While the government’s latest version of the State of Australian Cities Report has been pilloried by many for failing to address the environmental and sustainability aspects of urban development, other still point to the wealth of data it contains on other key areas including employment demographics and transportation structures.
The 2014-15 update of the Cities report is the briefest iteration to date, containing just 140 pages – or little more than one-third of the 404-page 2013 report.
In the current update sustainability and liveability are mentioned just once, while words merely related to climate change – including “risk,” “mitigation” and “adaption” are completely absent.
In sharp contrast, the 2013 State of Australian Cities report dedicated complete chapters to sustainability, liveability and governance. The combined length of those three chapters (158 pages) exceeds the entire 2015-16 update.
The omissions have triggered furor amongst advocates of urban sustainability.
Sara Stace, former project manager for the report prior to the government’s annulment the Major Cities Unit, calling it “irrelevant” due the lack of any reference climate change or associated risk.
The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has gone as far as issuing its own report, and has called for the government to establish a Minister of Cities to oversee urban planning issues at a national level.
Some others say, however, that in spite of its glaring failure to address sustainability or climate change issues, the report still makes a vital contribution to urban planning in Australia.
While Kirsty Kelly, CEO of the Planning Institute of Australia, concedes that the report’s failure to address sustainability and resilience is a major shortcoming, she notes that the document nonetheless remains an excellent source of data for urban planning purposes.
“Not addressing climate change, sustainability or resilience is a major failing of the report compared to previous editions, but the report in and of itself is a wealth of data, and provides a great source of information to anyone looking at the ins and outs of planning for our cities,” she said.
Kelly highlights employment demographics and transport structure data as two key areas of emphasis in the report that should prove highly useful to policy makers and urban planners.
“Looking at the self-containment of employment is good twist on previous reports – not just looking at the number of jobs in a certain area, but also relating that to the people that have those jobs actually live," she said. “That’s important in terms of transport connections, public transportation and other major transport infrastructure.”
According to Kelly, the provision of more detailed information on transportation usage in major cities throughout Australia should enable policy-makers to make more prudent decisions when it comes to investment in public transit infrastructure, which is so often hailed as a key means of improving the liveability and sustainability of urban environments.
“This data is key for us to understanding what the current structure of cities is, and that can help with policy decisions for addressing any imbalances.,” said Kelly. “The figures it contains on the use of public transport highlights areas where there are room for improvements.
“A key is example is the comparison between Sydney and Melbourne for trips to the city and inner suburbs, for which the figures are 50 per cent and 35 per cent respectively, showing that the Victorian capital could do better in public transport and infrastructure spending.”