Advance Connect : Working cities, a conversation with Lucy Turnbull AO

WATCH > Lucy Turnbull AO in conversation with Johanna Pitman, Head of Insights at


Sharing her insights as a lifelong urbanist, Lucy Hughes Turnbull AO outlined how Covid19 is revealing many important but undervalued aspects of cities, and forcing cities to be more adaptable and resilient to change. The roundtable brought together guests from Australia, the United States, China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore and was chaired by board member Louise Thurgood Phillips.

Drawing on her most recent role as the inaugural Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission from 2015 until March 2020, Lucy outlined how the strategic planning for the whole of metropolitan Sydney will support us to adapt to the pandemic.

In particular, infrastructure plans to develop a 30 minute city take on heightened importance. The 30 minute city concept not only refers to travel to work within 30 minutes, but also reflects the priority to have access to education facilities, green spaces, cultural activities, and shops, ideally within 30 minutes walking, cycling or by public transport. 

In the roundtable conversation, facilitated by Head of Insights, Johanna Pitman, Lucy reflected on opportunities to accelerate certain infrastructure projects to stimulate construction, jobs and social cohesion in our cities, such as the rapid rollout of bike lanes and walkways, and adapting public spaces to encourage social interaction while maintaining physical distancing. 

Looking at how our cities work with fresh eyes

Sharing her insights as a lifelong urbanist, Lucy Hughes Turnbull AO outlined how Covid19 is revealing many important but undervalued aspects of cities, and forcing cities to be more adaptable and resilient to change. Observing the impact of Covid19, Lucy shared a new-found appreciation for aspects of our cities and society that should not be undervalued:

  • Green assets, such as public spaces and coastal walkways, which people are enjoying more than ever,, while there is relative depopulation of the downtown areas
  • Walkable connections, including well-designed footpaths / sidewalks to enable people to walk for shopping and daily errands 
  • Strong transport infrastructure to enable physical and economic mobility, particularly for essential and frontline workers
  • All occupations at the frontline of the pandemic – from those in medical and aged care roles, to those working in child care, cleaning, supermarkets, transport and logistics
  • Teachers and school staff, whose role goes beyond educating students, to also help normalise life for their students in extraordinary and uncertain times.

Pandemic and the poor

With the pandemic shining a light on income inequality in our cities, roundtable guest and Harvard pre-doctoral fellow, James Stratton, shared an observation from his research that lower-income, less-educated workers are less likely to have jobs that facilitate working from home.

Lucy reflected on one of the underlying aims of the Metropolis of Three Cities to ensure public services and high quality jobs in healthcare, innovation and education, are distributed and located adjacent to population hubs. Noting the debate around the balance between protecting the economy and protecting our communities through this pandemic, Lucy warned against bifurcating economic prosperity and social welfare, and to let the social dimension –  people need first to feel safe and well – guide the decisions we make.

Lucy noted the achievement of the Greater Sydney Commission establishing the Women’s Safety Charter – in pre-pandemic times this acknowledged that productivity and liveability of cities is only possible if women feel safe as they traverse the city. In a similar way, there is a basic human need to feel safe before citizens will actively participate in city life again.

The future of cities

Lucy Turnbull’s insights refuted the notion that cities are dead, and encouraged us to strengthen cities by being responsive to changing needs, and treasuring the most valuable (and often under-appreciated) aspects of our city that have been laid bare by the pandemic. 

Further information

  • Greater Sydney Commission Metropolis of Three Cities > More
  • A city with no cars (interactive) > Read
  • New York adopts outdoor dining > Read
  • Designing cities for women – 2014 Tedx Talk > Watch
  • A Feminist Vision for Supporting Urban Caregivers > More 
  • Greater Sydney Commission’s Women’s Safety Charter > Discover
  • Richard Florida addresses Committee for Sydney on how cities will change > Watch
  • Countering anxiety and loneliness in cities > More
  • Decision-making in cities post-pandemic > Read 
  • Working from home favours well-off city dwellers > Read
  • Music played while guests were gathering was by Lior > Compassion: Lior and Nigel Westlake, La Yuminu > Listen | Avinu Malkeinu: Lior with Nigel Westlake and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra > Listen


Fascinating discussion. Well done. This is a TERRIFIC presentation. Thanks for arranging
“Thought Johanna did such a fine job in navigating and moderating”
“Drew said the session was excellent …. well done for continuing to make a difference…we are so supportive of the Advance movement”

About our speaker

Lucy Turnbull AO is the first woman to hold the position of Lord Mayor of Sydney from 2003 to 2004. Since then she held positions on a number of urban planning bodies, and in 2011 she became an Officer of the Order of Australia for her distinguished service to the community, local government and business. She has overseen the development and release of the Greater Sydney Region Plan (Metropolis of Three Cities) – the NSW Government’s 40-year vision for the growth and development of Greater Sydney, and the development and release of five associated District Plans. Lucy has championed Greater Sydney’s livability through local open spaces, walkability to promote health and community and a female-friendly focus on improving access for everyone. In 2012 Lucy was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Business by the UNSW, and in 2016 she was appointed Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Built Environment at UNSW. The following year she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Western Sydney University, which she received for her substantial and sustained service and contribution to the University and the Greater Western Sydney region.