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Could Canberra become the world’s most liveable and inclusive city?

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Is Melbourne the world’s most liveable city? Or has Vienna pipped it to the post? Will Sydney take the top spot this year or is Zurich still the shining star?

Each new round of city rankings triggers debates about their merits, but they continue to attract headlines and the headspace of city leaders the world over.

Last year, after the Economist Intelligence Unit’s global liveability index ranked Melbourne and Sydney second and third, even our prime minister couldn’t resist giving the first placed Austrian capital a ribbing. “Vienna’s beaches are rubbish,” he said.

?It’s easy to laugh, but comparisons have consequences. Politicians, policymakers and global firms often draw on city performance measures to make decisions, whether that’s about the efficacy of a city policy or the best option for a new office opening.

And hidden behind these rankings is another story.

In Vienna, routinely named the world’s most liveable city, 60% of lower income households have difficulties making ends meet and a third of residents are not eligible to vote in elections that shape the future of their city because they don’t hold Austrian citizenship.

Zurich, another favourite, faces decreasing social mobility. Just 20% of Zurich’s school leavers are able to even apply for places at university and, until recently, it was difficult for even third generation migrants to obtain citizenship.

Closer to home, Melbourne has ranked first on the Global Liveability Index for 10 of the last 18 years. As Invest Victoria crows: “Melbourne’s liveability is a key factor in the city’s attractiveness for investors who can use the lure of living in one of the world’s most liveable cities to recruit and retain talented professionals.”

But Melbourne also boasts the fourth least affordable housing market in the world, according to the 2020 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. The average house now costs 9.5 times the average household income.

Homelessness in Melbourne is on the rise. In the three years to 2018, homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria grew by 22%

And consider the words of wheelchair user and Melbourne resident Stacey Christie: “One day, I’d love to not have to think about accessibility. Every building, event and public transport option in Melbourne would be wheelchair accessible and I could simply go about my day like everyone else, not having to plan my day around accessibility.”

That doesn’t sound very liveable, does it?

As Feargus O’Sullivan says in article for CityLab, liveability rankings assesses a city’s potential “from a privileged point of view: that of a straight, affluent, mobile, and probably white couple who works in something akin to upper management and has children”.

But what does all this have to with Canberra?

Last month, city specialist and PwC partner Emma Thomas, and PwC’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Julie McKay joined me for a Salon Canberra event to explore what inclusion means for our city.

Emma and Julie are considering a framework for inclusion that encompasses a range of dimensions: age, mobility, language, heritage, ethnicity, gender and sexual preference among them.

(L-R) Emma Thomas, Julie McKay at Salon Canberra. Credit: Rohan Thomson.

Emma says inclusion is an important consideration of a city’s true liveability.

“Australian cities do well on liveability indices because our society is relatively prosperous and we have good infrastructure and amenity. But there is a danger. By measuring your city on liveability alone, you may miss out on the fact that your liveability is not for everyone.”

“As places have become more liveable they’ve become less affordable. How do we create more inclusive cities where everyone can access the “liveable” elements regardless of their income status or mobility? We haven’t quite worked that out.”

Measuring leads to better management and better policy development, so an assessment of our city’s inclusivity seems a good place to start.

Looking at the way we build cities through an inclusion lens doesn’t always mean spending a lot of money. Emma points to the example of Singapore, where senior citizens are given priority at pedestrian crossings with a swipe card that allows them to cross at their own pace.

Locally, libraries are being reimagined not just as repositories for books, but as meeting places for people to “see a friendly face” and to connect.

(L-R) Dan Stewart, Meegan Fitzharris, Emma Thomas at Salon Canberra. Credit: Rohan Thomson.

Julie cites the recent work done in Barcelona, to see livability and city design through women’s eyes.

“What is clear is that many women and vulnerable people don’t feel safe in our cities and safety means something different to each individual. Unless safety and inclusivity have been considerations in the planning and development of a city, then things will have been missed.”

“We assume that everyone is connected, integrated and mobile, but many people are being left out. A truly liveable city is one where everyone can connect and feel like they are not isolated or unsafe.”

It’s this idea of connectivity that may be key to building more inclusive cities.

(L-R) Dr Mathew Trinca AM, Dr Rachael Coghlan at Salon Canberra. Credit: Rohan Thomson.

This month the ACT Government launched its ACT Wellbeing Framework which seeks to capture and identify a range of factors that contribute to quality of life, intended to shape priorities for government decision making and Budget investment going forward.

It’s a good initiative that shows how Canberra is already shifting its thinking. Ongoing conversations, where we can all share our ideas for the future of our city will be important as we work to shape our collective future, our quality of life, the type of community we want to have and the sort of city we aspire to live in.

What do you think?

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