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Suburb liveability


Suburb liveability has increasingly become the subject of interest to urban designers as well as other professionals. However, there are strong conflicting conceptualizations on the approach that should be used to determine the liveability of a place with recent developments indicating that sustainability and liveability agendas overlap substantiality (World Cities Summit, 2010). There are several factors that are considered when analysing the liveability of a place which has resulted in different ratings. According to Economic Intelligence Unit (2009), Melbourne ranks third worldwide while a research by Mercer Human Resources Consulting (2008) placed it seventieth. The difference is brought about by the priority factors that the research had. However, several researchers agree that community wellbeing is an important component of liveability.

There are certain aspects that should constitute the analysis and include job opportunities, health, safety and socially connected communities, affordable living and sustainable natural and build environment (VEAC, 2010). The ranking is Australia give priority to crime rates, the proportion of public open environmental space, modes of transport and availability of education (Lowe et al, 2013; Economic Intelligence Unit, 2012). Irrespective of the approach used, the factors considered give some invaluable insights which can be used by policy makers and urban designers to improve on liveability. This review looks at community wellbeing as a principal factor that should be considered before moving to the current day problems of incorporating sustainability into a suburb without negatively affecting liveability.

Community wellbeing

The research tends to focus on neighbourhood and the nature surrounding it to be a key influence on community wellbeing. Giving the people the options of modifying it through fencing and other security measures has been noted to make the place more liveable and appealing. According to Mansfield (1996), the cost of public transport and the closeness they reach to the passenger’s destination, and how this how information is accessible within the neighbourhood determines the liveability. It is also worth noting that suburbs with easily accessible walking and cycling tracks on top of adequate public transport are more appealing (World Cities Summit, 2010).

A study was carried by Peter Howley (2009) to gather information about the level of satisfaction in Dublin in their neighbourhood and the reasoning behind it. A total of 50 apartments were selected randomly with 270 questionaries returned. The results from 485 responses collected are tabled below.

Table 1: Main problems in neighbourhood (Peter Howley et al 2009)

                                                                  Frequency                                                  %
Anti- Social Behaviour                               51                                                   21.1
Crime                                                               48                                                  19.9
Litter                                                                52                                                  21.6
Traffic                                                             44                                                   18.3


As seen from the table 1, the perceptions of various neighbourhoods far outweighed personal characteristics why people do not like a neighbourhood. Trash, graffiti and begging are much like crime and paints a bad neighbourhood (Mansfield, 1996).

Studies show that a green suburb has both physical and mental and lack of green environment has been linked deficit disorders and depression in children (VEAC, 2010). It also provides a conducive environment for outdoor activities that bring people together to socialise and interact thus improving social connections. There is also clean air and reduced noise which further boost mental wellbeing (Van Dorst, 2012). In other studies, researchers have relied on residents experience to measure the quality of neighbourhood based on the fact that topography of the built neighbourhood impacts on the social and psychological wellbeing of the residents (Leby and Hashim, 2010). It was noted that residential environment can deliver satisfaction based on the daily requirements of the inhabitants hence the need for city administrators and urban planners to bear in mind the things that are important to the people in order to enhance their experience in the neighbourhood.

Based on the economic value and competition for urban living space, a competitive advantage can be realised by having superior ‘appeal’ and living experience as opposed to an alternative neighbourhood that is open for residence (Nurizan Oh and David, 2004). Nurozan et al (2004) note that there is growing awareness of deteriorating status of liveability caused by rapid development as a result of increasing population. The deterioration is however isolated on certain locations since those with purchasing power are able to secure living spaces with superior living experiences. The urban poor is thus left at such locations and at the mercies of governing authorities to step in and control development. Dasimah, Puziah and Muna (2005) argue that the indicators for well-being determine the relationship and status of various social elements. In addition, the behaviour of neighbours and sense of place are also indicators of wellbeing and the liveability of a neighbourhood.


This refers to both the physical environment and build environment and influences the liveability of a suburb since it is closely related to nature. Public space such as city squares, beaches and parks attracts residents and tourists which in turn open up employment opportunities. Public open space has a cooling effect which helps the community cope with temperature increase. West and Jones (2009) argue that there is a need to have a strategy to specifically measure the contribution of public land to Melbourne’s liveability. The physical environment is an essential component of liveability as it forms the foundation for the other element of liveability takes place (Heylen, 2006). People use the physical environment as a platform for interaction and form perception of the space. Even though it comprises of several factors, people tend to emphasise the natural environment which is related to green spaces and parks. Heylen further states that the availability and access of various amenities and service also fall in this category.

Good suburb should have sufficient services and utilities such transport, government offices, hospitals, police station, electricity, water and sewerage systems. A suburb that caters for these facilities within close proximity is considered to be more liveable. Howley et al (2009) point out that the absence of such services and facilities for children will have a negative impact on the suburbs liveability. In areas where there are sidewalks and streets being constantly used by pedestrians, people tend to linger which impacts the social interaction promoting safety and liveability of the neighbourhood (World Cities Summit, 2010). The build environment also contributes significantly to the liveability of the suburb. It has been noted that dead end streets as opposed to driving through streets have less traffic hence high chances of social connections (Van Dorst, 2012). On the other side, dead end streets are seen to reduce connectivity hence not an efficient way to design a suburb.


World Cities Summit (2010) states that sustainability initiatives are an important component that can improve liveability and the sentiments have been echoed by recent literature. Designers have been incorporating high-density living consisting of apartments, terrace housing, smaller more dense properties and blocks of flats. The inclusion of sustainability into suburb negatively affects the well-being which is a central aspect assessing liveability. It has been noted that there might be some correlations between environment quality, noise and traffic with a lack of community, which is related to high density (Howley, 2009). Thomas et al (201) state that home satisfaction, social interactions, security and feeling of community are all improved in low-density areas.  Since sustainability affects liveability negatively, it poses a challenge to designers on how to come up with sustainable liveability. High density is actually not the problem but other related factors such as pollution and types of building. It might turn out going for extra amenity will be at the expense of other likeable aspects hence negatively affects the environment.

The study by Thomas et al (2011) showed that reduction in the size of the house or a shift to a denser neighbourhood had a negative impact on the participant’s lifestyle. However, there are some environmental benefits with higher density living such as reduced pollution, proximity to amenities improved infrastructure, energy efficiencies and reduced emissions from automobiles. This view is supported by Sharma (2014 who went ahead to point out how solar energy harvesting can lead to sustainable living in such environments since it abundantly available, free and eco-friendly. A guide drafted by Buys (2016) to assess the liveability of high-density areas by building managers, residents, designers and developers was based on nine factors that were identified as important for enhancing the liveability in such areas. They were organised under categories of dwelling, building and surrounding community.

Under dwelling, three key topics that were noted for improvement were thermal comfort/ventilation, natural lighting and noise mitigation. Building comprised of shared spaces, neighbourhood protocols and environmental sustainability while community had transport, amenities/services and sense of community. Placing the right emphasis on these factors lead to the achievement of sustainable liveability which will have a positive influence on community wellbeing and also the environment they live in.


The study has shown that community wellbeing, surrounding environment and sustainability of the suburb are main contributors to making a suburb liveable. The systems that have been developed to measure how liveable a city is are based on factors that are seen as important drivers of liveability.


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