Community, sustainability, accessibility: Engineering experts share what defines a liveable city

world engineers convention liveable cities

What defines a liveable city — now and into the future? Is it the infrastructure, the people, the economy, the communities? We asked engineering experts to share their thoughts about what makes liveable cities work.

 For a record seven years, Melbourne reigned as not just Australia’s most liveable city, but the most liveable city in the world. 

Although it was bumped to second place last year (thanks, Vienna), it still serves as an example of how a city can reflect the character and culture of the people living there.

“We have always had a strong focus on incorporating public art and amenity into our major infrastructure projects,” said Victorian Chief Engineer Dr Collette Burke. 

“Through doing this, we have retained our unique character and have created a real sense of belonging throughout the city — by putting liveability front and centre of planning practices.” 

Burke will be speaking at the upcoming World Engineers Convention (WEC) during a special public forum on the future of Melbourne and liveable cities. She added that liveability can’t be pinned to one factor over another. 

“A liveable city has a beautiful natural environment, well-planned infrastructure projects, top-class education, health and transport services, and a diverse and unique culture where everyone can live, work and play,” she said. 

In terms of the criteria used to measure liveability, Chris Champion, Secretary-General for the International Federation of Municipal Engineering and Director International with the Institute of Public Works Engineers Australasia, agreed, saying that many of us innately know what works and doesn’t.

A recent experience moving house reinforced in his mind what matters to people when making those choices. Are there public transport options? Access to healthcare and hospitals, schools, green spaces and parks? Is the air quality good? Is housing affordable? Is there a sense of community?

The point is there’s no one-size-fits-all model, he said.

“A liveable city means different things to different people, or in different stages of life,” said Champion, who will also be speaking about sustainable community infrastructure at the World Engineers Convention public forum. 

Parts of a whole

The Public Forum at the World Engineers Convention will bring together top minds in engineering and city planning to discuss what needs to happen now to make Melbourne — and other Australian cities — liveable in 10 years’ time. 

The Global Liveability Index is a snapshot of how cities around the world rate in categories such as infrastructure, education and healthcare. But keeping cities liveable will become more and more important over the coming decade as countries experience a booming rate of urbanisation. 

The subject of sustainability is particularly important when considering cities of the future. Burke said her priorities for Victoria’s future include baking sustainable practices into engineering. 

“We need to make sure our communities create a sense of belonging, and that they are both accessible and sustainable for generations to come,” Burke said. 

But to achieve this will require collaboration between government, industry and communities. Both Burke and Champion said viewing everything engineers do as parts of a whole will be crucial, and collaboration between sectors will become a must.

“Engineers are responsible for our transport, food, water supply, buildings, housing, communications systems and much more. It will be important that we have integrated planning approaches for precincts that has the community at the heart of development decisions,” Burke said.

“Moving forward, engineers will need to become more multi-disciplinary and aware of the key elements and touch points of the cities they live in. This will be important to ensure they’re involved in the decision-making process and incorporated into technical thinking behind projects.”

Champion agreed, saying that engineers need to capitalise on the benefits of collaborating with other professions as their roles in city building change over time. 

“Infrastructure is the foundation of our sustainable, liveable communities and needs to be made a priority. Engineers can deliver on infrastructure if it’s properly planned and funded,” he said.

Exponential change

External factors like climate change will also continue to throw new challenges at engineers as more cities look to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increasing temperatures. 

“More than ever, we need to consider how the services that we provide from infrastructure can be designed, built, operated and delivered to mitigate impacts and adapt to changes in the environment and our climate,” Champion said. 

“We can’t leave an infrastructure liability for future generations.”

Another factor is the exponential pace of change in technology.

“Like changes in our climate, we need to plan and adapt for changes in our use of technology and how changing technology will provide services for our future communities,” Champion said.

He gave the example of how technology is facilitating more remote working options, which has implications for transport infrastructure, communications technology and delivery of services.

“Extended out, these trends will have significant impacts on our urban planning and how and where we deliver infrastructure,” Champion said.   

Keeping cities liveable will be an ongoing challenge, and what works for Melbourne might not work for Sydney. No matter the location, engineers need to be thinking now about how they can build liveability into cities and work with whatever the future has in store.

“Engineers are driving change and our skills are essential in planning and accommodating for change,” Champion said.

“Engineers have a significant role to play in creating more sustainable cities into the future. Our niche is being able to develop creative solutions for the challenges of tomorrow.”

Dr Collette Burke and Chris Champion will be part of a forum at the World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne discussing the future of Melbourne and how to keep our cities liveable. They will be joined by The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp, and Stephen Yarwood, an urban futurist and former Lord Mayor of Adelaide. To attend the public forum, register here

Rachael Brown

Author Rachael Brown

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