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Australian cities might not be as liveable as the rest of the world thinks

Chris Pash

Australian capital cites, while often appearing high on global lists as sought-after liveable cities, don't really measure up that well, according to the latest research.

A report from RMIT University, the culmination of five years of research, is the first baseline measure of liveability in Australia’s state and territory capitals.

The Creating Liveable Cities in Australia report examines seven areas of liveability that promote health and wellbeing -- walkability, public transport, public open spaces, housing affordability, employment and the food and alcohol environments.

Poor results across the board

The researchers found that no Australian capital city performs well across all the indicators. They also noted widespread evidence of geographical inequities within and between cities, with outer suburban areas less well served than inner-city suburbs.

The report’s chief investigator, Billie Giles-Corti, the director of RMIT’s Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform, says the report shows that better, more comprehensive and consistent policies are needed.

“One significant way to create liveable cities and to improve people’s health and wellbeing is through urban design and planning that create walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods,” Giles-Corti says. “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."

The researchers defined liveability as being "safe, attractive, socially cohesive and inclusive, and environmentally sustainable; with affordable and diverse housing linked by convenient public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure to employment, education, public open space, local shops, health and community services, and leisure and cultural opportunities".

Melbourne keeps getting named by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the world's most liveable city. Adelaide Perth and Sydney also rate highly.

That rating is based on stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

According to the RMIT research, more homes in Melbourne (almost 70%) have access to a bus, tram or train than any other Australian city.

And more Melbourne homes (82%) are within 400 metres of a park than other cities (39–58%).

But Perth wins when it comes to open spaces. Fewer homes in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane suburbs have good access to larger open spaces compared with Perth. Overall, 89% of Perth residential addresses are within 800 metres of a public open space larger than 1 hectare.

In Sydney and Brisbane, and to a lesser extent in Melbourne, housing affordability stress appears to be spread across large areas of the city.

Those suburbs suffering the greatest stress were located towards the urban fringe.