Most growth is happening on the city fringes

Posted on 4/11/2011  

A few years back the United Nations, with much fanfare, announced an invisible yet momentous milestone – for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s human population was now living in urban areas.

This trend helped spark the “triumph of the urban” and the extolling of the virtues of high-density city living over almost all other dwelling forms.

But such supposed triumph is fraught with ironies – the biggest of which is that rather than a simple rush of people from the hinterland into the high density city centre, the most significant movement of the population has been outward, from dense city centres into peripheral suburban areas - and beyond them into small, dispersed settlements.

The official geographic boundaries, such as those used by the ABS, cloud these trends and hence they don’t get the analysis and airplay they deserve.

Our analysis, which we do every second or third year (as it is a very time-consuming exercise), shows that more than half of the new urban development across Australia takes place on the fringes.

This is up from 45% ten years ago. Inner-city expansion is steady at around 15%, with redevelopment of our middle-ring suburbs falling behind.

Most Australians want to live in a dwelling with a close nexus to the ground. It is who we are, and most migrating to our shores want the same. The increase in household size suggests the demand for larger homes will increase and high land costs will force more development outwards.

The urban triumphant like to advocate that detached housing is bad for the environment and that denser living arrangements have less environmental impact. The evidence suggests otherwise.

Our planning schemes are also failing us and, in some cases, badly. Despite grand plans to have most of us live in very dense urban settlings, the SEQ regional plan can, at best, only deliver two-thirds of the housing starts it needs on “infill” sites. Many municipalities across the south east are struggling to hit the halfway mark.

Recent headlines announced that the balcony was replacing the backyard as the new Australian dream – poppycock. When you remove Melbourne’s speculative boom in student-sized inner city apartments from the mix, there has been no real change in the proportion of attached dwellings built across the country in close to 20 years.

This article is reproduced with the permission of Matusik Property Insights.

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