Author: Jasmine S. Palmer
Planning and development policies in numerous Australian cities promote consolidation and intensification of activity in existing urban areas. These policies respond to the reducing availability of land for urban expansion, the need to increase infrastructure efficiency, and the desire for a more equitable and sustainable urban future. The medium/high-density housing typologies proposed by such consolidation are readily visualised in the policy documents and sit well within the design capabilities of the local architectural industry. However, these typologies challenge existing Australian housing provision and systemic change is arguably required to enable the outcomes prescribed by the planning and development policies.
The vast majority of existing housing provision is low density, with medium/high-density dwellings viewed as contrary to the ‘Australian Dream’. The 2011 Australian census shows three quarters of Australian occupied, privately-owned houses are free-standing suburban dwellings (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013). Of these, 77% are owner-occupied (Troy 2012) with the remainder being privately rented. This rate of home ownership has been relatively constant since the post WWII period of suburban expansion and increased household mobility. In contrast, privately-owned multi-unit housing (one quarter of the national stock) has a significantly lower owner-occupier rate of just one third (Troy 2012). Hence, for every one owner-occupied dwelling there are two tenanted dwellings, which are characterised by high rates of relocation. Only 13% of people in rental housing are likely to reside at the same address as they did five years prior compared to 71% of owner-occupiers (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010). These tenure and mobility differences between low density and medium/high-density housing have steered the evolution of two distinct provision systems over time. The resultant built form perpetuates the entrenched perception of medium/high-density housing as an inferior housing alternative to be used as a stepping-stone to the ‘Australian Dream,’ and as an undesirable housing type to have in one’s neighbourhood due to high rental rates. Until such time as this perception is transformed, the planning policies promoting consolidation have limited chance of success and public objections to modifications of existing urban areas are likely to continue.