Monday, November 12, 2007

Urban population trends

Bernard Salt’s Population Growth Report 2007 for KPMG (I could not yet find an online version) makes interesting reading. Melbourne has joined the ranks of Australia’s fastest growing capital cities with nearly double the growth rate of Sydney and close to the growth rates of boom cities like Perth and Brisbane. But the Queensland coastline still holds the centres with maximum population growth – Cairns in particular is growing at twice the rate of Brisbane.

With current growth rates Melbourne would be the largest city in Australia in 20 years – returning Melbourne to its 19th century status as Australia’s largest and most popular city. Of course these projections presuppose no change in relative housing costs which would be quite unrealistic.

Around Australia the main competition for rapidly growing coastal areas and for 'sea changers' comes from city centres. The trend is strong everywhere but particularly in Melbourne and Brisbane. Young couples are living in apartments close to city centres to minimise their commuting costs.

The standout area is Sydney where some municipalities (Campbelltown, Fairfield) actually lost people as young adults leave older parents to live elsewhere. Indeed Sydney’s centre continues to grow while its periphery is shedding people.

The experience Salt identifies correlates with quite a bit of experience. Melbourne property prices grew strongly last year while Sydney prices did not. Still Sydney property prices remain very high. I was struck by this headline in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday while visiting - over the past year 570 government grants for first home buyers were given to people buying $1 million plus valued properties – a 44% increase over the previous year. It is a stunning figure.

My subjective feeling (no real evidence) is that Sydney housing on average is of higher quality than Melbourne's - houses in Sydney have often been renovated several times and the physical beauty of Sydney as an urban setting is not arguable. Melbournians gloat about their beautiful gardens but Sydney, with its milder climate, has some of the best urban gardens I have seen anywhere.

My main objection to Sydney as a place to live, apart from housing costs, is the cost of making journeys by road. A visit to the local shopping centre can be a congested nightmare in many suburbs. My impression of the train and bus services in the city are however generally very positive. The exception that has impacted on me is on the far north side areas where public transport is almost non-existent late in the evening. On the other hand if I owned a house at Palm Beach I probably wouldn't ever want to leave and would presumably have enough money that I could afford not to do so!


Anonymous said...

Harry, Sydney has some really nasty looking 50's architecture. If the place didn't have the harbor it would really be quite and ugly place.

Sydney homes are more expensive because incomes in Sydney are higher than Mellbourne especially for the top earners.

conrad said...

I'll bet that Sydney houses are also larger than Melbourne's area wise (they're also more likely to be multi-story, which adds to the expense again). I also think that far more hot money has come into Sydney via immigration and so on. It might explain the recent rises in Melbourne -- it would be interesting to know how rich the new immigrants coming in are -- it may be the case that Melbourne is now getting these guys rather than just Sydney.

hc said...

Anonymous - I don't agree - I am surprised at how beautiful many formerly poor suburbs in Sydney have become. Stanmore and the inner west is a most attractive area as is the former very worling class area of Narraweena in the north.

I was brought up in Sydney and although now a long-term Melbourne resident there is still a lot I like about the place.

Conrad, I nthink uyou are right on house sizes - partly because houses have been renovated several times. I don't know about your point on migrants. I assume rich migrants will tend to end up in cities with expensive real estate.

Anonymous said...


I'm really just comparing melbourne to sydney. You get these multi million $ homes in a street next to one of those ugly dark red brick flats.

I bet sydney homes are smaller, Conrad.

Anonymous said...

Sydney: take away the habour, the bridge, the opera house and the beaches and what has it got? Exactly.