Australia’s cities not so ‘liveable’ after all

Professor Billie Giles-Corti. RMIT University

Australia’s big cities often rate well on international ‘liveability’ indexes. But all is not as it seems.

Life for many residents in Australia’s cities isn’t nearly as good as we would like to believe, a new report from RMIT University has found.

The new ‘Creating Liveable Cities in Australia’ study is the culmination of five years of research, intended to create a baseline measure of liveability in Australia’s state and territory capitals.

The report examines seven aspects of a city’s liveability: walkability, public transport, public open spaces, housing affordability, employment and the food and alcohol environments.

“No Australian capital city performs well across all the liveability indicators,” says Professor Billie Giles-Corti, who led the research and is Director of RMIT’s Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform. “Many also failing to meet policy targets aimed at ensuring liveability.

“There is widespread evidence of geographical inequities in the delivery of liveability policies within and between cities, with outer suburban areas less well served than inner-city suburbs. Measurable policies and targets to deliver liveable communities are often not in place, and often those that are in place are not strong enough.

“Many policies aren’t making best use of the available evidence. There are no spatial measurable policy standards or targets in any capital city for local employment, housing affordability, promoting access to healthy food choices, or limiting access to alcohol outlets.”

Professor Giles-Corti said the report is the first of its kind, and shows that better policies are urgently needed to maintain and enhance liveability and ensure the wellbeing of residents, particularly as Australia faces a doubling of its population by 2050.

“One significant way to create liveable cities and to improve people’s health and wellbeing is through urban design and planning that create walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods,” she said. “But Australian cities are still being designed for cars.

“Our study shows that only a minority of residents in Australian cities live in walkable communities, and most of our city’s density targets for new areas are still too low. This means walkable communities will never be achieved in outer suburbs.

“Higher residential densities and street connectivity, mixed land-uses, and high-quality footpaths are all desperately needed to achieve walkable cities. But we don’t have the policy frameworks in place in Australia to create vibrant walkable communities,” she said.

Public transport also rates poorly. “While many residents might live nearby a public transport stop, most dwellings in state capitals lack close access to stops serviced at least twice an hour. This creates a risk of increasing inequity in our cities, with some residents doubly disadvantaged.

“Given that outer suburbs have poorer access to public transport, household expenditure on cars is likely to be higher there than in other areas, meaning these residents are losing out twice over.”

Professor Giles-Corti said the report is a useful diagnostic tool for understanding the current state of liveability in Australian cities, and that could it should be repeated regularly.

“What’s even more important is what governments should do about it,” she said. :We’ve made seven recommendations in the report which we’ll be pushing to see adopted at local, state and federal level.”

The report was produced by RMIT University in collaboration with researchers from the Australian Catholic University and the University of Western Australia. The research team received funding from the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, and the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Liveable Communities.

The report is available here.

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