A couple of days ago Domain released a report revealing Sydney’s top ‘liveable’ suburbs. If you visit their website, you’ll be met with a whole range of articles that have been inspired by the study authored by Tract Consultants and Deloitte Access Economics. Gathering data from sources such as the ABS to determine what indicators make a suburb ‘liveable’, the list is reflective of a particular kind of lifestyle. An aspirational lifestyle you’re likely to find on Instagram, or in Broadsheet.
First up is Lavender Bay. What’s not to love about a place that sounds so delightful? And look – there’s a whole bunch of other lower north shore suburbs and eastern suburbs there in the top 10 to keep each other company in their refinement.
So what is my problem exactly? You can likely tell by my tone.
It’s not that I don’t like to enjoy the finer things in life, like nice restaurants, walks in the park or views of the Harbour Bridge.
It’s that this report doesn’t place enough of an emphasis on Sydney’s housing affordability.
What does ‘liveability’ mean, anyway?
In the video that accompanies their study, Domain describes ‘liveability’ as the concentration of a series of “attributes that make a place desirable to live in”. This includes telecommunications, access to public transport, culture, an abundance of trees, access to schools, and of course, cafes and restaurants. Less pollution, less crime, and less congestion.
These are all positive things that reflect our city’s social values.
But here’s my main bug-bear:
The median house price for many of these suburbs is over $1m, which the average first homebuyer in Sydney can’t afford.
So if you can’t afford to own a patch of grass in a suburb, does this make it ‘liveable’?
Let’s take a look at what others have to say. The Ramboll Group, a multi-disciplinary consultancy from Denmark, describes liveability as the right balance between social, cultural and physical parameters.
Physical attributes include access to open space, infrastructure, natural resources, mobility and connectivity. Social components include things like safety and community, diverse employment, and local/regional economy. And finally, the culture of a city describes our values, happiness and satisfaction, and cultural identity. All of these attributes operate in tandem like cogs on a wheel.
Watch the video below.
But what’s missing?
What both the Ramboll Group’s definition and Domain’s definition passes over is accessibility. Sure, a suburb might have diverse employment and industry sectors, an abundance of inspiration and art, and a strong cultural identity.
But what if you’re part of the growing crowd that can’t access these liveable communities due to financial restraints?
Where does affordability sit within the liveability framework?
Does that mean you have to inhabit these less ‘liveable’ suburbs? Like Jannali in the Sutherland Shire, which, despite having access to public transport, schools, a national park and a stone’s throw from Como’s river, is considered less liveable because of its lack of high-brow culture?
Define your own liveability
Reading Domain’s report as a first homebuyer is daunting, and for good reason too. It’s because liveability for the average white collar worker differs from those who already own a slice of Sydney’s property pie. It’s far easier for non-first homebuyers to afford these suburbs, as homeowners have equity, which has increased in value.
On top of that, the median house prices Domain uses are for just houses, not apartments. Apartments would look much more attractive for first home buyers who want to live closer to the city.
In my opinion, liveability is a very subjective term. There’s no standard definition, but from what we’ve read, pricing rarely comes into the equation.
So what’s a first homebuyer to do?
Do your own research. Figure out what’s important to you, and create your own criteria.
If you feel like cafes, restaurants and galleries would greatly improve your quality of life, by all means search for a home in Sydney with these features in mind.
But be realistic. Search for a home that you can afford, that’s going to support your financial goals, and has the space to let you and your family grow over time.
Because that’s liveability – sustaining yourself. And maybe that home isn’t on a top 20 suburbs to live in Sydney list.