Two of Australia's leading strategic urban plans could be used or expanded to do much more to promote better places to live for all residents...

In-depth assessments of the Thirty Year Plan for Greater Adelaide 2017 (TYPGA) found it is not doing enough to address social and health issues due to a bias towards economic progress, while New South Wales Long Term Transport Master Plan 2012 (NSWLTMP) has a narrow focus on improving transport rather than raising social determinants of health.

"The new urban form and livability ambitions of the Adelaide plan have the potential to support a range of important socio-economic factors," says Professor Fran Baum, director of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University.

"However, the emphasis on increasing livability as a means of enhancing global image can see public infrastructure investments diverted away from outer suburbs towards more affluent suburbs with the best global connections—of where demand for property is high within a 10km radius of the CBD.

"This trend will increase health inequities in the long term," she says.

Michael McGreevy et al. Can health and health equity be advanced by urban planning strategies designed to advance global competitiveness? Lessons from two Australian case studies, Social Science & Medicine (2019). 

DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112594


  • Global competition has raised city image as an important policy consideration.
  • Liveability has become a normative planning goal due to its links with global image.
  • Liveability helps incorporate health objectives into urban planning policy.
  • Overriding emphasis on productivity can undermine health benefits of liveability.
  • Liveability as a goal has the potential to exacerbate health inequity.

Background: The purpose of this article is to investigate whether the neo-liberal goal of global economic competitiveness when included alongside image-inspired social goals such as liveability and environmental goals such as sustainability can lead to policies that impact positively on health and health equity. The paper presents an analysis of the content and intent of strategic planning and transport plans from two Australian state governments.

Methods: The analysis was undertaken using a thematic document analysis of each plan and interviews with agents (n = 21) directly involved in the preparation of each document.

Findings: Key strategic documents formulated under a neo-liberal hegemony simultaneously provided and reduced opportunities to promote and advance health. The policies viewed goals like liveability and sustainability as means of enhancing their cities’ image in global competition for exogenous capital flows. Although liveability has many definitions, one definition was able to be used in one jurisdiction as an avenue to include a broad array of social determinants of health into urban planning policy. However, a productivity or a narrowly focussed image narrative can undermine the social determinants of health credentials of liveability. Overemphasising immediate city problems like road congestion as mechanisms to enhance global competitiveness can undermine necessary long-term strategies for city planning that are known to improve liveability and human health. Even where liveability is at the fore, there is a high risk of exacerbating spatial inequities through liveability investments for competitive advantage because they tend to flow to parts of cities with the greatest connections to the global economy, not those with the greatest social need.

Conclusions: A neo-liberal-inspired competitive city paradigm provides opportunities for the advancement of health in urban development. However, when driven by the goals of productivity and/or liveability as image enhancement it can potentially exacerbate health inequities.

    Keywords: Health equity, Healthy public policy, Health in all policies, City image, Liveable cities, Healthy urban planning, Sustainable cities, Strategic planning, Productivity, Global competitiveness,