Liveability has become the latest catch cry for media attention in the urban domain, and so following my analysis last month of criteria that can affect unit quality, it is timely to look at what constitutes suburban quality.
This photo is indicative of what many would consider a highly desirable aspect in the liveability stakes, and captures the quintessential Sydney Harbour ambience. But what proportion of our almost 5 million residents have direct access to such wonderful public open space with views to die for, and how does vista contribute to real liveability?
In the recent exercise undertaken for SMH by Tract Consultants and Deloitte Access Economics - a total of 16 indicators were used to determine a suburb’s liveability, including transport, education, traffic, views, proximity to employment hubs and access to the beach.
Lower North Shore fared very well, with Lane Cove coming in at No. 41, and Greenwich and Northwood even higher. Lavender Bay topped the list with the next six either side from Kirribilli around to Wollstonecraft, but all these suburbs are well down a list based on affordability. A less tangible but equally relevant indicator of liveability is ‘sense of community’, a critical part of cultural/social mix that I believe should have had ‘skin in the game’.
Some recent higher density areas such as East Village and Victoria Park near Zetland have become investor suburbs, with around only one third of units in the hands of owner-occupiers, resulting in a high proportion of temporary tenants who contribute little to creation of genuine community. Clearly most developers are out to make profits, and a high proportion of these profits have recently come from overseas investors who have no real interest beyond interest return on investment, and for who local character is judged by its capacity to add to future resale.
But bias towards short term tenants over owner/occupiers will see lost potential for real community to be built and maintained, while inclusion of scope for affordable housing and seniors/retirement living will help raise the level of longer term residents with stake in the community and capacity to contribute to it.
Lane Cove has seen a huge increase in unit dwellers over the past few years, and it would be good to know the breakdown of buyers to ascertain how many actually reside in the area. Judging by numbers of people around the Plaza, traffic congestion and queues for parking, our village has become a ‘Mecca’ for local shopping and entertaining, and without loss of our sense of community. Fortuitously Lane Cove has ‘good bones’, having benefitted from its mix of public housing, aged care and seniors accommodation along with single houses and townhouses close to many of the liveability indices that younger families attracted to – but don’t mention the traffic!
In my March TVO (The Village Observer, Lane Cove local paper) article I wrote -
So much real estate jargon for new development is focused on lifestyle, village character, and local benefits without really looking at what can be added to a growing community. - Zoning or planning code changes to allow for more ‘mix’ in the mixed use definition are necessary, along with design thinking around how to better guide local village life.
The term ‘inclusionary zoning’ has recently emerged as a strategy to require a proportion of affordable accommodation in new residential developments, with inevitable pushback from the development industry concerned about potential effects on yield and profit margin. This would, I believe, offer some very significant benefits that might not seem so obvious to those more interested in return on investment or profit in lifestyle, and is a key to growing a balanced community that underpins liveability.
In TVO July 2015 I mentioned the pressing need to address the strains in our social fabric—the network of connections that tie us together as communities. Pressures on lifestyle from commuting and less time for socialising with friends and neighbours has diminished social capital, and as SMH journalist Ross Gittins said then - “There’s plenty of research showing these things are strongly linked to the wellbeing of individuals and communities”
Social capital feeds ‘sense of community’ which is in turn fundamental to liveability.
New inner urban development should, in addition to the stock standard units, include provision for some social housing, low-cost affordable housing, and intermediate accommodation for retirees. A resultant more inclusive residential mix can then help build connections between neighbours and communities, creating social networks and sharing service opportunities that can cross age, cultural and social barriers – and make the potential for urban liveability more believable.
Principal of Architects Johannsen + Associates and Lane Cove resident
This article appeared in the Lane Cove local paper, The Village Observer.