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Suburb Liveability

Introduction

Discussion about suburb liveability has been of increasing interest to urban designers and professionals alike. (Economic Intelligence Unit 2009) has ranked Melbourne as the world’s thirds most liveable city. However, (Mercer Human Resources Consulting 2008) ranked Melbourne at seventieth. There is clearly conflicting conceptualisations of what liveability really is. Drivers of liveability include the economy and markets, governments and decision makers and communities. Recent developments in liveability have shown that sustainability and liveability agendas overlap substantially (World Cities Summit 2010).  Key trends in this review strongly supports that liveability goals consist of job opportunities, healthy, safe and socially connected communities, affordable living and sustainable natural and build environments (VEAC 2010).  Several studies agree that community wellbeing is an important component of suburb liveability. `

Generally, there are a range of factors that are concerned with the desirability of a place as to make it likable for living. These vary from  one author to another as well as the priority accorded to a particular factor will also vary depending on the ranking organizations or author (Lowe et al. 2013). For example, for the majority if cities in Australia, they will rank well for some liveable ranking and not so well in other ranking. This basically is on the basis of the priority factors under consideration. Therefore, when Australian cities rank well, such priority factor include relatively low rates of crime, a high proportion of public open environmental space, considerably good modes of transport, and the availability of and access to good education (Lowe et al. 2013; Economist Intelligence Unit, 2012).

Regardless of the particular ranking used, generally the factored considered in liveability ranking are one and the same and they information brought forward through these rankings has significant relevance for policy makers and urban designers, as they can further improve on future developments and provide sustainable liveability. This review will provide an overview of what contributes to a liveable suburb by further analysing common themes highlighted in the research. The review looks at community wellbeing, then move to the current day problems of incorporating sustainability into a suburb without affecting the liveability in a negative way. And then compare and contrast the impact natural and build environments have on a community.

Community Wellbeing

Community wellbeing is a common topic in the research, and the research has tended to focus on the neighbourhood and the nature surrounding the neighbourhood to be key influences on community wellbeing. Everyone wants to live in an environment that is appealing, well looked after and safe. It has been suggested that giving people the option to modify their neighbourhood in a way to make it more private, by putting up fences and regulate who has access to the neighbourhood by establishing controls, makes it more liveable and appealing. This will also reduce crime in the area as it will be harder for criminals to enter the neighbourhood, which in turn provides more security. Public transport within a neighbourhood has a big contribution towards the well being of a community. One question that needs to be asked, however, is there enough information available to the public regarding how much the trip may cost, the destination of the bus and how close will it stop to the destination of the passenger (Mansfield 1996). Also, how accessible is this information within the neighbourhood. (Mansfield 1996) suggest that more information and transport signs improve liveability. A comparative study by (World Cities Summit 2010) found that a suburb that provides for easily accessible walking and bicycling tracks and provide adequate public transport make a suburb more pleasant and easy to live.

A study by (Peter Howley 2009) in the form of a questionnaire was done in Dublin to gather information regarding the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction respondents have with their neighbourhood and the reasons behind it. The design of the questionnaire was informed through fieldwork, and a total of 50 apartment developments were chosen at random with 270 questionnaires returned.  A total of 485 responses from the 270 questionnaires were received.

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

 

The results, as seen in table 1, indicate that perception of various neighbourhoods far outweighed personal characteristics when it comes to the reason why people don’t like a neighbourhood.

Perceived liveability of a suburb plays a massive role when it comes to deciding how liveable a suburb really is. (Mansfield 1996) supports this evidence, saying trash, graffiti and begging is much like crime and represents a bad neighbourhood.

Several studies have revealed that there are many benefits to having lots of nature surrounding a neighbourhood. A green suburb does not only benefit someone physically but also mentally. It has been demonstrated that a lack of green/nature has been linked to trends such as attention deficit disorders and depression in children (VEAC 2010).  Green environments consist of nature reserves, sports fields, parks and even the trees along the road. Green environments provide for group gatherings such as picnic and barbeque areas that are great for bringing people together to socialise and meet new people. Provides opportunity to take in the nature and relax which benefit mental health. It also encourages social connections and encourages new arrivals to integrate into the community.

This study is supported by (M. Van Dorst 2012) who agrees that green in a suburb reduce stress, and facilitates sports like playing, walking the dog or going for a run. It also has a positive environmental impact by providing clean air and reducing noise.  All of these benefits promote good health, not only physically but mentally as well.

(M. Van Dorst 2012) conducted a very simple and direct method of study by asking the community how they appreciate their neighbourhood. And what kind of relationship the community have with the physical and social environments. The majority of respondents felt that in order to achieve optimum community wellbeing, social sustainability needs to be the key focus which consists of the following; health and safety, social relationships (social cohesion is needed), control and contact with the natural environment. A key problem with this argument is the methodological concern to measure liveability. Directly asking people about their housing situation may perhaps give limited results.

A number of researchers have relied on the residents of a neighbourhood or a city for their experiences so as to measure the quality of the neighbourhood based on the fact that the topography of the built neighbourhood impacts on the social and psychological wellbeing of the residents greatly (Leby and Hashim 2010). As a result of this impact, residential environment is one of the most important factors in the selection of property by consumers. Leby and Hashim (2010) argue that because of the wide geographical area in an urban setting, the residential environment that is able to deliver satisfaction based on the daily requirements of the inhabitants is most desirable. As a result, it is vital that city administrators and urban planners be interested in the things that are important to people in enhancing their experiences in living in a given neighbourhood.

Consequently, Nurizan Oh and David (2004) argue that, based on the economical value and competition for urban living space, to realize competitive advantage, a neighbourhood must be sure to offer the superior ‘appeal’ and living experience, which is the wellbeing of its residents, as compared to the alternative neighbourhood that are open for residence. In other words, homeowner and rent payers will opt for residences that are in an area that offers superior living experiences with all the social amenities available among others. To this end, Nurozan et al. (2004) is keen to note that, there is growing awareness on the deteriorating status of liveability especially as a result of rapid development which is driven by growing urban populations. However, this deterioration is mainly in isolated locations of urban residence because, even in the presence of rapid development, those with the purchasing power are able to secure living spaces in neighbourhood offering superior living experiences. On the other hand, the urban poor are left in the deteriorating locations, unless the governing authorities step in and control development. Based on this, liveability and the quality of life in an urban area vary greatly from one area to another, and selection of an areas turn to be driven primarily by the purchasing power.

Dasimah, Puziah and Muna (2005) argue that the indicators for wellbeing determine the relationship and the status of the various social elements. For the majority of the studies, they concentrate on elements of social contact and community life. In addition, the behaviour of neighbours in terms of causing nuisance is another concern. In addition to the various social elements, the sense of place, as experienced by residents is another dimension that is used as an indicator of wellbeing and the liveability of a neighbourhood.

Environment

Another common research topic is the environment around us. This refers to the physical environment and also the build environment.  Public open space has a huge contribution to the liveability of a suburb and goes hand to hand with nature, which is also a key influence on liveability as mentioned above.  Public open space is great for bringing residents and tourist to city squares, beaches and parks, which in turn generate employment and contribute to economic growth. Another benefit of public open space is the greening and cooling effect, due to the nature surrounding these open spaces. This helps the community cope with rising temperatures.  (Sue West, Cait Jones 2009) argues that a new strategy to specifically measure the contribution of public land to Melbourne’s liveability is needed.

Heylen (2006) argues that the physical environment which is the space where people work, live, and establish social networks is an essential component of liveability as it forms the foundation for the other elements of liveability to take place. Inhabitants of a neighbourhood and people in general are active in a physical environment and they use it and interact with it, and form perceptions of the space. Even though the physical environment forms the foundation for living, the conditions therein are external to the space and they can be either positive or negative and impact of people’s perception and lives differently. Most studies however lay emphasis on the natural environment, which is related to availability of and the quality of green spaces ad parks. However, only recently, studies have began to take into consideration other factors that affect environmental quality among them pollution, noises, congestion, building and maintenance. According to Heylen (2006), the availability and access to the various amenities and services falls in this category.

Good suburbs consist of sufficient services and utilities. This refers to the build environment which includes transport, government buildings, hospitals, nursing homes, police stations and electricity, sewerage and water facilities. It is up to urban designers to incorporate qualities such as access, legibility, sense, vitality and efficiency to further influence liveability. A suburb that caters for these facilities, and are within close proximity will be seen to be more liveable by the community. This evidence is supported by (Peter Howley et al 2009) that argue a lack of certain services and facilities such as open space, secure parking, good quality food shops and facilities for children will have a negative impact on suburbs liveability. Closer distances to key locations and amenities will encourage the community to walk and use the bicycle. (World Cities Summit 2010) suggest that streets and sidewalks being used constantly by pedestrians will encourage people to linger, which in turn has a positive impact on social interaction and will promote a safe and liveable neighbourhood.

The build environment and design of the neighbourhood definitely has an impact on social interaction; dead end streets are more socially attached then drive through streets. A comparative study by (M. Van Dorst 2012) agrees that drive through streets will typically have more traffic, and more traffic leads to less social interaction. Some people may however argue that this is not the most efficient way to design a suburb, as there will be no connectivity if most of the streets are dead end streets.

A compressive search of electronic materials by Norhaslina (2002) revealed that the majority of work on urban liveability in Malaysia was on wellbeing. The search revealed that for the majority of scholarly materials on the living environments for the Malaysian urban areas focused on wellbeing and the quality of life. The majority of the aspects included in the studies included pollution, crime, nuisance. Regardless of the narrowness of materials to wellbeing, they play an essential role in bring forth information about the local environment and the urban conditions and trends which are then used in the formulation of laws and policies. This is essential because, the majority of scholarly work on urban liveability is from the western countries and cultures, and these, cannot be adopted for the local urban conditions which are entirely different. However, it is essential that studies on urban environment in Malaysia be widened to include other aspects like the built environment and how it impacts on the sense and perception of local residents.

Sustainability

Sustainability is also a theme that much of the recent literature focus on, and (World Cities Summit 2010) states that sustainability initiatives is an important component that can improve liveability.

To provide a more sustainable and liveable suburb, urban designers have been incorporating high density living which consist of apartments, terrace housing, smaller more dense properties and blocks of flats. It is thought that incorporating sustainability into a suburb has negative effect on the wellbeing of a community. As mentioned above community wellbeing is core aspect to suburb liveability. In another study, (Peter Howley 2009) suggest there is a correlation between poor environmental quality (graffiti, litter, etc…),  heavy noise and traffic and a lack of community,  related to high density. (J. Thomas et al 2011) argues for liveability and states that, home satisfaction, social interaction, personal security and feeling of community are all improved in low density living environments. Seeing as sustainability has such a negative impact on all the factors that make a good liveable suburb, urban designers have a huge challenge on how to come up with sustainable liveability. Findings suggest that is not actually the higher density living itself that has a negative impact on the people, but other related factors such as noise, traffic, pollution and building types. High density areas are strongly associated with other negative variables. It is up to urban designers and council members to take these variables and come up with a solution. A neighbourhood wanting more parking spaces might seem like it will improve liveability, however, it may lead to the next generation living in an environment with a lack of green. So it is clear that approaching liveability by itself will not be sustainable at all which will affect liveability later on.

The study of (J.A. Thomas et al 2011) was carried out by examining two scenarios. The first scenario was densification of the participant’s current property and the second scenario was a change to the location of the participant’s home. Results showed a reduction in house size or a shift to a denser neighbourhood had a negative impact on the participant’s lifestyle.

There are however many environmental benefits with higher density living such as, reducing pollution and habitat loss, closer distance to amenities, providing better infrastructure, improving energy efficiency and reducing vehicle emissions. This view is supported by (D.K Sharma 2014) who found that solar energy harvesting is one of the most important ways of sustainable living. Solar energy is abundantly available, free of cost and an eco friendly operation. Is also reduces carbon emissions which leads towards a greener and more sustainable future. There are two methods solar energy can improve liveability, by active solar and passive solar.

(Laurie Buys 2016) came up with a high-density liveability guide to provide council authorities, building managers, residents, designers and developers with a guide to assess the liveability of a dwelling, building and surrounding community. This study is informed by high density residents’ perspectives, based on research undertaken in inner-urban locations in Brisbane, Australia. Based on residents’ experiences, nine key topics have been identified as important for enhancing the liveability for high density areas. They nine key topics have been organised under the categories of dwelling, building and surrounding community.

Under dwelling the three key topics to improve on are thermal comfort/ventilation, natural light and noise mitigation. Under building the three key topics to take into consideration are shared spaces, good neighbourhood protocols and environmental sustainability. And lastly under community the three key topics to improve liveability in high density living is accessible and sustainable transport, amenities/services and sense of community. Putting high emphasis on those nine topics will assure that all the negative variables that are associated with high density living are turned into a positive. This will make it possible to achieve sustainable liveability which will have a positive influence on community wellbeing and also the environment they live in.

Conclusion

The study has shown that community wellbeing, the environment surrounding the community and how sustainable the suburb is, are the main contributors to making a suburb liveable. Even though there have been systems developed to measure how liveable a city is, they are based on factors that are seen as important by drivers of liveability. However, the results show that every day people in our society put high importance on the three main factors mentioned above, and that the drivers of liveability need to put more focus on these contributors. 

Bibliography

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