Is Sydney still the 'Emerald City'?

Playwright David Williamson famously christened Sydney the 'Emerald City', though with the release of our Sustainable Cities Index last week - the world's most comprehensive indicative sustainability rating - is this name still valid? Stephen Taylor, our City Executive for Sydney, discusses.

an Aerial view of Sydney Harbour

"When you drill into the data, Sydney’s performance stands out as world-class in many ways."

Playwright David Williamson famously christened Sydney “The Emerald City”, but does this description still apply forty years later? 

Launched last week, the Arcadis Sustainable City Index (SCI) indicates it does, even if Sydney has some serious work to do if it hopes to continue shining into the twenty-first century. 

The good news is that Sydney ranks 21st out of 100 global cities and is only just beaten by Canberra coming in at 18th place, with Zurich, Singapore and Stockholm nabbing the top-3 spots.

Global city lists are thick on the ground these days, but SCI stands out as it’s the most detailed and encompassing. Commissioned by Arcadis through the Centre for Economics and Business Research, SCI provides an objective, data-based assessment across three pillars of sustainability – People, Planet and Profit. These pillars are assessed and determined via 32 indicators, examining areas like housing affordability, transport, air pollution, green space, ease of business, to name a few. Through this robust process SCI provides a comprehensive snapshot of a city’s sustainability.  

When you drill into the data, Sydney’s performance stands out as world class in many ways. Globally, Sydney ranks 25th in the People category and is Australia’s leading city for education and tertiary qualifications. Where Sydney falls behind the world’s top 10 cities - and behind Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane - is when it comes to affordability and work-life balance, issues that need public and private sector partnerships and leadership to tackle successfully. 

In Planet, which examines a range of environmental measures, Sydney not only leads all Australian cities but is 8th globally – a great performance by any standard. The city has some obvious natural assets in climate and air quality of course, but it also gets high marks for green space and greenhouse gas emissions. This is due in part to Sydney’s consistent climate, meaning lower heating and cooling demands, though is also related to population density. 

Sydney has always been the country’s economic engine and leads the country in areas like GDP, employment and tourism. Despite this, it ranks as 35 for Profit globally and will continue to face major transport challenges - a problem the NSW Government and industry are rapidly rectifying via multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects.

Sydney may have missed a top 10 spot this year, but the list has doubled in size since last year and as a whole the results suggest we’re doing a lot of things right and indicates how we can do better. 

Sydney is consistently ranked among the world's most liveable cities.

Download your copy of the City Investor Guide: Sydney here.

Stephen Taylor

Australian Cities Director +61 2 8907 9084 Ask me a question