Australia needs more intensity around population density

Australia’s population is getting close to 22.5 million residents of whom about 64 percent live within the nation’s capital cities (about 55% live within the big four capitals)

With such a large proportion of the population living on what is just half a percent of the land mass, you would think Australian population densities would be much higher than that they are.  The council area showing the highest population density is Sydney’s Waverley where there are about 7,500 residents per square kilometre (the top 20 list of council areas based on population density is below).

The Waverley council, which can generally be described as Sydney’s Eastern suburbs (Bondi, Bronte, Tamarama, Dover Heights, etc) covers 9.2 square kilometers and is home to almost 70,000 residents equating to a population density of 7,508 residents per square kilometre.   60 percent of all home sales in Waverley are unit sales.

In fact, 16 of the 20 most densely populated council regions are located across Sydney’s inner regions – the other four are in Melbourne.

As an aside, a few reasonable web pages for looking at comparative population densities can be found on Wikipedia (List of cities proper by population density, List of the most densely populated country subdivisions, List of United States cities by population density, European Cities proper by population density) – note that the time periods and geographic context tend to be non standard which makes comparison’s a bit difficult.

Density figures are of course affected by a large range of factors.  Of course the composition of housing will affect densities – town planning regimes that allow for taller building heights and a predominance of apartments as opposed to detached homes will clearly create high population densities.  The amount of green space in a region, for example, can create the false impression of lower population densities where there is a large amount of parkland.  Additionally, the overall area of the region will affect the density calculation.   The best example is arguably the Brisbane council region which covers more than 1,300 square kilometers.  Due to the wide expanse of land, Brisbane’s population density looks quite low at just 804 persons per square kilometer (the Brisbane council region is about 143 times larger in land area than Waverley).

At the suburb level, it is a similar trend, with the highest population densities largely confined to Sydney’s inner city and to a lesser extent, Melbourne.


The figures provided above highlight that, outside of Sydney, the densification of Australia’s population and built form has a long way to go.  From an affordability perspective, densification makes a lot of sense.  Across the capital cities, based on median prices, buying a unit is about $65,000 more affordable than buying a house.  In Sydney, where the unit market is much more mature, the price difference is a much larger $110,000.

Also, from a planning and infrastructure development perspective, the case for higher population densities within the inner city and along established transport spines makes a lot of sense.  The high costs associated with building new roads and railways to the greenfield development regions on the city fringe are prohibitive and Governments across all levels have mostly been unable to deliver infrastructure improvements as fast as they are required.

We are already seeing a gradual trend towards more medium and high density housing product.  In Sydney, sales figures for January 2011 showed about 45% of all sales were attached or semi-attached homes.  Melbourne shows about one third of all sales are for units and in Brisbane it’s just over a quarter of all sales.

Australian’s love their backyards, but it is inevitable that as affordability pressures mount and transport options around the city fringe become more congested and costly, more residents will consider a higher density housing option.


About Tim Lawless

Tim heads up the RP Data research and analytics team, analysing real estate markets, demographics and economic trends across Australia

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  1. Australian Suburbs with the highest population density « Nanette Lilley Property Centre's Blog- Lyndal Conroy 0411 955 224 - April 27, 2011

    […] Australia needs more intensity around population density […]

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