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 (continued)

New production landscapes

  • Patterns within the big cities
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    Significant change is also occurring in the nature and spatial form of industrial and production landscapes across cities and towns. As a result of broader globalising forces, economic restructuring and technological change, the industrial and commercial landscapes across and within human settlements are taking on a new character.

    Over the last decade, the shifts in the relative shares of new construction in various industry sectors has been quite dramatic (Table 15). While office construction is still important, accounting for 15.9% of total non-residential construction in 1997-1998, its share of total construction is significantly lower than at the beginning of the 1990s, when it accounted for 35.4%. The share of factory construction is also down, while it is up for other business premises (including warehouses and communications facilities), as it is marginally for the construction of shops.

    Table 15: Value of work in the construction of various types of non-residential buildings in Australia, 1989-1990 to 1997-1998. (Percentages of total value for each year.)
    Construction type 1989-1990 1993-1994 1997-1998
    Hotel 8.5 3.5 7.9
    Factory 10.6 8.9 7.7
    Office 35.4 20.3 15.9
    Shop 13.2 16.8 17.3
    Other business premises 11.2 11.0 14.9
    Education 7.0 13.4 10.4
    Health 4.6 11.3 9.7
    Other 9.4 14.8 16.2
    Total (%) 100 100 100
    Total non-residential value ($million) 15 500 8 451 13 328

    Source: O'Connor (1999).

    Patterns within the big cities

    Within the state capital cities, the spatial patterns of distribution of non-residential construction is both concentrated and dispersed. An analysis by O'Connor et al. (2001) of patterns of the value of construction in the various production and consumption sectors (Table 16) showed that:

    • hotel and office construction is highly concentrated in the core of the cities;
    • factory and shop construction is more dispersed across the middle and outer suburban localities;
    • other business premises construction is predominantly in the middle and outer suburbs; and
    • health facility construction investment is also strongly suburban in location.
    Table 16: The share of non-residential construction by type of building located in zones of Australia's metropolitan areas, 1988-1998.A
    (Percentages of total for each construction type.)
    Construction type Core Inner Middle Outer
    Offices 72.2 6.2 14.2 7.3
    Factories 7.3 5.9 41.5 45.3
    Other business premises 17.3 14.9 38.3 29.5
    Shops 19.9 10.0 29.9 40.2
    Hotels 72.8 6.4 11.5 9.3
    Education 25.2 10.9 27.3 36.6
    Health 24.8 11.8 38.8 24.5

    A Value of work done annually, summed for the decade.

    Source: ABS Survey of Building Construction (Cat. no. 8755.0).

    This is in line with trends first identified by Gipps et al. (1997) of a 'turnaround' in the location of industry employment in Australia's capital cities from the early 1980s through the 1990s. Manufacturing industry and associated jobs became more decentralised, while service industries and employment are now more concentrated in the CBD, the inner suburbs and some middle ring suburbs. Investment in the construction of education facilities shows concentrations in the core (associated with inner-city universities) and in the outer suburbs. Investment in the construction of entertainment facilities is also concentrated in the core and dispersed to the outer suburbs.

    In the mid-1990s, in aggregate, the nation's metropolitan capitals attracted a little over two-fifths of the value of all non-residential construction investment in Australia, with about 18% of this being in CBD core areas, which remain particularly strong. The inner-city suburbs are tending to attract smaller shares of non-residential construction investment, except in health facilities and other business premises sectors, so that in economic investment terms the inner city renaissance discussed earlier is still restricted largely to the core areas, focusing on the CBD and its fringe areas of commercial development. It is the middle and particularly the outer suburbs of Australia's big cities that are attracting large shares of non-residential construction investment, equivalent to that going to the core areas - that is, about 18% in each case. Outside the non-metropolitan capital cities, the remainder of rural and regional Australia in the mid-1990s were attracting about 32% of investment in construction of offices, while the proportion was 55% for hotels, 42% for shops, 44% for factories, 27% for other business premises, 35% for education and 45% for health facilities.

    With the rise of the 'new economy' activities, distinct suburban production landscapes have emerged that incorporate 'edge cities' - very large suburban nodes with concentrations of business and other commercial activities and employment - and technology parks. This is best seen in Sydney's north shore corridor. Australia's big cities have not yet developed edge cities to the same extent that big cities have in the USA. Perhaps this is because Australia's cities lack the comprehensive freeway infrastructure of US cities, as freeway interchanges tend to be located where edge cities have evolved. In Australia, edge city developments are associated with rail transport (Chatswood in Sydney), suburban universities and major arterial roads (Macquarie/North Ryde in Sydney and around Monash/Waverley in Melbourne's middle south-east).


    Demand for new residential, commercial and industrial floor space has continued. Growth in the housing stock reflects several factors: population growth, increased rate of household formation, an unknown level of reconstruction reflecting building or style obsolescence, and an increasing trend towards higher-density redevelopment. Private investment in housing in Australia is high, given tax advantages to homeowners and landlords alike.

    Within the housing sector, material consumption continues to outpace population growth through increasing number of homes per capita, decreasing numbers of occupants per dwelling, and increasing floor space per new dwelling. The last factor is due in part to the increasing popularity of two-storey dwellings, encouraged by a lower construction cost per square metre. The trend towards more home-based work could sustain demands for more space in dwellings into the future.

    A positive trend has been the conversion of industrial and commercial buildings to residential use, saving energy embodied in building materials (although the construction and demolition waste stream remains high - see Materials). The revitalisation of local 'village' and strip shopping centres and the integrated nature of new master-planned communities in Australian cities (e.g. North Lakes in Brisbane, Mawson Lakes in Adelaide, St Marys in Sydney) are small but positive moves towards more self-contained communities and a consequent reduction in motorised travel.

    With Australia's transition to a 'post-industrial' economy, and as the demand for new types of urban environments associated with 'new economy' knowledge-based activities in the services and information sectors emerge, we are likely to see an intensification of the spatial processes of concentration and dispersal that are reshaping the structure of Australia's cities, as outlined in Maher and Stimson (1994) and Newton (1995) and captured in Figure 1. The continuing strong role of agglomeration economies among the new economy activities is reinforcing the importance of old nodes of concentration of activity, employment and construction in the CBDs of the big cities, as well as creating the emergence of new suburban nodes of concentration, as seen in the edge cities and new technospaces. New nodal concentrations in technospaces developed through the reengineering and renewal of old inner city industrial landscapes is also occurring, as in the Australian Technology Park project on the redeveloped old Everleigh railways in inner Sydney.

    In addition, processes of dispersal are becoming stronger as new telecommunications technologies allow new economy activities to be more footloose, and as the continuing strong processes of suburbanisation generate demand for services across the outer suburbs and fringe areas of the big cities as well as across the mega-metro regions. Thus, activities, employment and the construction of buildings where people work in offices, factories, warehouses and retailing are becoming more widely dispersed. This is also occurring in many non-metropolitan localities, and in particular in manufacturing. Selected non-metropolitan locations are also attracting both concentrated and dispersed development of tourism and entertainment landscapes. The consequence is that demand for new and renewed non-residential construction in Australia remains inherently vibrant, even given the inevitable building cycles in the construction sector. There are also flow-on implications for demand in construction and building materials, and consumption of energy. Furthermore, the growth of services and new economy activities is associated with a dramatic increase in passenger and freight vehicle movements, which will have consequences for the construction of road infrastructure, parking spaces and the increased consumption of fossil fuels. These are areas to which we now turn.