The imminent arrival of the Second Machine Age (2MA) will usher in an era of unprecedented economic and social turmoil which is likely to rewrite, over the next quarter century, the structure and function of cities at up to 4 times the pace of the industrial revolution, which itself transformed cities in the two centuries or so following 1750. Events will be driven not just by a raft of impending technologies and the fluidity with which they can be blended, integrated or fused into new products, services and lifestyles. As the recent intergenerational report and others like it have concluded, turmoil will be further exacerbated by changing demographic structures and migration patterns, global economic engagement – including both trade and finance, government budgetary crises, the increasingly fluid nature of work and social networking, and shifting home-work relationships and travel patterns, among many other things. Alas, such dynamism appears likely to hit a wall of urban inflexibility. Our sclerotic cities appear illsuited to a world of rapid change for all manner of reasons, many planning related. For example, most planning systems arguably privilege the preferences of fearful incumbent residents over the preferences of outsiders. Excessive reverence for urban heritage stultifies imaginative proposals for badly needed higher density living spaces. Stretched public finances delay contemporary infrastructure provision. Our state and federal fiscal settings further ossify urban form in a variety of ways. Moreover, how can we conduct worthwhile long-term strategic planning when we can hardly conceive the configuration of fast-moving economy and society as little as 5 years from now? In short, many of our urban management procedures appear as an increasingly bureaucratic and conservative bulwark against imminent change at the same time as we need them to become imaginatively flexible and adaptive. How, then, can urban planning recapture the glory days of a century or so ago when it was in the vanguard of reimagining cities for the first machine age?
The papers presented at the 2015 State of Australian Cities National Conference (SOAC 7) were organised into seven broad themes but all shared, to varying degrees, a common focus on the ways in which high quality academic research can be used in the development and implementation of policy. The relationship between empirical evidence and theoretical developments that are presented as part of our scholarly endeavours and policy processes is rarely clear and straightforward. Sometimes, perhaps because of the fortuitous alignment of various factors, our research has a direct and positive impact on policy. Sometimes it takes longer to be noticed and have influence and, sometimes, there is no little or no evidence of impact beyond or even with the academy. And while there are things we can do to promote the existence of our work and to present it in more accessible formats to people we believe to be influential, ultimately the appreciation and application of our work lies in the hands of others.
This paper is one of 164 papers that have each been reviewed and refereed by our peers and revised accordingly. While they each will have been presented briefly at the SOAC conference, they can now be read or re-read at your leisure. We hope they will stimulate further debate and discussion and form a platform for further research.
Adapted from the SOAC 7 conference proceedings introduction by Paul Burton and Heather Shearer
The State of Australian Cities (SOAC) national conferences have been held biennially since 2003 to support interdisciplinary policy-related urban research.
SOAC 7 was held in the City of Gold Coast from 9-11 December 2015. The conference featured leading national and local politicians and policy makers who shared their views on some of the current challenges facing cities and how these might be overcome in the future.