During March I attended the Urban Development Institute of Australia National Congress in Adelaide. Some of the trends occurring around the world are equally relevant in Darwin as they are in other major cities. They included:
Planning and funding new developments
The development industry is often frustrated by the politicisation of planning matters. So it was interesting to note that the South Australian Government has legislation currently before the Legislative Council that will see the Development Assessment Panels across all Municipalities having no elected officials as members. There will still be strong consultation and engagement with the community at the beginning of process (not at the end), but final recommendations will not be made by elected representatives.
In another challenge for local government authorities, a city in Texas is making large contributions to help pay for infrastructure and amenity costs in a new development which will enhance their population and therefore rate base. They are also allowing developers to make their own decisions on housing density based on market acceptance.
Activating Central Business Districts
Adelaide is activating city laneways through allowing the establishment of small cafes and wine bars. The major opponents to this policy change were existing hotels, and their legal actions meant that small operators had difficulty getting started. But when the regulatory framework was changed and the laneway cafes kicked-off, the significantly increased patronage of the CBD as a whole provided a windfall for everyone.
Adelaide is actively promoting CBD living; Lord Mayor Martin Haese believes that Council can achieve a population of about 50,000 apartment dwellers in the CBD by 2050.
A new Urban Growth Boundary has recently been enacted by the Government of South Australia. Presentations from the Lord Mayors of three capital cities – Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth demonstrated that all three of these major Australian cities have recognised the importance of infill development.
The 1950s / 1960s idea of ever expanding greenfield subdivisions is now seen as an outdated, lazy and expensive way to provide housing and is being replaced with urban infill in the CBD and suburbs.
Toronto in Canada is also a city starting to grow up, not out; high quality medium density development is being pursued in existing suburbs to facilitate housing as the population grows.
I note that the NT’s draft “Balanced Environment Strategy” also recognises the environmental importance of infill developments to maximising the efficiency of public transport and existing power water and sewerage infrastructure, as well as minimising greenhouse gas emissions from commuting vehicles.
Impacts of technological change
Several presentations on development in overseas countries provided insights into technological changes such as the introduction of driverless or autonomous vehicles. The advantages of this technology could include very significant reductions in numbers of road deaths and injuries, and greater access to convenient, safe travel for older people (for example those who can no longer hold a driver’s licence because of visual or hearing impairments).
Changes to the way we will access vehicles in the future will change the way we design and use roads as well as change our requirements for parking spaces. Electric vehicles are already creating a need for charging stations in apartment building basements and councils have begun to install similar charging stations on the street.
In the United States new housing is being provided on top of shopping malls, and there is little or no provision for cars in such developments. The supermarket below, which now tends to include more produce or farmer’s markets, becomes the resident’s refrigerator and pantry, so less kitchen cabinetry is required.
The trend towards green buildings is continuing, with Singapore providing world leadership in this field. This small, tropical island nation is even investigating underground living!
There is an ongoing trend in our other Australian capital cities, as well as overseas, for smaller frontages and reduced setbacks in suburban housing. Young people around the world (the “Y generation”) now prefer small dwellings; small apartments built over a secure lock-up garage are particularly popular with young single women because they feel secure.
It will become increasingly important for developers to connect with this new generation of home buyers, because they will change the property market. The Y generation is the most socially connected generation in history and there are over five million of them in Australia. They make up 22% of our population, 37% of them have a tertiary education and they are staying at home longer and marrying later. The lifestyles of this generation mean that home is just a place to sleep and they prefer environmentally smarter, smaller homes.