Diversity far and wide is our housing future
I was recently asked to outline my thoughts on how the Australian urban landscape might look 40 to 50 years from now. Go on, you can laugh. I did too. It’s hard enough to forecast the next 12 months, let alone two generations away, but I’ve given it a go, of sorts, so here it is.
Firstly, though, it might be best to outline my methodology. In short, this forecast will be based on underlying trends, some understanding of human nature, and importantly, the Australian mindset. My outlook is supported by evidence – what people actually do rather than say – and importantly, not by urban myths or fallacies, despite the frequency and noise with which they have been aired of late. Unfortunately, we don’t have the space or the time here to support every claim or go into massive detail, so this discussion is confined to broad shapes – not nitty-gritty.
Australia's urban landscape can best be summed up in two words –diverse and dispersed.
Let’s deal with the second D – dispersion – first. Our regional centres are likely to become a whole lot bigger and at the expense of the already crowded capital cities. The move away from the world’s bigger cities is already underway, as evidenced in the recent census in the United States, but also throughout much of Europe. Several Asian and Middle Eastern countries are now also following suit. The annual ABS small-area population data suggests it is already happening here and the 2011 census, due later this year, I believe, will provide further evidence.
Within our capital cities themselves, the move downtown will slow – again, it already is doing so – as the cost to live within close proximity to the CBD is just too high compared with the real benefits. The urban myths that perpetuate inner-city density over other housing forms – suburban growth worsens carbon emissions and traffic congestion; people are being forced to live far from jobs concentrated in our CBDs; and denser development will make it cheaper – are all incorrect, but more significantly, they are not being embraced by the wider market.
Instead of having a single high-density city core with lower development density radiating outwards, the most likely urban shape in the future will be one of more even distribution of housing density throughout the city – concentrated more, no doubt, around middle-ring transport hubs and new master-planned town centres. Our middle-ring and outer suburbs will have much more compact urban settings.
Diversity relates to the housing stock itself. The current push towards smaller dwellings has little to do with demographics and the market’s wants and is more about housing affordability. Moreover, it really has to do with being able to flog cheaper stock quickly, often to an unsuspecting audience. There is a demand for tightly sized product, but it is nowhere as near as high, nor is the long-term trend towards such as strong, as the urban boosters advocate.
Taking a wider view, Australia (and America too) is still in its frontier or “barbaric” stage of its cultural evolution. We walk with wide gaits, worship most things large, and don’t really like crowded spaces or queues. Go visit any major city in Europe or Asia for that matter and you can spot the Aussie (or Yank) a mile away. We like our space, aren’t really ready to give it up, and are not likely to do so for many decades to come.
Rather than cling to the idea that density and concentration are best, all those planners, architects and developers out there might do better to focus on what appeals to the vast majority of the population, particularly the middle and working classes. Nurturing smaller, more efficient cities, as well as expansive suburbs and revived small towns, may prove far more practical and beneficial than imposing a manic agenda for relentless centralisation.
For mine, rather than force a density agenda on a largely unwilling population, it makes sense to consider how to make a more dispersed (and diverse) urban future more workable and sustainable.
Michael Matusik is the director of independent property advisory Matusik Property Insights. Matusik has helped more than 500 new residential developments come to fruition and writes the weekly Matusik's Missive.
The Mark at Sydney's Central Park
Much has been spoken about the global property market and that our market will ultimately follow a similar fate and I am always at pains to point out not all property is created equal.
Brought to you by: Caydon
Atria Apartments in Hawthorn offers buyers an opportunity to invest in one of Melbourne’s finest suburbs.
Termites help House Rules knock The Block Sky High off its renovation ratings pedestal for the first time