By Tina Perinotto

The Green Building Council of Australia said the Australian Government’s State of Australian Cities 2010 report would support the property and construction sector’s drive to Sustainability.

GBCA chief executive Romilly Madews said the new Green Star –Communities environmental rating tool, which is under development would help address the key findings in the report that Australian cities face significant challenges in terms of population growth and demographic change, transport congestion, living affordability, infrastructure development, productivity growth, climate change and ecological sustainability.

The report comes only weeks after the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council’s Cities for the future report released at the Green Cities 2010 conference in Melbourne, found that transport-related greenhouse gas emissions in Australian cities will increase by almost 50 per cent within thirty years, with travel times expected to increase by a quarter.

“Decisive action is required to ensure Australia’s cities are sustainable, affordable and liveable well into the future,” Ms Madew says.

“This is why the GBCA, together with partner VicUrban, is driving the Green Star –Communities project to guide the development of sustainable communities around Australia.”

Highlights from State of Australian Cities 2010

Australia is one of the world’s more urbanised nations, with just over three-quarters of the population living in 17 major cities of 100,000 people or more and the majority of urban dwellers living in ?ve cities—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

The population of Australia is projected to be 35 million by mid-century, with our capital cities becoming home to the vast majority of this increased population.

Within the largest capitals, urban areas are growing rapidly, with net overseas migration seen as the main contributor to population growth.

Fastest growing local government areas are:

  • Wyndham
  • Melton
  • Whittlesea
  • Wanneroo
  • Swan
  • Rockingham
  • Ipswich

In 2007–08 these centres experienced growth rates above 4 per cent and population increases of 4000 or more for the year.

Australian urban life provides extensive economic, social and cultural bene?ts for residents.

Large net migration and the concentration of overseas-born people in the cities have created a cultural and linguistic diversity that has helped further de?ne and enhance modern urban life. While Australian cities perform relatively well in terms of quality of life and other social issues, they are confronted by signi?cant challenges including population growth and demographic change, transport congestion, living affordability, infrastructure development, productivity growth, climate change and ecological sustainability. Australian cities will need to respond effectively to these challenges in order to sustain the high quality of life enjoyed by urban communities into the future, and remain globally competitive.

Overcoming the negatives and enhancing the positives to improve the lifestyles of Australia’s urban residents requires discussion and debate, which can only be initiated on a national level, in national forums and with research and data collected and presented uninhibited by local concerns and/or prejudices.

Depictions and studies of individual cities—capital and/or major—are commonplace. However, a holistic study of the phenomena of Australian cities, measuring economic, environmental, social and demographic changes, has never before been undertaken. Systematic data compilation, which can reveal trends and provide a platform of knowledge for the development and implementation of future urban policies, has been de?cient.

The State of Australian Cities Report 2010 begins to redress that information de?ciency and sets the scope and context for Australian Government involvement in urban policy and planning, which has as its focus improved living standards for the people who live in the nation’s major cities.

The economic strength of Australia’s major cities is evident. They contribute nearly 80 per cent of national Gross Domestic Product and the employment of 75 per cent of the nation’s workforce. The major cities are also responsible for some 84 per cent of Australia’s economic growth in the period 2003 to 2008 and 81 per cent of employment growth between 2001 and 2006. There is nothing to suggest that those trends will change.

Stronger, more sustainable and more liveable Australian cities mean a stronger Australian economy and an enhanced lifestyle for all Australians.

In the economic and lifestyle context, the well-being of urban communities also need to be understood to support policy development and delivery.

The report found that the past outward urban expansion has meant a greater distance between residential and employment areas with a resultant greater use of cars, higher transport costs, more vulnerability to oil price rises and the loss of agricultural land or habitat. More recently, however, the pattern of growth has seen an increasing proportion of population growth accommodated in existing inner and middle suburban areas, most notably in Sydney.

The level of car dependency in Australian cities has increased at a faster rate than population growth, creating traf? c congestion problems as infrastructure and public transport have failed to keep pace with population growth.

Congestion, the bane of urban dwellers, if not addressed will continue to grow as a serious negative not only for lifestyle but also for the negative economic impacts.

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, the report estimates that the avoidable cost of congestion for the Australian capitals was approximately $9.4 billion in 2005. Projections show that by 2020 this cost will rise to $20.4 billion, impacting adversely on Australian productivity and national, state and territory and local economies.

Congestion not only lengthens working hours but also tilts the work/family balance contrary to the aspirations of the majority of Australians. In addition, congestion leads to productivity declines. In Australia’s eight capitals, the freight task—the movement of goods—is expected to grow by 70 per cent between 2003 and 2020 and, as trucks compete with other traf?c in ever
more congested roads, productivity will decline and costs to business increase.

Congestion and growing vehicle numbers result in air quality declines. Transport emissions are one of the strongest sources of emissions growth in Australia. That growth is expected to continue, with direct CO 2-equivalent emissions projected to increase 22.6 per cent between 2007 and 2020—or around 1.58 per cent a year. Declining air quality is linked to commonly reportable health conditions among children and young adults, with respiratory conditions and exposure to urban air pollution now accounting for 2.3 per cent of all deaths.

All three spheres of Australian government—national, state and territory, and local—have roles to play in addressing and meeting the key challenges and opportunities to improve the productivity, liveability and sustainability of Australia’s cities. This can only be achieved by working in partnership with communities and the private sector.

The design of urban environments can contribute to the health and wellbeing of communities by supporting active living, active and passive recreation opportunities, public transport and social connectivity. Evidence suggests that well-designed public open space is restorative for the community, reducing the mental fatigue and stress of urban living.

Australian cities can provide many opportunities to lead the nation towards a more sustainable future. The way cities are planned, built and function can promote more ef? cient use of resources, including water, energy and land, minimise the production of waste and encourage more reuse and recycling, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support biodiversity in and around urban areas through better management of open and green space.

State and territory governments lay down strategic planning frameworks, and local governments implement planning policies that ideally re? ect local aspirations. However, while the eight state or territory governments and 155 local governments will signi? cantly in? uence the future direction of Australia’s major cities, there is an inherent need for a coordinating and oversight role for the Australian Government, given its primary economic, social welfare and infrastructure roles. Fitting the policies—sometimes allied, sometimes con? icting—of state, territory and local government into a national framework can only be achieved by a national collaborative approach.

In the rollout of new infrastructure, local, state and territory governments increasingly look to the Australian Government for the necessary capital to supplement their own ? nancial inputs. In meeting growing local, state and territory demands, the Australian Government, however, must ensure that taxpayer funds are allocated to deliver improved living standards and quality of life for all Australians, as well as the national economic good, rather than satisfying particular local demands.

The data and material presented in the State of Australian Cities Report 2010, will assist the Australian Government, in cooperation with state, territory and local government, and in partnership with the community and industry, to improve Australian urban policies. This will not only continue to provide the major cities contribution to the nation’s economy but also
enhance the living standards and life quality for our communities.

There is a growing international movement to conduct audits of metropolitan centres and introduce monitoring systems to inform, measure and communicate urban policy. A number of ‘State of the Cities’ type reports have subsequently emerged from Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.

Concurrently, consensus has been increasing on the need to standardise indicator sets to enable comparison and sharing of national urban data and information through international organisations such as the United Nations, the OECD and the World Bank. To date, there has been no systematic data compilation at a national level to measure economic, environmental, social and demographic changes in the cities of Australia. This is partly because there has not been an acknowledged national requirement to capture these data, and partly because the systems being measured are highly complex and dynamic. This is the ?rst State of Australian Cities report.


  • Over 71 per cent of people aged over 65 in Australia are residents of the major cities.
  • 89 per cent of those born overseas reside in the major cities.
  • 93 per cent of residents who speak another language other than English live in the major cities.
  • The major cities are home to over 74 per cent of all Australian families.
  • People with tertiary quali? cations are highly concentrated in the major cities.
  • The major cities have a signi? cantly higher proportion of people living in semi-detached and
  • terrace housing, and an even greater proportion living in apartments.
  • The major cities have a lower proportion of home ownership than the rest of Australia.
  • The major cities have a substantially higher median and mean average income, with
  • signi?cantly greater proportions in the highest two income deciles.
  • The major cities have signi? cantly lower car-ownership rates than the rest of Australia, with
  • public transport use concentrated in the larger cities.
  • Labour force participation is substantially higher in major cities than in the rest of Australia.
  • Based on relative industry sector employment share, the major cities are dominated by ?nance and business services, retail and manufacturing industries.
  • Among occupation sectors the major cities dominate in professional and managerial occupations.
  • The major cities in the year to June 2009 generated expenditure from overseas visitors of $15 billion out of the total overseas visitor contribution of $17 billion.

State of Australian Cities 2010
Each year Mercer undertakes a more speci? c examination of one aspect of city quality. For 2009, this was infrastructure. Mercer identi? ed cities with the best infrastructure based on electricity supply, water availability, telephone and mail services, public transport provision, traf? c congestion and the range of international ? ights from local airports. The results of this saw Sydney ranked 11th, Melbourne 35th and the other major Australian cities—Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth—ranked equal 38th. Singapore was at the top of this index followed by Munich in second place and Copenhagen third. However, despite their high ranking, Australian cities are slipping in comparison to other international cities.

Compared to 2004, Sydney has slipped in this quality-of-living ranking from 5th to 10th; Melbourne from 12th to 18th; Perth from 20th to 21st; Adelaide from 24th to 30th; and, Brisbane from 24th to 34th. Mercer (2009b) attributes the rise of cities that have supplanted the Australian cities to investment in infrastructure such as transport and housing.

The other major quality-of-living survey of international cities is conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) (2009). The study assesses cities on the basis of stability, health care, education, infrastructure, and culture and environment.
This annual report also consistently places Australia’s major cities as among the world’s most liveable cities. For the 2009 study, Australian cities occupy ? ve of the top 20 places in the ranking of the liveability of 140 of the world’s major cities. The other top places are dominated by cities from Canada, Switzerland and Austria. Melbourne ranked third in the world, behind Vancouver and Vienna. Perth was equal 5th with Calgary in Canada, with Sydney sharing 9th place with Zurich, Adelaide in 11th place and Brisbane 16th on the list.

Cities that score best in the research tend to be mid-sized, in developed countries with a low population density, bene? ting from cultural or recreational availability but with lower crime levels or infrastructure problems that can be caused by large populations.
Again, it is notable that it is only the Australian and Canadian larger cities that make the top rankings of this study. However, as with the Mercer study, while still ranking highly, Australian cities have slipped in ranking in recent years. Compared to 2004, all the Australian cities have slipped backwards. Melbourne has gone from equal 1st with Vancouver to 3rd; Perth from 4th
to 5th; Sydney from equal 6th to 9th; Adelaide from 6th to 11th; and, Brisbane from 6th to 16th. Generally, the rising cities are those from Canada, including Toronto and Calgary.

Key ?ndings

  • Just over three-quarters of all Australians live in 17 major cities with populations over 100,000 at the 2006 Census
  • The majority of urban Australians live in the ? ve largest cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
  • Major Cities Unit Australia’s population is projected to reach more than 35 million people by around mid-century according to both ABS and Treasury projections. Most of this growth (72 per cent) will be in the capital cities.
  • Treasury projections in the 2010 Intergenerational Report estimate that there will be8.1 million people aged over 65 years by 2050, representing 23 per cent of the population Compared to 2.6 million people or 13.3 per cent in 2006.
  • The number of households in Australia is projected to increase from 7.4 million in 2001 to at least 10.2 million in 2026 while the average household size is expected to decline from 2.6 people per household in 2001 to less than 2.3 people per household in 2026. Cites

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