Our cities and regions are in a period of rapid change. How do we make sure that developments are liveable and provide the infrastructure solutions our communities need into the future?

Population growth and urbanisation are placing significant pressure on key infrastructure and services and on the health of our waterways, environment and people.  At the same time, our approach to the provision of infrastructure and services are failing to adapt to changing community needs. Traditional approaches to planning and delivery of services restricts the amount and quality of land available for recreation, reducing community connectedness and exacerbating poor health outcomes, particularly in lower socioeconomic regions where it is needed the most.

We need to design our communities to be more appealing places to live, work and play, by providing easy access to key services, promoting healthy behaviours, and protecting environmental values in a way that provides resilience to drought, urban heat and climate change. Liveable, sustainable and productive cities are critical to our economic wellbeing and quality of life. (See our Urban Growth and Development, Urban Economics and In Focus: Resilience pages for more information.)

To create these kinds of cities will require decisions to be made about how we use land and other resources, and the interaction between land use and water cycle management is central to ensuring cool, green, liveable, productive community. Poor decisions will be costly, with the effects locked in for the long-term. So it’s important to base decisions on strong economics and our urban economics team works to measure and evaluate potential costs and benefits from policies and projects. We use financial economics to value both risks and opportunities created by uncertainty and options for incorporating these into decision-making and behavioural economics to understand what drives consumer and community behaviour and how best to change it.

Waste management and the circular economy

Ensuring our cities are liveable, sustainable & productive requires major policy, regulatory & investment decisions relating to land-use and urban form, road, water, energy and waste infrastructure as well as investments in community open space for recreation and amenity.

Different approaches to management of waste have the potential to impact these major decisions and the community in different ways, including impacting long-term implications for urban design (including building standards & road design) and management of the energy & water cycle. For example, there may be opportunities to support the circular economy, reduce the waste management ‘footprint’ and achieve synergies across waste, wastewater and energy infrastructure, by adopting waste to energy via the wastewater system.

However, there are a range of factors that contribute to inefficient investment in the waste value chain and related infrastructure (e.g. dwelling, road, water & energy infrastructure):

  • Different types of waste offer different opportunities and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution
  • Coordination challenges across council areas prevents efficient city-wide waste investment decisions

The substantial changes in the global and domestic waste markets, rising costs, sharpening environmental concerns including about new waste types, competing pressures on land use and shifting community expectations all mean that our current approach to waste management is likely to be insufficient.

Economics is critical to identifying the waste management strategy that generates the greatest benefit to the community, by enabling decision makers to:

  • Analyse commercial and community value from investment: for example, analysing the value of an integrated utility providing waste, wastewater & energy services
  • Understanding the impact of behaviour and incentives: for example, understanding the behavioural impacts of interventions aimed at increasing recycling (e.g. container deposit scheme)
  • Evaluate the impacts of policy, regulation, infrastructure investment, pricing and funding – for example understanding who benefits and who pays for investment in integrated waste management
  • Understand how economic value can be created through resilience decision making- for example, investigating the value of investing and pricing infrastructure that can respond to uncertain population growth & climate change.

Read more from Frontier Economics on Liveability

Health benefits from water-centric liveable communities – New Frontier Economics report for WSAA

A report prepared for the Water Services Association of Australia by Frontier Economics looks at the health benefits to the community from investing in water infrastructure to create liveable cities.

Read More

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