This study uses a novel spatial approach to compare population density change across cities and over time. It examines spatio-temporal change in Australia’s five most populated capital cities from 1981 to 2011, and documents the established and emerging patterns of population distribution. The settlement patterns of Australian cities have changed substantially in the last 30 years. From the doughnut cities of the 1980s, programs of consolidation, renewal and densification have changed and concentrated population in our cities. Australian cities in the 1980s were characterised by sparsely populated, low density centres with growth concentrated to the suburban fringes. ‘Smart Growth’ and the ‘New Urbanism’ movements in the 1990s advocated higher dwelling density living and the inner cities re-emerged, inner areas were redeveloped, and the population distribution shifted towards increased inner city population densities. Policies aimed at re-populating the inner city dominated and the resultant changes are now visible in Australia’s five most populated capital cities. While this pattern has been reported in a number of studies, questions remain regarding the extent of these changes and how to analyse and visualise them across urban space. This paper reports on a spatial method which addresses the limitations of changing statistical boundaries to identify the changing patterns in Australian cities over time and space.