Transport and land use analyst Chris Loader published a bunch of powerful maps on lot sizes in Melbourne yesterday on his blog, Charting Transport.
One important thing he does with the data is show that the “quarter acre lot” (1,000 sq m) of suburban legend is in reality a very minor player in today’s Melbourne.
Of the 1,800,000 residential lots in Melbourne, just 78,000 are 1,000 sq m or larger i.e. 3.8% (See first exhibit). And we can safely assume that many of these are occupied by multi-unit buildings, especially in inner ring suburbs.
The median lot size in the fringe growth areas is also a lot lower than the “quarter acre” of legend (see second exhibit):
The more recent growth areas to the west, north and south-east see median block sizes of between 400 and 500 square metres (purple), reflecting higher dwelling densities encouraged by current planning policy for growth areas. Quarter-acre blocks are the median only in places like Upwey, Belgrave and Portsea.
The ideal of the large suburban lot has a long history in Australia. As early as the the 1790s, Governor Phillip suggested urban residential properties should be 60 feet by 150 feet (0.2 acres) to provide adequate space for sanitation and growing food.
I expect quarter acre blocks constituted a larger proportion of the total allotment stock in Mebourne in the past. They were relatively common in some suburbs developed in some eras, like Montmorency in the 1960s. Many were subsequently sub-divided for town houses or two detached houses.
But while the idea of a large lot is key part of the suburban dream, the typical new lot in Melbourne was never as large as a quarter acre, at least not since 1900. Australia’s other big cities will have different histories but I suspect it’s true of them too.
There’s much more detail about block sizes in Chris’s excellent article at Charting Transport.