Liveable cities

Why water is key to liveability

We all want to live in cool, green and clean spaces, and this wouldn't be possible without water. Water is at the heart of the places where we love to live and play. We couldn't imagine a world without it. How we value water connects us with our environment and each other.

Perception of liveability

Liveability is all those things that make a city enjoyable to live in. These include:

  • the built and natural environments
  • economic success
  • social stability and equity
  • education and employment opportunity
  • a variety of cultural, entertainment and recreation options.

Liveability means something different to everybody. People's perceptions of liveability vary according to their cultural, social and economic backgrounds. What does liveability mean to you?

Water plays a vital role in creating a liveable city.

Liveable environments

Living in a clean, safe environment

Clean waterways can make us feel better about where we live. We like the water near us to:

  • be safe
  • have no litter
  • look and smell nice
  • have plants growing nearby
  • be a home for animals
  • be inviting to swim in.

Managing water and protecting the environment is very important to us. We play a huge role in contributing to healthy waterways.

Learn more about our role in Enhancing the liveability of our cities (3.8MB) .

Changing values

As Sydney has grown over time, our value of water in the environment has changed.

Creeks and rivers that were once natural sources of clean water may have been turned into:

  • canals for transport of goods and people
  • underground sewers redirected around houses and industry
  • stormwater ways to help reduce the impact of flooding.

Today, with improving technologies to manage water, we value creeks and rivers differently. We want them to:

  • be a place for recreation 
  • look like natural environments
  • provide habitat for animals.

Alexandra Canal is a great example of how our values and uses of waterways have changed over time. Watch this video about restoring the Alexandra Canal. Learn more about our current projects.

Alexandra Canal used for transport in 1944. Source: State Library NSW

Today, Alexandra Canal is a recreational space.

Liveability for culture

Water connecting us to a place

Did you know that about 85% of Australians live within 50 kilometres of our coastline? People can feel a connection to where they live through water.

Being near water, on the water or in the water can make many people feel relaxed, calm and connected to the natural environment. How do you feel when you're near water?

In Indigenous cultures, the way the water shaped the environment and brings life is important. For thousands of years Aboriginal people have lived with respect for nature and the environment, including water, because all of nature is sacred. Read the Dreamtime story of the Illawarra and the five islands.

Water for celebration

What role does water play when you celebrate? Often families and communities gather around water to celebrate milestones in life and special dates of the year.

The major city of every state and territory of Australia celebrates New Year's Eve by a waterway.

Water can be an important part of many cultural traditions such as:

  • Songkran – This festival in Thailand, originally a Hindu celebration, is an enormous water-fight party during the hottest time of the year.
  • Vardavar – Celebrated in Armenia, this water festival came from both Christian and pagan backgrounds. People go onto the streets and spray one another with water.
  • Sapporo Snow Festival – This Japanese festival is the largest snow and ice festival in the world. It features carvings made from gigantic blocks of ice.
  • Loy Krathong – People gather around lakes, rivers and canals to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing beautiful lotus-shaped rafts decorated with candles, incense and flowers onto the water.
  • New Year's Eve – In Australia, we love to welcome in the new year by celebrating on or near our major waterways.


Liveability for quality of life

How liveable a place is can indicate the quality of life of the people who live there.

Liveable cities have access to clean, safe drinking water and the removal of wastewater (sanitation). That means our health and wellbeing are being cared for in the places we live.

Access to services and facilities like water, power, communications, transport, healthcare and education provides choices in our lives. For example:

  • how healthy you are
  • what type of recreation you can participate in
  • how far you can go in your education
  • what your employment opportunities are.

Water for hygiene

Clean water keeps us healthy and helps us manage our personal hygiene.

Using water and soap to clean your hands is essential to help stop the spread of infectious diseases. See this guide from NSW Health to see how.

Water also helps us with sanitation, such as flushing toilets. Did you know that the invention of toilets helped to save lives? See How the toilet changed history.

When you flush your toilet your used water is removed, cleaned and returned to the environment or reused safely. This is called wastewater treatment.

Water for wellbeing

Have you thought about how access to water contributes to the wellbeing of a community? Some people don't have easy access to water, especially if they don't have a home. How will their dignity, health and hygiene be affected?

There are many places in the world where people don't have good access to clean water and proper sanitation. In fact, about half the world's population doesn't have access to a toilet. Imagine if you didn't.

Liveability for everyone

The cost of water

It costs money to make sure there's high quality, safe water every time you turn on the tap.

There's a lot to think about when setting prices for water and there are different prices for your home and prices for your business. One litre of Sydney tap water costs less than one cent.

You might like to compare our prices with some other countries, like Singaporeand Thames Water in the United Kingdom. Remember to convert to Australian dollars!

Bottled water can be 1,800 times more expensive than tap water. Although it's more expensive, it's not necessarily any better for us or the environment. See Tap water versus bottled water.

There's help for customers who have trouble paying their bills. Get help with your bill.

Future costs of water

When we plan for access to water in the future, we need to think about the number of people who will be living in Sydney, where they live and the amount of water available.

Sydney relies on rainfall being collected in dams for its water supply, but rainfall can be unreliable.

To manage future water scarcity, we need to conserve water and look to other water sources.

As our urban environment grows, there are things we can do to manage stormwater sensitively and do more water recycling to keep water available and affordable for all.

Self-guided excursions

We'll help teachers set up their own local waterway excursion.

Teacher resources

Urban Water Cycle PowerPoint – Use this resource in the classroom to show layers of water infrastructure in Sydney.

Orange Sky Lesson Plan – Explore why water is important for health, hygiene and wellbeing.

Cooling Western Sydney – Learn about projects to help make Western Sydney cooler.

Tap water versus bottled water – Fact sheet.

Glossary – Find definitions to keywords and industry terms.