Attracting and retaining populations is a key concern for most towns and cities across regional Australia.
Sustaining or building resident populations helps towns and cities thrive and plan for their future.
Yet this planning is difficult because Australia's population is highly mobile and Australians move from place to place at a higher rate than 80 per cent of other countries.
For example, in 2015, around 15 per cent of Australians changed their address, which was almost double the comparable world average of 7.9 per cent.
Globally, around 21 per cent of people move every five years; in Australia this rate is 39 per cent.
While job and career opportunities are key drivers for deciding whether to move to, stay in, or move from places in regional Australia, employment is not the only factor that drives these location decisions.
Increasingly, people think about what a place is like to live in and the quality of life that a regional town or city can offer them. This means that people regularly and critically assess a place's "liveability".
Improving and maintaining liveability is a key concern for towns and cities in regional Australia.
Communities seeking to sustain or to attract populations have an interest in increasing the liveability and hence attractiveness of their towns.
This is no mean feat. As access to remote working improves and physical infrastructure better connects towns with regional centres and metropolitan areas, people can be afford to be choosier about where they settle.
This is especially so as demand for skilled and professional workers increases across much of regional Australia.
Regional areas can find themselves in competition with one another as they to improve their liveability and attractiveness to prospective residents.
However, improving the liveability of a town or city is not necessarily straightforward.
This is because liveability means slightly different things to different people.
The way that we assess liveability is highly personal and people make different assessments based on their needs, their aspirations and their stages of life.
What makes a place liveable for one person might not exactly match what makes it liveable for another.
For example, while access to good early childhood or primary education may make a place liveable for a young family, schooling won't necessarily feature in the liveability assessments of retirees.
This means that regional communities looking to attract and retain residents need to look a little closer at who is moving into their towns and what is important to them.
Defining liveability is an ongoing concern of scholars and researchers: it is a concept that is continually refined and redefined.
While this endeavour is important, it doesn't necessarily help regions in their current attempts to attract and sustain populations.
That's why we at the Regional Australia Institute are looking at liveability and what matters to different kinds of people who are moving to, from or staying in towns in regional Australia.
Any emphasis on liveability should not come at the expense of investment in hard infrastructure such as roads or airports.
Neither should it come at the expense of efforts to improve digital connectivity.
This kind of spending is essential not only to regional economies but also in facilitating liveability itself.
Hard and digital infrastructure enables us to access a variety of health and educational services; it broadens our leisure opportunities and helps us to connect to community and friends on social media.
As part of the RAI's Shared Inquiry 2019, we started out by defining the term liveability based on what people in regions have themselves said matters to them.
We've looked at national and state-based survey work and found that while liveability assessments change from person to person, there are five key indicators of liveability that are common to most people.
These five indicators are:
- Health services: Health care services and the quality of those services is a key component in all liveability assessments, although it is slightly more important for older age groups. This doesn't necessarily mean that people expect that each town will offer exhaustive health services, but it does mean that a good range of them need easy access, even if they are located in a nearby town or city.
- Education:Education options are especially important for families with young children, and for those continuing education through university or TAFE. Studies show that families will seriously consider moving so that their children can have access to better schooling, particularly secondary schooling. The desire for access to accredited early childhood education is also important.
- Cost of living: The cost of living in a town is a common feature in liveability assessments. Even where residents have well paid employment, there is an important balance that needs to be struck between income and the cost of everyday goods and services.
- Amenity and lifestyle: People assess what a place looks like and whether it is an attractive place to live. This means that they consider the green space, whether they can access parkland, and even the size of land that their house will be on. They will also consider the kinds of things they can do in a town when they live there, including access to hobbies, shops, and even community or interest groups that they can join.
- Connection to community:The prospect of being part of a community is a common component of liveability assessments. People want to be socially included and connected to other people in the town, and a friendly, welcoming community is a key priority.
Of course, while these indicators are important to most people, each one of them matters to varying degrees.
The next focus of our work is to understand which indicators matter most to different groups of people.
We want to know whether young families, single people, retirees, or others value the same kinds of things in the same way, and whether there are indicators that are particularly important to each group.
Over the coming few months, we'll be looking more closely at the things that attract different people to regional towns as well as the things that keep them in these communities.
At the RAI, we hope our research in this space for 2019 will help regional communities assess their towns and also make strategic plans for the future to not only keep people, but attract newcomers.