CUR is located at RMIT University’s City campus and has strong links with urban researchers and centres across Australia and internationally. CUR is strongly committed to interdisciplinary research, with staff expertise in urban planning, public policy geography, economics, environmental sciences, spatial analysis, history, and sociology.
However a recent survey commissioned by WWF Australia found 89% of Australians agree we should invest in restoring wildlife habitats and natural places, and 68% of Australians believe a healthy environment and a prosperous economy go hand-in-hand.
So how should you cast your vote if you’re one of the many Australians who care about biodiveristy loss?
We’ve analysed policies, new investments, new initiatives and reforms from the Coalition, the Australian Labor Party, the Greens, One Nation, the United Australia Party, the Animal Justice Party and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.
We took these figures from party websites and policy statements, and where possible contacted party representatives directly to confirm.
The Coalition, if returned to government, has proposed a budget of A$1.19 billion over the next four years, which includes A$100 million for new biodiversity programming. Their proposed budget for agriculture includes an additional A$30 million for a pilot biodiversity agricultural stewardship program.
Despite highlighting new funding for watershed restoration, the Coalition does not explicitly call for funding directed at the Murray-Darling restoration.
Australian Labor Party
The Australian Labor Party has committed to invest $600 million in new environmental programs over the next four years, and will reallocate the $400 million currently committed to the Great Barrier Reef fund to public agencies dedicated to reef protection.
New initiatives include a native species protection fund, a program to restore urban rivers and corridors, doubling the number of Indigenous Rangers, reforming current environmental laws, and funding of a new independent, federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation advocates a departure from the Paris Agreement, and contends that the Great Barrier Reef will adapt to a warmer climate – pointing instead to Crown-of-Thorns Starfish and Tropical Cyclones as key issues.
Perhaps most significantly for the diverse ecosystems of the Top End, the party advocates constructing dams in monsoonal regions of North Queensland to provide water to farmers in the Murray-Darling region. They also propose to eradicate cane toads. Costings are not provided.
United Australia Party
The United Australia Party has no formal policies regarding biodiversity conservation, but advocates for several economic policies which have likely negative biodiversity implications.
The Greens have committed to a A$2 billion (per annum) Nature Fund to protect and restore biodiversity across Australia. This plan aims to recover every threatened species through the creation of new havens, invasive species control and fire management.
Their initiates include doubling protected areas, increasing the number of Indigenous Rangers, and incentivising private land conservation. In addition, the Greens have committed to reform our current nature laws.
Animal Justice Party
The Animal Justice Party has many broad policies directly related to biodiversity and wildlife, and are pushing for clean energy infrastructure.
Policies include land acquisition and habitat restoration and protection, strict penalties for harm to wildlife and an active stance against lethal control on invasive species. They will also encourage wildlife ecotourism, wildlife-sensitive education and investing in technology to reduce wildlife-human conflicts. They specify no costs for any of their policies.
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers
The Shooters Fishers and Farmers party promotes sustainable land use for farming and recreation, rather than “locking it away” for conservation. They express support for individual, community, and farm-based conservation programs if they do not impact recreational use.
However, their proposed expansions of recreational use of public conservation land (such as expanding park tracks, private game reserves and fishing) could negatively impact biodiversity. There are no expenditure details specified for these policies.
Investment in biodiversity conservation
The figure below summarises the total budget spend across the four-year electoral cycle proposed by each of the parties.
What about Adani?
As the biodiversity issue that has received the most attention this election campaign, readers may be interested on where the parties stand on the Adani development.
Labor has committed to not reviewing the approval, which amounts to tacit support. The Greens and the Animal Justice Party are the only parties actively opposing the mine.
If we want to improve our depressing record of species extinctions in Australia, urgent action is needed. There appear to be substantial differences between initiatives, reforms and investment proposed by all of the parties you could vote for on Saturday.
While the details of initiatives and reforms can be difficult to interpret, international research has shown investment has a direct impact on biodiversity. In other words, the more we spend, the fewer extinctions. On this measure, the Greens are easily in front.
And don’t forget that with preferential voting, you are able to vote for your first preference without wasting your vote.
Victoria’s planning minister, Richard Wynne, gets the final say on this plan – and it might be a “no”. He said last month the practicalities need more thought and that Moreland must “strike a balance”.
Wynne is right, but not in the way he implies.
Australian cities are generous to cars
Minimum parking requirements were introduced across Australia alongside the rise of cars in the 1950s. These set rigid ratios for parking spaces in different types of new developments.
But what about tradies, emergency workers, the disabled?
Often proposed changes to parking are criticised for being unfair to people who may rely on cars. It is great that these questions of equity are raised (including by the planning minister), but some of the common concerns are misplaced.
Firstly, developers are sensitive to market demands and will continue to provide apartments with parking for those who need it. When London removed minimum parking requirements in 2004, new developments still provided car parks – just at half the previous required rate.
Closer to home, the inner-city councils of Sydney and Melbourne have already removed some minimum parking requirements – and many new apartments still provide parking spaces.
Secondly, while apartment dwellers with insufficient off-street parking are often blamed for clogging up on-street parking in residential areas, they are rarely to blame. A recent study in Melbourne found residents of detached houses use 77-84% of on-street parking. Many of them have garages, but choose to use them for storage or living space.
Apartment dwellers were less likely to use on-street parking and more likely to have unused spaces. And more parking in apartment blocks isn’t helping people access our cities, even by car.
Removing minimum parking requirements will not mean that people who need to drive for work, medical or other reasons can’t find homes with parking spaces. Indeed, if we make it easier for those who don’t need to drive to get around in other ways, congestion could be eased for those workers who do need a car.
Pro-car planning policies are unfair to those who can’t drive
Providing quality public transport and walkable streets – not an oversupply of car parking – is critical to ensure children, young and older people and those with disabilities can get around independently.
If we continue to plan our urban areas as if everyone needs a car (or multiple cars) to get around, we will rapidly run out of space. And the space we have left will be unpleasant to spend time in. This means more time spent in traffic for drivers and ugly, hazardous and polluted streets for locals.
Sidestepping this difficult issue in the name of “balance” isn’t fair or practical. Improving public transport in these corridors is in the state’s power and would be a much more constructive response.
As a result, you’re probably in for a bit of a crush.
A traffic impact assessment is usually required when planning a major building development in Australia. This is supposed to assess the impacts of the development on the movement of people and goods. But, in practice, these assessments mainly focus on the movement of cars.
However, car trips are often in the minority when developments have good access to walking, cycling and public transport networks. Trip generation surveys at apartment buildings in inner Melbourne show cars account for only 30-40% of all trips.
Despite this shift away from cars, current planning guidelines in Australia fall short when it comes to planning for other modes of transport associated with new development. Little or no quantitative assessment of trips by walking, cycling and public transport is required.
Planning focus is still on cars
Planning for new development in Australia does very little to adequately support public transport, walking and cycling. Investment is geared towards roads at the expense of more sustainable forms of transport.
There is a lack of data on walking, cycling and public transport trips generated by land use developments. Unfortunately, greater resources are required to collect this data as we need to ask people about their travel, rather than simply count cars.
A review of more than 150 trip generation studies conducted worldwide since 1982 found nearly all of these counted car trips from land use developments. Much fewer measured public transport, walking or bicycle trips. Fortunately, though, this situation has been changing over the last 10 years.
Measurement of travel by transport mode at building developments. De Gruyter (2019)
Good practice properly considers all transport
So why is so much focus on the car in traffic impact assessments for such developments? Good practice has long recognised the importance of considering all forms of transport.
Good practice shifts the emphasis from assessing traffic impacts to assessing transport impacts. It recognises that most land use developments generate demand for all forms of transport.
In the UK, recommended practice is to quantify the number of trips a proposed development is expected to generate for each transport mode, not just the car. These numbers can then be compared against the actual capacity of public transport, walking, cycling and road networks. A comprehensive database, with trip data from more than 2,000 developments, supports this process.
Once we know how many public transport, walking, cycling and vehicle trips a development is likely to generate, we can then actively plan for these modes of travel.
For example, will the public transport network have enough capacity to cope with the extra demand? Will new services be required? Will footpaths need to be upgraded? What infrastructure is available for cycling and is this sufficient? Will the extra demand for car trips need to be managed?
Without quantifying the expected number of trips by each transport mode, it’s not possible to answer such questions. We can’t properly manage what we can’t measure.
So how can we do better?
Practice in Australian traffic impact assessments needs to shift towards a multimodal transport focus. Being able to quantify the expected number of trips from a development, by each transport mode, will go a long way to giving more sustainable forms of transport the attention they need.
Sure, collecting data on walking, cycling and public transport trips is more resource-intensive and costs more. But without this data the long-term cost to society is greater.
Australian state and national guidelines on traffic impact assessments also need to change. This will far better support practitioners in assessing the real transport impacts of proposed building developments.
Above all, we need to picture what type of future we want for our cities. Do we want a future dominated by the car? Or do we want to prioritise liveability in cities where walking, cycling and public transport are real options?
Once built, developments typically remain in place for a very long time. It’s therefore important that traffic impact assessments can influence the development of our transport systems in the right manner.
Properly considering all modes of transport will allow us to plan more effectively for walking, cycling and public transport. This will help to reduce our reliance on the car and enhance the liveability of our cities.
Originally published by CRESH – 9 May 2019
Authors: Hannah Badland and Jamie Pearce
Yet it is not clear whether the focus amongst planners and other policymakers on fashioning liveability is an opportunity – or threat – to reducing health inequities.
On the one hand improving the resources and infrastructure in local communities might benefit everyone but particularly those who are most dependent on what is close by.
On the other hand, it is possible that if liveability interventions are poorly or unevenly implemented, or inappropriate to the particular needs of the local population, then health inequities may widen.
The aim is to ensure equitable delivery of sustainable urban development – including local infrastructure and services, and housing amongst many other urban features – and to improve the living social and physical conditions for urban dwellers, including their health.
Given these important and laudable goals it is perhaps surprising that so few studies have looked at what effects liveability has on health inequities.
Health inequities continue to increase across many countries, including the UK and Australia; identifying what works in the long-term to reduce health inequities remains a policy priority for many national governments and international agencies.
In our new work we examined the international evidence to see when and where urban liveability might pose an opportunity or threat to reducing health inequities.
We looked across a series of urban liveability features (education; employment; food, alcohol, and tobacco; green space; housing; transport; and walkability) and asked whether intervening on these aspects of place can serve to widen or narrow inequities.
Our findings show that the urban liveability agenda offers opportunities to help address health inequities but the effects differ from place to place.
It was also clear that we need to keep in mind that urban liveability is just one part of a much broader urban system; whilst improving aspects of urban liveability can improve the health for some populations in a local area, it may not be the case for others.
In some cases, the health benefits of urban liveability are restricted to specific (and sometimes more prosperous) communities.
In fact, in more extreme cases urban liveability interventions can result in local people being pushed out of their community (e.g. through associated hikes in rental prices), with negative implications for their health and wellbeing.
We believe that the findings from this research include some important messages for policymakers and urban planners tasked with identifying ways to improve people’s health and reduce health inequities.
Designing our neighbourhoods to become more liveable offers some significant opportunities to enhance health.
However, it is also apparent liveability interventions need to be implemented in ways that meet the needs of all population groups living in the area, including the most vulnerable.
As researchers, it is important that we continue to monitor the impact of liveability interventions on inequities and seek a better understanding of how these issue relate to the wider urban and social systems affecting our health
The urban ambition includes creating carless and walkable cities, green cities able to produce oxygen through eco-skyscrapers, high-speed internet embedded in the urban fabric, the capacity to convert waste into energy, and reclaiming land to create new strategic trade opportunities.
However, striking the right balance between innovative ideas and democratic expectations, including the public right to the city, remains a challenge.
The Minnesota Experimental City offers a cautionary tale. The aim was to solve urban problems by creating a new city. It would use the latest technology including nuclear energy, automated cars and a domed roof enclosure.
Despite significant government and financial backing, including its own state agency, the Minnesota project failed due to a lack of public understanding and local support for a top-down futuristic project.
Who gets left behind?
In 1960, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to the futuristic city of Brasilia. While the city was designed to accommodate both rich and poor, it quickly became unaffordable for the average family. Half a century on, it was reported:
The poor have been shunted out to satellite cities, which range from proper well-built cities to something more like a shanty town.
In Indonesia, more than 30 million people – a fifth of the nation’s urban residents and more than a tenth of the 269 million population – live in Greater Jakarta. The capital city Jakarta is just one part of a larger mega-city agglomeration, the world’s second-largest after Greater Tokyo. This vast connected urban meta-region is known as Jabodetabek, from the initials of the cities within it: Jakarta (with a population of 10 million), Bogor (1 million), Depok (2.1 million), Tangerang (2 million), South Tangerang (1.5 million) and Bekasi (2.7 million).
Relocating the capital away from the crowded main island of Java offers the opportunity to better plan the political and administrative centre using the latest urban design features and technology.
Two key questions arise. If environmental degradation and overpopulation are the key issues, what will become of the largely remaining population of Greater Jakarta? At a national scale, how will this relocation help overcome the socio-economic and spatial disparities that exist in Indonesia?
Egypt, for example, is building a new capital city to overcome severe urban congestion and overcrowding in Greater Cairo. But there is no guarantee the new capital will resolve these issues if the emphasis is solely on technological innovation, without adequate attention to urban equity and fairness.
Despite all the advances that have occurred in technology, the arts, architecture, design and the sciences, there is surprisingly little innovation or public discussion about what might be possible for 21st-century Australian settlements beyond the capital cities.
Future Australian city planning and development focuses largely on enlarging and intensifying the footprints of existing major cities. The current urban policy trajectory is in-fill development and expansion of the existing state capital mega-city regions, where two-thirds of the population live. But what is lost through this approach?
In the late 1980s the MFP was envisaged as a high-tech city of the future with nuclear power, modern communication and Asian investment. It failed to gain the necessary political, investment and public support and was never built.
The current CLARA Plan proposes building up to eight new regional smart cities connected by a high-speed rail system linking Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra. Each of these cities is designed to be compact, environmentally sustainable and just a quick train trip away from the capital cities.
CLARA has outlined a “value capture” business model based on private city land development, not “government coffer” funding. How these new cities propose to function within the constitutional framework of Australia is as yet unclear and untested.
A bipartisan challenge
Are we thinking too narrowly when we talk about future Australian cities?
The “future city” prompts us to rethink and re-imagine the complex nature and make-up of our urban settlements, and the role of critical infrastructure and planning within them.
The future of Australian cities will require creativity, vision (even courage) to respond effectively to the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development.
This will not be the remit of any one political party, but a bipartisan national urban settlement agenda that affects and involves all Australians.
This is one of the key urban challenges of Australian cities, and one that CAUL Hub is examining in several ways: from individual sites of revegetation and restoration, innovative methods for engagement with green infrastructure, to whole metropolitan regions and sub-regions.
One of our projects, called “Making greening happen in consolidating cities”, takes a metropolitan scale view of urban greening.
This project focuses on collecting and analysing data to improve the evidence base for managing urban development and change in ways that preserve and enhance the urban forest.
As part of this project, the CAUL Hub, in partnership with CSIRO, the Victorian State Government, and the New South Wales State Government, is developing metropolitan wide data on vegetation and vegetation change, urban heat, land-use and land-use change for Perth, Melbourne and Sydney; along with case studies of regional cities.
Investigating land-use and tree cover
As our cities grow and change we often lose vegetation in the process. The data we are assembling is enabling comprehensive assessment of the nature and distribution of urban vegetation, and its relationship to urban land use and development.
This evidence base will help understand where vegetation is, where it is being lost and gained, and what urban policy and projects we need to reduce loss and stimulate gain.
Much of the focus of urban forestry strategy and action has been on the public realm – particularly parks and street trees.
While this is vital work, having comprehensive metropolitan data is important in helping to understand the contribution of vegetation from these areas of our cities, compared to the private realm.
Examining the distribution of canopy cover in Melbourne and Perth (see chart above) illustrates the varying role of different land-uses.
The public realm of parks and street trees is certainly a significant contributor to urban vegetation. But it is the private realm that contributes the majority of urban vegetation in our cities, and this is predominantly located on residential land.
Given the development intensification pressure on the inner and middle suburbs this poses a significant risk in terms of maintaining or enhancing the urban forest.
Active movement through the city
Extreme heat is a problem in Australia’s urban areas as it prevents people going outside, therefore reducing levels of activity.
In the Shadeways project, which is supported by the CAUL Hub and funded by the Smart Cities and Suburbs program and other partners, the team have been developing a digital platform to enable users to have accurate, timely heat data to identify cool routes in the City of Greater Bendigo.
Understanding the impact of vegetation on urban heat In Perth we have analysed massive amounts of urban vegetation and heat data using statistical techniques and machine learning to better understand the relationship between urban vegetation and the urban heat island effect.
The analysis shows that an increase in urban vegetation within a location reduces summer and winter land surface temperature (LST) and that this effect is larger in summer months.
Our modelling shows that trees and shrubs have a larger cooling effect on LST than grass, for example, areas with more than 20% trees and 8% shrubs were 5 degrees cooler than areas with limited vegetation. It also shows that the impact of vegetation on urban heat varies across the landscape.
A better understanding of this variation will help inform targeted approaches to urban revegetation to reduce the urban heat island effect.
The data we are producing pose challenging questions for urban policy and action. But they also provide the evidence base to help develop and evaluate responses.
With the development of metropolitan wide integrated data, we are now able to turn our attention to issues including the relationship between various types of development and tree cover loss; evaluation of impact of land-use planning mechanisms on vegetation cover; and examination of active travel and the relationship with street trees.
With quality data, and informed analysis, we will help ensure thriving and extensive urban vegetation as cities grow.
Further information on this research:
Duncan, J. M. A., Boruff, B., Saunders, A., Sun, Q., Hurley, J., & Amati, M. (2019). Turning down the heat: An enhanced understanding of the relationship between urban vegetation and surface temperature at the city scale. Science of The Total Environment, 656, 118-128.
Phelan, K., Hurley, J., & Bush, J. (2018). Land-Use Planning’s Role in Urban Forest Strategies: Recent Local Government Approaches in Australia. Urban Policy and Research, 1-12
The report, Towards good environmental governance? Assessing the evolution of Victoria’s environment portfolio provides foundational insights into an increasingly important, but relatively overlooked, the area of government and public administration—the environment portfolio.
It was launched in the Victorian Parliamentary Library on Thursday 7 March 2019, by Professor John Thwaites, who was Victoria’s Minister for Environment from 2002 to 2007.
The research, undertaken as part of a Victorian Parliamentary Library Fellowship awarded to Brian, focuses on how successive state governments in Victoria have contributed to building institutional structures for environmental governance (and their overall trajectory of reform), rather than focussing on electoral fortunes, internal party machinations, individual environmental issues, or the details of specific legislation or policies.
The aim of this exploratory research project, therefore, was to provide an account of the establishment of Victoria’s environment portfolio, how it has evolved to meet changing priorities, and what might be done into the future. Specific areas of inquiry include:
Establishment of the portfolio
Legislation allocated to the portfolio
Chronology of Victoria’s Ministers for the Environment
Government departmental machinery arrangements.
The approach to research was informed by policy analysis, portfolio studies, and contemporary history.
Relatively little is known about the environment portfolio despite the considerable attention that issues such as climate change, and biodiversity degradation demand. In effect, ministers responsible for environment portfolios are at the centre of environmental debate and are responsible for treading a delicate path through difficult political and administrative terrain.
The report finds that considerable institution-building has occurred since the establishment of the environment portfolio in Victoria, in 1972. This means Victoria can be considered as having a relatively mature system of environmental governance: it has arrangements in place that can provide a basis for managing many issues.
However, the effectiveness of these arrangements can be questioned given the environmental challenges facing Victoria now and into the future. Part of the problem is that the frequent restructuring of the portfolio and machinery of government, and lack of coherent overall strategy (or the means for implementing such a strategy) limits the possibilities for achieving more integrated environmental governance.
Brian argued that “this assessment is not intended to disparage what has been achieved: it is simply to emphasize that a more coherent and systematic approach is needed if Victoria is to effectively manage the environmental challenges that it faces”.
Two major elements are identified which could underpin such an approach are:
(1) embracing sustainable development as the conceptual and practical heart of government and
(2) embracing integration so that environmental objectives are fully considered in all aspects of decision making.
Such an approach could be based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and informed by OECD guidelines, Sweden’s system of environmental objectives, and Victoria’s previous sustainability initiatives.
Embracing sustainable development and integration would provide the Government and people of Victoria with a more robust approach to pursuing long-term environmental and sustainable development objectives.
This is a critical challenge facing all governments around the world as they grapple with the ecological, social and economic consequences of human activities.
Copies of the report are available via the Parliament of Victoria website:
But the strikes represent more than frustration and resistance. They are evidence of an even bigger process of transformation. My research investigates how young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.
Canaries in the coal mine
Striking children are experiencing “existential whiplash”, caught between two forces. One is a dominant culture driven by fossil fuel consumption that emphasises individual success, encapsulated by Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s remarks that striking students will never get a “real job”:
The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.
On the other hand is the mounting evidence that climate change will make parts of the planet inhospitable to human (and other) life, and fundamentally change our way of life in the future.
Meanwhile many Australian adults have been living what sociologist Kari Norgaard terms a “double reality”: explicitly acknowledging that climate change is real, while continuing to live as though it is not. But as climatic changes intensify and interrupt our business-as-usual lifestyles, many more Australians are likely to experience the climate trauma that school strikers are grappling with.
Climate challenged culture
Confronting the realities of climate change can lead to overwhelming anxiety and grief, and of course, for those of us in high carbon societies, guilt. This can be extremely uncomfortable. These feelings arise partly because climate change challenges our dominant cultural narratives, assumptions and values, and thus, our sense of self and identity. Climate change challenges the beliefs that:
humans are, or can be, separate from the non-human world
individual humans have significant control over the world and their lives
if you work hard, you will have a bright future
your elected representatives care about you
adults generally have children’s best interests at heart and can or will act in accordance with that
if you want to be a “good person” you as an individual can simply choose to act ethically.
Faced with these challenges, it can seem easier in the short term to turn away than to try to respond. But the short term is not an option for young people.
Striking students’ signs proclaim “no graduation on a dead planet” and “we won’t die of old age, we will die from climate change”. This is not hyperbole but a genuine engagement with what climate change means for their lives, as well as their deaths.
Notably, they are openly discussing and promoting engagement with climate distress as a means of inspiring action. As Greta Thunberg — who started the school strikes for climate — said in January:
I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.
They know certain possibilities have already been stolen from them by the older generations. Rather than trying to hold onto dominant cultural narratives about their future, striking students are letting them go and crafting alternatives. They are enduring the pain of the climate crisis, while labouring to generate desirable and possible, though always uncertain, futures.
By connecting with other concerned young people across the world, this movement is creating a more collective and ecologically attuned identity.
They are both more ambitious and humble than our dominant (non)responses to climate change. This is palpable in signs like “Mother Nature does not need us; We need Mother Nature” and “Seas are rising, so are we”.
What will eventually happen – in terms of both cultural and climatic change – is of course, unknowable. But it is promising that children are already forging new identities and cultures that may have a chance of survival on our finite blue planet.
As adults, we would do well to recognise the necessity of facing up to the most grotesque elements of climate change. Perhaps then we too may step up to the challenge of cultural transformation.
The National Growth Areas Alliance of local councils launched a national campaign, “Catch up with the outer suburbs”, on Monday. But what is it really like to live in these areas?
Living Liveable is a short documentary film produced by RMIT University researchers showcasing the lived experiences of residents in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. The film includes interviews with 11 residents that highlight their perceptions and experiences of liveability in their suburbs. This article explores their reasons for living where they do and recounts their experiences of life in the outer suburbs.
Liveability: Lived Experience of Life on the Urban Fringe. FULL. - Vimeo
Why all the fuss about liveability?
bilLiveability and its underlying indicators have been the subject of substantial research. Most well-known liveability indices produced by the private sector — such as the Mercer Quality of Living Ranking and the Economist Intelligent Unit’s Liveability Index — rank cities against each other. And most Australian capital cities are ranked relatively high in such global liveability indices.
Yet residents’ perceptions of their neighbourhoods and their lived experiences are often unheard in such measures. The interviews show that a combination of factors shapes decisions to live in an outer suburb. These include perceived affordability, people’s aspirations for a good life, and access to public transport. As one resident said:
I was looking for an affordable area where I can, you know, buy a decent-size house within a decent budget and all those things. So, this area probably suits me, which is nearest for public transport, but yeah, it’s a bit far from the CBD area, which is alright. – male resident of Wyndham
Access to green spaces and a sense of community were among the things residents loved most about living in their suburb:
We live opposite a beautiful park … it’s right at our doorstep. We feel very, very lucky to live opposite this beautiful park, it’s very well maintained by the local council and it’s highly utilised. So even just out there walking, I’ve got to know people in my neighbourhood. – female resident of Wyndham
Traffic makes life worse
However, traffic volumes and poor access to daily living destinations and public transport had negative impacts on residents’ lived experiences. While current liveability indices usually consider access to daily living destinations – such as food outlets, schools, hospitals, and public transport – traffic is often overlooked. Yet, 10 out of 11 people mentioned traffic, in 30 separate instances, as something that makes their neighbourhoods less liveable.
A painter living in the City of Casey described how increasing traffic in recent years was forcing him to wake up half an hour earlier and get back home half an hour later in the afternoon.
I’m a painter, so I work anywhere from here to the city. The Monash [freeway] … I call it my driveway. So I’m on that every day, and it just depends which exit I’m taking for the day.
So, I get up at the moment at 4.50am. I get up to beat the traffic, which starts at about 5.20, and then I get to the job, and then I might have a bit of a snooze in my car or eat breakfast. And that’s just all just to beat traffic. And I can stay there for an hour before I have to, you know, knock on the client’s door, and say, “Oh I’m here to start.”
And, yeah, then at the end of the working day, which is 4pm, after I’ve done my eight hours, I just have to grind with the traffic on the way home… I might get home at about 6.10pm.
For some, the traffic has affected their mental health and increased stress levels.
We’ve lived in this house for 16 years and just the buildup of traffic … I was used to getting from A to B very quickly. I now have to plan, embed in my day, more time to get from A to B. I think that’s the biggest negative.
And it’s certainly one that impacts my husband. He doesn’t work locally. He works in the eastern suburbs and he also has to travel around a lot for his work. And that’s becoming a bit of a nightmare for him and actually creating a bit of stress. – female resident of Wyndham
Lack of access to daily living destinations, including employment and supermarkets, means residents depend on their cars. This adds to their cost of living and reduces neighbourhood liveability.
Lack of public transport or infrequent services also has negative impacts on residents’ quality of life and well-being.
I take my hubby to work in Derrimut and so that normally takes me … about two hours easy; just over two hours. … he doesn’t drive. He can’t use the train simply because the train doesn’t go anywhere near where he works. There’s nothing. No public transport to take my husband to work.
S0 … we’ve got no choice. So, if something happens to me, uh, we’re in a load of trouble. That’s where it’s difficult. We need more public transport. We really do. – female resident of Wyndham
Planners need to hear what residents say
The film highlights the gaps in current measures of liveability. For example, future liveability indices should consider including traffic and car-dependency indicators. Increasing traffic, the time spent travelling, and the financial burden of car dependency can detract from some of the key reasons residents choose to live in Melbourne’s outer suburbs – namely, affordability and sense of community.
We need to engage with communities and hear from them about their lived experience to better understand and measure their quality of life, their health and their neighbourhoods’ liveability. Objective measures of the quality of access should be accompanied by insights from residents about their lives in the suburbs. The voice of residents needs to be included in the planning of our cities as they grow, as well as the metrics of how successful we are in delivering equitable cities that foster healthy, affordable and prosperous lives for all.
How Australian governments meet such housing challenges has changed over time. Decades ago, direct investment in publicly owned housing was the core of their response. In the 1950s, state housing authorities built more than 100,000 dwellings — one in eight of all new homesat the time.
Could changing how we think about social housing serve as a starting point for a renaissance? Policy advocates like the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) argue that social housing is actually a form of essential infrastructure. This is because it supports economic productivity and a range of other non-shelter outcomes.
Our research has examined whether changing how we think about social housing to see it as infrastructure might provide a pathway to increased investment.
What’s the evidence for this approach?
Conceptually, we found a link between social housing and infrastructure: both operate as forms of spatially fixed, durable capital that enable economies and societies to work better. Governments need to be involved in providing infrastructure to realise its full benefits — because of the scale of investment needed and because effects are spread across the community. In the same way, realising all the benefits of social housing requires government involvement.
When we look at history, there is compelling evidence for this. For example, during Australia’s post-war public housing construction boom, governments recognised their investment as necessary to enhance economic productivity, improve public health, and support families to thrive.
However, if social housing is to be considered as infrastructure, then proponents need to be more conversant with the practices and policies that sustain infrastructure investment. This includes developing credible, costed arguments to demonstrate the benefits of social housing relative to its cost. This isn’t easy — much that is relevant to the purpose of social housing and the people who live in it cannot be quantified or monetised.
Public infrastructure and private finance
An even more fundamental challenge arises from prevailing ideas about how infrastructure should be financed and funded.
In infrastructure-speak, “financing” is the provision of money to build and maintain an infrastructure asset, and “funding” is the means of paying the costs of finance. Even as governments pay more attention to infrastructure policy, the prevailing view is that it should be privately financed by institutional investors like banks or super funds. The role of governments, according to this view, should be limited to funding investments where user charges won’t deliver enough return to the investor.
This prevailing view comes from a deep-seated belief within Australian governments and the wider community that governments are always fiscally constrained and that the mark of a “good” government is a budget surplus.
These are not just surface beliefs — the norms and practices associated with them are embedded in the way bureaucracies and governments prepare and manage their budgets.
When there is not enough government money to go around, even with a rigorous, costed business case establishing beyond doubt the value of investment in social housing, it might not be recognised as high enough priority for any meaningful level of funding to result.
To change this belief, we need to do more than make a case for social housing as infrastructure. We need to make the case for social housing.
A vision for social housing
To make the case, we must confront the politics of housing. The prevailing narratives have benefited powerful interest groups and produced mounting debt and inequality.
But we can draw on the historical precedents of policies that created public wealth through public investment in rental housing and expanded opportunities for ownership. We need to make the case for government to take a stronger, more direct role in infrastructure investment by embracing its role as a patient investor and a deliberate co-creator and shaper of markets for specified public purposes.
Engaging with this vision, and what it implies about the role of government in Australia today, offers us the chance to think differently enough about social housing to make not properly investing in it unthinkable.
AHURI is presenting the inaugural Discussion Series event, “Is social housing infrastructure?”, at the State Library Victoria, Melbourne, on Monday, February 11 2019. A second event examining the same research topic will be held in Brisbane in March. More details are available here.