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Managing Darwin's Growth

I recently attended the annual Urban Development Institute Congress in Sydney.  As usual, there were plenty of thought-provoking presentations and Australia’s growth, as well as the need for the industry to adapt to changing demands and new technologies, were two of the key themes to emerge.


Successive NT Governments have embarked on a path towards economic growth, which can logically be expected to deliver more jobs, more viable, stable businesses and (provided that growth is carefully managed) an enhanced quality of life for all Territorians.  The Urban Development Institute of Australia supports this policy direction and recognises the opportunity population growth offers for us to deliver better quality housing and other elements of our built community.


One of the strong trends occurring in housing throughout Australia is a shift towards inner city apartment living.  We are already seeing this happening in Darwin – indeed some commentators believe we are building too many apartments.


At present there are some 15,000 Territorians living in the Darwin CBD.  Why has this occurred?  Elsewhere in Australia it is because of ease of access to employment, various cultural activities, restaurants, coffee shops, and a range of amenities.  In Darwin easy access to the Entertainment Centre and Darwin Waterfront with its wave pool and swimming lagoon, would be examples of such amenities.


CBD living is also the preferred retirement living option for some retirees – it offers secure living space which can readily be locked up when travel beckons, access to all the shopping and cultural activities on offer, low maintenance, and in many cases may be cheaper than owning and running a larger family home in the suburbs.


But how big should Darwin get and how do we accommodate growth without compromising our lifestyle choices?  Committed Territorians often speak about their cherished lifestyle, which means different things for different people.  For some it might be ease of access to Asia (eg Bali), quality wilderness fishing / camping / nature activities, our relaxed lifestyle, or our friendly, open, multi-cultural society.


It is clear that community preferences are changing, and adoption of new technology is also changing the way developers build and what they need to provide to appeal to the marketplace.    While Government policy has a role to play in determining building standards and the shape of our communities, the development industry also plays a role through the speed at which it implements technical innovation.  UDIA’s Awards and EnviroDevelopment programs help to encourage innovation and high standards in sustainable development.


Getting back to how big we should be, we know that a greater population has the potential to impact on some aspects of our lifestyle – such as the quality of fishing, access to quiet getaway destinations, and our relaxed lifestyle.  But it will also add more options for shopping, dining and housing (eg retirement villages); help to encourage other family members to relocate here or stay; provide greater employment opportunities (eg more highly paid, senior roles); and encourage better airline services to and from Darwin.


UDIA (NT) recognises the importance of providing choices in housing.  Although some people, at some stages of their life, will be happy to live in apartments, others will always want to get away from it all by living on acreage in the rural area, and there is also still a strong demand for the suburban home and backyard.


But the increasing number of people choosing to live in apartments provides the opportunity to re-think the design of our suburbs.  For example two “Avenue Parap” type of developments in each suburb could accommodate most of the current population of Greater Darwin.  Imagine how much green space this approach would allow planners to create.  Not to mention how efficiently we could run a public transport system and facilitate cheaper connections to power, water, sewerage and NBN!


We certainly have enough land to accommodate a larger population.  But we need to manage our growth carefully through a balance of infill (urban renewal opportunities) and new suburbs.


Some commentators believe the Australian economy needs significant immigration to stimulate economic growth.  Maybe that is the way to develop the north too.  As 40% of the world’s population lives in the tropics, we should have access to a ready source of migrants who are already adapted to our climate.


Significant growth is going to need significantly more apartments to minimise use of land for housing.  We need to make better use of technology in the future.  We need our planners to ensure there is adequate open space to sustain our lifestyle.  As our population grows we need to open more areas to access for fishing / camping / natural history activities; we will need more boat ramps to provide efficient access to recreational fisheries; and we will need excellent management of our natural resources to ensure their use is sustainable.