Grattan Institute

We live in a ‘wide brown land’, and yet 80 per cent of our goods and services value is produced on just 0.2 per cent of it – and most of that is in our city CBDs.

This is the headline finding from a new report from the Grattan Institute, Mapping Australia’s economy: cities as engines of prosperity.

The report reveals that the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne – just 7.1 square kilometres in total – produce almost 10 per cent of all economic activity in Australia, and triple the contribution of the entire agriculture sector.

It’s clear that concentration of activity delivers economic dividends.  Businesses are more productive when they have access to large numbers of customers, suppliers, competitors, partners and employees. 

At the same time, employees are more likely to cultivate and capitalise on their skills when they have better employment opportunities.  It is these skills that are increasingly important in our knowledge-intensive economy in which value is not driven by what we make, but by what we know.

In the nation’s most highly-educated city – one which is teaming with knowledge workers – this report provides a clear warning.  We must invest in our CBD to fulfil Canberra’s economic potential.

This means ensuring we provide more housing choice so that people can live in our city centre.  We must increase the residential density of Civic, and the redevelopment of the ABC flats should be just the start. 

We must also invest in good public transport that connects people with job opportunities, and businesses with customers, suppliers and partners.  The Capital Metro project – with Stage One linking the city to Gungahlin and Dickson Town Centre – has the potential to do just that, while also creating jobs, attracting investment and revitalising our city centre.

We must be unwavering in our efforts to make our CBD an attractive and productive place to do business. Encouraging the redevelopment and adaptive reuse of ageing buildings and empty sites will breathe new life into Civic and help us make the most of the knowledge economy. 

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia