A Sustainable Cities Index released this week by global design and consultancy firm Arcadis shows that long-term planning is crucial with no Australian city making the top 30.
London topped the ranking with European cities dominating the top of the overall index, occupying eight of the top ten spots, with Singapore and Hong Kong rounding out the top ten.
The index ranks 100 leading global cities on three pillars of sustainability – people, planet and profit – as well as 32 different indicators.
The three major benchmarks are closely aligned with the United Nation's sustainable development goals.
The report offers an indicative picture of the health and wealth of cities for the present and the future in relation to "social, environmental and economic sustainability".
The cities ranking highly were highlighted for achieving a degree of sustainable balance, not only due to a historic economic legacy, but also due to far-sighted decisions taken to manage the long-term impacts of growth.
Sydney was Australia’s most sustainable city, ranking 34th, with Canberra 35th, Brisbane 44th and Melbourne 56th.
“With no Australian city cracking the top 30 and one in the bottom 50, it’s confirmation that we need to continue to focus on improving the long-term sustainability, resilience and performance of our cities to act on the global stage,” Arcadis cities director Stephen Taylor said.
“Despite the middle of the road rankings, the nation’s strong focus on developing integrated transit systems, addressing affordability and embracing sustainability in construction are all positive signs for future improvement across the three pillars.”
Across Australian cities, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, the shift beyond green sustainability to social sustainability has been underway.
“Both government and private developments are increasingly focusing on how projects can better improve communities, including financial gains and community wellness,” Taylor said.
Arcadis’ 2018 Sustainable Cities Index
Australian cities performed well on people-focused measures, scoring well in health, education, and digital-enablement.
Australian cities performed poorly in the planet pillar, with greenhouse gas emissions and waste management common issues across all four capitals.
The report highlighted that the foundations of city sustainability are an educated and healthy workforce, effective low-carbon infrastructure and ease of doing business.
Affordability, access to public transport and income inequality are the big swing variables that make or break a city’s sustainable success.