Daily Rumination No. 31: Regional Vision

Whilst munching on dinner this evening, I read this fantastic article by Vox: Barcelona, Spain, urban planning: a city’s vision to dig out from cars. It tells the story of Salvador Rueda, a biologist, psychologist, engineer, ecologist and the so-called father of the ‘superblocks plan’ for Barcelona. Superblocks represent the revitalised idea for a more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly city, with large areas made completely free of private vehicles. It sounds like a fantastic, long-term plan and you should definitely read the article.

This made me think about the state of Australian cities. For example, I used to work in Sydney and as a pedestrian in the CBD, I had to contend with narrow, one-way streets full of frantic drivers. Sydney is virtually beyond repair at this stage, with highways weaving underground, overhead and between skyscrapers. It’s ridiculous. Whilst Melbourne, as Australia’s second-largest city, is arguably more functional with a better grid system and tram network, it is also choked by traffic.

What does this mean for smaller (yet growing) regional cities in Australia? What are their plans? My coastal home of Wollongong, with a population of approximately 200,000, is nowhere near the size of Sydney and it is limited in how far it can sprawl by a nearby mountain escarpment. There is no large public transport network, except for private bus companies and a limited free shuttle. How will such places grow sustainably without such infrastructure?

When I look around a city like Wollongong, I see enormous potential for open, liveable spaces like Rueda’s superblocks, which could alleviate future issues with density and pedestrian access. Too often, I think, cities leave it too late to realise the value of accessibility and clever urban design. Wollongong’s Crown Street Mall has long been semi-controversial for its lack of vehicle access, yet it hosts two fantastic food markets each week and a strip of well-visited retail. Other parts of the city don’t always enjoy this amount of diverse activity.

I hope that regional centres around Australia are looking at reports such as Vox’s and listening to their own residents. Whilst a vast country like Australia still largely depends on private vehicles to travel between cities, there’s no reason not to rethink how we travel within our cities.

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