Five lessons from Tokyo, a city of 38m people, for Australia, a nation of 24m


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Tokyo, seen here from the Skytree tower, is home to more people than any other city on Earth but has managed to remain highly liveable.
Brendan Barrett, Author provided

Brendan F.D. Barrett, RMIT University and Marco Amati, RMIT University

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


The release of 2016 Census data provides a good opportunity to reflect on the future growth of Australian cities. And what better example of the future to use than Tokyo?

Frequently the subject of futuristic visions, the city went through one of the world’s most rapid post-war population growth periods. The Greater Tokyo area has a population of 38 million – almost 60% more than the population of Australia. Yet Tokyo remains one of the world’s most liveable metropolises.

How can Australian cities replicate this conjuring feat while retaining their own high levels of liveability? We identify five lessons from Tokyo’s experience.

Lesson 1: manage urban growing pains

Tokyo was devastated at the end of the second world war. The city experienced rapid rebuilding and growth. The population of the central Tokyo prefecture, which is home to 13.5 million people, increased from 3.5 million in 1945 to 11.6 million in 1975.

This 30-year growth spurt happened at a rate almost twice that predicted for Greater Melbourne, for example, from 4.4 million today to 8 million by 2050.

Tokyo’s rapid growth had a number of negative impacts. These included very significant environmental pollution. The basic approach during this period was to grow first and clean up later.

The consequence for Tokyo was disorganised patterns of urban development – sprawl. The answer involved tighter planning controls and land re-adjustment programs to improve environmental conditions and ensure infrastructure was effective.

The lesson here for Australian cities is that, in the face of rapid population growth, better forward planning is the only way to avoid or minimise negative side effects.

Lesson 2: Introduce metropolitan governance

A critical factor in Tokyo’s liveability is the role of metropolitan governance in ensuring good planning and co-ordination.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was established in 1943. In contrast, for Australian cities a metropolitan level of co-ordination is the exception rather than the rule. With Greater Melbourne, for example, the Victorian Planning Authority plays an important role but lacks oversight from local political representatives. The governor and the assembly members in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, on the other hand, are accountable to the electorate.

Tokyo’s governor, pictured campaigning for the July 2 assembly elections, is one of the most powerful politicians in Japan.
Brendan Barrett, Author provided

The Tokyo government also has considerable political autonomy since it generates 70% of its revenue from local taxation. In 2014, it had a budget of ¥13 trillion (A$151 billion) – on a par with Sweden’s. This makes the governor of Tokyo one of the most powerful politicians in Japan, second only to the prime minister.

The Tokyo government’s approach has always involved strong interventionist policy and considerable emphasis on infrastructure development, with a reliance on public-private partnerships to get results.

Lesson 3: Commit early to world-class public transport

Public-private partnerships to develop metropolitan railways has been a standard approach in Japanese cities for most of the 20th century and continues to underpin Tokyo’s success as a global city. For example, the Mitsubishi Corporation played an instrumental role in developing the Marunouchi district around Tokyo Station. The latter was built in 1914 and connected intercity stations in a loop decades before other cities.

These public-private interventions have cemented Tokyo’s status as a transit-oriented metropolis. The city has by far the highest public transport usage in the world.

Compared to other major cities like Seoul, London, New York and Beijing, Tokyoites rely far more heavily on public transport, cycling or walking to get around. In Tokyo prefecture, rail accounts for 48% of trips, bus 3%, cycling 14% and walking 23%. Private car use accounts for only 12% of trips.

A continuous investment in rail networks above and below ground would ensure Australian cities can better accommodate predicted population growth. A fascinating map designed by Adam Mattinson shows what a subway system for Melbourne could look like based on the Tokyo model. To achieve this may require that the tram system moves underground – almost certainly a pipe dream.

In Tokyo prefecture, 48% of trips are by rail as everyone lives within ten minutes’ walk of the subway station.
Brendan Barrett, Author provided

Lesson 4: Decarbonise the economy as it grows

Tokyo was lucky to be able to grow rapidly in an era when climate change was not the recognised problem that it is today.

The challenge for Australian cities will be to grow their economies while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to match the per capita levels for Tokyo, and then to cut them much further. The World Bank calculated that in 2006, per-capita emissions for Sydney were 20.3 tonnes of CO2, compared to 4.89 tonnes for Tokyo.

Tokyo is also seeking to cut its emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2000. In Australia, Plan Melbourne, for example, aims to achieve a target of net zero emissions by 2050 even while the population continues to grow.

While investments in low-carbon public transport will be central to meeting this target, it is also essential to pursue ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy targets.

Tokyo is aiming for a 38% drop in energy consumption and a rise in renewable energy from 8.7% in 2014 to 30% of electricity generation in 2030. The good news is that Plan Melbourne sets a target for renewables of 40% of electricity generation by 2025.

In a decarbonising city, mothers ride electric cycles with babies and shopping on board.
Brendan Barrett, Author provided

Lesson 5: Prepare to age with dignity

Along with declining emissions intensity, Tokyo’s population is likely to start shrinking. The population of central Tokyo is expected to rise from 13.5 million today and peak in 2020 before declining to 7.1 million by 2100. The population of Greater Tokyo is expected to peak around 38.5 million about the same time.

The population of Australian cities will plateau at some point, as in Tokyo. The next lesson would be how to deal with an ageing demographic and potential population decline.

As recently argued based on the census, a result of declining home ownership is the likelihood of couples deferring the decision to have children. A knock-on effect could therefore be a more rapidly ageing Australian population.

The Tokyo of today is certainly no utopia, due to its vulnerability to earthquakes and other natural disasters, high house prices, homelessness, rising inequality, a lack of multiculturalism and a proportion of housing as rental accommodation that dwarfs Australia’s (47.9% compared to 30.9%).

Yet the largest settlement on the planet offers useful lessons – historical, present and future – that can guide the urban policies of other countries.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the Is Australia Full? series here.

Brendan F.D. Barrett, Senior Lecturer, Program Manager, Masters on International Urban and Environmental Management, RMIT University and Marco Amati, Associate Professor of International Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Bloom and boom: how babies and migrants have contributed to Australia’s population growth


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Even without immigration, new data reveals Australia’s population would continue to grow.
blvdone/Shutterstock

Tom Wilson, Charles Darwin University

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This is the second article in our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


Population change has long been a topic of public debate in Australia, periodically escalating into controversy.

It is inextricably linked to debates about immigration levels, labour force needs, capital city congestion and housing costs, refugee intakes, economic growth in country areas and northern Australia, the “big versus smaller” Australia debate, and environmental pressures.

Views about the rate of population growth in Australia are numerous and mixed. At one end of the spectrum are those who are vehemently opposed to further population increases; at the other end are supporters of substantially higher population growth and a “very big” Australia.

Logically, population debates usually quote Australia’s demographic statistics. But there is value in comparing our population growth in the international context.

Average growth rates compared globally

Although growth rates have fluctuated considerably from year to year, statistics just released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that Australia’s population grew by 3.75 million between 2006 and 2016. This indicates an average annual growth rate of 1.7%.

As the chart below shows, this was quite high compared to other countries and global regions. Over the decade, other English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the US all experienced growth rates lower than Australia’s. The world’s more developed countries in aggregate grew by an annual average of 0.3%.

The world’s population as a whole increased by an average of 1.2% per year.


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According to the UN Population Division, Australia ranked 90th out of 233 countries in terms of population growth rate over the decade. The countries or territories with higher growth rates were mostly less developed countries, particularly in Africa, and the oil-rich Gulf states. The only developed countries with faster rates of growth were Singapore, Luxembourg and Israel.

Why Australia’s population growth rate is higher

There are two main reasons for Australia’s high growth.

Net overseas migration (immigration minus emigration) is one major factor. It has been generating a little over half (56%) of population growth in recent years.

Demand for immigration – to settle permanently, work in Australia, or study here for a few years – is high, and there are many opportunities for people to move to Australia. In the 2015-16 financial year about 190,000 visas were granted to migrants and 19,000 for humanitarian and refugee entry. Temporary migrants included 311,000 student visas, 215,000 working holidaymaker visas and 86,000 temporary work (skilled) 457 visas.

Over the last five years, ABS figures show that immigration has averaged about 480,000 per year and emigration about 280,000. This puts annual net overseas migration at around 200,000.

This is high in international terms. UN Population Division data for the 2010-15 period reveals Australia had the 17th-highest rate of net overseas migration of any country.

But it is not just overseas migration driving Australia’s population growth. High natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) also makes a substantial contribution. Natural increase has been responsible for a little under half (44%) of population growth in recent years (about 157,000 per year).

Australia has a relatively healthy fertility rate, which lately has averaged almost 1.9 babies per woman. We also enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

This combination of an extended history of net overseas migration gains, a long baby boom and a healthy fertility rate has resulted in Australia being less advanced in the population ageing transition than many other developed countries.

In particular, relatively large numbers of people are in the peak childbearing ages. This means that even if migration fell immediately to zero the population would still increase. Demographers call this age structure effect “population momentum”.

Whether Australia’s population is growing too fast

While Australia’s population growth rate is high in a global context, this does not necessarily mean its population is growing too fast. It all depends on your point of view.

It is important to stress that the overall population growth rate is just one aspect of Australia’s demography. A more comprehensive debate about the nation’s demographic trajectory should consider a broad range of issues, such as:

  • population age structure (the numbers of people in different age groups);

  • the health and wellbeing of a rapidly growing population at the highest ages;

  • population distribution across the country;

  • economic growth and development;

  • the contributions of temporary workers and overseas students;

  • appropriate infrastructure for the needs of the population; and

  • environmental management and per-capita carbon emissions.

The ConversationProgress on issues such as healthy ageing, economic development,and environmental management depend on appropriate strategies to deal with these challenges. Total population numbers will often be relevant to the discussion, but they are only part of the equation.

Tom Wilson, Principal Research Fellow, Charles Darwin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Census shows increase in children with disability, but even more are still uncounted


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Some people with disabilities may not require government supports, meaning they wouldn’t have been counted as having a disability in the Census.
from http://www.shutterstock.com.au

Karen R Fisher, UNSW and Sally Robinson, Southern Cross University

The 2016 Census has revealed an increase in the number of children with disability, up nearly 40,000 since 2011. One explanation is that the census now counts disability differently, which is more in line with the way many children and families view disability.

But other children continue to miss out on support because they do not name their needs as “disability”. And services don’t yet have adequate funding for even the revealed number of children, so other children who require assistance are left out.

A census that counts people who identify as having a disability, as well as those who need support, could help resolve these problems.

Defining disability

Children and young people who need support related to disability has risen from 2% to 2.6% of children – or 38,309 more children than in 2011. The most striking change is boys with disability aged 5-14 years, who have increased to 4.4% of all boys their age. These rates are even higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children – 7.4% of boys aged 5-14 years and 4.4% of all children and young people aged 0-19 years.

The census counts disability as “has need for assistance”, which it defines as “profound or severe core activity limitation”. The definition was introduced in the 2006 Census to be consistent with international measures and other national surveys, which focus on counting support needs. Before 2006, disability was not counted at all. The continued increase each census since 2006 is probably due to more Australians identifying with the definition or seeing the benefit of identifying as disabled, now that policies to support disability are changing.

Knowing who the definition covers is important. The census count of “need for assistance” is good to inform government planning about high levels of support some people need to participate equally in our communities. Estimating the number of people likely to need a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) package is a current priority. This census counted 562,629 people aged under 65 years – over 100,000 more than the NDIS planning estimates.

Equally important for children is planning access and support in school, playgrounds and other places where children participate in their families and communities. The higher 2016 Census count shows these plans need to expand.

Who isn’t counted?

The census question only counts people with high needs, not all people with disability. Unfortunately, the question is not complemented with an identity question about whether you have a disability. This means people with disability who do not need assistance – for example, some people who are blind – are not counted. The World Health Organisation estimates the larger total would be closer to 15% of all Australians, rather than the 5.1% measured in this census.

This gap means another 10% of Australians are not officially counted, yet they too face barriers to participation, including access and attitudes.

Disability advocates consistently express concern that by not asking Australians directly about their disability or impairment, the census fails to count the population of people with disability accurately – it only captures people who need assistance.

Fixing this gap is important for Australia’s obligations to all Australians under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The NDIS relies on better access to social and economic life for all people with disability, including people not eligible for NDIS packages.

Not gathering information about this 10% of our population is a missed opportunity. It means we simply don’t know how many people with disability may benefit from, and contribute to, more accessible communities and new social and economic opportunities. For children, this is critical to having an inclusive community as a foundation.

Views about disability

Counting disability is complicated because it’s rarely the way children see themselves. Rather, they speak about what supports them to feel a sense of belonging in their local school and community and what helps them build real friendships and relationships. They also talk about the barriers that make belonging difficult, like loneliness, ill-treatment and lack of support.

Children don’t define themselves by their disability, but rather what makes them feel supported and included.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Children and young people with disability are often positioned as passive recipients needing assistance through family, friends and services. Research with children and young people themselves, however, shows they want to be recognised for their active contribution to their families and wider networks. Their positive identity is more important to them than their support needs.

One of the interesting changes since the introduction of the NDIS is that families and service providers are now also using the “need for assistance” definition of disability, which is consistent with the inclusive vision from the UN Convention. Their advocacy with this definition means support for young children in Australia has expanded already even though the NDIS is still growing.

Children receiving disability support are now more likely to use it while they are with other children in their community, rather than in separate services. Families’ capacity to demand these inclusive services recognises the rights of their children to get the support they need to enjoy their childhood and have the same options as their peers in the future. These trends are also consistent with the insurance approach of the NDIS: that assistance now is an investment for later.

Funding and support

The increase in the numbers of children and young people with disability may reflect families’ optimism about having their children’s needs met in the new NDIS world. It certainly promises to replace long waiting lists and capped places of previous systems. The census numbers reinforce the higher number of children in the NDIS than expected, which is upsetting NDIS estimates. The NDIS has detailed data about people using the scheme. This will not resolve the question about the total number of people with disabilities though. People receiving NDIS packages are those likely to already be those identified in census data as needing support.

Data collection in schools has also recently improved with the introduction of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data for school students with disability. Most children and young people participate in the school system, so these data will inform understanding about adjustments to support students in their education.

Bringing these large data sets together means we can understand the types of supports families need, and where there are service gaps between schools and the NDIS.

The ConversationLessons from data need to be discussed alongside the expectations and experiences of children, young people and families to ensure they’re getting the support they need. This will help children enjoy the opportunities of childhood, rather than the current disproportionate but necessary focus on dismantling barriers to belonging.

Karen R Fisher, Professor, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW and Sally Robinson, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.