The more recent suburbs, however, display a disturbing trend. The dwelling now extends near to the boundary of the plot and, in consequence, near to adjoining dwellings. There is very little private amenity space to the rear of the dwelling, in extreme cases none at all. There is little in the way of balconies and verandas. Windows are small, and often tinted, although there is nothing to see when looking out of them. The closeness of the windows to neighbours’ properties creates a loss of privacy which can only be remedied by walls and fences. The views to side and rear are, in consequence, of walls, fences or neighbours’ windows. There is little space to sit out in private, or space for young children to play in safety. Dwellings are predominantly single-storey, with only a proportion rising to 11/2 or two storeys.
The combination of this with double garage doors and smaller windows greatly reduces visual permeability and surveillance of the street. The design is very deep-plan requiring artificial lighting and ventilation. Electricity consumption is maximised with air conditioning needed in the summer and heating in the winter. While the disadvantages of suburban living still apply, the advantages referred to above have disappeared.
The newer suburbs exhibit net densities of 15-20 d/ha. In northern Europe, this density range would, in contrast, be regarded as low and be characterised by substantial front and back gardens with trees and other planting. Why the difference? One reason is the footprint of the dwelling. At this density, European houses would have at least two-storeys. A more dramatic difference is the substantial space at the front of the Australian houses. Although less than the distances of 22-36m found in the older suburbs, the newer suburbs still exhibit front-to-front distances of 21-26m, in stark contrast to the situation at the rear and sides of the dwelling. In many developments, the carriageway width may be reduced, with no nature strip, but the residents’ semi-private space at the front is laid out in the American style with grass and hardstandings, but no bushes, fences or trees. Combined with the low buildings, the result is no containment of space and consequently poor townscape.
This is occurring in all parts of Australia but not in the US where, although the house designs may be similar, there is still ample land to the rear of the dwelling. The questions that arise are: what is driving this; what is happening to Australian lifestyles; and why do local Council’s permit it? What alternatives could be offered? I have my own suggestions but there is a need for debate on this issue. I would be interested to receive views from UDF members. I hope to place some thoughts on solutions to the problem in a subsequent UDF.