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Urban living: the shrinking fringe

By Stephen Smith - posted Wednesday, 23 November 2011

We’ll all be ‘rooned' said Hanrahan…apologies to John O’Brien for the use of his words but the gloom of the poem is apt.

We’ll all be ruined, I hear and cringe,
If we don’t release land on the urban fringe.

No jobs, no homes just the city and slum. 
The government must act, the people are glum.

Australia is a growing country. There is no doubt about that, and we need to accommodate that growth. According to the ABS, Australia's population grew by 1.4 per cent during the year ended 31 March 2011. It also notes that the growth rate has been declining since the peak of 2.2 per cent for the year ended 31 December 2008. The figure this year showed the lowest growth rate since the year ended 30 September 2005.


If we put a few trends together there seems to be an emerging picture different to that portrayed by the doomsday cult for the expansion of the urban fringe.

We have an aging population. This brings changes in requirements as people begin to trade off lifestyle and housing options.  Ongoing work by the University of the Sunshine Coast into housing preferences for seniors found some interesting trends.

For instance, there was a distinct preference for housing in walkable locations close to shops, employment and services. Shops in this instance are characterised by fine grain retail shops – ‘High Streets’ – as opposed to big box internal mall offerings such as your standard Westfields.

There was also a strong desire for public transport facilities, not just for seniors to access services but to enable others to access them.

It is becoming evident from this unfolding work that seniors understood very clearly, that there were health benefits in being located close to stimulating environments particularly those with young people. Access to education assisted in providing this stimulation. These facilities will not be located on the fringe as they usually need larger urban catchments.



Another trend worth noting is the reduction in car usage across the developed world, a phenomenon referred to as Peak Car Usage.

In an article in The Fifth Estate entitled Peak Car Use, Newman and Kenworthy note research indicates a slow down in growth of car usage (car use per capita) in cities in the developed world from a high in the 1960s of 42 per cent, in the 1970s of 26 per cent and the 1980s of 23 per cent. New data from the researchers shows that the period 1995-2005 had a growth in car use per capita of just 5.1 per cent. 

The article goes on to explore the reasons for this and they note the following factors that are influential on the slow down in growth of car use:

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About the Author

Stephen Smith is an associate director of Deicke Richards. He is a qualified town planner and urban designer with experience in Australia and the UK.

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