Number of dwellings, Greater Sydney vs Greater Melbourne, 2011 vs 2016 Census

In this week’s Tw3 The Urbanist comments on:

  • ‘It was always going to happen’: Sydney’s disappearing freestanding homes
  • Old and in the way: Built in 1882, wreckers to level ‘beautiful’ building in days
  • $11b Metro Rail project fails to fix ‘utterly inadequate’ station in its path
  • The 100 Most Influential Urbanists
  • Paris to ban all petrol and diesel cars by 2030
  • Few cities are as photogenic as Barcelona from above
  • What liveability? Melbourne not as good as it’s made out to be
  • Three things to ask yourself before doing community engagement
  • Self-driving cars, talking bins and mag-lev train: vision for Sydney in 20 years
  • The Housing and Transportation (H+T®) Affordability Index
  • The Toll to Drive Into Manhattan Should Be $100

‘It was always going to happen’: Sydney’s disappearing freestanding homes

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

They have dominated suburban Sydney for generations but the freestanding home with a driveway and a yard is in decline… About 70 per cent of all dwellings constructed in Sydney last financial year were medium and high density.

The days of the detached house are over. The absolute number of detached houses in Sydney fell slightly over the last five years. I’ve taken my own look at the number of dwellings in Greater Sydney and Greater Melbourne at the 2016 Census (see exhibit):

  • Sydney’s total inventory of dwellings is bigger than Melbourne’s; 1.62 million vs 1.57 million.
  • But Sydney’s stock of detached dwellings is smaller; 0.92 million vs 1.07 million.
  • And surprisingly, even Sydney’s stock of townhouses/terrace houses is smaller; 0.23 million vs 0.26 million.
  • However Sydney’s stock of apartments is much, much bigger than Melbourne’s: 0.46 million vs 0.23 million.

I also looked at the change over 2011 – 2016:

  • Melbourne built a lot more dwellings in total that Sydney; 139,640 vs 97,699.
  • Melbourne built marginally more detached dwellings; 28,295 vs -1,837.
  • And Melbourne also built a lot more townhouses/terrace house; 98,918 vs 33,064
  • But Melbourne built many fewer apartments than Sydney; just 12,186 vs 64,344.

Looking at the composition of dwelling stock in both cities, detached dwelling’s share slumped dramatically between 2011 and 2016. In Sydney, it fell from 61% to 57% and in Melbourne from 73% to 68%. Contrary to the narrative consistently cultivated by The Age, apartment’s share in Melbourne stayed at 15% over the period while the share of townhouses/terrace houses rose spectacularly, from 12% to 17%.

These are shares; so the scale of change over the last five years was massive. The big growth story in Melbourne in terms of dwelling type is townhouses; in Sydney it’s apartments.

$11b Metro Rail project fails to fix ‘utterly inadequate’ station in its path

From The Age:

Soon, South Kensington will be a railway station surrounded by major construction, as Melbourne’s $11 billion Metro Tunnel under the central city – which exits here – gets built. And yet zero work is planned to improve the stop. It could, Ms Fitzgerald says, do with an upgrade. 

Hey, my local station could do with an upgrade too! Why does Kensington Station get a big story in The Age when there are stations everywhere that need work? Well, I suppose if it’s going to get a big increase in patronage because of Melbourne Metro trains using it, then I guess it should get priority. But are Metro trains going to use it? Take a look at the very last para in The Age’s report:

A Melbourne Metro Rail Authority spokesman said that, as the new Metro Tunnel project would not link to South Kensington railway station, its upgrade was “not within the scope” of the project.

Metro trains won’t stop at South Kensington Station! That crucial point comes 19 paras from the start and after the reader’s waded past five images and an advertisement! Seriously Fairfax, this is a non-story!

If there’s a potential story here at all, it’s about the general state of Melbourne’s stations, it’s not about Melbourne Metro. And there’s more to it than upgrading a down-at-heel station. The Age might care to look at how many Melbourne stations aren’t fully DDA compliant (hint: have a look at how Kensington performs on this criterion).

Old and in the way: Built in 1882, wreckers to level ‘beautiful’ building in days

From The Age:

A Hong Kong-owned property developer, Spacious, bought the property in 2014 for $10 million and now has approval for 105 apartments. A three-year campaign by residents in townhouses next door, to save the building and stop the apartment block replacing it, has come to nothing.

We should protect buildings that are very important. Unfortunately, Australian cities lost a lot of their best buildings in the post-war period (and earlier), but now we’re trying to keep stuff we wouldn’t otherwise have given a second look.

488 La Trobe St is not particularly important in historical terms. According to The Age, Council only sought to protect this building in the CBD six months ago. Yes, it has a history like every building, every person and every object has a history, but that’s not the same as important. Nor is it exceptional in aesthetic terms or make an irreplaceable contribution to the streetscape.

Cities aren’t museums or art galleries or antique shops; we can’t keep everything and anything just because it’s old. We can keep paintings, songs and books – even lacklustre ones – because the cost of maintaining them is low. That’s not the case with buildings. Someone must pay for maintenance and then there’s the opportunity cost i.e. this site could provide homes for 105 households if it were redeveloped.

We’ve already protected large parts of the inner city from development. There are 100,000 protected places in Victoria, including 6,000 in the tiny City of Melbourne. We also restrict the level of development of large brownfield sites in the inner city (see Is 16-storeys OK for the inner city?).

No one should be surprised that residents in the town houses next door oppose a residential tower, even though this is the CBD. Nor is it any surprise that Council belatedly defaults to supporting the residents, especially given the Minister is the one who makes the decision.

We should remember that every existing building, including 488 La Trobe St, replaced something that was valued by someone else. This is an opportunity to potentially improve the city i.e. increase housing supply in the most sustainable location in the metro area, improve streetscape, provide better facilities at street level, perhaps even create excellent design.

The 100 Most Influential Urbanists

From Planetizen:

The results are in, and Planetizen readers have chosen the “Most Influential Urbanists” of all time. And, yes, we mean all time. Names on the list date back as far as 498 BCE, but there’s also no shortage of contemporary thinkers, activists, planners, and designers in the final list of 100.

Jane Jacobs tops the list (of course!) and Lewis Mumford, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright are in the top ten. So also are prominent contemporary urbanists like Jan Gehl, Andres Duany, and Charles Marohn.

There’s an argument to be had about what “influential” means and who qualifies as an “urbanist”, but I’m not impressed that the late Paul Mees didn’t make this list. Dr Mees was both an analytical and a creative thinker, whereas this list has too many one-trick ponies who merely sell received wisdom for a living. These sorts of popularity polls, like internet “best of” lists, aren’t worth a lot.

Paris to ban all petrol and diesel cars by 2030

From the Evening Standard:

Paris is to ban all combustion-engine cars – including those fuelled by both diesel and petrol – by 2030. Authorities unveiled the plans on Thursday in a radical escalation of a strategy to cut carbon emissions in the world’s most-visited city.

It’s only a statement of intent at this stage, but it makes great sense in a city like Paris. But it’s not as dramatic as sounds, as it only applies to the City of Paris i.e. the historic centre enclosed by the Boulevard Périphérique. It doesn’t apply to the suburbs where the great majority of Parisians live (see also How dense are our cities compared to Paris?).

The City of Paris comprises just 105 sq km of the 2,845 sq km of the total Paris urbanised area. It’s an area equivalent to a circle with a 5 km radius. It has 2.23 million residents plus tourists and is serviced by 303 metro stations, so there’s a strong case for banning all private vehicles rather than just those using petrol/diesel (the equivalent area of Melbourne has 0.430,000 residents and 28 rail stations).

Few cities are as photogenic as Barcelona from above

This image of Barcelona Eixample (via Urban Demographics) is indeed photogenic, but it’s also interesting because it shows the internal open spaces enclosed by those famous beveled-corner blocks aren’t always or even usually the cool, verdant green parks that many non-resident planners imagine. They’re mostly built over with low-rise structures or parking spaces.

Residents live in apartments yet by Australian standards have minimal access to parks. They do this without the mental health problems we seem to think they should accordingly suffer. Is that because the wide streets function as a substitute? Or is it because we Australians routinely over-estimate how much people value parks? Residents of cities make trade-offs among attributes; the bundle is what matters. In this case Eixample offers compensating benefits.

What liveability? Melbourne not as good as it’s made out to be

From The Australian Financial Review:

The Creating Liveable Cities in Australia report does not rank cities, but creates a set of seven measures – walkability, public transport, public open space, housing affordability, employment, food environments and alcohol environments – by which they can be compared and maps them along those lines. 

Seriously, how can the performance of private vehicles be ignored as an indicator of liveability when they comprise 72% of all trips by residents of a city like Melbourne? Public transport is (rightly) included, but it accounts for only 8.7% of trips by Melburnians. Barcelona wouldn’t do well on these measures; not only is access to parks poor, but this report counts living close to alcohol outlets as bad for liveability.

Three things to ask yourself before doing community engagement

From Building Strong Communities:

Community engagement is the involvement of citizens in the decision-making of government. It is essential to the future of good decision-making, but its rise as an industry has done little to curb the current collapse in trust in government.  This may be because it is increasingly a method without a clear underpinning public sector purpose, and it often asks citizens to deliberate on issues they would rather leaders lead on. Here are three question’s you should ask yourself before engaging: (1) Should we be here? (or do you really need leadership?); (2) Who knows what you need to know?; (3) Are you serious?

Three relevant and important questions from Jeanette Pope. My take on consultation is it’s often essentially market research for professionals i.e. understanding and responding to users. For politicians, though, it’s primarily to conform to the near-universal expectation they’ll “consult”. It’s also useful for identifying potential political risks.

In planning, consultation is usually with a tiny group of committed citizens who often think in the same way as the planners, even if they don’t agree on the details. The great majority – those who don’t turn out to meetings – are seldom heard and often ignored on the grounds “if they can’t be bothered…”. On the other side, interested citizens get to put their case and air grievances, but many mistakenly think consultation involves making decisions on a project or on government priorities.

Self-driving cars, talking bins and mag-lev train: vision for Sydney in 20 years

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

Self-driving cars on roads with solar panels, hologram commercials, drones making deliveries, skyways between buildings, a magnetically-levitating train pulling into Circular Quay and trees. Lots more trees…

Futurology is a dangerous business, even only looking 20 years ahead. Think back to the rapid and massive – and largely unforeseen at the time – changes ushered in by the contraceptive pill. There’s now a part of the internet that’s devoted to laughing at the forecasts made in the past.

Most visions focus on technology and are firmly rooted in the issues of today. Often they’re about what the forecaster thinks the city should be like (as if he or she were omnipotent) rather than what seems most likely, no matter how disappointing it might seem from today’s perspective. I obviously don’t know if the predictions in this article will prove to be accurate (cars powered by on-board solar panels?!), but they don’t look very profound to me.

The Housing and Transportation (H+T®) Affordability Index

From H+T Affordability Index:

By taking into account the cost of housing as well as the cost of transportation, H+T provides a more comprehensive understanding of the affordability of place. Dividing these costs by the representative income illustrates the cost burden of housing and transportation expenses placed on a typical household.

A key weakness of this methodology, at least as it applies to Australia’s capital cities, is that it attributes the full cost of car ownership to the residential location, when even those in much more accessible areas have high rates of car ownership e.g. 91% of dwellings in outer suburban Melton have at least one car, compared to 90% in middle ring Heidelberg. The proportion of dwellings with two or more cars is higher in Melton, but not by that much, 57% vs 50%.

The other thing about Australian capitals is the price of housing is enormous and dwarfs travel costs. Thanks to tax policy, housing is also seen as an investment, so the capital gain must be factored in.

The Toll to Drive Into Manhattan Should Be $100

From Motherboard:

With an average of two people in each car, Komanoff found, driving a car into Manhattan on a weekday causes about $160 of negative externalities to everybody else trying to use the road. And that’s why a token congestion charge of five or even 15 dollars isn’t enough. Driving a private car into Manhattan should cost $100 per trip, offering reduced pricing for incomes below $100,000 a year or licensed taxis and ride-sharing cars.

US$100 per day? Sounds a lot but this is Manhattan, one of the world’s most productive places paying some of the highest salaries on the planet. Strikes me as a plausible charge, although I don’t see the case for the concessions proposed by Mr Komanoff; exemptions are a key reason the London congestion charge has weakened. Our capitals aren’t quite in the same class but the state-imposed CBD parking levy of just $1,400 in Melbourne and $2,400 in Sydney is pathetic; it’s about $6 to $10 a day.