If it wasn’t already clear on other grounds, then the latest State of Australian Cities 2013  report confirms that asylum seekers aren’t the big problem for the people of western Sydney, or those living on the fringes of other major cities in Australia.

It highlights the growing divide in our cities – a tale of two cities as The Age put it last year about Melbourne, amid warnings from advisors to the Metropolitan Planning Strategy of the emergence of ‘two Melbournes: a successful and ‘choice rich’ inner core and a fringe with fewer choices’.

Releasing the State of Australian Cities 2013 report, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said our cities continue to sit towards the top of world rankings (some of which can be argued, as Jane-Frances Kelly has) but within them are ‘vastly different areas of opportunity, education and income levels, industry structures, and travel and workforce patterns.”

The main driver behind that disparity and the main theme of this year’s report is how Australia’s changing industrial structure is affecting our cities. “Postcodes do matter,” Mr Albanese told the launch.

The National Growth Areas Alliance (NGAA), which represents 25 of Australia’s fastest growing municipalities – mostly on the outer edges of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth – heartily agreed, welcoming the report as a ‘much more nuanced’ analysis of cities than previous iterations. ‘The veil has now been lifted on the outer suburbs,’ it declared.

In its section on liveability, State of Australian Cities notes that spatial distribution of, and access to, resources and opportunities that support health and wellbeing (like education, green space and cultural and recreational facilities) can help moderate rising urban inequality. “And it is this rising inequality that poses the greatest challenges to the long-term liveability of our cities,’ it says.

The findings include:

–  An increasing number of people are living further away from city centres in major cities while higher skill, higher paying jobs (particularly ‘knowledge intensive’ jobs) are becoming concentrated in central areas.

–  Unemployment rises with distance from the city centre in the bigger cities, while skills decline. Education levels are higher in city centres and get progressively lower towards the edges.

–  Jobs growth is generally lowest in the outer suburbs of our larger cities which have been particularly affected by the fall in manufacturing, which means more lower paid workers are facing long commutes to get to work.

–  This particularly limits the productive capacity of highly skilled women. Because they tend to have primary responsibility for care of children and ageing relatives they are more likely to accept a poorer quality, lower paid job closer to home.

– In the bigger cities, renters are predominant in the inner suburbs, outright homeowners in the middle suburbs, while the outer suburbs feature the so-called ‘mortage belt’. But we are now seeing ‘a new outer belt of home renters’ – a group which appears to be ‘little studied’.

– Cities are becoming increasingly stratified by age as well as income, skills and employment, with a pronounced shift of people aged over 65 away from the inner and middle suburbs towards the outer areas.

State of Australian Cities says that to improve connection between work and homes, we need to:

  1. 1. Bring workplaces closer to homes.
  2. 2. Increase the number of dwellings in areas that have greatest number of jobs.
  3. 3. Improve transport links.

On the latter, the report shows that Australian cities tend to have higher use of private cars than public transport  – and unlike other countries, public transport in Australia is more likely to be used by higher income earners. That’s because they have the access, while those living on the outer suburbs are worse served by public transport and have to rely more on cars – if they can drive and afford them.

As the VAMPIRE Index (Vulnerability Assessment for Mortgage, Petroleum and Inflation Risks and Expenses) and other reports have found, transport disadvantage is a growing issue, and one not confined to Australia.

In Next Stop Health: Transit Access and Health Inequities, Public Health Toronto also recently looked at the relationship between public transport and health, looking at both cost and availability. It found not only are the residents with the lowest incomes often provided with the worst public transport, they are also the most reliant on it to access food, health care, employment, and recreation.

Other major points

State of Australian Cities 2013 also reports on a range of sustainability issues, including that heatwaves now represent the worst natural disaster for Australian cities, based on fatalities.

The launch was also accompanied by a Ministerial Statement on Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport which sets out what governments and employers can do to boost numbers of people walking and riding for short trips, and to connect to public transport hubs.

More on those and other issues arising from the report in future posts.

Interactive features

The State of Australian Cities 2013 is the fourth in its series – previous publications have been downloaded 3 million times. This one includes new interactive web-based maps to explore particular aspects of cities, with a focus on the stratification layers, and what this means for productivity, liveability and sustainability.

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