Australian cities failing in liveability standards: report

Australian cities have been named as some of the most liveable in the world, but a new report from RMIT University has found that no Australian capital city performs well across all the liveability indicators, and many also fail to meet policy targets aimed at ensuring liveability.

The report, Creating Liveable Cities in Australia, is the first “baseline” measure of liveability in Australia’s state and territory capitals and represents the culmination of five years of research. The report examines seven domains of a city’s liveability that also promote the health and wellbeing of Australians -- walkability, public transport, public open spaces, housing affordability, employment and the food and alcohol environments.

The researchers noted 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.

The researchers discovered measureable policies and targets to deliver liveable, walkable communities are often not in place, and often those in place, are not strong enough. They concluded that policies aren’t making best use of the available evidence.

The researchers could find 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.

The report’s Chief investigator, Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti, Director of RMIT’s Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform said the report shows that better, more comprehensive and consistent policies were urgently needed across all our capital cities to maintain and enhance liveability and ensure the wellbeing of residents – particularly as Australia faces the prospect of a doubled 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,” Giles-Corti 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 which mean 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. Yet, we don’t have the policy frameworks in place in Australia to create vibrant walkable communities,” she said.

When it came to public transport, while many residents might live nearby a public transport stop, the report shows that the majority of dwellings in state capitals lacked close access to stops serviced at least twice an hour.

This creates a risk of increasing inequities in our cities, particularly as some residents were suffering from “double disadvantage”, report co-author Dr Jonathan Arundel said.

“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.

“Integrated land-use, transport and infrastructure planning is required to meet even current public transport targets, with higher-density development required in particular around public transport nodes and activity centres.” Giles-Corti said: “This report is a diagnostic tool to understand the current state of liveability in Australian cities that could and should be repeated regularly. What’s even more important is what governments do about it. We’ve made seven recommendations in the report which we’ll be pushing to see adopted at local, state and federal level.”

Creating Liveable Cities in Australia 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 and a four-page summary brief are available here.

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