Australia, it’s time to ditch the backyard
The NSW Government this week announced new zoning for some of our more leafy suburbs, allowing for the development of medium and high rise apartment buildings along the North Shore rail line.
You’d think building apartments near railway stations in a city choked by cars and a rental crisis would be a good idea, but from the reaction you’d think they’d authorised the concreting of a National Park.
While Federal Politicians argue about Big Australia, and just how big is Big, the issue of density has stayed in the sphere of the local skirmish. And while people complain about the urban sprawl of Australian cities, we’re still acutely averse to the concept of raising our children without the luxury of our own back yards. And that’s what back yards are, a luxury. Well a luxury that you have to mow.
The National Trust says the new Ku-ring-gai Town Centres Local Environment plan, which allows for the construction of 4500 new apartments spread across six suburbs, will destroy the area’s character.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran a graphic of the new plans entitled: “There goes the neighbourhood”. And it also interviewed Amy Lee, proprietor of the Roseville Cinemas, who said while the plan would be excellent for business, she’d prefer something “smaller”, oh, and they should build more car parks…
On radio residents of St Ives talked about crime would rise and their ideal lifestyles would be gone. And the Ku-ring-gai council has gone ballistic.
I don’t want to just pick on the people of the North Shore line, they’re not alone. But the ridiculous reaction got me thinking about population density when it’s done properly.
Also out this week was the latest Mercer Worldwide Quality of Living Survey.
On a broad criteria that includes, among others, crime rates, air quality, waste removal, schools and recreation, Sydney came in a very respectable 10 on the world-wide rankings.
I grabbed the population densities of the top ten to compare them and came up with this:
With the exception of Auckland, Sydney has a much lower density than the cities that beat it for quality of living.
The winner Vienna squeezes almost twice as many people into the same geographical area as Sydney. Vancouver has 5335 people per square km, compared to Sydney’s 2058.
Zurich and Munich also have significantly more people living on top of each other than we do, and no one’s accusing them of having no character.
Apartment precincts done badly are hardly appealing. But if we get it right, and infill our biggest cities with nice places to live, surrounded by services, schools, transport, and common green space, the only risk to the character of our suburbs is that they might become more vibrant.
Instead we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want our transport and infrastructure systems to cover an ever expanding area while complaining about urban sprawl.
We want our kids to be part of the community, while fencing them into a back yard. And we want quality communal green spaces but we’re not prepared to give up a bit of our own.
It’s 1950s thinking about a 2050s problem.
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