says Professor Newman. Developing nations such as China and India have abandoned cars and are building metros and high speed rail systems.

“The key factor to creating a resilient city is ensuring that knowledge economy workers are positioned in city centres. Value capturing should play a major part in development,” says Professor Newman.  

When a city is walkable, people return. The knowledge and service economy is reliant on people to come back and talk to each other. Resilient cities of the future will not be reliant on oil or fossil fuels, but will be agglomeration economies, where people come back and connect.

Professor Peter Newman is the Distinguished Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and Director of the Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute, which has 60 PhD students working on all aspects of the green economy. He sits on the Board of Infrastructure Australia that is funding infrastructure for the long term sustainability of Australian cities, and is a Lead Author for Transport on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).