Overview of state and trends of the built environment


What has changed since 2011?

  • With water restrictions easing across many regions since 2011, Australian households have been increasing their water consumption. In 2014–15, Australian households consumed 1852 gigalitres of water, an increase of 9 per cent from 2010–11 (ABS 2016d).
  • Water use by the manufacturing and commercial, and service industries has continued to decrease during the same period, by 9 and 11 per cent, respectively.
  • Demand for electricity and household electricity consumption have fallen because of improved energy efficiency of appliances and machinery; reduced reliance on electricity from the grid following uptake of household solar panels, which has been driven by reduced costs and taxpayer subsidies; and reduced consumption in response to an increase in electricity prices.
  • Land on the fringes of major capital cities continues to be developed at the expense of agricultural land and biodiversity.

State and trends

Australia’s urban amenity is generally good. Although our urban populations are still consuming significant resources, they are using energy more efficiently than in 2011.

Water quality in urban areas is generally good, but, in parts of regional Australia, it does not meet relevant drinking water standards.

Air quality in urban areas is also generally good. Poor air quality occurs infrequently, generally associated with dust storms and bushfires, or where there continues to be a large incidence of wood heater use.

Australia’s cities continue to face pressures from growing reliance on private vehicles and other transport demands more generally—all of which affect the environment and human health. Increased population growth in our major cities is leading to growing use of private cars, greater traffic volumes, and increasing social costs because of traffic congestion and delays.

At the same time, our cities and towns can be important for biodiversity conservation, providing ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, water quality control and nutrient cycling. Biodiversity within cities and towns also offers opportunities to involve people in conservation (McDonnell & Hahs 2013). Urban biodiversity has profound benefits for human wellbeing (Turner et al. 2004; see Box OVW1).

Box OVW1 Benefits of contact with nature and green space

Contact with nature and engaging with public open spaces are important for human health and wellbeing—they promote physical activity and mental health, and can reduce blood pressure, body size and stress levels. In recent years, the importance of providing public open space has received much attention in the built environment and public health fields (e.g. Badland et al. 2015).

In 2011–12, a survey into community engagement with nature conservation found that most Australians enjoy the benefits of the natural environment. Nearly three-quarters of Australian adults (73 per cent) took part in some activity that involved contact with nature in the previous 12 months (ABS 2013).

A substantial body of evidence demonstrates the positive effect of green space on human wellbeing. Drawing on more than 600 published articles, Townsend et al. (2015) report that:

  • youth using parks find nature to be therapeutic and rewarding, which facilitates their health, wellbeing and spiritual growth (O’Brien et al. 2011)
  • children involved in unstructured play in nature are calmer, and will engage in richer imaginative play, increased physical activity, more focused play and positive social interactions (Nedovic & Morrissey 2013)
  • attention and general sense of wellbeing increase after sitting in a park for 15 minutes (van den Berg & Custers 2011)
  • time spent outdoors is linked with increased work productivity and creativity, and decreased levels of stress and anxiety (de Bloom et al. 2014)
  • spending time in nature provides rehabilitative and recuperative benefits to people with serious physical and mental illnesses (Astell-Burt et al. 2013, Nakau et al. 2013).
Jackson WJ, Argent RM, Bax NJ, Bui E, Clark GF, Coleman S, Cresswell ID, Emmerson KM, Evans K, Hibberd MF, Johnston EL, Keywood MD, Klekociuk A, Mackay R, Metcalfe D, Murphy H, Rankin A, Smith DC, Wienecke B (2016). Overview: Overview of state and trends of the built environment. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/overview/built-environment/topic/overview-state-and-trends-built-environment, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65510c633b