The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

By Mike Jenks; Elizabeth Burton et al. | Go to book overview
Hugh Stretton
Density, Efficiency and Equality in Australian Cities

Introduction
The safety, equity and environmental effects of Australia's urban transport need to be improved. Should we do that directly by reforming the transport, or indirectly by rebuilding the cities more compactly? People who want to reduce the demand for powered transport indirectly, by rebuilding the cities in more compact form, argue from comparisons which have been researched most extensively by Peter Newman and his colleagues at Murdoch University (Newman, 1992). Australian cities average about a quarter of the population density of European cities, and per head of population they have:
• about twice the kilometres of private motoring
• about four times the length of roads
• three quarters of the public transport route length, but only half the passenger kilometres, and much less than half the number of passenger journeys
• about a quarter as many journeys on foot or by bike.

Altogether we make 12% of our recorded urban journeys by foot, bike and public transport, where the European figure is 46%.

Those figures are generally taken to indicate that our system is comparatively expensive and inefficient. But one implication of the figures suggests that the Australian arrangements may be more efficient than the European: we enjoy four times the urban space per head, with only 18% more travel time and 64% more travel mileage than the Europeans. A relatively small increase of travel time and distance thus buys a fourfold increase of space. Some of that is road and parking space, but most of it is private house and garden space, school playgrounds, public parks and playing fields, golf courses, tennis courts and other recreational spaces. So if the space is worth having, we get it at much lower travel time and infrastructure cost per hectare than Europeans pay for their urban space.

Nevertheless our own sprawling Australian cities are accused of being

-45-

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