A city's liveability should be measured by surveying its residents, not by counting features such as cafes, a Wollongong academic says.
Professor Pascal Perez hopes to reach a worldwide audience with his argument for including the voice of Everyman in town planning, to be delivered in a 12-minute address at the University of Wollongong's coming TEDx event on October 1.
The event is an offshoot of the international ideas-sharing phenomenon TED, to be run by the university but in accordance with the strict formatting rules of the international conferencing franchise.
All 100 tickets to the event - the second ever hosted by the university - sold out within hours of the ticket sale announcement yesterday, with live on-site streaming now the closest thing possible to being there.
All six speakers at the Wollongong event will address the question of planning and designing more liveable cities. Resulting talks are made available free to TED.com's international audience.
Prof Perez, who is responsible for infrastructure modelling and simulation at UOW's SMART Infrastructure Facility, said liveability had become a popular trend, but one plagued by misconceptions.
He pointed to The Economist Intelligence Unit liveability rankings - which this year included Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth in its worldwide top 10 - as an often-quoted index designed for one purpose and used for another.
The Economist looked at a city's stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure - but not subjective opinion - in formulating its index.
"[The index] was created to assess hardship for expatriate communities - so if you were an American engineer sent to Johannesburg or Jakarta, this was a way of trying to objectively assess how hard it was for you as a worker," he said.
"Unfortunately, many people are now using these values - especially planners and lord mayors - to publicise how good their city is in terms of liveability. Liveability for whom, and when and where?
"Depending on who I am, and how old, and how much money I make, these objective criteria may not be relevant to me.
"They're missing the point completely because the indices have not been created for that." Prof Perez favours a "perceived liveability" index for town planning purposes, whereby residents would be surveyed on things like how long they have lived in the areas and asked to describe their house and living conditions "so you've got a much richer understanding of what makes a city tick".
"Planners are really after this information. They want to know who the building is for - who they are improving the city for."
Confirmed speakers at TEDx Wollongong include Copenhagen architect and urban designer Rasmus Frisk; Lloyd Niccol, project manager of UOW's victorious Solar Decathlon China team, and Gordon Waitt, Professor of Human Geography with UOW's Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research.