Melbourne laneway, 11.43 am, Thursday, 20 October 2011

20 October 2011 – The federal government’s latest installment of the yearly report, State ofAustralian Cities 2011, released today, devoted significant space to sustainability issues.

Highlights included:

  • Coal. Since 2006, Australians have been consuming less energy per capita, particularly that generated by coal, recovering more waste from landfill per capita, producing less household waste, consuming less water and have cleaner air in their cities than they have done previously.
  • Water restrictions were eased in south-eastern Australia after increased rainfall in late 2010 and early 2011.There has been significant investment in new infrastructure that will mean urban water supply is less dependent on rainfall.The main use of water in Australian cities continues to be in the residential sector.
  • Air quality in Australia’s major cities is now generally high by international standards and is expected to improve further as a result of improvements to motor vehicle technology and as older vehicles are replaced. Regional cities in south-eastern Australia generally have slightly poorer air quality ratings for particulate matter than other major cities due mainly to bushfire smoke and dust storms. Regional cities’ air quality in southern Australia tends to be affected more by wood heaters and hazard reduction burns, and inland cities by agricultural activities. Many of these high particulate readings are transitory in nature.
  • Heatwave fatalities. In terms of fatalities, heatwaves are the largest threat to Australian cities from natural disasters.The record breaking heatwaves in January 2009 severely tested the resilience of Adelaide and Melbourne in particular. In reports on the heatwave, South Australian and Victorian authorities have highlighted the need for more heatwave-resilient urban systems.
  • Extreme weather. The summer of 2010-11 brought with it extreme weather events. Northern parts of Australia were hit by cyclones and extensive parts of eastern Australia and mid Western Australia were subjected to severe flooding. Bushfires affected Western Australia.
  • Sea levels and housing. About 85 per cent of Australians live within 50 kilometres of the coast. More than 700,000 dwellings are within three kilometres of the coast and less than six metres above existing sea level. Projected impacts of climate change show that a significant number of residential buildings may be at risk of inundation and damage from a sea level rise of 1.1 metre (high end scenario for 2100). Projections also show an increased frequency of extreme weather events with associated storm surges and coastal erosion, and an increased risk of damage to property and infrastructure from inundation and erosion.
  • Energy consumption across Australia is dominated by electricity generation, transport, and manufacturing sectors which together used more than 75 per cent of the energy consumed in 2009–10.
  • Embodied energy in buildings. About 70 per cent of energy is consumed indirectly in products and services used. For example, the energy embodied in the construction of a building is many times greater than the energy used within that building in a year.
  • Waste. In 2009–10 Canberra and Adelaide recorded the highest rates of waste recycled (70 per cent).Perth had the lowest rate at 40.6 per cent,but recorded an increase of 18 per cent over 2008–09 figures. Landfill levies continued to be imposed in most major Australian cities to encourage increased recycling. Brisbane will be subject to a levy from the end of 2011.Where data is available, it shows major cities are producing less household waste per capita. Recycling rates in the construction and demolition stream are increasing in most jurisdictions. Increasing recycling rates for the commercial and industrial waste stream, and for municipal solid waste pose challenges such as the lack or expense of technologies able to adequately manage ‘wet’ or putrescible waste.

Other key findings included:

  • Commuting. Employed residents of Sydney took 35 minutes on average for the journey to work in 2006, which was longer than the average time taken by Melbourne residents (31 minutes) or Perth residents (26 minutes). Commuting times have changed little for a decade.
  • Public transport trips in the eight capital cities have increased by 14.7 per cent from 2004 to 2008 and the public transport mode share increased from 9.3 per cent to 10.6 per cent over the same period, well above the population growth rate and higher than many comparable cities internationally.
  • More on commuting. In depth analysis of 2001 and 2006 Census journey to work data for Sydney, Melbourne and Perth shows that urban commuting patterns became increasingly complex, with strong growth in outward and cross-suburban commutes. Commuters mainly used public transport to reach inner city jobs. Around 60 per cent of commuter travel by public transport in each city was to a workplace located in the central local government area, whereas public transport mode share to outer suburban jobs was five per cent or less.
  • Cycling. During the same period commuters’ active travel (walking and cycling) mode share rose in all three cities.
  • Jobs. Australia’s labour force participation rate is relatively high by international standards and has been mainly driven by increased participation of women in paid employment. Rates are significantly higher in capital than non-capital cities.
  • Unemployment levels varied across major cities from a low of two per cent to a high of nine per cent.
  • Mining has now overtaken manufacturing as the industry contributing the second highest proportion of gross value added due to a significant recent increase in the terms of trade.
  • Liveability Australia’s largest cities are in the top 10 of most global liveability rankings and have retained or improved their position. Melbourne is ranked the most liveable city in the world by one international standard but Adelaide is the most liveable city in Australia as rated by its residents.
  • The cost of greenfield developments is significantly lower than infill developments in all capitals except Sydney where cost of land and associated infrastructure charges on greenfield developments push their price higher than some infill.
  • House prices. Australia has had one of the largest increases in real house prices among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, particularly since 2000. Price growth rates have been similar between capital cities and the rest of Australia.
  • Household size continues to decrease as couple families with children continue to decline as a proportion of household mix.
  • Units. A relatively high proportion of Sydney households live in units and other medium/high density dwellings compared with other capital cities, particularly Melbourne. Families with children overwhelmingly occupy separate houses.
  • Income inequality remains an area where Australian cities are not performing as strongly as many other OECD countries.
  • Death. People living in the major cities are generally less likely to die from preventable causes than people in country areas, regardless of socio-economic levels.
  • Indigenous. Although a substantial gap remains between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, in many wellbeing indicators there has been a positive trend in the long term unemployment rate in major cities for Indigenous 18-64-year-olds, which has decreased from 57 per cent in 1994, to 25 per cent in 2008.

NSW Urban Taskforce chief executive-designate, Chris Johnson, said that the report singled out Sydney for dishonourable mention, for the “severe” nature of its gap between supply and demand for housing.

“This report clearly shows that Sydney’s lack of new housing is driving people away from the city that they know and love,” Mr Johnson said.

Melbourne was growing faster than Sydney, having increased its population by more than 600,000 between 2001 and 2010 while Sydney’s grew by less than 450,000 over the same period.

See the whole report