Urban planner forecasts the future of Aussie cities

Hatch Associates Pty Limited

Monday, 20 March, 2023

Urban planner forecasts the future of Aussie cities

Major cities house 72% of the Australian population, with the number of people living in capital cities across Australia growing by 17.1% over the last 20 years. Urban planners play a crucial role in designing areas years in advance of housing construction, to ensure the early provision of housing, schools, neighbourhood centres, infrastructure and amenities.

So, what will our cities look like over the next decade? Award-winning urban planner Mike Day*, from Hatch RobertsDay, has provided insights into the future, his forecast for cities in the coming years and enhancements he believes cities need.

Private transport will become more unaffordable

The RACV and RACQ have found that the costs of owning and running a private vehicle range from $12,000 to $20,000 per year, about 15% of an average household’s income. Day says private vehicle transport costs in disconnected suburban growth areas may become more expensive than housing in the future, with the notion of ‘attainable living’ contending that of ‘attainable housing’.

The future success of growth areas will be dependent on a more ‘urban’ form of walkable neighbourhoods and varied modes of transport. The introduction of transit, schools and separated walking and cycling paths will be a feature of urban patterns. These neighbourhoods will be enhanced through the promotion of mixed-use developments such as courtyard housing, townhouses and residential apartments built above shops. This will lead to the formation of ‘15- and 20-minute neighbourhoods’ that allow residents to leave their homes for daily essentials without relying on a car.

Mixed-use developments will become more popular

Day predicts that mixed-use developments will emerge to create self-contained communities framed around pedestrians, cyclists and diverse forms of micro-mobility, such as e-bikes, mid-tier transit and small-scale electric buses.

Children should be able to walk to school safely

According to Day, walking should be the ‘privileged mode’ of travel. Children should be able to walk and cycle to school from day one in new residential neighbourhoods. He says novel methods of providing ‘interim schools’ should be mandatory in all new housing estates. Successful interim schools in houses, offices and shops have been trialled in South Australia and Western Australia and have wider application in the Eastern States.

Globally, many pilot programs have introduced car-free school zones. Toronto first implemented the program in 2019 to encourage students to walk and cycle to school, as well as reduce exhaust emissions. Adopting the 15- and 20-minute neighbourhood principles across new developments will allow children to walk or cycle to school from day one no matter where they live.

Satellite workspaces should proliferate

Along with the early provision of schools, Day believes there is a need for a more distributed workforce and hybrid workplaces in the growth areas of capital cities.

He says businesses have had three years of remote and hybrid work, with many choosing to keep the workspace model to maintain a better lifestyle, save costs and retain employees.

“Commuting is debilitating for employees and reduces time spent with family members. The business sector should be gearing up to produce ‘satellite’ workspaces in emerging urban growth areas,” Day said.

Many businesses are terminating long-term leases in favour of flexible office spaces with shorter lease terms. Businesses have also adopted co-working spaces for cost-effectiveness and flexibility.

The Australian co-working office spaces market is anticipated to register a compound annual growth rate of more than 4% between 2023 and 2028.

New cities need to emerge

The time to be thinking about potential sites for new cities and to provide attainable housing and jobs in new self-contained cities serviced by high-speed rail in rural areas is now. As Australia’s fastest growing city, Melbourne increased by 806,800 people between 2011 and 2021, and is experiencing severe congestion, commuting and affordability issues. By 2041, the number of people living in the City of Melbourne is expected to double.

According to Day, there is potential for eight cities to be built along a Sydney–Melbourne high-speed rail line which could provide distributed workplaces and more attainable housing for residents.

“When developing these new cities, we must learn from history and consider major environmental factors, such as flooding. Building in resilience to environmental disasters requires transformative action years ahead of construction. Unprecedented floods in NSW and Queensland have resulted in devastating outcomes. While relocating existing flood-prone settlements to higher ground and creating new towns might be challenging and expensive, disastrous events years in the future can be avoided,” Day said.

The eastern states will benefit from high-speed rail between cities

Day encourages the development of high-speed rail between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, citing countries such as France and China as examples. China has developed trains which reach speeds of 600 km per hour, which could see travel between Sydney and Melbourne take 1.5 hours.

Exploring value-capture creation of land surrounding high-speed transport hubs servicing future cities

The creation of a high-speed rail link between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne presents an opportunity to explore value-creation-capture of rural landholdings near stations, including the provision of attainable housing and enterprises. Sale of land within close proximity of the stations will defray the cost of building these connections.

Urban developers could integrate attainable self-contained studios in their home builds

Day says there will be an increase in the demand for dwellings in the coming years — and studios above garages or granny flats are a novel and cost-effective solution for accommodating key workers and people of modest means.

“Low-cost investment options, such as granny flats, can help meet the increased demand and population growth. Ancillary dwelling or granny flats can be built in rear yards or above rear garages, and are significantly cheaper to build than houses. At around $100,000 to build, they can be rented out for around $100–200 per week. They help keep families together through intergenerational living and are a more attainable option for many young people.”

*Day is a Partner at urban planning and design practice Hatch RobertsDay, the urban solutions division of Hatch. He has over 30 years of experience in planning and design and has led the Hatch RobertsDay teams on a range of urban renewal and townships projects across Australia, the UAE and Asia. He is a fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia, a former board member of the East Perth Redevelopment Authority and Deputy Chair of the Subiaco Redevelopment Authority. He is currently a member of the Committee for Melbourne’s Liveablity + Urban Optimisation Standing Committee, a member of the Victorian Division of the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Sustainability & Innovation Committee and was formerly the Chair of the Housing Industry Association WA Planning and Development Committee. In 2018, Day was the recipient of the Place Leaders Asia Pacific Award for Leadership in Promoting Walkable Urbanism and received the Russell Taylor Award for Design Excellence for Ellenbrook New Town — Australia’s most awarded urban development project, which was the recipient of the FIABCI 2015 World Prix d’Excellence for the world’s best masterplanned community.

Image credit: iStock.com/DLMcK

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