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Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world with an estimated 89 percent of Australians now living in urban areas. Worldwide more than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. By 2050, that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people – two-thirds of all humanity. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces.

Cities occupy just 2% of Earth's surface but account for 75% of the resources consumed by humans. As such they represent one of the biggest challenges to the world's biodiversity. But as centres of cultural change they also present many opportunities.

The rapid growth of cities in the developing world, coupled with increasing rural to urban migration, has led to a boom in mega-cities.In 1990, there were ten mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more. In 2014, there are 28 mega-cities, home to a total 453 million people.

All cities are unique but fundamentally, cities need to change to be resilient for the 21st century, and the first step is identifying critical uncertainties and vulnerabilities.

The answers to the big picture trends and problems of population growth, climate extremes and societal changes will come from a broader understanding of cities as a whole.

Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable means:

  • Ensuring access for all people to adequate, safe and affordable housing and food.
  • Enabling people living in supported and public housing to take part in decision making processes.
  • Investing in public transport.
  • Creating green public spaces.
  • Improving urban planning and management in a way that is both participatory and inclusive.
  • Safeguarding cultural and natural heritage.
  • Supporting economic, social and environmental links between urban and rural areas.
  • Improving resource efficiency.
  • The mitigation of and successful adaptation to climate change.
  • Resilience to natural and anthropogenic disasters and
  • The provision of support to less developed nations through means of financial and technical assistance.

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First, we should plan so that people can do most of the things they need to do daily (such as getting to school, university and work; shopping for food and other necessities) by walking, cycling, or some form of mass transit.

This will mean improving conditions for walking and cycling by ensuring safe routes for these modes of transport are given equal priority to safe routes for motor car transport. It will also mean investing in mass transit infrastructure (trains, trams, buses).

Importantly, it will also mean getting serious about distributing economic development across the whole metropolitan area. Our historical pattern of urban development, with dormitory suburbs across western Sydney, means that many people spend several hours a day commuting for work or education. This can only change if we invest in suburban economic development and bring the jobs and higher education opportunities closer to home.

Second, we should re-imagine our relationship with the public domain. Historically, Australian city governments have not needed to invest in public spaces because most people have lived in houses with plenty of room in the backyard. As more people live in apartments and townhouses, we should invest in the public domain and develop lively, safe and convivial public spaces.

Third, we should protect the remaining fertile agricultural land and biodiversity hot spots in the Sydney basin and surrounds. This will help secure future food supply for a larger population, and protect our valuable natural areas and the species which inhabit them. Indeed, by doing the first two things, there will be less need for the city to spread out and we could put a firm growth boundary around the city.