Australia’s major cities are in danger of becoming miserable metropolises full of unhappy residents unless more investment is made in public transport and there’s some relief from the high cost of living.
The country’s capitals are also ill prepared for natural disasters and would struggle to cope in the face of a major terrorist attack.
That’s the conclusion of an innovative study that ranked 100 of the world’s cities according to how they fared when it came to social, economic and environmental factors — or, as the research lists them — people, profit and planet.
And unlike many other surveys of global cities, the Sustainable Cities Index placed Melbourne below its archrival of Sydney.
“A lot of people get confused with sustainability being just about the environment but, by our definition, balancing immediate needs of the population without compromising the needs of tomorrow is the heart of a sustainable city,” said Greg Steele, chief executive officer of design and consultancy firm Arcadis’ Australia Pacific arm, which commissioned the research.
The world’s most sustainable city was Zurich, which scored highest on environmental metrics for being a profit centre. But it fell because of the lack of work-life balance and high prices in the Swiss city.
Singapore, Stockholm, Vienna and London were also in the top five.
Asked which global city balanced profit, planet and people most successfully, Mr Steele highlighted Canberra, which is the highest ranked Australian city and the 18th most sustainable city worldwide.
Mr Steele said the ACT’s single level of government meant things got done quickly and initiatives, such as Canberra’s new light rail, were going to keep it on top.
But just like Australia’s other major cities, a lack of affordable housing had dragged it down.
And if Canberrans think they’ve got it bad, just head up the road.
Despite the multitude of catastrophic events, from floods in Brisbane to bushfires on the outskirts of Melbourne, the report found dealing with disasters including possible terrorist attacks, wasn’t a priority.
In the global rankings, Sydney was the world’s 21st most sustainable city, Brisbane the 30th and Melbourne 32nd.
The harbour city’s collection of world class universities and its generally healthier population pulled it in front of Melbourne and Brisbane. The Victorian capital also scored worse on the environmental front than Sydney.
Yet last month, the Economist Intelligence Unit found Melbourne the world’s most liveable city with Sydney kicked out of the global leaderboard due to the “heightened perceived threat of terrorism”.
He also said that the Arcadis survey measured something else: happiness — or the lack of.
A successful work life balance as well as a quick commute were factors that helped residents get happy.