Wednesday, 26 May 2010

In Sydney it's called "new housing in existing suburbs" and in Brisbane it's called "development of infill sites". Whatever you name it, increasing the density of housing near good transport hubs is a growing reality for panicked long-time residents. They are turning into NIMBYs - "not in my back yard".

But there are rewards, too. Busy Chatswood on Sydney's Northern Line has just received a major facelift - the photo shows a planned building that straddles the spanking-new railway station. And the state government last year completed a new line from the station which takes passengers to Epping, a suburb to the west, via Macquarie University. The isolated campus badly needed a rail link.

Most residents of these big coastal cities, where population continues to grow along with Australia's high levels of migrant intake, would have little sympathy for the NIMBY position. It's well illustrated by comments from the mayor of Ku-ring-gai, Ian Cross, who labels the plans the NSW government has pushed through using powerful planning laws enacted several years ago "a recipe for disaster", according to a Sydney Morning Herald story today.

But disastrous for whom? Sure, a few nice old houses might be torn down to make way for six- or eight-storey apartment blocks. But the proximity to a rail line that is vastly under-utilised compared to other Sydney lines, makes the plan a no-brainer. Ask a commuter who lives on Sydney's busy Western Line or Bankstown Line how they feel about the gripes of north shore residents, and they'll probably scoff at the quibbles.

Brisbane has just started to tackle the problem, and the state premier, Anna Bligh, has announced the formation of a new body, Growth Management Queensland, that will "encourage developers to provide infill developments, which are at present more expensive than cheaper 'greenfields' land", according to a Brisbane Times story today.

Most of the work of the new entity will be convincing residents of inner-urban suburbs to accept development. Brisbane is unusual in Australia, where most large cities already have a substantial number of apartment blocks. In Sydney there are art deco blocks dating back to the 1930s and thousands of red-brick, two-storey blocks built in the 1970s. Brisbane has nothing like this, and it's time for the city to bite the bullet and accept that growth must sometimes be up, rather than out.

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