By Tina Perinotto and Donna Kelly

4  December 2012 —  We’re still building the biggest houses in the world, even bigger than those in the US, but thankfully they’ve stopped growing and apartments are now getting smaller. Our cities also now contain fewer under 25 year olds and more over 65s than previously, with older people working longer. Not surprisingly, we’re losing food growing land under the pressure of urban expansion.

These are just some of the fascinating findings contained in the latest report card for Australian cities –  The State of Australian Cities 2012  released on Tuesday by Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese.

Among the good news is that residents now travel “markedly” less than the peak in 2005, but the bad news is that fare recovery for public transport has fallen, which may jeopardise this trend.  And perhaps connected is that morning travel peaks has increased significantly “greatly increasing the pressure on transport networks”.  And for 750,000 houses close to bushland, that’s a significant elevation of risk.

Also bad news is that cities are now 2 degrees hotter than in terms of average maximum temperature and that there will soon be more very high and extreme fire danger days, up by between 15 and 60 per cent by 2020 and double to quadruple by 2050. And there’s less rainfall. Most Australian cities, except for those located in the far north, have experienced declines in annual rainfall over the last 60 years.

Liveability

  • Melbourne has been ranked first on the global 2012 Economist Intelligence Unit Global Cities Liveability Index and Adelaide has retained its top ranking in the Australian My City Survey.
  • The proportion of families with children living in higher density residential dwellings has increased in major cities.
  • The cost of living for the residents of Australia’s capital cities has been relatively stable for over two decades.
  • Of the capital cities, Hobart has the highest proportion of people who walk to work whilst Perth has the lowest. Darwin has the highest proportion of people who cycle to work whilst Sydney has the lowest.

Melbourne
City by city reporting found that Melbourne had experienced a marked reduction in average annual rainfall of about 20 per cent between 1952 and 2011. And since 1993, the coastline around Melbourne outside Port Phillip Bay, with tidal gauge measures at Stony Point, had experienced the lowest sea level rise of the major cities at one to two millimetres per year, less than the global average.

Insurance
Sydney had the highest insurance cost payments of the major cities since 1967, with hail damage the most expensive natural disaster.

Sydney
And the City of Sydney had reduced greenhouse gas emissions in its own buildings by 18 per cent between 2009 and 2011 through building energy efficiency retrofits.

Brisbane
Brisbane was experiencing peak electricity demand issues during heatwaves and consecutive days of higher than normal temperature. The difference in electricity demand that can occur between hot days and cooler days can be as much as 65 per cent – mostly attributable to airconditioner use.

Perth
In 2011, Perth experienced a total of 50 days over 35°C, being the peak of a three-year spike of hot weather which has seen more days over 35°C than any other time in the past 30 years. 4 December 2012.

Housing

  • The gap between population increase and housing supply in Australian cities was the largest and most sustained in a century, with the shortage particularly severe in Sydney. This has come along with a rise in the “premium for living near the CBD of cities”.
  • Today Sydney and Melbourne buyers pay more than five times in real terms than in 1986 to live close to the city; and double the amount if they chose areas more than 50 kilometres from the CBD.
  • Housing occupancy rates (the average number of people living in a dwelling) plateaued in the mid-2000s, after having fallen steadily for nearly a century
  • Real rental income per dwelling has increased virtually without interruption since rental controls were lifted in 1949
  • There has been a strong decline in home ownership, down from 60 per cent in 1996 to 46 per cent in 2011
  • More than 75 per cent of the population lived in our 18 major cities – cities with more than 100,000 people.

Other key findings include:

  • Housing occupancy rates – the average number of people living in a dwelling – plateaued in the mid-2000s, after having fallen steadily for nearly a century
  • Most of the industry sectors that are experiencing rapid growth economically are located in CBDs and other dense centres. These industry sectors rely on increasing job densities to drive their productivity
  • Cities may be beginning to economically shrink in on themselves, reversing the dispersing forces, especially associated with manufacturing, that have been dominant since the end of World War II
  • The number of kilometres travelled per person in Australian capital cities has declined markedly since peaking in 2005
  • The per capita freight task in cities is increasing substantially and is likely to become the major driver of urban transport systems
  • Fare recovery in Australian urban mass transit systems continues to decline, raising questions about the sustainability of current financial structures associated with public transport capital investment and operations
  • Age distribution in our major cities shows that under 25s have declined proportionally, while there has been a small increase in working age population and a large increase in over 65s
  • The average labour force participation rate across major cities is 64.8 per cent; however there are significant differences between cities
  • Major cities have experienced increases in female participation in the paid workforce since 2000, some by more than five per cent
  • A growing proportion of older people are working past the traditional retirement age in major cities.

Response
According to industry and professional groups the report card will be invaluable in helping to shape future policies for cities.

For instance, Planning Institute Australia president Dyan Currie the report showed employment was becoming more centralised and that housing supply was not keeping pace with the growing population.

“This is the sort of data we need to make good planning decisions,” Ms Currie said.

Green Building Council of Australia chief executive Romilly Madew said the report provide valuable insights and an opportunity to scale up the efforts that had transformed the built environment with green buildings into broader outcomes.

The next step was to agree on a set of nationally-consistent indicators and a set of best practice benchmarks, such as those already established in the Green Star – Communities rating tool.

Green Star – Communities rating tool provided “benchmarks and a framework to influence the sustainability of entire neighbourhoods, precincts and indeed cities,” Ms Madew said.