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As technology advances and populations boom, global cities grow and change – here’s what the future holds

Over thousands of years, cities have been the central point of interaction for commerce, science, art and culture – and finding a way to sustain our cities in the coming decades is integral to the success of our future.

The global population is urbanising, the number of megacities is growing, and in Australia our cities are going to get bigger still as more people try to crowd into an already limited space. So, as technology advances and the population booms, there is a desperate need to ensure our cities are set up to support rapid growth and a realisation that our governments and industries need to keep up with the pace.

The future of our cities – and how they will handle the challenges that are on the horizon – was the topic of discussion with leaders across industry at a recent roundtable hosted by Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Recognising the increased collaboration across industries and the blurring of lines between different sectors of the economy, the Commonwealth Bank recently realigned its Institutional Banking and Markets division into ecosystems. This ecosystem model has allowed the Bank to look at the interdependencies between different corporations and industries and provide a more holistic service offering.

This is particularly important for Commonwealth Bank’s future cities ecosystem where the interdependencies between corporations and the surrounding corporations are so critical to the operating efficiency, liveability, and amenity of our growing metropolises. By bringing together industries such as real estate, social and economic infrastructure along with sustainable finance, Commonwealth Bank seeks to provide a proactive platform for cooperation and collaboration for the major players and interconnected corporations, which are critical to the development of our cities.


Michael Thorpe, Commonwealth Bank’s managing director, future cities ecosystem said, “As a society we are thinking more carefully about city design and how we live, work and access amenity. The ecosystem approach means the Bank can better support co-dependent industries across property, infrastructure and technology. We think the combination of these industries is really powerful and brings together a wide range of capabilities and allows us to take advantage of those interdependencies for our clients.”

Thorpe said one of the Bank’s main purposes, which is realised through its future cities ecosystem, is to support the liveability, equality and amenity of Australian cities.

“We're very keen to be associated with financing the development of commercial real estate, residential real estate, economic infrastructure, and social infrastructure, but also looking at projects through the lens of social and affordable housing and other elements that bring the whole of city life together,” Thorpe said.

It is against this backdrop, the industry leaders joined the Commonwealth Bank roundtable to discuss what the city of the future might look like, what it might try to avoid, and in particular how the four major cities of Australia – Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney – will accommodate 75% of the extra 11.8 million people who are going to crowd into our nation by 2046, according to Infrastructure Australia’s1 Future Cities report.

“By 2033, our population will have grown by 6 million,” Michael Hanna, head of infrastructure for Australia at IFM Investors, told the roundtable. “How can we accommodate that? The challenge is huge. We're playing catch up with infrastructure.”

Not only is the population growth substantial, a huge amount of this population will reside in our cities. And by all accounts, we are currently not prepared for the pressure this will add to the existing infrastructure, environment and people’s lives.

On a global scale, nearly 70% of us will be living in cities by 2050, according to a 2018 UN economic report. At the moment, there are 31 mega-cities in the world and by 2050, there are going to be 41 cities in the world with a population of 10 million or more. At least 90% of this growth will be seen in Asia and Africa, according to the report.

But don’t think Australia will be spared – it is one of the most urbanised nations in the world and we need to act now.