Sprawl, the City and finding the missing middle.

This is well worth a read. An article by Anthony Duckworth-Smith from the West Australian Property Section this week on creating more diverse and affordable housing. Fremantle Council with AUDRC have been working on innovations in this space.  As it happens Antony also launched his new book Sprawl and the City  http://www.audrc.org/sprawl-and-the-city/ last night which is also an excellent thought-provoking read.

duckerworth-smith density

The Planning Institute’s WA president recently remarked on the need to embrace a diversity of infill housing choices “particularly that ‘missing middle’ — the typologies between single residential and medium/high rise apartments . . . typologies (which) are ideally suited to our suburbs.’

The Australian Urban Design Research has been working with the City of Fremantle to explore ways of addressing this need. Over the past two decades the overwhelming majority of homes built in the suburbs of Fremantle have been four or more bedrooms while households have become smaller and increasingly diverse.

Although housing options are emerging in inner areas many of these smaller households have lifestyles that would suit a bit of space and the amenity that suburban locations offer. If Freo wants to retain its diverse social mix then it needs to look at options for creating smaller homes in suburban areas.

Fremantle led the pack with its small secondary dwellings amendment in 2011, which was adopted in State policy in 2013.

This created another option for housing, however its suitability to the diverse range of small households is limited, and it does not cater for those who may want to own.

Additional titled dwellings in suburban areas typically happen through rezoning where “mum and dad developers” subdivide the family block and this has proved very popular in

Perth. This indicates an alignment between supply and demand — the land and housing can be relatively easily produced and the location and product are sufficiently attractive. Existing owners reap a windfall from the sale of the land. Building can take place using low-scale, cost-effective traditional techniques and prospective owners are attracted by a piece of land in a suburban area.

So why don’t we try to accelerate it to address the “missing middle”?

Unfortunately the current controls do not promote diversity. Single medium-sized homes are often replaced with two or more larger ones. In addition neighbourhoods are cleared of mature trees, driveways take over the verge, buildings loom over private backyards, paving dominates and the microclimate suffers.

Local councils are therefore increasingly reluctant to let this continue. If, however, modified local planning and design guidance could be developed that respects the essential character of suburban places then couldn’t an existing and popular mechanism for achieving urban infill be revived?

Such an approach would cater for a diversity of West Australian urban lifestyles and not limit broad-scale infill to apartments. It promises not only to safeguard Fremantle’s social diversity but also illustrate an approach that could be extended more broadly and truly shift the balance of new housing provision in Perth towards achieving a more compact city.

It’s not an easy task and requires research, development and community guidance but Fremantle is again prepared to help lead the effort.

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

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