What Sydney’s future looks like

Inner city neighbourhoods such as Surry Hills will provide a template for new suburbs, predicts urban planner Mike Day.
Inner city neighbourhoods such as Surry Hills will provide a template for new suburbs, predicts urban planner Mike Day.CREDIT:LOUISE KENNERLEY

Shrinking homes, ‘walk scores’ and mini Melbournes

“Their greatest attributes are that you can walk to all local amenities without the need to travel by car and their layout includes unique urban elements, such as laneways containing studios above garages, small streets and parks,” he said.
The rise of townhouses and mini Melbournes are among the trends Mr Day forecasts will take hold in 2020 and beyond.

Mr Day also predicted homes will be given a “walk score” that could add up to $50,000 to the value of properties in areas that are pedestrian friendly.

“Just like a property’s proximity to good schools, a high walk score value will be an asset that will add value to a property,” he said.
Inner-city neighbourhoods such as Sydney’s Surry Hills and Manly, and Melbourne’s Fitzroy and Carlton, were providing the template for suburban developments, Mr Day said.

Manly street life.

Manly street life.CREDIT:RHETT WYMAN

But Peter Phibbs, the head of urban and regional planning and policy at the University of Sydney, said: “What the mini Melbournes or mini Sydneys can’t produce is jobs. So many people have a more liveable suburban environment and not much time to enjoy it.”

A concern with sustainable development and health and wellbeing will also continue to influence urban planning, Mr Day said. “Health agencies around the country are also pushing towards more walkability with childhood obesity on the rise, which is partly due to the inability of kids being able to walk to school and limited dedicated and separated walking and cycling pathways.”

Mr Day’s predictions about shrinking homes follow the results of the CommSec Home Size Report, which found newly built homes were the smallest they have been in 17 years, while new apartments were getting slightly bigger.
“Townhouses are growing in popularity as the preferred housing type, as are more modest homes with community amenities centrally located in neighbourhood hubs,” he said.
NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the state government was already creating walkable communities with jobs, public transport and open space close to people’s homes.

“By putting good growth, strategic planning, excellent design and high-quality public space at the forefront of planning, we’re ensuring our new communities don’t replicate ‘mini Melbournes’, they surpass them,” he said.

However, other planning experts have cast doubt on some of Mr Day’s predictions.
Ryan Van Den Nouwelant, a lecturer in urban planning and urban studies at Western Sydney University, said researchers in the United States found that “walkable” outer suburbs had high car use because residents had no other way to get to distant workplaces.
Dr Van Den Nouwelant said Mr Day’s predictions boiled down to one trend: cars are on the way out.

“But the death of cars has been long predicted, even encouraged, by planners and urban designers; particularly those wanting to reduce our environmental footprint,” he said.

And while the numbers are nudging in that direction, private cars are not going away any time soon.”

Dr Van Den Nouwelant said the high cost of housing deserved closer attention.
“Renting has long been treated as a last resort or passing-through tenure,” he said. “So a lot of regulations that protect tenants and foster sustainable long-term renting like they have in many parts of continental Europe are absent here.”
Professor Phibbs said rising property prices driven by low interest rates would remain a dominant issue in the future.

“This is going to make our cities great engines of inequality,” he said. “If you are a home owner you will enjoy continuing benefits. If you aren’t, you will be looking at a very different housing future than previous Australians.”

Professor Phibbs also questioned the government’s appetite to improve public transport to reduce car dependence.
“What is very clear is that a city like Sydney will struggle to grow to become a mega city like London or New York if its continues to rely as heavily on the private vehicle,” he said.

Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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