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)

Housing, industrial and commercial spaces

  • Housing
  • New consumption landscapes
  • New production landscapes
  • Implications
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  • Second homes
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    Australia's housing stock represents a complex mixture of housing types, ages and building materials. The housing stock continues to increase quite rapidly, driven by a mixture of Australia's high rate of new household formation, immigration, inter-regional migration, changing housing preferences, changing housing consumption (floor space) and an increasing propensity for some households to have holiday homes or apartments. For example, the housing stock increased by 130% in Perth between 1971 and 1996, and even in the larger cities of Sydney and Melbourne, where rates of growth were lower, housing stock increased by almost 60%. Between 1947 and 1971, Australia's housing stock grew very rapidly, more than doubling in all the state capital cities (Forster 1999, p.73). Indeed, almost 40% of the nation's housing stock has been built in the last couple of decades.

    Approximately 80% of all dwellings in Australia (of which there were 7.1 million in 1998) are classed as separate (detached) houses. Differences exist between the big cities in the mix of housing types (Table 14). While detached houses dominate in all of them, Sydney has the smallest share out of all the large cities, with 63.5% of dwellings being detached and 32.8% being semi-detached dwellings or flats and apartments. The other large capital cities have a much smaller proportion of medium-density dwellings (i.e. attached dwellings). The links to the population density discussed previously are evident.

    Table 14: Structure of dwellings in major cities, 1996. (Percentages of the total number of dwellings in each city). [HS Indicator 3.5]
    Type of dwelling Sydney Melbourne Brisbane Perth Adelaide
    Separate house 63.5 74.1 79.6 75.1 73.2
    Semi-detached, row, terrace etc. 10.1 7.9 5.4 14.0 13.5
    Flat, four (or more) storey block 7.6 1.5 1.3 1.8 0.4
    Other flats 15.1 13.3 10.2 6.8 11.2
    Caravan, cabin, houseboat 0.4 0.3 1.1 0.5 0.3
    Dwelling attached to shop 0.6 0.5 0.2 0.1 0.2
    Other, not stated 2.7 2.3 2.3 1.8 1.2
    Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

    Source: Forster (1999).

    Due to the changing household structure the preference of Australians for different types of housing may be changing, however they are also consuming more floor space. ABS data shows the increase in average gross floor area of new housing over the seven-year period 1992-1999 (see Figure 22). For Australia as a whole, the average annual increase was almost 3%. This trend towards increased consumption of housing floor space, particularly given the much higher rate of household formation relative to population increase in Australia, has significant implications for the consumption of building materials, as well as for household effects and appliances, and as a result is an important source of increasing demand for energy.

    Figure 22: Change in average floor area of new housing. [HS Indicator 6.1]

     Change in average floor area of new housing

    Source: ABS (2000d)

    Second homes

    There is a perception that housing consumption in Australia is also being driven by people acquiring second homes, including holiday houses and apartments, but data on second homes is difficult to obtain. Information that is available is based on survey data estimates and is subject to large standard errors, thus ruling out spatial disaggregation for analysis of patterns. Despite this, the survey data provides a general indication of the possible size of the second home market. Unpublished figures from the Australian Housing Survey (ABS 1999d) suggest that second homes, which can represent either holiday homes or investment properties, comprise 15% of the total housing stock. Holiday homes account for 3.2% of the housing stock.

    New consumption landscapes

    Consumption spaces - purpose-built or redeveloped environments designed to encourage the consumption of goods and services - have become an increasing part of life in human settlements, especially the large cities and some of the coastal tourism towns. Large shopping 'towns' are prime examples in suburban localities, while the redevelopment of many inner city precincts has been associated with the emergence of the so-called 'cafe society' and a preference for inner city living. Other examples are entertainment theme parks and recreation precincts, such as Darling Harbour in Sydney and Southbank in Brisbane, and Dream World, Sea World and Movie World on the Gold Coast.

    Sydney CBD and Darling Harbour

    Sydney CBD and Darling Harbour.

    Source: Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour

    Emergence of the 'cafe society' in shopping strips

    Emergence of the 'cafe society' in shopping strips.

    Source: CSIRO (2003c)

    Reflecting changes in consumer behaviour, recent trends in shopping centre development are characterised by concerns about enjoyment and entertainment as part of the complete shopping experience. As a result, regional shopping centres are being developed to function as more than just one-stop shopping venues. They have become important suburban consumption spaces, providing the opportunity to shop for and consume a range of goods and services not traditionally provided in such spaces, including a range of recreational facilities that include cinemas, restaurants and gymnasiums (Allan 1998). These large consumption spaces have reshaped shopping patterns and have become a significant part of the urban landscape in regional and outer suburban localities.

    Contrasting with these large shopping developments, but having an equally important impact on urban landscapes, has been the resurgence of many inner and middle suburb shopping strips and the development of local consumer precincts. In localities once suffering from a declining population base and low consumer patronage, processes associated with reurbanisation have resulted in the development of a new clientele characterised by an orientation towards enjoying the material benefits and amenities of modern urban society.

    The preferences of this new client base are dominated by a desire to be close to amenities such as restaurants, cafes and theatres, and has resulted in the development of a distinct consumption and service-based landscape. Often these transformations have been facilitated actively by local governments through local area planning schemes focusing on the creation of 'urban villages' in what is part of the so-called trend to the 'new urbanism'.