Figure 1. Sydney harbour and CBD.
Figure 2. Melbourne Flinders Station.

It is in the property investors’ interest to understand the evolution of cities.  Knowing those factors which drive the changes of cities underpins a good decision making. It helps answer the question “where to buy or to invest?”

There is no single theory thoroughly explaining the development trend of Australian cities. By looking into the history of Australian cities, it is found that the settlement patterns were driven by factors such as topography, climate, transport systems, economic and social development, population growth, technological advancements, history, etc. The process was gradual however with shocks intermittently. The mechanism behind it was more like a positive feedback loop, which means better cities became even better and some less viable towns shrank or even extincted. 

Based on those factors and the mechanism, it is possible to approximately predict what will Australian cities look like in another 50 years. 

In addition to the above mentioned method to predict the future of Australian cities, we can also get an idea by looking at the more developed larger cities in other part of the world today. If we can identify those cities with similar settlement patterns with similar topography and history but more population and productivity, then those cities today could be what Australian cities will look like in the future. 

There are much bigger cities in North America, in Europe and in East Asia. Considering the topography and history, it is found that some cities in North America are more comparable, such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, etc. 

In 50 years, most of Australian cities will at least double in population. Melbourne and Sydney will have population approximate 8 million for each. At the moment, the only city in North America with 8 million population is New York, which has similar topography to Melbourne especialy Sydney. Therefore, New York city today can be a good approximate for Melbourne and Sydney in 50 years. Note that other factors such as technological advancements can also significantly shape a city. For instance, more people will work from home enabled by the advancement of information technology. More people will be able to live further away from work due to the advancement of the transport systems.

Based on the analysis above, it is predicted that Melbourne and Sydney in 50 years will be similar to New York today in terms of housing density. However, the density and centralisation are expected to be less. There will be much better public systems including medical system, transport, etc. The same philosophy applies to other Australian cities.

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