What makes a liveable city?

By Lauren Davis
Monday, 03 June, 2013

As part of its research into liveable cities, strategic consulting and engineering firm MWH Global commissioned a study to examine what Australians want from the cities they live in now and into the future.

The survey of more than 1000 people looked at why Australians live where they do, based on a variety of factors, to assure that these can be delivered into the future. It was conducted online by Lonergan Research and results were weighted to the population estimates according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

City vs country

Almost half of city and regional dwellers could go for a change of scenery. 40% of people currently living in cities have indicated that they would like to live in regional, rural or remote areas, while 42% of Australians in regional centres would prefer cities or rural or remote areas. On the whole though, the majority of Australians (57%) would need to feel that resettling would provide them with a better quality of life, specifically containing the following elements:

  • Good quality tap water
  • Better transport links
  • Better access to hospitals and medical practitioners
  • More opportunities for work

Respondents were asked to rank what they felt to be the most important components of liveable cities. Although the overall results indicated a top three of healthcare, employment and essential services (police, ambulance, fire etc), there was a clear divide between those living in urban, regional and rural areas. City dwellers were more likely to rank aesthetics in their top three, while those living in remote areas were more likely to rank education (which overall came seventh out of nine factors).

A thirsty nation

Australians have a strong affinity for water, ranking good quality tap water as the most important infrastructure element in choosing a place to live. 87% rated it as extremely or very important - higher than clean air (85%) and well-maintained roads (69%). Safe tap water was also considered most valuable looking into the future, followed by renewable energy as the main source of electricity and a drought-proof water supply. However, those living in regional areas are more likely to rank electricity (35%) as the most important infrastructure than those living in cities and remote areas.

Australians are, however, a bit pickier about where their water supply comes from. 60% would not mind drinking filtered water collected from their own roof and stored in tanks, but only 19% would drink from purified sewage, 21% from purified recycled greywater from their own house and 31% from purified stormwater from the street. For many, price was no object - 64% would pay a 10% premium to drink water without recycled sewage and 28% would pay double. Australians are also willing to pay up to $21.73 per month to ensure that there is a backup supply of clean drinking water in the event of a natural disaster.

The future of energy

A high majority of respondents believe solar and wind power are an important part of future electricity generation; almost 90% believe unused crown land and government-owned buildings should be used to generate renewable energy, while 78% believe coal-powered electricity generators are on the way out.

Two in three Australians believe it should be mandatory to have an annual energy audit of businesses and households to ensure there is no wasting of electricity, though the percentage is highest for those living in cities. Once again, money is not necessarily a barrier to the respondents’ wishes, as 39% are willing to pay higher rates to have access to renewable energy.

Mark Bruzzone, Australia regional director of government and infrastructure at MWH, said the survey findings present significant implications for tackling the challenges of urban planning.

“For the first time, we have a clear picture of what Australians want from their cities, which is a valuable tool for planning and prioritising resources for the future,” he said.

“In light of challenges such as increasing natural disasters, climate change and population growth, the government needs to take a long-term approach in order to build a more sustainable environment for people to live in, reflected by the concern of the Australian public for safe drinking water, renewable energy and a drought-proof water supply in cities of the future. This, coupled with delivering the services and amenities most valued by Australians, should be at the heart of urban planning.

“This is a joint task for government, councils, state departments and service providers as we seek to design resilient communities and cities for the future.”

The full report can be read here.

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