Western Sydney is still one of Australia’s great challenges

Yesterday’s edition (5-6 April 2014) of The Sydney Morning Herald has brought a new series of articles about the challenges and difficulties facing residents of Western Sydney. Every few years, the Herald rediscovers Western Sydney (note: the majority of its readers live in the Eastern Suburbs or on the North Shore). Once upon a time, when I worked for the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), the Herald had a Blacktown-based journalist (Richard Macy), although I am not certain if they do now.

In a detailed article by Matt Wade entitled “The daily exodus”, the following facts about “the West” stand out:

– Sydney is the seventh most congested city internationally.
– Long commutes are so bad that Charles Montgomery, in his book Happy City, estimates that “for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work ‘has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love’”. He also quotes “a Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce.” (My comment: commuting from many outer Sydney suburbs to the CBD can easily take 90 minutes one direction, and are especially bad if you have to change “modes” – from bus to train.)
– Rich people live in Western Sydney too. “The Ponds, near Kellyville, was rated the city’s most advantaged suburb” on an Australian Bureau of Statistics index.
– Parramatta ranked the 11th top performing economic area of Australia in 2012-13, with a growth rate of 1.6% that outstripped Sydney’s CBD.
– Olympic Park (Homebush Bay) is also in the top 20 economic districts of Australia.
– Western Sydney has very limited success in attracting key finance, service and IT jobs: only 17 percent of them are in the region.

The economic health of Western Sydney is one of Australia’s greatest challenges. Despite decades of discussion and investigation about a second airport for Sydney, it still has not been announced. I understand that this may happen “soon” for Badgerys Creek. Despite some local opposition to that, I think it is the single most important thing that can happen for the region.

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