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Discussion paper

Joining the top table? Benchmarking Sydney's performance 2017

Cities and towns Urban planning Population density Sustainability Innovation Sydney
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In 2016, the Committee for Sydney and The Business of Cities published First Amongst Equals? , the first edition of a global benchmarking study of Sydney’s comparative performance against other world cities.

This second edition updates and develops this benchmarking exercise, rating Sydney’s performance using a meta-analysis of 51 global indices, reviewed across 14 indicators in comparison with 33 of Sydney’s peer cities.

• The ‘top six’ world cities have been established for a decade with London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore recognised as the established world cities of the current cycle, with Seoul recently joining this list. Sydney has now joined a second tier of ‘leading contenders’ with the assets and aspirations to join the global elite. The city has made incremental gains in many key areas that are necessary to make the next step: gateway functions, investment attractiveness, talent pool, clustered specialisations, and brand identity. Sydney is not only the outstanding global city in the Southern Hemisphere – it is also one of the only contenders to combine the agglomeration advantages of the biggest cities with the lifestyle and appeal of the best medium-sized world cities.

• A widening appeal and credibility in terms of financial services, foreign direct investment (FDI) and real estate highlight Sydney’s growing maturity as a global city. The city has become a core business and investment location in Asia-Pacific and is moving ahead of European peers as the centre of global economic gravity moves East and South. Sydney’s positive population growth forecasts and resilient brand identity also underpin this medium-term trend. Greater Sydney’s new growth planning combines a recognition of the likely scale and pace of growth with ambitious plans to accommodate that growth through infrastructure systems and spatial planning, and to translate it into continued success.

• However, the unintended consequences of unmanaged growth for Sydney are now becoming starkly visible, as the data underpinning city indices catches up with current reality. Inflated costs, loss of liveability, and deficits in infrastructure, all now negatively affect Sydney’s performance in multiple global measures. Congestion, spatial imbalances, unaffordability and environmental strains all risk relegating Sydney from the group of cities associated with a high quality of life. Recent results provide an even clearer imperative for integrated planning, spatial development, and infrastructure investment across Greater Sydney.

• Sydney has made rapid progress to expand and accommodate the innovation economy, but other cities are moving just as fast, if not faster. Sydney’s openness, strong research institutions and emerging tech clusters help push the city into the global top 20 for innovation. But the scale of inter-firm activity, start-up exits and VC investment is still quite small compared to others in North America and Europe.

• The costs of Sydney’s inherited low-density development model are becoming more evident as new ways to measure and define sustainability emerge. Sydney scores very highly for green space, air quality and natural environment, factors that paradoxically are a product of lower density. But new indices of environmental efficiency, social sustainability, and the transition to a low-carbon economy all suggest that Sydney has not been a first-mover on sustainability.

• As Greater Sydney grows to become a 6 million metropolis over the next decade or so, it is well placed to become one of the next cities to join the very top tier. As the next phase of the project for Greater Sydney unfolds, comparative city indices and benchmarks will become even more essential tools to assess and monitor Sydney’s progress towards a world-class future.

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