Urban consolidation through increasing densification – The positive and negative impact on urban liveability for the individual

Urban consolidation through increasing densification – The positive and negative impact on urban liveability for the individual

The projection of Australia’s population growth is a rapid ascent from 24 million to 40 million by 2050, the majority accommodated within our capital cities (Commonwealth Treasury 2010). This projection poses major challenges for our cities urban planners in ensuring it is economically, environmentally, as well as socially sustainable (Mccrea and Walters 2012). To address this projected rapid population growth in our urban regions, consolidation through increasing densification within the existing nodes of our built environment, is a strategy being pursued by all levels of government (Mccrea and Walters 2012).



This impacts both positively and negatively on the daily lives of residents, and the perception of their neighbourhood. Many residents value their local way of living, have a local sense of identity and are emotionally attached to where they live, all contributing to place attachment (M.V. Giuliani 1993). Local town planners need to be mindful of the local perceptions of residents, as, due to place attachment, they more often remain post consolidation, whether they perceive a negative impact on their liveability or not (Fried 2000). This fact reinforces how the individual’s built environment should be a primary focus when planning. Urban consolidation through increasing densification needs to evaluate both the positive and negative impact on urban liveability for the individual, for if it is at the expense of liveability, it is a poor outcome for both residents and planners (K. Lovejoy 2010).


There is much debate on how urban consolidation enhances economic, environmental and social sustainability of our cities (R. Bunker 2005). Initially, in the 1980’s, urban consolidation policies were justified on the grounds of reducing government expenditure on infrastructure. This was met with resistance from local councils due to fear of losing control of local developments. The government changed tact, using the argument that urban consolidation was for sustainability and environmental factors, with reducing infrastructure spending a secondary incentive (B. Birrell 2005). Hogan (Hogan 2003) tells us that from an economic and environmental sustainability stance, there are justifications for urban consolidation such as protecting recreational areas from further encroachment from urban sprawl. Cristina Ramalho (Ramalho 2012) is of the same opinion, noting that, urbanisation has led to the rapid unprecedented decline of natural vegetation, causing it to fragment into isolated and small urban remnants. Suburbs evolving into sprawling spider-like or fractal configurations, interspersing with protected and rural areas across expansive regions (A. Schneider 2008). From another perspective, the sacrifice of our building heritage, the loss of local employment from the re-zoning of industrial sites and the rise in rents due to the re-zoning for higher density, all place pressure on small businesses, and social and creative enterprises impacting on the sense of community and local character. (Searle 2010). Tension is also created between urban consolidation and urban liveability with the loss of green space, demographic change threatening the community and the effect of densification on access to amenities due to congestion (Searle 2010).



However, opportunities to enhance urban liveability through densification also exist, such as increasing economic activity, social diversity, vibrancy, and additional amenities, all of which are promoted by developers and are of a benefit to residents (R. Fincher 2007). The key factor is the resident’s perception of their urban liveability. This is complex in nature as there are many considerations such as aesthetics; building height, building heritage, design; traffic congestion, parking space; housing affordability; parkland and open space and the requirement for additional services and infrastructure for incoming residents. To achieve an enhanced urban built environment, within the context of planning urban consolidation, it is imperative to take into consideration and understand the complexity of the relationships between urban liveability and urban consolidation and how they are perceived by the individual resident (Mccrea and Walters 2012).



Jane Jacobs (Martin Fuller 2017) evaluated that it is social interaction that makes a city great. It is the desires of the individual living within their own built environment. Her understanding of cities was based on her observations of social interaction. She proposed ideas to make cities walkable, more diverse and densely concentrated. Jacobs states “A truly visionary approach to urban planning should incorporate spaces with mixed uses, together with short, walkable blocks, large concentrations of people, and a mix of new and old buildings. This creates true urban vitality” (Martin Fuller 2017).




When planning for urban consolidation it is imperative to address the continuing dependency on cars, as increasing density around existing infrastructure and public transport would only result in an increase in traffic congestion, reducing the urban liveability within the area. To achieve this, significant investments in additional infrastructure, services and public transportation are required, in conjunction with a political drive to actively encourage the implementation of the planning proposals (Mccrea and Walters 2012). Also, councils need to encourage alternative modes of transport, together with facilitating an attitude change amongst residents regarding alternatives to car use and car ownership’s (Florida 2010). To avoid trading off urban liveability for increased densification, the needs of the additional residents associated with urban consolidation would also need to be addressed, as they would require an investment in basic infrastructure such as parking, schools and open spaces (Searle 2007).

In the pursuit of broader regional goals for urban consolidation the importance of local identity and lifestyles can easily be lost. Communities can take steps to be well-informed regarding new development proposals by ensuring they are well informed by their local government. The White Gum Valley (WGV) In Fremantle Western Australia is an example of this. In 2003 the Kim Beazley school site was earmarked for an infill development in the suburb of White Gum Valley. The 2.29 ha site became known as The White Gum Valley (WGV) development, where it was proposed to allocate 80 residential dwellings for medium-density infill housing (LandCorp 2016). The WGV community are an environmentally conscious community, with very strong local government representation. Due to their concern of their ways of living and unique local identity being under threat by this urban consolidation, a traditional approach was not considered acceptable by the Local Council Precinct Group. This stance led to an involved, ongoing process of design, community consultation and refinement (Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities 2017).


A case study prepared by Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities 2017) tells us that during the WGV development there was collaboration between key stakeholders and consultants of whom each brought their desired ambitions to the table. The local council, consultants, developers along with Water Corporation, Department of Water and LandCorp, were often driven by corporate commitments or supported by accreditation systems, all promoting their ‘best practice’ (Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities 2017) .
There was a mutual desire between the Department of Water, LandCorp, and Water Corporation to get better water sensitive urban developments happening. LandCorp developed design guidelines and a comprehensive guide for residents that articulated a wide range of initiatives towards sustainability. This led to accreditation, helped to communicate and benchmark achievements thus improving reputation and ultimately sales (LandCorp 2016).



Susan Moore tells us (Moore 2013) that potentially there are implications of unproblematically accepting or promoting new Urbanism as ‘best practice’ of those turning towards a ritualistic or formalistic set of norms, policies and practices for achieving the urban development and planning vision. Beauregard (2002) warns that the principles of New Urbanism “represent a self-delusion and a dangerous political ploy that stifles alternative urbanisms”. Whilst extreme, this statement is more a caution regarding applying principles and codes to community development. It exposes the challenges of encapsulating local variation and exactly whose point of view they advocate (Beauregard 2002).
Moore continues (Moore 2013) that the danger of abstracting New Urbanist thinking and converting its principles, is that once a specific formula is accepted as the path to the vision, there becomes little room for the free flow of ideas, for new concepts or for vigorous debate that should be broad, complex and as diverse as the issues that are presented. The fact that the principles of New Urbanism are interdependent, despite the promotions of its adherents, may stifle choice. Rather, the argument could be that, through the naturalisation of middle-way solutions they are being suppressed (Moore 2013).




Values and ways of living vary between suburbs, should be analysed, with a distinction between the liveability measured from what an individual experiences within the context of an urban environment, such as health, work or friendships, and what may be derived from an urban environment, through community, neighbourhood and housing (Mccrea and Walters 2012).
Urban consolidation at the sacrifice of urban liveability is a meagre outcome for urban planning. Local urban consolidation plans should be sensitive to both identifying and overloading the meaning of urban liveability to residents, with a prime view to enriching their urban liveability as part of implementing urban consolidation in a diverse range of suburbs. (Mccrea and Walters 2012). Urban consolidation through increasing densification needs to be mindful of the positive and negative impact on urban liveability for the individual.





Works Cited
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LandCorp. 2016. “WGV by LandCorp.” One Planet Action Plan 2016 Review. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.landcorp.com.au/Documents/Corporate/Innovation%20WGV/Innovation-WGV-OPL-Review-2016.pdf.
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