Smarter Infill Housing = Less Urban Sprawl

The highly regarded Arcadis Sustainability Index ranks most Australian cities below 40th position. Considering Australia’s relative wealth and precarious exposure to global warming consequences, it’s worrying we rank so lowly. Even more startling, is Perth’s absence from the list altogether. If you consider the sectors that make up Arcadis’ criteria for the ranking; quality of life, environmental and economic health, it’s ironic that Perth is often dubbed as highly liveable.    

Every 96 in a 100 people between the ages of 18-84 in Perth are motor vehicle owners. A statistic such as this puts into perspective where we’re failing in our mindsets towards mobility and by extension, sustainability. With our cheap access to land, large homes can be continually made available by pushing further and further into the green yonder. Urban sprawl is the main contributing factor to Perth’s struggle with sustainability.

As we continue to sprawl, access to the inner city suburbs becomes more time consuming, pressure mounts on public infrastructure and a greater population uses more and more energy to commute to places of work and amenity. 2019 Perth has a metropolitan footprint that stretches 120km from Mandurah to Yanchep and covers more than 5300sq km. That is more than double the 2100sq km size of Tokyo’s city limits and three times the size of Los Angeles’ city boundaries. As the State Government scrambles to fund billion dollar railways connecting new outer suburbs a new movement has begun to stem the expansion.

Earlier this year, the State Planning Policy 7.3 ‘Design WA’ was introduced with the purpose of supplying guidelines for ‘good design’ so as to redefine the way in which designers and developers respond to the characteristics of a site to create innovative and diverse design solutions. With considerations to building heights, setbacks and plot ratios, the guidelines assist the push towards more sustainable housing typologies often defined as ‘the missing middle, in the hope that it will encourage infill housing and a shift back towards the inner city suburbs.

The guidelines allow architects and developers to gain concessions from council in return for a design which favours its environment. For example, a development application may achieve additional building height and plot ratio in return for more landscaped areas and deep soil planting. Historically Perth hasn’t done multi-residential projects particularly well and the hope is this new planning framework will allow more creative, innovative solutions to increase population density where it belongs.  

It’s going to take time for conservative communities to welcome higher density however education is key for the shift. Density done well is great for communities; it creates more life on the streets, it enables good public transport and local businesses thrive. High rise apartment buildings aren’t the only answer to increase density; there are a myriad of housing typologies that increase population density respective of local context. Even if people don’t want to live in apartments themselves, there are considerable benefits for everyone in them being built. Every time we put up an apartment building with 10 apartments, that’s 5000 square meters of native bush that isn’t denuded north and south of the City.