Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese

31 July 2013 — Australian cities could face up to a fourfold increase in heat-related deaths by 2050, thanks to climate change, population growth and an ageing populations, according to the Federal government’s State of Australian Cities 2013 report.

Key themes raised by the paper include the impact of climate change on cities, and how job growth patterns, transport and connectivity are affecting productivity.

Launching the report on Tuesday, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese said the information contained in the report was extremely important for such an urbanised country.

“Australia is the most urbanised nation on the planet and our cities generate 80 per cent of our national wealth,” Mr Albanese said.

This made understanding how Australian cities work particularly important, he said, and that our continued prosperity depended on cities’ productivity, sustainability and liveability.

Sustainability

“The overriding evidence is that our cities are getting hotter,” said Mr Albanese. “Heatwaves are our biggest natural killer, well ahead of fire and flood.”

This was particularly pertinent for an ageing population, he said.

The report said that heatwave-related deaths were predicted to more than double in the next 40 years as a result of climate change, ageing population and population growth.

Estimated average annual heat-related deaths, 2011-2050

The urban heat island effect was expected to exacerbate heat-related deaths, with the prevalence of dark-coloured pavements and roofs, concrete, urban canyons trapping hot air and a lack of shade and green space in dense urban environments major culprits.

“City residents are more vulnerable because of the heat-island effect, where the high proportion of roads and buildings compared to vegetation can add up to four degrees to ambient temperatures,” said Mr Albanese.

The report looked at ways cities could ameliorate the impacts of heatwaves through measures like green infrastructure.

It said governments were taking action to increase heatwave preparedness and mitigate impacts, including the NSW’s State Disaster Plan, Western Australia’s State Emergency Management Plan for Heatwaves, Victoria’s heatwave plan and heat alert system, and South Australia’s Extreme Heat Operational Plan.

The Fifth Estate contributor Michael Mobbs provided a case study of his work in Chippendale, Sydney, tackling the urban heat island effect.

There, the City of Sydney was trialling the construction of “cool” roads in suburbs.

Thermal imaging of Chippendale showed that black bitumen roads that received full sun were typically 2°C hotter than shaded streets. The nearby buildings increased airconditioning use and led to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Thermal image of Chippendale, Sydney, taken between 1am and 5am

“By changing from black bitumen to pale-coloured road surfaces that absorb and re-radiate less of the sun’s energy, the City of Sydney aims to cool the streets down, including those without trees,” said Mr Mobbs.

The report said that adding natural green elements to the built environment would promote many direct and indirect benefits, including mitigation of the UHI effect, reducing air pollution, improving air quality and microclimate, and providing opportunities for carbon sequestration.

Urban forests and greening would also provide habitat for biodiversity, support management of stormwater run-off, improve water quality and provide opportunities for recreation and active lifestyles.

Property values could also be increased by urban greening, the report said, noting the City of Melbourne’s estimated amenity value of its urban forests at around $730 million.

Construction a big waste – 31 per cent in fact, Canberra and Adelaide star

Waste was another key sustainability issue, with the construction sector generating the largest volume – over 16.5 million tonnes in 2009-10, representing 31 per cent of total waste generated.

From 1997 to 2012, waste had increased by 145 per cent compared to a 22 per cent increase in population, demonstrating the growing pressure being put on the waste management systems in cities.

Domestically, Canberra and Adelaide were the star recyclers, with 85 and 80 per cent of standard recyclables being recovered in the 2010-11 year.

Other key report findings included:

POPULATION AND SETTLEMENT

  • Australia had one of the highest population growth rates in the OECD. Around half comes from net overseas migration
  • In the 2011–12 year, the larger capitals grew almost 50 per cent faster than the rest of the country
  • Sydney is losing significant numbers of residents across all age groups but overseas migrants are taking their place at a rate that keeps Sydney growing, albeit below the national average
  • High growth areas are also mostly high churn areas (high numbers of people moving in and out)
  • Australia is the third most popular market for international students in the world. This market generates more than $15 billion for the nation every year.
  • One in every 16 persons living in the City of Sydney is an international student while for the City of Melbourne it is one in five.
  • The rapid increase in international student numbers since 2000 has created accommodation and transport stresses particularly for Melbourne and Sydney

Planning Institute of Australia chief executive Kirsty Kelly said the report contained invaluable information for planning and policy decisions.

“These reports are a pulse check on the trends and growth patterns in our major cities and they attract overwhelming interest from both the planning fraternity and the general public,” Ms Kelly said. “The migration data in this report is invaluable and can inform the best possible planning decisions for our cities.”

PRODUCTIVITY

  • Major cities had much growth in knowledge-intensive jobs, though these tended to be concentrated in central areas. These jobs were most important to overall productivity
  • An increasing number of people are living further away from city centres in major cities while higher-skill, higher-paying jobs, are becoming concentrated in central areas
  • The manufacturing and retail sectors, which once drove jobs growth, are now employing a smaller proportion of Australians
  • Industry structure differs widely between major cities. Each city plays a unique role in the nation’s economic system. The participation of males compared with females in particular types of industry also differs widely
  • The mining sector and associated fly in, fly out and drive in, drive out practices influence the economies of some major cities, particularly Perth and Brisbane as well as demand for office space and the aviation service

The National Growth Areas Alliance, which represents 25 fast-growing municipalities on the outskirts of capital cities, said that outer suburbs would double in size over the next 25 years if growth rates were maintained. It said, however, that only one in 10 jobs were currently located in those areas, leading to significant social, environmental and economic impacts.

They say there is a need to:

  • create a local system of skilled employment and supporting infrastructure to attract private business investment
  • secure a stream of state and Commonwealth funding for community, transport and other major infrastructure to attract private sector investment
  • stimulate private sector investment to create more job diversity
  • recognise the importance of liveability features in attracting skilled workers and private investment
  • improve employment self-sufficiency rates to avoid long-term unemployment growth and deskilling
  • raise the local skill base to attract investment

In line with the Grattan Institute’s Productive Cities, the report said improved connectivity could be achieved in three ways: bringing workplaces closer to homes; increasing the number of dwellings in areas with good access to jobs; and improving transport links between work and home.

See our story Turnbull calls for public transport infrastructure funding

TRANSPORT

Key highlights of the report on transport issues include:

  • Australia had a higher use of light passenger vehicles (cars and motorbikes) than comparable overseas countries, being the main mode of travel is inner, middle and outer suburbs
  • Overall vehicle kilometres had peaked in 2004, and in the decade to 2011 there was a decrease in proportion of LPV travel to work
  • The only area to increase LPV use in the decade to 2011 was the outer suburbs of Sydney
  • People that used public transport to get around tended to have higher overall incomes
  • Young people were the most reliant on public transport, with nearly half of travellers school or university students
  • The proportion of journeys to work made by bicycle is now the highest it has been in 40 years
  • Congestion was a growing issue in Australian cities, and was predicted to cost $20.4 billion a year by 2020. Perth, Melbourne and Sydney had seen increasing congestion, whereas it had decreased in Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra
  • Of 123 world cities, Sydney ranked as the seventh most congested city
  • More jobs were more easily accessible by private vehicle than by mass transit
  • For example, only Melbourne’s CBD and inner suburban areas could be reached within a 45-minute mass transit trip

LIVEABILITY

Key highlights on liveability include:

  • The UN-Habitat City Prosperity Index is an important contribution to objectively measuring cities on an internationally comparable basis, with Melbourne ranking highly on prosperity and quality of life
  • The Australian Property Council’s Liveability Index was unchanged from 2011 with Adelaide ranked as the nation’s most liveable city
  • The median incomes of households in Australia have risen substantially in real terms, with particular strong growth between 2003–04 and 2009–10. Growth was particularly strong for households at the top and bottom end of the scale. Income growth was widespread in a geographic sense across Perth, while more strongly concentrated on the inner parts of Melbourne and other cities
  • Unemployment in Australia has halved since the 1990s and this has been an important factor in the increase in incomes at the lower end of the scale
  • In the larger major cities, unemployment rises with distance from the city centre, and skill levels decrease
  • Part time employment and underemployment have also increased in the major cities
  • In larger cities, home renters predominate in the centre while outright homeowners are generally found in the middle suburbs