Car cities

Since the end of the Second World War, much of the growth in the levels of personal affluence of the average Australian has been channelled into the possession of the family car. This direction was encouraged by both government and industry, with assurances that car ownership was not only an expression of personal freedom and character but also an investment. The cumulative consequences of this campaign are that Australia has the second highest level of car ownership in the world. On average, there is one car for every 2.2 Australians. A high level of car ownership has lead to cities being 'designed for the car'. Personal transport rather than public transport is favoured, and the enormous cost of providing the road infrastructure for sprawling cities has generated huge public debt, with the curtailment in provision of even the most basic of cultural facilities.

Such Car Cities are global phenomena. Cities designed primarily for cars and not people sound crazy, yet every Australian city can be classed a Car City. Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane are rated among the most car-dependent cities in the world, with Sydney and Melbourne close behind. Cars now shape the character of all our cities. Australia has three to four times more road per capita than Europe and seven to nine times more than Asia. We have the third highest rate of fuel consumption in the world per capita, yet we wonder why our inner cities are so unpleasant and polluted.

This table compares 12 cities by car ownership and by factors that influence the pattern and texture of the city that we could detect using satellite images. Houston is regarded as the ultimate car city, and Hong Kong the least. These figures are a decade old and the contrasts in these cities are most probably more marked now.


People density
(per km2)

 Car density
(per 1000)

Urban roads
(total km)

 Houston 890 602 30674
 Brisbane 1020 458 7084
 Perth 1080 475 11923
 Adelaide 1290 475 8506
 Melbourne 1640 446 21381
 Sydney 1760 412 19812
 Toronto 3960 463 5815
 Stockholm 5130 347 1480
 London 5630 288 12850
 Munich 5700 360 2167
 Singapore 8320 65 2356
 Hong Kong   42 1141