Australia’s population will very soon hit 25,000,000 we only need to add about 46,000 new residents to get to this figure. Immigration and new births will take care of that.

Some will argue it’s a positive figure and trend, others much less so. I can imagine the tabloid headlines now, predicting doom and gloom as our cities ‘reach breaking-point’. And along much the same lines there appears to be some sort of conspiracy theory that every-second person living in Sydney is planning to leave or put more emotively escape this dreadful city!

Personally, I think this is all over-stated and a lot of rubbish and there’s research that clearly suggests that most of us a very happy living just where we are. The M1 is not jam-packed with station-wagons or vans stuffed with household goods as families flee this city.

Sure, Sydney and also Melbourne and Brisbane have their fair share of growing pains. Like adolescents our cities have and will always experience growing pains but, I suggest that’s the nature of cities and it’s despite this frustration that makes them exciting places. There are regional options which, I’ll return to, but first just how often do we tend to move to a new house? Overall not that often.

Research by Roy Morgan shows some very interesting trends, in particular, the headline figures that reveals 58.1% of the population have lived at the same address for between 5 and 10 years.

While the biggest most stable part of the population at 40.7% have not moved to a new house for 10 years or more. Those in the rental market do tend to move more often although, that trend may soon change with more build to rent projects slowly entering the market.

By contrast, people living in the United States are known for their more frequent moving, whether they are moving to a new home in the same city, heading off to a new region, or a new state, Americans are far more mobile.

A Gallup Survey shows that one in four Americans moves every five years that’s about 24% here that figure is closer to 10%. Other countries that show similar trends to the USA are New Zealand 26%, Finland 23%, and Norway 22%. This means is that there’s a reasonable chance that the average American will move 11.4 times in their lives, living in 11 homes over the course of their lives.

In Australia, we are less mobile and this trend may help explain why our big cities just keep growing.

Instead of having cities of varying size, the majority of our population is concentrated in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with some spill-over to close by centres.

The result is that about 60% of Australia’s population live in capital cities. It may well be a surprise that the picture in the USA is very different where the top five cities account for less than 10% of the people.

Australia has just one non-capital city that has more than 500,0000 people, and this sometimes described in negative terms which, I suggest over-looks the fact that people like living in cities, however, there are options.

Regions Need Employment

Which brings me to the next tier of Australian cities: which are the Gold Coast (population 640,000), Newcastle (439,000), Canberra (429,000) and the Sunshine Coast (327,000).

These four cities, each with very different characteristics are our 6th to 9th largest. Collectively they are home to some 1.8 million people and represent 8% of the Australian population. Regional centres can attract strong investment

Youi insurance has established their main offices on the Sunshine Coast, eventually accommodating 3000 staff, the new HQ will be near The University of the Sunshine Coast, and so cements employment and higher-education to the region.

There is, however, a relationship between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane and it’s a pattern repeated in other locations as capital cities grown into urban ‘mega-regions’. Sydney could stretch further to the Central Coast, Melbourne could hit Geelong and Brisbane could eventually merge with the Gold Coast as super-cities start to take over Australia.

The movement of population to Australia’s major capitals — Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne is clearly gaining strength. According to ABS, two in three people will live in our main cities in the future, as Australia’s population heads to almost 30 million.

As the population growth continues, the four main capital cities will grow and out-pace anywhere else in Australia. And while we appear happy to stay-put in our existing homes there will be a need to house the growing population. The Productivity Commission has already highlighted that more land will need to be unlocked to build more residential housing and growth will also involve greater density.

AS this growth continues government face an urgent need to solve housing affordability problems and better planning and coordinated delivery of infrastructure are big issues.

Grants to Move Have Not Worked

Urban growth happens because people want to live in cities and that can be either in a detached house with a block of land or in apartment projects, many of which will be mixed-use projects. And once settled we are reluctant to move even when there are direct incentives to do so.

A NSW Government plan that offered $7000 to people moving to regional areas was a failure with only 4800 grants taken up and the scheme was closed down in 2014.

It could be argued that those people who did move, would have done so anyway and the $7000 had little impact on their plans, it was just a nice bonus.

We appear to be happy to stay put in our current homes however, regional centres can grow with good transport links and employment as the Youi example shows. It’s also interesting that Qantas received some 60 applications to locate its new pilot training school, 9 locations were short-listed 1 each in the NT, Vic, Tas and WA with 2 in Qld and 3 in NSW. This level of competition between regional centres underlines the reality that people may only move when all the external factors are aligned, and that social engineering with incentives are not enough, we just need to work to make our cities work better than they already are.