The 21 hippest suburbs in Australia (diagram by Urbis)

According to the Urbis Hip List, the 21 hippest places to live in Australia are mostly in Sydney and Melbourne.

Sydney has nine of them and Melbourne seven. Next are Perth and – this might come as a surprise – Canberra, with two each. Brisbane has just one suburb on the List and no other city, including Adelaide, has any.

“Hip” is a pretty slippery idea, so property consultants Urbis had a clever idea. They started their list by identifying the key attributes of two places popularly regarded as the zenith of hipness – Redfern in Sydney and Collingwood in Melbourne.

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They found these two suburbs distinguished themselves clearly on eight attributes measured at the 2011 Census. They both have a high proportion of residents who are aged 20-39 years; are not married; have tertiary qualifications; were born overseas; have no religion; live in medium-high density housing; don’t live in families; and live in households without a car.

They then ranked all suburbs in Australia against each of these eight attributes. To qualify for the Urbis Hip List though, a suburb had to rank in the top 10% on not just one or a couple of attributes but on all eight.

In total, 21 suburbs qualified as hip. As well as scoring highly on the attributes, all of them are close to the city centre, tend to form in one or two clusters, and have high proportions of renters.

Unfortunately, Urbis has elected to keep to itself each suburb’s scores across all attributes (I don’t know why). But I do know which ones ranked top on each attribute.

Canberra City has the distinction of having the highest proportion of both tertiary educated residents (78%) and not-married residents (75%) of any hip suburb in the country. These are remarkably high numbers as the national averages are 21% and 34% respectively.

Presumably Canberra City’s hipness derives from all those early-career public servants. But it’s also dense. Anyone (like me) who’s surprised Canberra has two suburbs in the top decile for dwelling density should take a look at Canberra City and adjacent Braddon in Google Maps.

I’m not surprised however that Northbridge is hip. It’s next door to the CBD and is Perth’s traditional restaurant and night life precinct. It has the highest proportion of residents aged 20-39 years of all 21 suburbs (70% compared to a national average of 28%).

It’s also multicultural. It has the lowest proportion of residents born in Australia of all hip suburbs (32% against a nation average of 70%). Moreover 85% of residents have at least one parent born overseas compared to 46% nationally.

Along with Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay, Brisbane’s only hip suburb – Fortitude Valley – has the equal highest share of apartments in this company. They comprise 83% of the housing stock in these two suburbs compared to the national average of 14%.

Sydney’s Darlington scores highest on three attributes. Compared to the others, it has the highest proportion of terraces and town houses (65%, compared to the national average of 14%); most residents with no religion (56%/22%); and the most group households (30%/4%).

Urbis thinks its Hip List is an important leading indicator:

Identifying these suburbs has a very important economic purpose. Hip suburbs are at the leading edge of cosmopolitan trends, and offer an unusually rich source of information on future consumer directions. Like fashion trends, not everything that happens in a hip suburb will become mainstream, but much of it will be taken up by the broader consumer market, in some form. The spread of street art into living rooms is a recent example which had its Australian birth via notorious graffiti locations such as Collingwood, Fitzroy, and Brunswick.

Perhaps, but if you live in Adelaide, Hobart or Brisbane, or in a suburb you think should’ve been on the Hip List, I wouldn’t be too disheartened. Urbis has taken a pretty simple approach here and the findings, while certainly interesting, are best treated as suggestive.

What Urbis has actually identified are those 19 suburbs that, given some reasonable assumptions, look most like Redfern and Collingwood did at the 2011 Census. It’s a matter of opinion if these two suburbs adequately represent all shades of hipness.

I’m happy to accept the eight attributes chosen by Urbis because the company says they “jumped out” of the data. Nevertheless, they’re open to debate. Some observers might prefer others. Urbis’s reliance on the Census is also limiting because not all relevant attributes may be measured by it.

Another arguable restriction is the “all in” rule i.e. a suburb must score in the top decile on all eight attributes. If it qualifies on seven but got less than 90% on the eighth attribute it wouldn’t qualify for the Hip List.

A related issue is all eight attributes are given equal weight. This is also open to question. I would give a higher weight to the youth of the population and its level of education than to some of the other attributes. Others might have a different view but it’s hard to believe anyone would see all eight as equally important.

Based on the eight attributes, the least hip suburbs (the Hip <Replacement> List?) presumably have populations that tend to be: old and/or very young; are married; have a low level of education; were born in Australia; are religious; occupy detached houses; live in nuclear families; and own one or more cars. They’re also likely to live in the suburbs and own their home.

It seems these sorts of lists invariably involve technical compromises. They’re interesting and thought-provoking, but they shouldn’t be taken too literally. No doubt Urbis’s motivation was primarily marketing.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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