Flexible Neighbourhoods: Grattan Institute

The Grattan Institute's latest report 'Tomorrow's Suburbs: Building Flexible Neighbourhoods' released earlier this month highlights the need for greater flexibility in Australia's greenfield suburbs.



According to the report , our suburbs should be flexible to account for changing demographics, social trends and markets, as well as to allow for different housing preferences throughout one's lifespan.

The report explains that older parts of Australian cities have been highly flexible and adaptable thanks to a mix of land uses, diversity of buildings and good connectivity and transport options.  Our newest suburbs are not so lucky.  Greenfield areas are dominated by family-sized detached houses when they are first built, catering to current trends:

"Developers are understandably focussed on meeting the immediate needs and preferences of the new suburbs first residents"

However, these newer areas are the ones that struggle the most to adapt.

"Many of the types of land that changed use most often in the past are scarcer in new areas.  Further, residential land was far less likely to change than any other type of land except for cemeteries."

The report goes on to say that this uniformity and lack of flexible spaces makes regeneration and renewal difficult, captures only a small portion of the real estate market and can result in a mismatch between housing type and housing needs.  Furthermore, it can fail to attract new residents, shops and businesses.

The report contains several recommendations for enhancing flexibility, adaptability and resilience in our suburbs.  It focusses on street level activity, diverse businesses and services and buildings that can be adapted to new roles. The report recommends:
  • A joint sale option allowing owners to sell their land together.
  • Town centres that can grow and change surrounded by a variety of buildings that face the street.
  • A 15 year limit on restrictive covenants.
  • Broader, more mixed-use zones with regular reviews of zoning in cities.
  • New standards for connectivity based on how travel time to work, shops and services.  
This report raises several issues. Why is it acceptable that developers are "understandably" focussed on meeting immediate housing supply needs? The development of communities should go beyond just the delivery of housing. There is a social and community context here that seems to be all too often overlooked in our new suburbs. Should Local Councils do more to ensure community infrastructure and a range of more flexible spaces is delivered? Should developers be required to cater for a variety of different markets? Is there enough support from other levels of Government? And more importantly – how much, if any, influence will such research have on Melbourne's anticipated Metro Strategy?

You can download the report here, or check out more from the Grattan Institute here.

If you are keen to hear the Grattan authors discuss their report in Melbourne on October 9, see details here.

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