City of cities, city of villages: Peter Chittenden

Peter ChittendenJuly 14, 20150 min read

Historically Sydney embraced apartment living relatively early, in many inner suburbs there are examples of apartment buildings dating back to the 1930’s. Sydney’s appetite for apartment living has increased steadily ever since and this has resulted in a diverse stock of medium and high-density apartments to a greater extent than Melbourne.

Sydney has also alone successfully grown an urban landscape to become a ‘city of cities’ while the City of Sydney has long promoted the idea of a ‘city of villages’.

The evolution in high-density living and the continued growth of our varied urban centres has combined to help produced a rich and increasingly diverse apartment market. With each area offering interesting, diverse and appealing communities and neighbourhoods, as a result new apartment projects have also evolved in design and size to fit these different ‘cities’ and ‘villages’.

It’s a pattern of development that in Australia is unique to Sydney, much more so than Melbourne and with apartment living only going to increase, this extent of diversity appeals to many developers and buyers. It enables varied cultural outcomes to evolve and so makes each area more engaging and exciting.

One result is that we see architectural variety clearly responding to the different geographic and cultural markets that have developed. This also adds character to the city and creates different neighbourhoods that appeal to buyers.

City of Cities

Unlike Sydney, no other Australian city has developed the number of major high-density satellite centres such as Parramatta, Auburn, Bankstown, Bondi Junction, North Sydney and Chatswood.

This pattern of development is not surprising given the growing proportion of people living in high density housing. In 2001 one in seven (15.7%) of Sydney dwellings were classified as high density, by 2011 that had increased to 20.7%, today the figure is close to 30% and growing.

The highest proportions are located in the City of Sydney (70.2%) with the CBD (94.3%), and then followed by North Sydney (60.8%), Waverley (49%) and Woollahra (46.4%).

The appeal of these ‘satellite centres’ locations is somewhat surprising, as Parramatta, Bankstown and Auburn are all located some 20kms from the CBD, while Chatswood and Bondi Junction are within 10kms, which is often seen as the limits of the definition of inner-city.

However Parramatta is a great example so much so that recently a $2 billion proposal to rejuvenate its commercial hub was announced. And like Chatswood a strong high density residential market will be a key part of future plans.

City of Villages

In the 1950’s the idea of a CBD, as a district devoted to business did result in some areas becoming somewhat isolated from the wider community, and this historically residential development. Now that thinking has been reversed. Today the City of Sydney (along with most other cities) is one of the most dynamic high-density residential markets.

Taking on the idea of a series of villages, in part reflects international trends, but it’s a very positive way to help encourage and sustain residential areas and individual developments with wide appeal.

The City of Sydney has identified 10 villages, and these include the CBD and Harbour, Chinatown/CBD South, Green Square/City South, King & Harris Streets, Oxford Street and Redfern Street.

With the village plan actively promoted, when we think of marketing and development goals we can see from various consultations how residents would like to see the area’s villages evolve.

What is interesting and perhaps not that surprising is that many of the key points residents look to encourage would be an exact check list for any successful development to address, including;

  • developing a sense of community
  • improving public transport (plus encouraging bike riding and walking)
  • supporting local services and businesses
  • solving parking problems
  • ‘greening’ streets and neighbourhoods
  • promoting safe and clean public places.

For residents the idea of a City of Villages is appealing, however to meet the needs of a modern economy the long-term planning for any city needs to accommodate commercial growth and all of the associated services. Today we also see that a mix of development, including a range of residential projects clearly helps to enhance and create a more vibrant city.

As Sydney continues to grow as a ‘City of Cities’ we will continue to see further urban consolidation, much of which is based around transport connections. People and planners are attracted to existing suburbs and so the idea of a ‘City of Villages’ also makes sense, the idea allows for sensitive development while retaining local character.

Sydney’s supply of land, in particular land with reasonable access to services and employment is very limited and so both these trends are set to continue, and I think make a positive contribution to our urban environment.

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International. He can be contacted here.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.
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