Livability' is a term that can have many meanings, but for the purposes of this chapter it relates to those aspects of the quality of urban life that are determined predominantly by the physical nature of the built environment. Aspects of livability that arise more generally from social and economic conditions, while important, are not assessed. This means, for example, that housing conditions, amenity and access to transport services are included, whereas house prices, access to social services and crime are not. However, the boundary between these aspects is innately grey; for the exclusions just mentioned, the form of the built environment may indeed have some impact, but wider economic and social forces typically have a far greater impact. Health issues are considered to the extent that they are directly affected by the built environment; for example, the impact of the quality of urban air and water on health, and the contribution that the built environment might make to 'healthy lifestyles' by encouraging (or discouraging) exercise through walking and cycling.
By world standards, most Australian cities have relatively low population densities. Sydney is Australia's most densely populated city, with a population density exceeding 2000 people per square kilometre (Table 10.2). North American cities have population densities similar to Australian cities. In comparison, many cities in Asia have densities more than 10 times this; higher densities than in Australia are typical in cities in Europe, South America and Africa. Population density within a city can also vary significantly—some parts of Australian cities have densities of more than 10 000 people per square kilometre.
Calculation of a city's population density depends on the land area that is considered to be occupied by the city, which changes over time. For this reason, comparable historical estimates of population densities are difficult to obtain. Also, trends in the average population density of a city might mask trends in particular parts of the city. There is some evidence that the overall population density of Melbourne has fallen since World War 2 (based on Australian census data). However, in recent years, certain parts of inner Melbourne have experienced significant increases in population density, and this trend is also evident in the other large Australian cities (e.g. see Newman & Kenworthy5).
|People per km2|
|Canberra (includes Queanbeyan)||1005|
km2 = square kilometre
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics4
There are mixed views about the impact of density on the livability and efficiency of urban areas. On the one hand, higher densities might lead to more recreational and employment opportunities and better access to public transport and other services, as well as more 'vibrant' cities. Higher densities also make more efficient use of land. On the other hand, higher densities may be associated with a loss of open space (both public and private), more crowded public parks and public transport, and more congested traffic, unless improvements are made to accommodate the growing needs. Also, there is no strong evidence that higher densities lead to more efficient use of resources such as water and electricity. This is a contentious issue; some experts claim that higher densities lead to more efficient use of resources, whereas others hold a different view.
Access to recreational opportunities and open space is an important aspect of the livability of the built environment. There is a paucity of national datasets relating to these aspects. However, in 2010, the Property Council of Australia commissioned a survey to measure Australians' attitudes towards their cities, with the focus on capital cities.6 One of the questions asked was 'Do residents believe their cities have a wide range of recreational outdoor environments?' (Figure 10.2). All Australian cities rated well on this measure, with an average score of 79 out of 100. Melbourne rated the highest, with a score of 83, and Hobart and Sydney were equal lowest, with a score of 76.