Much of our debate about planning and urban growth in Australia is focussed on population, housing form and location. Small changes in household types and demographic trends at the margin preoccupy the minds of planners, the media, developers and policy makers. But the demographics of employment – a fundamental driver of demand – are by comparison little understood. Where are the jobs located? What types of employment trends in particular locations are having an impact on everything from housing demand to transport use? What sort of opportunities does this create and what are the challenges for public policy? Are some of our presumptions about the geographic distribution of employment wildly inaccurate?
This series of research articles has been prepared to shed some light on what I’d like to coin ‘the demography of employment.’ Much of the data is based on analysis of various ABS Census and I am indebted to the professional team at Urban Economics for providing this and for interrogating the Census findings so diligently. Other sources are noted where relevant. However the conclusions and observations are my own so if you want to obtain research related to your particular interests, please contact Kerrianne Bonwick at Urban Economics directly.
I am also grateful to senior development and planning industry colleagues for their review of the draft and for their constructive comments.
Ross Elliott. February 2013.
Part 1: a suburban economy
A widespread impression exists in the mind of many from the general community through to the media, urban planners and even some senior policy makers that the city centres (‘central business districts’) of our capital cities are the biggest employers in our economy. Nightly news bulletins feature CBD skylines as backdrops. They are typically the headquarters of major companies and the seats of government. They are at the confluence of road and rail networks and feature a high concentration of infrastructure from recreation to cultural to social.
The reality, however, is that despite their profile, our CBDs account for a very small proportion of jobs in the economy. Census data for employment has its limitations but even with these limitations in mind, the evidence is emphatic: employment in our cities is overwhelmingly located in suburban locations.
Based on analysis of the ABS Census, in Sydney in 2011, the CBD accounted for only 8.3% of all jobs in New South Wales, and for only 13.4% of all jobs in wider metropolitan Sydney. Including the surrounding areas of Pyrmont, Ultimo, Potts Point, and Woolloomooloo raises this share to just 9.7% of all jobs in the state and 15.6% of jobs in metropolitan Sydney.
In Melbourne, the CBD is home to just 7.6% of the state’s total employment, and to just 10.6% of all jobs in greater Melbourne. Including the ‘fringe’ locations of Docklands and Southbank sees this share rise to only 10.3% of the state and 14.3% of greater Melbourne.
In Brisbane, the CBD share is just 5.8% of the state and 12.5% of the Brisbane region. Including South Brisbane, Fortitude Valley and Spring Hill raises this share to 8.8% of the state’s jobs and 18.8% of jobs across the Brisbane region.
Looking at it another way, in these major centres at least 9 out of 10 jobs state-wide are located outside the CBD/frame, and even across the metro region, about 5 out of 6 jobs are located in suburban locations as opposed to the centre.
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