Housekeeping – sources for my OpEd in The Age

A reader of my OpEd in today’s The Age (Problems with fringe-dwellers are peripheral) asked for more information on sources. That sort of technical detail is not welcomed by newspapers. So I’ve set out some of the key sources I’ve used over the fold. I’ve only included those where there is a link on the web (i.e. no gated academic journals).

The data on jobs is from my own research – see this presentation to the Creative Suburban Geographies conference at QUT last year

Data on the relative density of cities can be found here at Demographia and in this OpEd in The Age last year by Dr Paul Mees, We can  keep our leafy backyards and save the planet. See also this more detailed paper by Dr Mees.

Information on the level of dwelling construction in the metropolitan area can be found in Chapter 3 of Looking back, looking forward: urban policy for metropolitan Melbourne, by Birrell et al

The Public Transport Users Association has an analysis of population density in inner vs outer suburbs, here

The Australian Natural Resources Atlas provides an estimate of the area of agricultural land in Australia

The discussion of car ownership in the suburbs relied largely on the analysis of Currie and Sensberg and Currie and Delbosc. Travel distances were calculated from data collected for the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity

The contention that inner city households have a bigger environmental footprint than suburban households is supported by ACF’s Consumption Atlas. See also Household environmental pressure from consumption: an Australian environmental atlas by Dey et al.


9 Comments on “Housekeeping – sources for my OpEd in The Age”

  1. ian Cunliffe says:

    Could Alan Davies please provide exact references for the following assertions in last Friday’s Age: that McMansions are not appreciably larger per person than renovated dwellings in the inner city; and that the latter consume more water per person than dwellings in the suburbs do.

    Secondly, what does he mean by “the inner city” and “the suburbs”?

    Ninally, what does he say is Melbourne’s population density; and what source does he use for the population density of US cities?

    • Alan Davies says:

      Thanks Ian, please see the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Consumption Atlas for data on the relative sustainability of inner city vs suburban households (link above – p9 and p11). I have also directly examined the cadastre of inner city suburbs and outer suburbs.

      I use the same definition for the inner city as that used by DPCD i.e. Melbourne, Yarra, Port Phillip LGAs plus the Stonnington portion of Boroondara. This approximates closely to a 5km radius from the CBD, which is the commonly used definition in the literature on Australian and US cities. Where I refer to a variable for which I have data at a highly disaggregated level (e.g. Transport Zones) I choose to calculate a 5 km distance directly using GIS software rather than use LGA or SLA level data.

      I calculate Melbourne’s population density based on the area that is built-up or urbanised. There are three sources of data that corroborate each other – the Demographia website and Dr Paul Mees work on this subject (links above for both). I have added a link for a paper by Dr Mees which gives more detailed density estimates for Australian and US cities. I have checked these myself against the Demographia estimates and they correspond closely in almost all cases. The third method I used is my own calculation based on 1,950 transport zones, using ABS population data.

      All three approaches give a density for urbanised Melbourne of around 15-16 persons per hectare

  2. Wendell Cox says:

    Re: Demographia US Urban Area Population Densities.

    Our data is all from the US Bureau of the Census. We have combined some adjacent urban areas (such as Los Angeles-Riverside, San Francisco-San Jose and some in the New York Area. The Mees paper provides valuable perspective, however uses a density for the San Francisco area that was revised downward by the US Bureau of the Census from over 7,000 per square mile to about 6,000.

    One of the most important features of the Mees paper is the recognition that Los Angeles is the most densely populated large urban area in the New World, a fact that has been evident in Bureau of the Census data since 1990.

  3. […] with 2 comments I have an OpEd in The Age this morning which the editor has titled Problems with fringe-dwelling are peripheral. That’s quite clever! My OpEd seeks to cut through the hyperbole and examine the issue of sprawl dispassionately and logically. Unfortunately this time The Age doesn’t appear to have made provision for people to make comments – that’s usually a lot of fun. (EDIT 1: I see that The Age has now activated the comments section but its after midday so I suspect the horse has bolted. Edit 2: see further post on sources here) […]

  4. Ian Cunliffe says:

    Thanks to Alan Davies for clarifying as to his sources. There are some surprising assertions in his widely published article titled “Problems with fringe-dwelling are peripheral”. I examine some of them.

    First, on definitional issues: Alan Davies says that by “inner city” he includes various local government areas including “the Stonnington portion of Boroondara”. Stonnington and Boroondara appear to be two quite separate local government areas, so I don’t know what Alan Davies means. The website for Stonnington says Stonnington covers the suburbs of Prahran, Windsor, South Yarra, Toorak, Armadale, Malvern, Malvern East, Glen Iris and Kooyong. I had not taken Alan Davies reference to “the extensively renovated dwellings now typical of the inner city” to be referring to the mansions of Toorak. I regard Toorak and some of the others to be clearly in the suburbs rather than the inner city, on Alan Davies dichotomy. But Toorak and Kooyong seem to be lumped in with the terraces of Carlton and the workman’s cottages of Collingwood.

    A central theme of Alan Davies’s article was to challenge our notion that Melbourne is a reasonably low density city. Alan Davies asserts that only four US cities of comparable or larger size are denser than Melbourne. Alan Davies lists these four as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami. Alan Davies notes that Melbourne is denser than Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle and Boston. He excludes two other US cities which are denser than Melbourne, presumably on the basis that they are significantly smaller than Melbourne. Those cities are New Orleans and Las Vegas. He also excludes San Jose, perhaps for the same reason or perhaps because it is grouped with San Francisco.

    Alan Davies asserts that McMansions are not appreciably larger per person than renovated dwellings in the inner city. I have not found any authority for that assertion. I question it. (Perhaps Alan Davies is allowing himself wriggle room in relation to what he means by respectively “appreciably”, “McMansion” and what may be qualifying words: “renovated dwellings” in the inner city. There is also an issue whether it is meaningful to compare the area per person occupied by two adults and three small children with a dwelling occupied by a couple or a single person. Each family unit, however big or small, requires at least one bathroom, a kitchen and a toilet).

    Alan Davies also asserts that “households in the affluent inner city, on average, consume more water … per person than households in Melbourne’s suburbs. “ Alan Davies referred me to a study sponsored by the Australian Conservation Foundation and others for that proposition. Interestingly, the comparison this time is between the (affluent) inner city and the suburbs – not the fringe areas where apparently the McMansions are. Is wriggle room again being reserved by the adjective affluent? Are we talking about the residents of Toorak here, or of North Melbourne?

    The document I found from Alan Davies reference to the Australian Conservation Foundation study seems to stand for a very different proposition than that inner city dwellers use more water in their homes than suburbanites. The ACF study says that more affluent people tend to consume more resources and to tread more heavily on the planet than less affluent ones do. But the study was apparently not into water use at home. It made the point that most of the water use we each account for is not consumed at home – it is used in producing the electricity we use, the food we eat and the goods we consume. The ACF study says that more than six times as much water is consumed in those ways outside the home as is consumed at home.
    Presumably moving an affluent person from their renovated inner city dwellings to the suburbs or to a McMansion on the fringe is unlikely to affect the proposition that affluent people tend to consume more. How does that advance Alan Davies‘ argument?
    Robert Doyle seems not to accept Alan Davies’ implication that there is now a lack of spare capacity for inner city development. The City of Moreland seems to think that there is also capacity in the suburbs.
    Are the figures correct that new Australian houses are now the biggest in the world? If so, that is deplorable.
    It also seems to be the case that many fringe areas, and even outer suburban areas, are poorly served by public transport. With increased fuel costs, that is likely to reap bad outcomes.
    Finally and anecdotally, I have met numerous people who have reluctantly gone to the fringes to get a foothold in the housing market, but with the explicit intention of using that as leverage to come back much nearer to the centre. The downsides to fringe developments are not entirely exaggerated.

    • Alan Davies says:

      Thanks Ian, I appreciate the effort you’ve made. On the definitional issues, I apologise for giving you a bum steer. I meant to say “the Prahran portion of Stonnington”. I include it because the definition customarily used by DPCD is Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip LGAs plus the Prahran portion of Stonnington. No, Toorak is not included in my definition of the inner city.

      I’m not sure if you mean to take issue with me on the US data or not. As stated in the article, I compared Melbourne against US cities of “comparable or larger size”. There are three cities denser than Melbourne that I excluded because of their much smaller population – Honolulu (0.7 million), Las Vegas (1.3 million), New Orleans (1 million). San Jose is counted with San Francisco – see comment above by the author of that data, Wendell Cox.

      In regard to my comment that affluent inner city households use more resources per capita than suburban households, I used the word affluent quite deliberately. As the ACF point out, the reason inner city households fare so poorly on a per capita basis is because they are smaller and richer. They consume more resources despite living at higher dwelling densities. One of my themes is that social and demographic forces usually explain a lot more about most phenomena (and accordingly are the key place to look for solutions) than the physical environment e.g. see my post, Does Sprawl Cause Obesity? I’m not sure why you question the use of embodied water (or energy) – that is the recognised way to measure the environmental impact of any activity. If I eat a lot of steak than I am going to have a much heavier environmental footprint than someone who’s a vegetarian, irrespective of where I live.

      In regard to McMansions, they are invariably stereotyped as the height of excess and taken to exemplify everything that is unsustainable about modern living. However when differences in household size are taken into account, as well as the fact that the vast bulk of inner city terraces have been extended in area, then I think it’s quite reasonable to argue that the difference in space and in resources consumed (e.g. heating and cooling) by the two housing types on a per capita basis is much less than it looks at first glance. That is not to condone the level of consumption in either. Sorry, there are no academic studies I can point you to. I looked at the cadastre for inner and outer suburbs and examined 3D aerial photos to get a sense of site coverage and second floor extensions. I think this would be an ideal if difficult research project.

      I’ve not seen any evidence from Robert Doyle that contradicts my supposition that spare capacity in the inner city has mostly been used up already. Moreland of course is not inner city, but I refer you to my post specifically on that subject, Why Spare Infrastructure Capacity is Exaggerated.

      I agree that many outer suburban areas are poorly served by public transport and residents are vulnerable to large increases in petrol prices. The appropriate policy responses include improving public transport.

      I’m not surprised you know people who have gone to the fringe but intend to return to a more central location – most people value accessibility and are prepared to trade space for it. I’m all for increasing housing supply and hence density in the established suburbs (up to a point). My argument is that we don’t need to deny the minority who prefer outer suburban living their preferred choice. Nor do I think it’s realistic to base a strategy on the assumption that our political system can deliver all future growth via multi unit housing.

  5. Ian Cunliffe says:

    Thanks Alan. To respond:
    I was surprised by your relative density data of US cities versus Melbourne. But I accept it.
    When I read your provocative article in the Age, I did not take your phrase “households in the affluent inner city” to mean that you were confining your point to those inner city households which are affluent. I took your point to be that households in the inner city are (at least on average) affluent, and that they consume more water than households in the suburbs. I expect most readers read your words the same way as I did.
    Likewise, when I first read your article, I was bemused by your assertion that “households in the affluent inner city, on average … consume more water … per person than households in Melbourne’s suburbs.” I thought it strange that two people living in a terrace with a small courtyard would use more water than two in a Toorak or Brighton mansion with a swimming pool, a lawn tennis court and a big garden. You have now clarified that you were making a point which is not about where people live – that affluent people tend to be responsible for higher levels of water use than less affluent people. I expect most readers thought as I did from the quoted words.
    In your latest response to me you assert that “the vast bulk of inner city terraces have been extended in area” making them comparable with McMansions on a per capita basis. Based on personal observation of many, many inner city terraces, I doubt that ““the vast bulk of inner city terraces” have been extended more than very marginally in the last 20 years. A minority I have seen have added a room. Many more have simply been tidied up and made more functional. Few are comparable with the 215 square metres reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 November 2009 as the average size of new Australian homes.
    My reference to Robert Doyle was in response to the reference in your article suggesting that spare capacity in the inner city has mostly been used up already. I did not closely read what he said, but in the last couple of weeks I believe that the Melbourne Lord Mayor suggested that there is considerable land in the City of Melbourne area that could be converted to housing. Observation when approaching the West Gate Bridge from the city and when leaving the Bolte Bridge for Tullamarine suggests to me that that is the case.
    My position is NOT that the inner city is to be preferred to the suburbs – although I personally prefer to live near the city. In principle I support the creation of additional housing in suburbs well served by transport etc, as well as in what you call the inner city.
    Personally, I find the creation of housing estates on the fringes of Melbourne to be a blight. I suspect that we are creating all sorts of problems unless a lot of money is spent on supporting infrastructure. I am pessimistic that we will provide such quality infrastructure – with transport being one of the most important.
    Having said that, like you I would not deny the minority who prefer outer suburban living their preferred choice. But I suspect that a lot of people making that “choice” are doing so from economic compulsion rather than real choice. Based on visits to numerous European and US cities, I consider that we have underdone multi unit housing. It is not the whole answer. But it seems to suit people in many demographics quite well, even in Australia.
    Finally, you referred me to work by Demographia. In note from their analysis of population densities WITHIN Melbourne, that the most dense localities are reasonably near to Melbourne city, although not all are inner city on your definition: If I read the Demographia analysis correctly, it says that the densest are St Kilda, Prahran, Richmond, Brunswick and Caulfield. The least dense are Manningham – East, Frankston – East, and Casey – Cranbourne. Those figures suggest to me that, contrary to your thesis, density is lowest near the fringes.

    • Alan Davies says:

      Ian
      (1). I do mean average inner city households – inner city household are on average considerably more affluent than suburban households. Hence the concern expressed by people like Michael Buxton that we are increasingly seeing two ‘Melbournes’ – a wealthy inner one and a poorer outer one.

      (2). Households in the inner city are on average both more affluent and smaller than households in the suburbs. To quote from the ACF study: “In each state and territory, the centre of the capital city is the area with the highest environmental impacts, followed by the inner suburban areas…despite the lower environmental impacts associated with less car use, inner city households outstrip the rest of Australia in every other category of consumption. Even in the area of housing, the opportunities for relatively efficient, compact living appear to be overwhelmed by the energy and water demands of modern urban living, such as air conditioning,spa baths, down lighting and luxury electronics and appliances,as well as by a higher proportion of individuals living alone or in small households”. There will be some lower income households in the inner city and some large families and share households, but they’re increasingly atypical.

      (3). We must move in different circles. I can’t recall a single inner city terrace or cottage I’ve been in over the last 10 years (and like you I’ve been in a lot) that hasn’t had the standard ‘living area and kitchen at the back’ extension at least once in the last 30 years. I’ve kept close tabs on real estate activity in the inner city for professional purposes over the same time frame and ‘renovators’ have been pretty scarce for a long time. Have a look at the real estate pages of the Melbourne Times. However,I’m not saying that inner city houses are the same size as McMansions. I compared the two locations in my article on a per capita basis – you also have to factor in the smaller household size in the inner city.

      (3). Then Robert Doyle’s comments aren’t relevant. I was talking about spare infrastructure capacity not ‘spare’ land.

      (4). Most planners think the same as you about the outer suburbs. That’s why I call it the orthodox view. Clearly I think the downsides of outer suburbia are exaggerated and could be considerably improved with additional attention e.g. better public transport. I too think there are many households who would prefer to locate within the established suburbs but can’t afford the minimum space they want and therefore go to the fringe. Incidentally I’ve lived almost all of my adult life in the inner city. Now I’m 8km out.

      (5). The densest areas in terms of dwellings are indeed in the inner city. But as the PTUA has pointed out, the difference between the inner city and suburbs when examined in terms of population density (which after all is what really counts) are much less significant. In fact in the PTUA’s case study, the population densities are the same. (BTW I have never seen or used any Demographia analysis of densities within Melbourne – I’ve only used their data for international comparisons at the whole-of-city level).

  6. […] per km2. Melbourne is actually a relatively dense city. As I’ve also observed before (here and here), there are only a handful of cities in the US of comparable or larger size that have a higher […]


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