In Breaking Point: The future of Australian cities, Peter Seamer quotes satirist H.L. Mencken: ‘There is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.’ Seamer, a former CEO of the Victorian Planning Authority, Federation Square, and the City of Sydney, has written a clear, pragmatic, and readable account of the complexity of Australia’s urban development. Thinking critically about cities is an urgent task in order to accommodate an estimated additional 11.8 million people by 2046, seventy-five per cent of whom are expected to live in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth.
While Australia’s cities are famously among the world’s most liveable, they face real and immediate challenges. Soaring house prices, ageing infrastructure, congested public and private transport systems, suburban sprawl, tall buildings of dubious quality, limited response to environmental and climate change pressures, and growing inequality that is manifested in spatial divides all place stress on the country’s urban development, living standards, and economic growth. Based on his years in the planning and management of Australian cities, Seamer proposes an array of ideas that will be more or less controversial in planning circles. His broad approach is evolutionary. ‘Behavioural change,’ he writes, ‘can be nudged rather than forced.’ Well-considered policies and a rational, evidence-based approach to planning can ‘encourage’ types of future work, transport, and consumption behaviours that could preserve the liveability of Australian cities.