Australians have long been predominantly urban dwellers. Despite over 80% of us now living in cities, our self-image remains of a sunburnt country girt by sea – when in reality it should be of a frazzled city girt by sprawl.
The stress of living in our capital cities is well known: our crowded roads, poor and ageing infrastructure, and a lack of public transport. Yet while Australia’s economic wealth is driven from the major cities, the federal government is almost completely absent from the contemporary discussion about the future urban environment and housing in Australia.
The true costs associated with poor urban environments are rarely part of the economic debate. Our cities are largely left to the under-resourced state and local governments to devise and administer planning systems in the hope of shaping our urban environment.
Planning systems revel in written policy full of ‘government-speak’ for best practice or driven by nullifying empirical process and regulation. Our market-driven development sector is unchanged since white settlement – consisting of appropriating land, cutting it up, building on it, selling it off and moving onto to the next deal ASAP before the market turns.
Very few of our urban population living in the traditional single house would have any direct relationship with architecture. Our traditional housing construction industry comprises of independent craft-based subcontractors putting together ‘stick build’ detached houses for project-home developers large and small, having procured basic plans that meet ‘tick-the-box’ planning and building regulations.
This has long been our traditional way of providing housing and forming our suburban fabric, resulting in the ever-expanding concentric growth of our cities with all the associated shortcomings.