The NSW Department of Planning recently released population predictions for Sydney 20 years from now. There is something big happening.
The city as a whole will grow by more than two million people. Most of the growth will occur in western Sydney.
Two out of every three new Sydneysiders will be westies.
By 2036 Sydney will be home to more than 6.4 million people, up from 4.3 million in 2011. An extra 726,000 dwellings will be needed.
Is there a bigger issue for our nation than finding a way for our cities to accommodate this extraordinary growth while allowing everyone to live satisfying lives with accessible jobs?
Or are we doomed to a life of long distance commuting and frustrating traffic congestion?
Knowing why we are growing helps us design better cities. Sydney’s growth comes in equal parts from natural increase and from migration.
In turn natural increase is generated by babies being born and people living longer.
The good news for western Sydney is that right across the region our population growth is balanced. By 2036 the region will be home to an additional 275,000 children aged up to 14 years.
This is good news for a society: to be surrounded by so many young people, about to enter the senior years of their education, and then take on the world in their new careers.
We need to make sure we hand the economy over to them in good shape.
Western Sydney will also grow because of the rising presence of older people.
By 2036 the number of people in our region aged 65 years and above will grow by more than 360,000.
Indeed, growth of the number of elderly will exceed growth in the number of children for the first time in Sydney’s history.
For western Sydney, the growing number of those aged 65 years and above is good news. It means people are healthier, and better looked after in retirement.
In the past, too many people in western Sydney died prematurely. Workers endured industrial diseases. Many people smoked. Medical services were inadequate.
It is good too that having more older people in our neighbourhoods doesn’t mean there will be fewer younger people.
Other parts of Sydney are not so lucky. In the pricey suburbs lining the northern side of Sydney Harbour there will be no growth across the childhood years while the number of prime working-age people in these suburbs will actually fall.
For Mosman, for example, the only growth will be in the number of retirees.
Although, there is some imbalance in western Sydney’s experience of ageing.
Surprisingly, the Fairfield and Cumberland (formerly Auburn and Holroyd) local government areas are predicted to experience strong growth among the oldies and not so much growth in the number of kids. I wonder what the reasons are behind that particular statistic?
However, the standout ageing district for western Sydney is the Blue Mountains local government area.
For every extra child (aged 0-14 years) added up there over the next 25 years there will be more than 13 extra folk aged 65 years and above.
For all sorts of reasons, the Blue Mountains is an exceptional place and, to be careful with words, it has ‘retiree’ hand-carved into rustic front gates up and down its every leafy cul-de-sac.
For the rest of western Sydney, the delightful phrase ‘healthy ageing in situ’ seems to be the pathway forward.
The challenge, of course, is to ensure that western Sydney grows in ways that enhance the lifestyles of young and old, together, in the region. It’s a big challenge that needs more attention.
Phillip O’Neill is the director of the
Centre for Western Sydney based
at Western Sydney University