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Melbourne tops Sydney in global liveability survey
Released 7 March 2011

Housing affordability, low-density sprawl and public transport issues are some of the factors holding Sydney back from the top of a list of the world’s most liveable cities.   

When Vancouver was recently anointed the world’s most liveable city in a survey prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the response from the number two placed metropolis – Melbourne – was nothing if not predictable.

“Melbourne almost the most liveable city in the world,” was the headline in the city’s Herald Sun newspaper.

But while it provided some more fodder in the ongoing rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, the Global Liveability Report also reopened the debate about what is holding Sydney back from being closer to the top of such lists.

The harbour city was placed at number seven, just ahead of Adelaide and Perth, which tied at eighth. Brisbane finished much further down the list at 21, although all Australian cities fared much better than iconic international urban centres like London (53) and New York (56).

Chris Blyth, Director of town planning company Plansight, says the issues of affordable housing, low-density sprawl and poor public transport corridors were all factors affecting Sydney’s overall liveability rating.

“Sydney definitely needs more affordable housing,” he says. “There are strategies being put into place by relevant government bodies but there’s still a long way to go. We get quite a few applications through for affordable housing but there always tends to be a bit of public opposition.

“And there are also issues with public transport and the way people in Sydney love their cars.”

Chris says that low-density sprawl, particularly on the city’s outskirts, added to infrastructure problems and was another major factor holding Sydney back.

“Politically, it’s difficult, because that’s the sort of housing people want,” he says. “Developing higher density areas close to the city is probably an answer but it’s something the State Government has championed rather than local governments. And there will always be opposition to those sorts of developments by existing residents.

“Short of wholesale re-designing of low-density areas, there’s probably not a lot that can be done.”

Chris says that Melbourne has the advantage over Sydney in geographic terms, with a much more navigable and better-planned CBD. And there seemed to be less opposition to development.

“Clients who have experience in both cities tell me the development processes are a lot slower in Sydney and that’s something that may hinder investment.”

Top three most liveable cities
  • Vancouver (Canada)
  • Melbourne (Australia)
  • Vienna (Austria)

Top three least liveable cities
  • Harare (Zimbabwe)
  • Dhaka (Bangladesh)
  • Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea)