At a glance
A range of pressures on the built environment have a high or very high impact on livability, human health and/or urban environmental efficiency.
Pressures from a growing population have a high impact on the urban footprint, because of a lack of coordinated and integrated urban planning for both infill and greenfield development across Australia’s cities. Our cities are experiencing urban sprawl as more land on city fringes is taken to accommodate an increased population (although this is decreasing because of rapid growth in development in inner urban areas).
Traffic congestion continues to be a problem, with the avoidable cost of congestion (where the benefits to road users of some travel in congested conditions are less than the costs imposed on other road users and the wider community) for Australian capital cities growing from about $12.8 billion in 2010 to around $16.5 billion in 2014–15. Although improvements in public transport aim to alleviate transport issues, and per-person car use has begun to decline, the bulk of urban passenger travel is, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, by private motor vehicles.
Australian cities consume a large amount of natural resources, although the consumption of energy by the residential sector has been slower than population growth during recent years, and water use by manufacturing, and the commercial and services industries has shown an overall decrease since 2010–11. The pollution associated with consumption continues to affect our land, air and water. The amount of waste sent to landfill is decreasing; however, the amount of hazardous waste produced is increasing. Air pollution is generally relatively low in our cities, but is still a health concern, particularly for particulate matter. The hard surfaces of our cities contribute to water pollution, with urban run-off carrying topsoil, chemicals, rubbish, nutrients, oil and grease into waterways.
Climate change—and its intersection with increased population, urbanisation and residential shifts to high-risk areas—is considered to be high impact and worsening. Increased frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and storms, will particularly affect urban areas, and sea level rise will affect our coastal cities.
The main drivers of environmental change—population growth and economic growth—along with the pressure of climate change, all pose significant threats to the built environment unless our environmental footprint per person and footprint per unit of economic growth can be significantly reduced. The drivers cause a range of pressures that will affect the built environment: increased urban footprint, traffic, pollution, climate change, increased extreme weather events, and rising sea levels, which will affect coastal urban centres.