As world urbanisation increases, the issue of how we live and how close we will live to each other will become increasingly important. It interfaces with many issues including sustainability, affordability, community and our personal lifestyle/aspirations.
What role should/can the suburbs play in our cities growing and getting healthy? New research from Shaping Suburbia www.shapingsuburbia.com has focused on what sustainable living might look like for suburban dwellers – and that’s most of us – and how existing suburbia can evolve to be that place. This new research connects the types of places/houses we choose to live in, with the walk-ability of their environments and the benefits of improved walk-ability.
Contrary to the typical views about residential density shown in the media, of course it’s not a case of only the polar extremes of either a) high-rise or b) suburbia. Nor is it as simple as the more (of either) the better. Instead, residential density is of course a variable – and that is the key point here. What is the optimum form, density and shape of a healthy, sustainable place where most of us would prefer and benefit from living? Yes it’s important to have good design, walkable suburbs, low infrastructure costs per person, great social services, good pavements, safe suburbs and access to public transport, but Shaping Suburbia shows that these things occur and survive best when the density is just right – effectively a ‘sweet spot’ of residential density.
Even if the residential density is increased from brick-and-tile suburbia but falls short of the ratio required for the ‘sweet spot’, then the other community infrastructure and services do not survive well enough for the associated co-benefits to thrive. These co-benefits are enjoyed by both residents and the community generally, and can be significant.
The density ‘sweet-spot’ also creates additional new housing that is able to be provided by small-scale builders and, importantly, still allows individual lot titles and the opportunity for productive gardens. Individual property titles are, of course, very highly valued by many home buyers in our culture.
Shaping Suburbia links its own research with various other data to highlight a range of positive outcomes and co-benefits in making changes to our suburbs in pursuit of this ‘sweet spot’. What is proposed is an evolutionary change for suburbia for this century. This change will provide real health, financial and lifestyle benefits to land owners in middle ring suburbs – The corresponding uplift in land values – can potentially make suburban mums- and-dads the heroes of a wave of new micro-development that also provides improved communities for our cities.
www.shapingsuburbia.com shows that cleverly modifying strategically chosen existing suburbs can provide a key part of the solution for our growing cities. Benefits include health, sustainability performance, strengthened communities, financial gains, improved access to shops and services and improved housing choice and housing affordability.
Getting the density right is not just about housing more people, although it is that too – it is about creating vibrant, active, safe, more sustainable places where people can live in connected communities and be their healthy best.
Are there other options for suburbia which provide better lifestyle, heath and sustainability outcomes? Are existing suburbs able to keep their leafy, freehold title and a familiar environment and yet still house more people? Shaping Suburbia says a loud ‘yes’ to this, and has also found that there will be some unexpected windfalls for its residents in the process.