Urban Densities: Keep it Real
Jessica Irvine in today’s Sydney Morning Herald presents some views on how low-densities in Australian cities keep the cost of land and housing higher than it should be. She quotes a new paper from the Reserve Bank entitled Urban structure and housing prices: some evidence from Australian cities.
She makes very very obvious points – about how much less dense Australian cities are than European, for example. She discusses theoretical models out of the Reserve bank paper. She makes the point – again, an easy one – that zoning restrictions are one culprit. Fundamentally she says more medium and high density housing is the alternative to expensive urban sprawl.
Yes, we know all this.
I cannot believe such an article could be written without reference to two hugely relevant recent developments. One, Barry O’Farrell in April this year gave control over density and zoning decisions to local government. As a result, this will see more high and medium density developments rejected.
Two, the Land and Environment Court has overruled attempts by the previous Labor government to have high density development along the North Shore rail link in Ku-ring-gai shire, boosting densities near the railway station and along a major transport artery. This decision means 10,000 more future dwellings will have to be delivered on Sydney’s urban fringe.
These two decisions make it harder to achieve high densities. They mandate more sprawl. They are mightily relevant to what Irvine presents as an entirely theoretical debate about densities and prices.
Jessica finishes her piece saying “Interestingly, the … researchers found evidence that Sydney’s population density has increased in recent years.” Yes, it is interesting. It was also the product of 16 years of sound planning policy. Sydney has the highest population density of any Australian capital. Over the past decade only 21 percent of new homes were built in greenfield areas, compared to over 50 percent in other Australian capitals. Melbourne is going for growth on the fringe. Cities either grow up or out. Stop them growing up and they sure as hell will grow out.