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In 2011 I spoke at the Growth Areas Authority on density and the challenge Melbourne faces if we do not stop our decreasing density. My short presentation is here. An edited version of this article was published in the Herald Sun on 30 October 2011, here.
Decreasing Density is Dangerous
Far from the perception that Melbourne’s skyline is ‘Manhattanising’, Melbourne’s density has nearly halved over the last fifty years. Melbourne’s density decreased from 20.3 people per hectare in 1961 to 13.7 people per hectare in 1996. By 2001 Melbourne had recovered slightly to 14.5 and now around 15 people per hectare. Decreasing density is economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable. It must stop.
Our decreasing density has occurred because the average footprint of our houses is growing, and the average number of people in our houses is shrinking. Rather than growing upwards, our city keeps growing outwards. It is eating up greenfield land on the fringe.
This spread is increasing road congestion too.
While some people think inner city density is increasing road congestion, the truth is the opposite. Inner city people have the option of public transport. Outer city people don’t. It is often the outer city residents driving in to the city that increases the congestion once they reach the middle or inner ring suburbs.
I am not blaming the outer suburbs people for this. They have to use cars when there is no public transport. And part of the reason is that public transport is much more expensive per person-kilometre in low density areas. Our population doesn’t allow increased taxation or national debt to allow the government to build it.
This is why ultra-low decreasing density is so dangerous. It is more expensive to put in infrastructure in low density areas and more people drive. Bad economically, bad environmentally.
Sensible density is better – like the density levels we used to have. Melbourne could accommodate the predicted 6 million by 2035 people with the same density that Melbourne had before we started the mad rush to decreasing density.
Our current public discussion is dominated by the ‘Planning Backlash’ group, who is robbing from people the choice to live in medium or higher densities if they so choose, by objecting to any and all development and telling us to limit our population size, implying a limitation on people to choose their family size.
Our housing mix must have within it a range of housing option so all our citizens can have a choice of how they live, not just be forced into stereo typical one size fits all family homes.
I am not saying family homes are bad. Family homes are good for families. But by 2025, 51% of households in Melbourne will be no child households. That is pre-child, post child or no child.
While 51% of our households will be no child households, according to the Grattan Institute, 84% of our housing stock is family homes.
We have enough family homes in Melbourne for families, we do not have enough non family homes for people who prefer to live in less low densities.
More discussion like this is in: