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‘Access to the natural environment’ – the 4th most important liveability attribute

‘Access to the natural environment’ – the 4th most important liveability attribute

Dan Evans 04 Jun, 2021

This series takes a look at the attributes that Australians believe make somewhere a good place to live, where our values and local area experiences differ, rationalisations and implications. In this article we discuss ‘access to the natural environment’.

This article was written to support the launch of our latest offer, Living in Place. Data informing this article was drawn from the Ipsos Life in Australia Survey. Living in Place is delivered in partnership with Ipsos.

How important is ‘access to the natural environment’?

‘Access to the natural environment’ is the 4th most important attribute that Australians believe contributes to making somewhere a good place to live, with 47% nominating it among their top five liveability attributes behind ‘feeling safe’ (72%) and ‘affordable decent housing‘ (51%) and ‘high quality health services‘ (48%). ‘A diverse range of shopping, leisure and dining experiences’ (33%) was 5th most important.

Who places a high value on ‘access to the natural environment’ and how do we feel about it in our local areas?

Despite one-of-every two Australians, on average, choosing ‘access to the natural environment’ among their top five attributes that contribute to making somewhere a good place to live, the survey results showed that Regional Australians place more stock the great outdoors than those who make their home in metropolitan areas. Local area experiences were more positive across Regional Australia, with the residents of regional coastal areas rating their local area 8.6 out of 10 for ‘access to the natural environment’, ahead of regional centres (8.1) and small town & rural (7.9) residents. Metropolitan Australians rated their local area an average of 7.3 out of 10 across the board.

The charts below have all the detail (click to view in full screen).

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What does this tell us?

Epidemiologists tell us that spending time in the natural environment on a regular basis makes a serious positive contribution to our wellbeing and, by extension our creativity, productivity and a host of other things that make for a good and resilient human.

A recent study from the University of Exeter found that a minimum of two hours per week – consecutive or cumulative – in green spaces, parks or other natural settings, was all it took for people to report substantially higher levels of overall health and wellbeing than those who spent less time, or no time at all, in the great outdoors. Locally, some work from Deakin University found that people living more than one kilometre from green spaces were not only more likely to experience higher levels of stress than those who resided closer to nature, but that they were also less likely to walk and engage in vigorous physical activities.

While these studies joining the dots between accessing nature and its physiological and psychological benefits are interesting, and probably intuitive, the next question from me is how easy is it for Australians to access the natural environment in actual terms, how does this play out spatially, and what happens down the track?

Fortunately, there’s been a bit of work done in this space too. The data is a touch old now, but a 2016 report from the ABS found that 98% of Canberrans had access to green spaces within 400m of their home – the highest across all capital cities. And, while Melbourne bottomed the list at 79%, looking at a topic like this using such large metro areas for points of comparison is probably too blunt. We all know our cities are quite diverse within themselves, and as such, investigation using smaller geographies will get us not only closer to the objective truth, but to the point at which government policy, advocacy and other interventions can help affect positive change and lead to redressing any observed deficits. Again, there has been some interesting work done in this smaller geography space, with research from BMC Public Health finding, among other things, that green space availability is substantially lower in SA1s that are home to lower income residents.

While most Australians make their home in major metro areas, the post-COVID zeitgeist is awash with data, narrative and scuttlebutt about urbanites leaving the capitals to make a life in the Regions – as they’ve been coined – with the promise of more affordable decent housing, the chance to live a more community based life, and the ability to have better access to the natural environment cited among the main reasons for embarking on a tree-change, sea-change or flee-change (the desire live anywhere but a capital city).

While it’ll take a while for the data to settle on migration to the regions (see interesting commentary about that topic from my colleagues here, here and here), we must be conscious that our desire to be close to and living among nature creates an inevitable tension. On the one hand we want to embrace and enjoy nature, be healthier because of it, share it, promote it, and even turn a dollar from it, but how far do we go, how hard do we push it, without degrading or at worst contributing to the destruction of the liveability attribute that we hold so dear? That’s a difficult balance to strike, especially in these times.

Visit our dedicated Living in Place website to learn more about the offer, where you can take a guided video tour of our best-in-class online reporting and exploratory platform, views.id. We’ve also written a blog discussing our deeper thinking the need for the offer, and published a case-study about how Living in Place is helping the City of Ipswich to make more resident centric decisions. Feel free to book a meeting a time convenient to you’re keen to learn more.

Dan Evans

Dan is a social researcher with more than 10 years’ experience investigating community attitudes to and experiences of planning and development, transport infrastructure, public health and a bunch of other things. Dan joined .id in April 2020 to design and deliver Living in Place – an independent, robust and repeatable community survey that seeks to understand and advance the liveability of Australians’ local areas.

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