The huge population growth in and around Australia’s major cities is common knowledge, along with an understanding of the benefits of creating cities where people live and work in close proximity. As a solution to housing supply, high density apartments are not broadly the right solution for Australians. They are expensive and often just too removed from Australia’s traditional view of housing.
Enter the ‘missing middle’ for an ‘inbetween’ solution.
Townhouses and terraced housing as an example, done very well, can match the character densityof existing neighbourhoods, offer an affordable solution to home buyers and deliver great outcomes for communities. However, as Peter Newton, Research Professor in Sustainable Urbanism at Swinburne University of Technology states in a recent commentary, more intensive urban infill represents a challenge to residents of established suburbs to share their higher-amenity, low-density space. And elected local councillors tend to align with their residents’ resistance to “over development” and changes in “neighbourhood character”.
But could attitudes be changing?
Professor Newton and his colleagues at the Centre for Urban Transitions at Swinburne, surveyed 2,000 Sydney and Melbourne households in established middle-ring suburbs in 2016. Asked “What type of dwelling would you want to live in?”, nearly 60% of residents in both cities favoured a detached house and yard. This is down from 90% in the early 1990s. So, in the space of one generation, attitudes have shifted significantly.
The big question is whether these shifts in preference are reflected in residents’ attitudes to higher-density housing in their own neighbourhoods.
The survey found 71% of respondents were “aware of neighbourhood change in their locality”.Fewer than 10% of residents in both cities think such change is a good thing, but almost 40% understand it has to happen. Just over 10% are neutral. Preference for less or no change sits around 45%.
This suggests capacity to accept change is growing, but it is grudging and not strongly endorsed.
The research also found that capacity for new housing to support population growth is lacking and will require a transformative change of state government, local government, the property development industry, and community residents.
These are significant challenges and questions to address. Professor Peter Newton will speak on these issues at the Housing Density & Diversity forum in June 2018. He will be joined by other thought leaders and practitioners to discuss how best to integrate missing middle housing and the way forward for diverse and affordable housing supply in Australia.