Can health and health equity be advanced by urban planning strategies designed to advance global competitiveness? Lessons from two Australian case studies

Michael McGreevy, Patrick Harris, Toni Delany-Crowe, Matt Fisher, Peter Sainsbury, Fran Baum

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)



    The purpose of this article is to investigate whether the neo-liberal goal of global economic competitiveness when included alongside image-inspired social goals such as liveability and environmental goals such as sustainability can lead to policies that impact positively on health and health equity. The paper presents an analysis of the content and intent of strategic planning and transport plans from two Australian state governments.


    The analysis was undertaken using a thematic document analysis of each plan and interviews with agents (n = 21) directly involved in the preparation of each document.


    Key strategic documents formulated under a neo-liberal hegemony simultaneously provided and reduced opportunities to promote and advance health. The policies viewed goals like liveability and sustainability as means of enhancing their cities’ image in global competition for exogenous capital flows. Although liveability has many definitions, one definition was able to be used in one jurisdiction as an avenue to include a broad array of social determinants of health into urban planning policy. However, a productivity or a narrowly focussed image narrative can undermine the social determinants of health credentials of liveability. Overemphasising immediate city problems like road congestion as mechanisms to enhance global competitiveness can undermine necessary long-term strategies for city planning that are known to improve liveability and human health. Even where liveability is at the fore, there is a high risk of exacerbating spatial inequities through liveability investments for competitive advantage because they tend to flow to parts of cities with the greatest connections to the global economy, not those with the greatest social need.


    A neo-liberal-inspired competitive city paradigm provides opportunities for the advancement of health in urban development. However, when driven by the goals of productivity and/or liveability as image enhancement it can potentially exacerbate health inequities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number112594
    Number of pages8
    JournalSocial Science and Medicine
    Early online date29 Nov 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


    • City image
    • Global competitiveness
    • Health equity
    • Health in all policies
    • Healthy public policy
    • Healthy urban planning
    • Liveable cities
    • Productivity
    • Strategic planning
    • Sustainable cities


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