A 30-minute city: Beyond old school thinking

A 30-minute Sydney is an ambitious but achievable goal – it will be the combination of our efforts that can make it a reality. We sat down with Mark Scott AO, Secretary, NSW Department of Education to find out what improved liveability means for schools.

It is easy to be dystopic about congested and crowded future cities. But it’s also important to recognise the opportunities within that challenge. The Department of Education will soon be relocating from the Sydney CBD to Parramatta, which some may think is ‘a long way away’, but of course that’s not the case for everyone – so we need to change mindsets.

Our move will create choice for those who will live closer to potential employment opportunities. But there are other opportunities for us – and other organisations too – like creating more flexible and agile work environments that make better use of technology and tools. These can support a mindset shift about the very nature of work how, where and when – you need to work, as well as how work fits into our lives more broadly.

Because schools are everywhere, accessibility is also an affordability issue. Housing affordability will shape where teachers live (or don’t live) and we may see a drift towards more affordable areas, as opposed to those areas where they might be most needed. Transport links are necessary to connect where teachers live to where the opportunities are for work, because teaching and established modes of classroom delivery are by their very nature, less conducive to telework and flexible work practices.

Another consideration is the extent to which peak travel hours are driven by the existing paradigm of the working day and the school day. Schools should reflect the communities in which they are based – and a question for us to consider is where new schools will be needed. For example, in areas that are centred around industries that rely on greater shift work, or in areas that centre on around the clock operations, such as around the new airport in Badgerys Creek, community needs may not be as tightly coupled to existing or traditional models. As such, ‘split- shift’ schools might not only provide a viable alternative, but importantly one which accurately reflects the community’s needs. If we are to support the creation of a 30-minute city, it will be necessary to explore innovative solutions like these and to engage fully with communities in doing so.

Realising the potential of Sydney as a 30-minute city requires us to think in practical terms. For example, what opportunities are there to think about existing school assets and infrastructure to create spaces that benefit the local community and families at the weekend or outside of school terms? How can we nourish more joint planning with councils and private schools to optimise existing infrastructure (think playgrounds, pools, auditoriums or playing fields) to support increased access to amenities for local residents, which in turn would increase overall liveability?

A shift in mindset is going to be important too. Making a 30-minute city a reality requires new modes of cooperation and thinking – thinking that is collaborative, integrative and bold. It will require us to stay the course to realise the medium to longer term benefits of investing in the artistic, creative and cultural fabric of a place. A vibrant, liveable community – one which teachers experience and in turn, bring back into the classroom – is a worthy and important goal. We need to find the simplicity on the other side of complexity in order to make the 30-minute city a reality and to think about it in practical terms, and that, requires people who can see further.

How can we create greater liveability for Sydneysiders? Read more blogs on how we can make Sydney a 30-minute city here, or visit our ImagineSydney: Live webpage.

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