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The full results from last year’s Census will be released mid-year, and will be subject to the usual frantic efforts to distort and contort evidence in the name of proving a theory of two right.

There are some big urban policy agendas at stake and reputations along with them. So let’s have a bit of fun and go out on a limb with some predictions about what the Census may and may not reveal.

The idea that the inner city apartment lifestyle has been driven by a sea change of demand for the inner urban lifestyle could be tested by the Census results. It seems highly probable that the Census will reveal a very high proportion of inner urban inhabitants are renting, not purchasing. This could reflect affordability problems (especially in Sydney) but is also a sign that these residents may view their downtown apartment as a relatively short term proposition.

There will be very little evidence of ‘downsizers’ moving into the inner city. If (as we suspect) speculative investment in apartments is really what’s been driving supply, this will show up in the levels of people renting. I also suspect this will be in stark contrast to similarly aged cohorts in middle and outer suburbs.

Inner cities have been magnets for the services economy, particularly inner city Sydney and Melbourne. Job numbers will likely show some substantial increases in these two centres. I also suspect that the average incomes in these two centres will be very much larger than metro wide averages – the gap will widen. However, even for Sydney and Melbourne, the share of inner urban jobs as a percentage of metro wide jobs will probably not move much.

Suburban centres have been growing too, and their overall growth in numbers will likely exceed the inner city. Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth will likely show minimal jobs growth in their inner city areas in raw number terms. The Australian economy has been steadily moving to Sydney and Melbourne and other major centres have suffered some significant losses to offset their gains. The proportion of metropolitan wide jobs that are in the inner city regions of these second and third tier centres will, I suspect, fall.

If this prediction is borne out by the Census, it will make for an interesting discussion. Sydney and Melbourne inner city areas could be becoming bubbles of privilege and concentrated economic opportunity, while outer urban and regional areas as well as second tier capitals might be telling a different story. With so much political, economic and social policy (and media commentary) driven by the inner cities of these two centres, it’s easy to see how elites can quickly fall out of touch.

Public transport in our urban areas is always a contentious topic. One idea of higher urban density has been to create more efficiencies for public transport and while this could be true, it's likely the Census will reveal little change in the share of trips being made by public transport. Sydney and Melbourne might experience some small mode share increases, but these will be insignificant in historic terms.

Brisbane and other capitals may see further falls in PT mode share. The Census results on public transport might finally mean we can have a grown up, evidence based debate about the future of major public transport investments, relative to the emerging reality of ride sharing, car sharing and other urban mobility innovations. But I doubt we’re ready.

These are just three areas of interest in terms of the Census results. Thankfully, there aren’t too many more sleeps until we know for sure.

The first batch of 2016 Census data will be released on 27th June, 2017 and further more detailed findings regarding employment, qualifications and population mobility will be available of 17 October.

 
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