10 Built Environment | 1 Introduction

State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.

10 Built environment

1 Introduction

The built environment is the human-made surroundings where people gather to live, work and play. It encompasses both the physical structures where people do these activities and the supporting infrastructures, such as transport, water and energy networks. The built environment is a material, spatial and cultural product of human labour and imagination.

The built environment has an impact on human wellbeing. Its structure, form and function, as well as the quality of its natural environmental assets, determine its suitability for living in. The built environment also puts pressure on natural resources, mainly through the use of land, water and energy resources, as well as through the waste that is generated from activities taking place within it.

Australia's built environment takes many forms. Almost two-thirds (64%) of Australians live in the eight capital cities.1 Large numbers of Australians also live in other cities and towns and in rural and remote areas (Table 10.1). In 2006, the proportion of Australia's population living in urban areas was 87%, up from 85% a decade earlier.2

The nature of the built environment in Sydney (major city) is vastly different from that in Cloncurry (remote). However, no matter how big or small, all urban environments place pressure on natural resources and have common characteristics that determine their suitability for living in.

Table 10.1 Estimated resident population in areas of varying remoteness, 30 June 2010
Level of remoteness
Number Percentage of total population Percentage change from 2009 to 2010
Major cities 15 337 721 68.7 1.8
Inner regional 4 401 672 19.7 1.8
Outer regional 2 086 609 9.3 1.2
Remote 326 643 1.5 0.8
Very remote 176 202 0.8 1.1
Total 22 328 847 100.0 1.7

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics1

Most Australians live near the coast, and Australia's highest population densities are found in coastal regions (Figure 10.1). Australia's seven largest cities are coastal, and only 4 of the 18 cities with populations of more than 100 000 are located inland.

Figure 10.1

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics1

Figure 10.1 Population density by statistical local area, June 2010

The major challenge facing our built environment is population growth, which can lead to an increase in the physical size of cities, higher population densities, greater demands on natural assets within cities and increased congestion. Related to an increased population is an increased demand for water and energy, and increased waste generation. However, an increasing population does not have to result in a less livable and less efficient built environment. Population growth can be a spur to change and innovation. Other responses, particularly good policy and planning, can also mitigate the effects of population and other pressures, ideally leading to urban areas that are both more livable and more efficient.

Urban policy and planning in Australia have varied with time and in different jurisdictions and institutions. The importance of urban policy to the ongoing prosperity and wellbeing of our communities has been recognised by the Australian Government, which has developed a National Urban Policy to provide national leadership and guidance for the states, territories, local authorities and the private sector in planning, managing and investing in cities.3