Liveability: comfortable, vibrant, safe, walkable

Cities are built for people, and if they are well done, they are good places to live. This is the aim of urban design. Walter Burley Griffin worked from a clean sheet. Urban planning is usually changing what we already have, and this means lots of stakeholders and compromises.

First life, then spaces, then buildings: the other way around never works.

Jan Gehl

Creating Places for People: an urban design protocol for Australian cities was a presentation from long ago. This Australian urban planning initiative started way back in 2011. The presentation is discussed here. Quality urban design is described as productive, sustainable, and liveable. Words are vague things, so what do we mean by “liveable”?

Liveability – definition

The big shift in urban planning has been the traditional heavy focus on movement in planning cities to balancing movement with place. We need places to live but to be able to move around as well. We cannot prioritise both at the same time, so different parts of the city emphasise one or the other.

Liveability puts the emphasis on place. We all want the place where we live to be nice but we cannot build that until we have an idea what it really means. This framework defines liveability in the following way.

“Liveability creates a context for people to engage with each other.” Liveable means comfortable, vibrant, safe and walkable (rideable). The following is quoted from page 10.


  • It feels comfortable to walk through, sit, stand, play, talk, read, or just relax and contemplate.
  • It is not too exposed to unpleasant noise, wind, heat, rain, traffic or pollution.
  • You can freely use the place, or at least part of it, without having to pay.
  • You can be yourself and feel included as part of the community
  • It caters for people with various physical capabilities, the old and the young.


  • You can see that there are other people around.
  • People are enjoying themselves and each other’s company.
  • There are places to meet and interact, play, explore, recreate and unwind.
  • It is a place you want to visit, experience, or live in.


  • It feels safe and secure, even at night or on your own.
  • There aren’t signs of decay such as graffiti, rubbish, weeds or derelict buildings and places.
  • Roads and paths are safe for adults and children to walk or ride their bikes.

Walkable (rideable)

  • It prioritises people walking or riding before vehicles.
  • It is easy to get around on foot, bike, wheelchair, pushing a pram or wheeling luggage.
  • Buildings and streets feel like they’re the right size and type for that place.
  • It encourages physical activity and social interaction, and promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Psychology and perception

The descriptions help but there are still many subjective values here. The word “feel” comes up more than once. What makes a path feel safe? This is as much about psychology and perception as about anything else. What does it mean, “easy to get around?”. Answers to these questions are found elsewhere.

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