Residents drifting away from suburban living

Posted: April 1, 2013 in Urban planning

A number of articles and videos I saw recently, each describing a move away from a suburban lifestyle towards a more urban one, when taken together really do seem to dismiss the idea that all Australians (or Sydneysiders atleast) want their own house with a backyard in the suburbs. While there will always be people who prefer this sort of lifestyle, more and more the demand and desire of residents is to forgo the house in the suburbs and instead seek an apartment in the inner city.

Location of new greenfield and infill housing developments. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Department of Planning, Homes and Jobs for Sydney’s Growth, 2013, page 5.)

Location of new greenfield and infill housing developments. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Department of Planning, Homes and Jobs for Sydney’s Growth, 2013, page 5.)

Tim Barlass writes in yesteday’s Sun Herald that residents of The Ponds, a new suburb in Sydney’s Northwest that has been listed by the ABS as the most advantaged suburb, do not count themselves as particularly advantaged. They point to problems with getting a phone line installed plus poor mobile reception, insufficient transport options, poor roads, and high mortgage costs. This is the price they pay to obtain the lifestyle they want, says mother of 3 Brigid Vincent:  “It’s ideal for us, lots of young children, close to schools…It’s pretty. I love it”.

Meanwhile, big and active downtown areas in Sydney are continuing to expand. A few decades ago, the Sydney CBD was the only area in Sydney with numerous tall skyscrapers, but these have now spread to numerous regional centres across the Sydney Metropolitan area. In fact, Leesha McKenny points out that Parramatta has plans to build the tallest building in NSW, possibly even taller than Sydney’s current tallest building – Centrepoint Tower, in an article in yesterday’s Sun Herald.

Some have tried the reinvented granny flat, known as a “glam flat”, according to another Sun Herald article by Stephen Nicholls. The number of granny flats approved in the previous financial year was 858, which was twice the number in the previous year, which in turn was twice the number in the year before that. These dwellings are much smaller than a regular house, but with land at such a premium these days, particularly in well sought after areas, that is also the price that some have been willing to pay for their chosen lifestyle.

It’s amazing how little space people really need to live comfortably. The video below shows a tour of a 2 storey house (one of the floors is a loft above the ceiling) from Tumbleweed Houses which is only 8 square metres in size. Despite this, it can house 2 residents plus 2 additional guests, while including a kitchen and bathroom. It makes even the smallest of granny flats seem spacious.

Even a regular home could benefit from space saving furniture. One example that caught my eye recently was from US firm Resource Furniture, whose furniture saves space by creating beds that double up as sofas or tables that can be enlarged or shrunk down easily depending on need at any particular moment. Despite things like sofa-beds not being a new thing, some of these are really amazing to watch due to the apparent simplicity of design.

These all brought me back to a lecture that City of Melbourne city planner Rob Adams has given in recent years arguing in favour of compact cities rather than urban sprawl in order to cope with rising populations. This lecture was a formative part of developing my views on urban planning and public transport. In it, Mr Adams argues that 10% of Melbourne’s urban footprint should be changed to mixed used and mid rise (5-6 storeys) in order to allow the remaining 90% to remain suburban, all the while without losing the rural farmland outside of the urban footprint.

There are many examples of things that you see, hear, or read which make you pessimistic about the future, but Mr Adams’ lecture gives hope that the future can be a better place, not something we should be afraid of. There are 2 versions of it, the video below is the short 20 minute version, but if you can spare the time, his 1 hour version is much more comprehensive. In his the latter, he points out that of all groups in Melbourne’s population, couples with children is the only group whose population is projected to fall over the next 25 years. These are exactly the sorts of households that want the detached house in the suburbs, and partly explains why there has been a move away from this, and towards more compact living in more active areas.

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