It goes without saying that Sydney is one of the world’s most liveable cities. But there are 600-odd suburbs in our diverse urban sprawl. Which one of them is the most liveable?
The Domain Liveable Sydney 2016 study brings some science to that question. It draws together a wealth of data to rate the quality of life in neighbourhoods across Greater Sydney.
No suburb has got it all, of course. But one came pretty close: Lavender Bay on the harbour’s lower north shore. It excelled in 15 of 16 indicators used in the study’s authors – Tract Consultants and Deloitte Access Economics – to evaluate suburbs.
Lavender Bay local Kathleen Atterbury isn’t surprised by its top ranking.
“It’s a really nice atmosphere here,” she said. “It’s a beautiful outlook, there’s lots of vibrancy.”
While the spirit and feel of the place is important, Ms Atterbury’s favourite thing about living in Lavender Bay is more obvious.
“Probably the view,” she laughed. “You’ve got a view of the harbour and Luna Park. Even hearing the noise from Luna Park – it’s a really joyful sound.”
Lower North Shore suburbs in the vicinity of Lavender Bay dominate the liveability league table. That region boasts seven of Sydney’s most 10 liveable suburbs, 11 of the top 20 and nearly a third of Sydney’s top 100.
A swag of inner-city neighbourhoods once known for their industrial, working-class character also performed well – Millers Point, Woolloomooloo, Balmain, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Pyrmont and Glebe all figured in the top 50.
But the study does more than just rank suburbs – it sheds light on how Sydney is changing.
It turns out that liveability and property prices don’t always match. Some well-to-do neighbourhoods ranked much lower for liveability than their property values would suggest. Vaucluse, a suburb synonymous with wealth and privilege, did not make the top 100 and Sylvania Waters was ranked 281 despite its famed water views.
Every suburb had its drawbacks, even Lavender Bay. There was a tendency for very liveable neighbourhoods to get modest or low scores for congestion and crime.
“In general, if you want to find a liveable suburb in Sydney find a congested one and one that’s got some crime,” said Adam Terrill a study co-author and senior principal at Tract Consulting. “Even though they detract from liveability, congestion and crime are normally linked to positives like local shops and open space. Often they are congested because they are desirable places – victims, if you like, of their own greatness. But high house prices in these areas suggest that people are prepared to trade that off against the other positives.”
The study unearthed some unexpected suburban gems like Harris Park, near Parramatta. It came in at No.63 out of the 555 established suburbs rated, making it the most liveable place in western Sydney. But Harris Park also got a better liveability rating than a swag of highly fancied Sydney neighbourhoods including Bondi Beach, Fairlight, Tamarama and Newtown.
Deloitte Access Economics partner and report co-author, Daniel Terrill, said the analysis challenged some outdated prejudices.
“Legacy and history means some areas are lumbered with a certain reputation even though modern data doesn’t support it any more,” said Dr Terrill.
A changing city
Sydneysiders are embracing high-density housing in growing numbers and many suburbs known for apartment living rated well. The high-rise, inner-city neighbourhoods of Elizabeth Bay, Potts Point, Pyrmont and Darlinghurst were all ranked in the top 50 for liveability.
Well-located areas once used for heavy industry have been transformed into high-quality, high-density residential areas. One surprise is that Rhodes, an area once marked by industrial stench, ranked one place ahead of the posh harbour-side neighbourhood of Point Piper. The transformation of other well located “brownfield” sites into thriving residential areas will be crucial to the city’s future.
The study confirmed some enduring Sydney stereotypes as well. The “leafy North Shore” really does stand out for its foliage – a band of suburbs fanning north of Chatswood received the highest possible ranking for tree cover.
The liveability ratings also cast fresh light on some historic divides.
“One thing that stands out is that Sydney is very much an eastern suburbs dominated city,” says Adam Terrill.
“Other cities tend to have the most liveable parts towards the urban centre, whereas Sydney’s are on the eastern edge. Areas that score lower tend to be all on one side of the city – in the west – whereas in other cities they tend to be spread around the edges in all directions.”
Suburbs at the bottom of the liveability rankings tended to be newly-developed neighbourhoods a long distance from the CBD. Stanhope Gardens, Parklea and The Ponds in the city’s north-west received the lowest rankings. Their liveability rankings will pick up as transport services and other urban amenities improve. As more data becomes available (like the upcoming census) we’ll see these suburbs change their spots.
Patterns of liveability
The study underscored the “multi-centric” character of modern Sydney. Highly liveable suburban pockets are located adjacent to commercial and employment hubs including Parramatta, Penrith, Macquarie Park, Hornsby and Liverpool.
These neighbourhoods have the advantages of employment, transport and services nearby but because they are a little removed from those centres they benefit from more open space, tree cover, lower crime rates and less congestion. The high liveability ranking of Harris Park which is adjacent to Parramatta, Sydney’s “second CBD”, illustrates this trend.
“All good suburbs benefit from their neighbours,” says Adam Terrill.
- Lower north shore ranked by liveability
- City and east ranked by liveability
- Inner west ranked by liveability
- More regions
Better liveability rankings also tended to follow Sydney’s rail lines, underscoring the importance of public transport to the city’s future. This remains a major public policy challenge for the city, notwithstanding recent infrastructure investments such as the North-West rail link. While a band of older suburbs south of the Parramatta River are relatively well serviced by public transport, many neighbourhoods in that that region did not rate well for open space, tree cover and congestion.
The study used data on 16 separate indicators to rate liveability in 555 established Sydney suburbs (about 30 were not included because of a lack of data). Liveability was defined as “the general quality of a place which makes it agreeable for people to reside in” and did not take into account house prices or affordability. The indicators covered access to services (such as education and retail), culture, environmental attributes (such as open space, tree cover and access to beaches), employment, crime levels, congestion, and digital connectivity. A unique “view shed analysis” provided a city-wide indicator of suburbs’ water views. This is a first for Sydney, the authors say.
Sydney's top 10 most liveable suburbs
|1||Lavender Bay||Lower north shore|
|2||Milsons Point||Lower north shore|
|3||McMahons Point||Lower north shore|
|4||Kirribilli||Lower north shore|
|5||Waverton||Lower north shore|
|6||Wollstonecraft||Lower north shore|
|7||North Sydney||Lower north shore|
|8||Millers Point||City and east|
|9||Elizabeth Bay||City and east|
|10||Darling Point||City and east|
Based on Domain Liveable Sydney 2016 study. Source: Tract Consultants and Deloitte Access Economics.
But rating suburbs will always be contentious. Liveability means different things to different people and some of the assumptions that underpin this study, which tends to favour densely-populated neighbourhoods, will be contested. A neighbourhood deemed liveable by a 21-year old single, for example, might be considered highly undesirable by a retired couple. And of course, many local attributes simply can’t be quantified.
Even so, there is value to trying to measure liveability. These rankings are bound to spark debate.
Date: 1st August 2016
Author: Matt Wade