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Cities occupy just four per cent of the earth’s land surface area yet are home to more than half the world’s people. In Australia, almost 70 per cent of the population lives in our capital cities.
People flock to cities for the opportunities they hold for a better life: whether this be through more diverse work options, better access to essential services and amenities, or the wider range of cultural and leisure pursuits. And the concentration of people, resources and services in cities enhance the possibilities for economic development, innovation and social connection.
But a city can only thrive when the people who call it home are happy and fulfilled. So how do we create a city in which people love to live?
According to PwC Australia’s recent research survey exploring the views of over 10,000 Australians, this relies on enabling a sense of safety as well as inclusiveness while also providing access to health and leisure facilities which allow us to connect with fellow citizens. For a city to become a place where people love living, these three elements should be included as non-negotiable elements within the government planning process.
Beyond this, the needs and wants of citizens are not necessarily so straightforward. Understanding these trade-offs and where to invest for the benefit of the community is complex. Data-driven insights into what works and what doesn’t for a local community can, and should, inform local investment and development priorities, as well as helping to define strategic policy measures.
Governments can better plan our cities of the future by using citizen and community input to gain a deeper understanding of what leads people to love where they live, combined with real time data and resident feedback to ensure our cities live up to their promises. But this will require some changes to our current systems if we are to make this a reality.
PwC surveyed 10,000 people across Australia (in Victoria, Queensland, NSW, SA, WA and the ACT) to find out how they feel about where they live, how things are changing, and what they believe are the key ingredients in creating a great place to live, work and play. The results give us a fascinating insight into the transformations taking place across Australia, and the impact they are having on our day-to-day lives.
That insight tells us that 70 per cent of Australians love where they live today (rating it 8 or higher out of 10), with little variation across the states or between regional and metropolitan areas (other than Queensland).1
Figure 1: "Love where I live" results by state
Our research showed that Australians consistently rate basic needs of safety, inclusivity and access to leisure and health facilities as prime factors in loving where they live – more significant than essential services or work opportunities.
Interestingly, what really drives up our feelings of happiness is seeing improvements in our local area. When residents of a community see and experience the benefits of growth (like improved services and infrastructure) and sense that things are changing for good, they experience a greater sense of positivity and connectivity to the place they call home. Of those Australians who have seen improvements in their area in the last five years, 81 per cent reported that they love where they live. An established level of connectivity with the area also increases the positive perceptions residents have of their town.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the improvements our citizens would like to see in their cities. If we look at the overall findings of PwC’s survey, the highest priority is healthcare infrastructure (see Figure #) – but this statistic is driven by the high percentage of our population who are in the older age bracket.
What people want varies across the population, and is affected by life stage and location:
Older Australians, particularly those living in regional areas, nominated more investment in healthcare infrastructure (e.g. hospitals, medical centres, aged care facilities) as more important than any other consideration (by a factor of two)2 in order that they can age where they live.
Middle-aged and younger Australians (aged 25–44) particularly those with families, are twice as likely than the rest of the population to prioritise investment in educational infrastructure and relevant curriculum in schools, universities and colleges to develop skills of the future.
Students (aged 18–24) are twice as likely than the rest of the population to want investment in affordable housing. They are also more likely to want investment in initiatives that support an ecologically sustainable future for Australia, and programs that focus on early intervention and prevention in health care.
PwC’s researchers asked Australians where they would most (and least) like to see investment for the future of their family. The top 10 responses are shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Where Australians would most like to see investment for the future
Government and developers alike have long recognised the potential to draw on community data relating to needs and preferences in order to better inform planning decisions and create flourishing cities. But there are three considerable obstacles to adopting a more citizen-centric approach:
antiquated and entrenched systems for city planning
the use of different metrics for success among those collaborating on creation
a narrow criteria for determining the measurement framework of a precinct, largely economic and environmental indicators, rather than what matters most: liveability from the point of view of the citizen and communities.
In order to address these barriers to a citizen-centric planning approach, PwC has collaborated with urban modelling experts Kinesis and co-designers the NSW Government Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) to develop a radical precinct planning platform called City Maker.
City Maker brings a citizen-centric lens to precinct planning, leading to better decision-making and, ultimately, better liveability outcomes. The platform allows all stakeholders in the planning process to collaborate online and to assess key economic, social, infrastructure and environmental information relating to a location so decisions can be based on the specific needs of the people who will live there.
The platform uses the voice of the residents, workers, students and visitors in a precinct to enhance liveability, using measurements defined through Live, Work and Play preferences for that community. These preferences are determined through bespoke community surveys.
City Maker is being used by SOPA in the redevelopment of Sydney Olympic Park to create a world-leading precinct that builds on the legacy of the 2000 Summer Olympics. SOPA are tracking and analysing their Master Plan 2030 in City Maker on the wider impacts across productivity, sustainability and liveability. Together these three pillars create a precinct that will continue to thrive and prosper over time. It becomes:
Best of all, as an online web tool City Maker is available to everyone tasked with creating the precinct, so all stakeholders can use one set of data and assumptions which are brought together by a common set of metrics.
City shapers are using a wealth of tools to empower citizens to express their idea of place - while cardboard cut-outs, labs, warehouse mockups are still all relevant and useful, interactive mobile applications and virtual and augmented reality are taking shape as the new way to collaborate with a wider audience in real-time. These are encouraging signs that both governments and private companies are starting to recognise the value of citizen input in what they do - and citizens are passionate in their response. The key to purposeful, liveable cities is to strengthen connectivity and in order to do that that citizen input is key to understanding which connections are desirable, where they are currently lacking and how they can be fostered or strengthened.
There is some indication that governments are already starting to recognise the need to listen to the community. For example, in 2016 the UAE created a new role for a Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing. The Minister’s role is to ensure that the UAE’s plans, programs and policies ‘align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction’ so that its citizens may flourish3.
Closer to home, the New South Wales government is the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce a Minister for Customer Service. This Minister is responsible for citizen experience of government services and service delivery, with a current focus on digital services and public transport4. Research by the NSW Customer Service Commission suggests that encouraging public participation in decision-making has been a consistent area of improvement for the state.
The goal to create liveable and citizen-centric cities should be top of mind for all governments. When planners and developers can access detailed data to fully identify the requirements of citizens and empower them in the decision-making process,Australia’s cities can become some of the most liveable in the world. All that is required is for government leaders to bravely lead the way by adopting a citizen-centred approach to major investments.
The current economic climate is particularly favourable for investing in city infrastructure. The nation’s interest rates are at a record low and cash is readily available, making it an ideal time to borrow. But city planning doesn’t just rely on the availability of funds to implement change. Platforms such as City Maker provide governments with an unprecedented level of information to assist in the creation of effective and liveable cities. And with the access to this data governments stand a much better chance of creating cities of the future where citizens truly love to live as well as creating spaces that meet investment and development priorities.
1 Lavelle M, undated, ‘How do we make cities sustainable?’, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/energy/great-energy-challenge/big-energy-question/how-to-make-our-cities-more-livable-and-sustainable/
2 Areas for investment tested in the survey covered topics of health, education, transport and the environment.
3 Khaishgi AE, 20 March 2016, ‘’Happiness is a serious job’: UAE’s Minister for Happiness embraces new role’, at https://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/happiness-is-a-serious-job-uae-s-minister-of-happiness-embraces-new-role-1.201750
4 Guan L, 1 April 2019, ‘NSW Govt gets new customer services department and minister’, https://www.cio.com.au/article/659507/nsw-govt-gets-new-customer-services-department-minister/
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