Human Settlements Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7

Urban stocks and processes (continued)

Population, households and human capital (continued)

Population density

In an international context, Australian cities have developed at low population densities. Sydney, with an average metropolitan density of 690 persons per square kilometre (km2), is well below Asian cities such as Shanghai (6600), Tokyo (12 900), Jakarta (14 000) and Seoul (17 500), and western cities such as Copenhagen (5300), Montreal (5800), Amsterdam (4300), London (4300) and New York (9300). Population densities of Australian cities are, however, increasing as the 1986-1996 comparisons listed in Table 11 indicate.

Table 11: Average population densities in Australian cities, 1986-1996.
City Density (persons per km2)
  1986 1996
Sydney 620 690
Melbourne 385 412
Brisbane 186 230
Adelaide 188 199
Perth 141 164

Source: Baker et al. (2001).

Population densities vary across cities, typically declining with distance from the central business districts. Such is the case for Australia's largest cities, where the inner four kilometres being the location for the most significant gains in density over the past decade or so (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Residential densities of Australian cities, 1986 and 1996.

 Residential densities of Australian cities, 1986 and 1996

Source: Baker et al. (2001)

This has occurred because a shift in dwelling location preferences has been matched by significant shifts in housing supply.

The increase in medium density housing (such as apartments, townhouses, flats and semi-detached dwellings) as alternatives to the traditional detached house is evident not only across the nation's large cities (Figure 16), but also widely within them. The swing to medium density forms of living is especially apparent in inner city localities, where high-rise apartment and townhouse living has become a lifestyle choice for an increasing number of households. The increase in supply of medium density housing is now being reflected in increased population densities - at least in selected inner city localities (Figure 17).

Figure 16: Change in dwelling types as percentage of total in large cities, 1986-1996. [HS Indicator 3.5]

 Change in dwelling types as percentage of total in large cities, 1986-1996

Source: ABS (1996a)

Figure 17: Change in population density in Sydney's inner ring, 1986-1999. [HS Indicator 3.4]

 Change in population density in Sydney's inner ring, 1986-1999

Source: Derived from ABS Regional Population Growth, ABS cat. no. 3218.0 (various issues), compiled by Demographic Unit, New South Wales Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, May 2000

In the middle suburbs there is also tangible evidence of re-urbanisation, including increased dual-occupancy and multi-unit redevelopment in neighbourhoods of traditional detached housing, but at a much lower level of intensity than the inner-city. This has been in response to state government policies in the 1990s which have encouraged urban consolidation (Department of Infrastructure 1997) and which in turn have initiated spirited grassroots opposition in the form of 'Save Our Suburbs' groups who are protesting at a loss of neighbourhood character (Lewis 1999). The upshot has been significant litigation, especially in the inner and middle suburbs of Australia's largest cities. The response in some cities has been a review of policy related to residential development (Department of Infrastructure 1997, Department of Planning, Victoria 2000), seeking to retain the beneficial element of consolidation. This is achieved by utilising existing infrastructure and providing greater access to existing services and facilities, while increasing responsiveness to issues of neighbourhood character and urban design.

The development of detached housing remains strongest in the outer suburbs and fringes of cities, often in large-scale 'planned communities'. These developments, however, incorporate smaller lots with 'courtyard'-type homes, as well as traditional designs but on smaller lots. Examples of such developments are those undertaken by the Delfin Company at Golden Grove in the outer north-east of Adelaide, and at Forest Lake and North Lakes in the outer south-west and north-east of Brisbane. While outer suburban housing development traditionally has been aimed at first home buyers looking to enter at the lower end of the housing market, there is some evidence to suggest that households moving to these developments are also change-over buyers seeking a pseudo-country/rural lifestyle away from the big city (Burgess and Skeltys 1992). There is now an emerging trend among the baby-boomer generation to trade down to smaller house-and-land packages after children have left home, to a greater degree than has been the case with previous generations.