The results are in for Australia's livability report card — and they're not good

RMIT University

Thursday, 12 October, 2017

RMIT University has released what is said to be the first ‘baseline’ measure of livability in Australia’s state and territory capitals, and let’s just say that if Australia was a school student and the study was its report card, the principal would be wanting a word.

Representing the culmination of five years of research, ‘Creating Liveable Cities in Australia’ examines seven domains of a city’s livability that also promote the health and wellbeing of Australians: walkability, public transport, public open spaces, housing affordability, employment and the food and alcohol environments. But while Australian cities are often labelled as some of the most livable in the world, the results of the report are surprisingly negative.

By mapping policy standards designed to create livable cities, the researchers found that no Australian capital city performs well across all the livability indicators, with many failing to meet policy targets aimed at ensuring livability. The researchers noted widespread evidence of geographical inequities in the delivery of livability policies within and between cities, with outer suburban areas less well served than inner-city suburbs.

The researchers also discovered measureable policies and targets to deliver livable, walkable communities are often not in place — and often those that are in place are not strong enough. They 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 chief investigator of the report, Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti, said better, more comprehensive and consistent policies are urgently needed across all our capital cities to maintain and enhance livability and ensure the wellbeing of residents — particularly as Australia faces the prospect of a doubled population by 2050.

“One significant way to create livable 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.”

While many residents might live near a public transport stop, the report shows that the majority of dwellings in state capitals lack close access to stops serviced at least twice an hour. This creates a risk of increasing inequities in our cities, particularly as some residents are suffering from “double disadvantage”, said report co-author Dr Jonathan Arundel.

“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,” Dr Arundel said.

“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 described the report as “a diagnostic tool to understand the current state of livability in Australian cities that could and should be repeated regularly”. She added that the report includes seven recommendations to the government, “which we’ll be pushing to see adopted at local, state and federal level”.

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