How ‘second-tier’ cities can stand out from the crowd

Smaller regional centres can attract and sustain population and economic growth by focusing on distinctive economic strengths or locational advantages.

A new Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) report says there is no single model for regional planning or development.

However, there is a trend towards place-based regional interventions focused on unique regional attributes and opportunities, both here in Australia and overseas.

Utilities, green space, and other urban infrastructure will remain important for enabling and shaping patterns of growth and residential locational choice, the report said – adding that local councils sometimes struggle to forward-fund these.

“Funding to support new residential or employment-generating development through contributions when applications are approved is likely to be even more critical in the foreseeable future.”

Lead author Professor Nicole Gurran from the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning said the research highlights the importance of infrastructure, transport, and telecommunications in attracting and sustaining employment and population in regional areas.

“A clear message to emerge is that population and economic growth are not on their own sufficient to drive sustainable and balanced employment outcomes, and that ‘success’ should be measured more broadly, by also looking into liveability, environmental impacts and the social impacts of growth,” Professor Gurran said.

In compiling their study, the authors looked at interventions in England, Canada, France and Scotland, and analysed the development strategies of cities such as Mandurah, Toowoomba, Bendigo, Ballarat, and Albury-Wodonga.

They said federal and state governments can support initiatives to attract and enable firms to locate and remain in second-tier cities by decentralizing public services and agencies, and investing in universities, hospitals and other facilities.

“Strategies to foster regional governance and collaboration rather than competition would reduce the administrative burdens for local councils,” the report added.