Geography International City Investigation Profile - Sydney
Tippy Pei

Quote on Well-being in Australia:

Before I left China, I was educated that China was the richest, happiest country in the world. So when I arrived Australia, I thought, 'Oh my God, everything is different from what I was told.' Since then, I started to think differently.

-Jack Ma

Well-being, or welfare, generally refers to the condition of an individual or group, including their social, economic, psychological, spiritual and medical state. Having a high well-being is an indirect indication of how positive the experiences are the individual or group having.

The idea of investigating the well-being of people in different city was inspired by a group project done by a team of my schoolmates on the level of happiness in our campus. I was highly engaged by this project and lots of further inquires started popping up all at once. After being introduced to this project on creating a city profile, I instantly thought of focusing on their state of well-being since I think through my investigation, I would be able to gain a better understanding on this topic as a whole.

The idea of well-being, to a lot of people, is fairly vague term. It might mean different to different people. However, I still believe that there is some thing common amongst those definition. And through my investigation, I think I would be able to consolidate the idea of well-being in a city or society. And by drawing upon relationships and conclusion, I believe that my findings could facilitate me to try and make the city I am living in a happier place to live in.

Background and Overview

Australia is a unique and diverse country, with population over 23 million. It is also the smallest continent in the world and the 6th largest country in the world.

Being Australia's most iconic city, Sydney contains around 20% of the population of the nation at about 4.6 million people.

Hosting the largest CBD in Australia, trading, manufacturing, and finance and distribution are the major economic fields of Sydney.

As of September 2003, the unemployment rate in Sydney was 5.3%. It also has the highest median house price of any Australian capital city at $550890.According to The Economist Intelligence Unit's Worldwide Cost of Living Index 2013, Sydney ranked the 3rd most expensive city in the world.

Sydney is an extremely diverse city, comprised of a huge number of ethnic and cultural groups. The largest of which include British (4.3 %), Chinese (3.5 %), New Zealanders (2.0 %), Vietnamese (1.5 %), Lebanese (1.3 %), Phillipinos (1.3 %) and Italians (1.1 %)

Sydney annually ranks among worldwide "Top Ten Most Liveable Cities" lists, clocking in at number 7 on the EIU's Global Livability Report for 2012

Sydney enjoys a temperate climate with a mild winter, and has more than 340 sunny days a year. From June to August the minimum temperatures is around around 9°C. The summer season is from December through to February.

My question of inquiry is to investigate the factors affecting the well-being of people in Sydney. In order to break this topic down for easier research and data analysis, I divided it into 3 sub-questions:

  1. what is wellbeing and how to measure it?
  2. what kind of impact does it have on an individual and society?
  3. how is wellbeing affected by other factors in Sydney?

Measuring well-being

In order to answer this question, I looked for specific organisations that could provide me specified indications or guidelines to assess a city's level of well-being.

The Bhutan Gross National Happiness

The Royal Government of Bhutan in 2005 made the decision to develop GNH indicators that is a measurable assessing guideline on the city's happiness.

This concept involves 9 domains that they believe largely contributes to the well-being of a nation. The 9 domains are listed below:

1. Psychological Wellbeing

2. Standard of Living

3. Good Governance



6.Community Vitality

7.Cultural Diversity and Resilience

8. Time Use

9. Ecological Diversity and Resilience

The following is a video explaining it concept

The PERMA Model

The PERMA Model was developed by respected positive psychologist, Martin Seligman.

The five characters in the word "PERMA" stands for the five essential elements that are important to experience lasting

"PERMA" stands for the five essential elements that should be in place for us to experience lasting well-being. These are:

1. Positive Emotion

2. Engagement

3. Positive Relationships

4. Meaning

5. Accomplishment

Even though these two measurements are not completely the same, there are some similarities and common aspects that both of the systems shares. For example, they both think that maintaining a high engagement level from the citizens is very important. In addition, their common thoughts on achieving a better live standard could also be seen.

However, in my previous investigation on Hong Kong, I realised that both of these two city share a common characteristics of having problem with housing price or cost of living. and considering their unemployment rate (Sydney 5.8%, HK 3.3%), but interestingly, Sydney ranked the 2nd in the Happiest City ranking. As a result  I am very curious of what are the factors that truly differentiate a city's wellbeing level from others.

Factors on Environment

Environment is also a crucial factor when it comes to measuring wellbeing of a city. As suggested in the Gross National Happiness Index, ecological diversity is a crucial component that contributes to constructing a city with high wellbeing level. In Australia, PM10 levels in urban areas are 13.1 micrograms per cubic meter, lower than the OECD average of 20.1 micrograms per cubic meter. And even in Sydney, one of the most prosperous city in Australia with massive transportation load everyday, the maximum PM10 level is 16.8 amongst its districts. Comparing to Hong Kong with its over 36 PM10 Index. Some people might think that the environment only contributes to a very little portion of a city's overall wellbeing level,  however studies has shown that it has a huge impact on creating a positive environment for the citizens. With a more ecologically friendly living environment, people are going to experience a higher degree of peace and satisfaction. This hence creates a pleasing surrounding  for the people and increases the city's wellbeing level.

The video above is an introduction to the pale pavement trial project conducted by the city of Sydney government. This project aims to reduce the carbon emission of the city by adapting lighter coloured pavement. This seems like an insignificant step in comparison to other major government policies, but this actually reflects the Sydney government's effort in seeking innovation to improve their environment.

Factors from engagement level

According to the better live index from the OECD, Australia has a strong sense of community and high levels of civic participation. Voter turnout, which is a measure of the public's participation in the political process, was an astonishing 93% in the recent elections comparing to the average of 68%. A high turnout is generally regarded as evidence of the legitimacy of the election system. The voter turnout for the top 20% (wealth) of the population is an estimated 94% and for the bottom 20% (wealth) it is an estimated 92% ("Australia."). Voter turnout generally increases with individual income. With the OECD average gap of 13 percentage points, we could observe that there is little margin between the wealthiest people and the poorest people's right to vote in Australia, which suggest that there is broad social inclusion in their democratic institutions.

Comparing to the current election system of Hong Kong, where less than 2000 of the 7 million people have the opportunity to vote for their Chief Executive, Australia citizens are living in a more democratic society that almost every single person has the right to express their political opinions and preference. This hence achieve the "engagement" criteria in the PERMA Model and the "political participation" strand of "good governance" in the Gross National Happiness, which are clear indications of a city with high wellbeing level.

Looking into the future

Australia has already established its position in the World as one of the happiest city and an ideal place for people to live in. However, it could even bring its standard to another level by reducing its housing price and cost of living.

Throughout this investigation, I was able to understand the importance of different factors on a city's wellbeing level. For example, Sydney, a place with a democratic election system displays a significantly higher wellbeing level in comparison to Hong Kong. Even though both of these two cities shares similarities such as being one of the world's most advance city, it is these kind of crucial factors that truly differentiate their degree of happiness.


"Australia." OECD Better Life Index. OECD. Web. 21 May 2015. .

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