Planning for density in our suburbs

Can the denizens of Canberra’s leafy inner suburbs expect the benefits of economic growth without adapting to change?

The benefits of a strong local economy are clear: diverse employment opportunities; a thriving retail sector and dynamic café culture; easy access to amenities and services; public transport, health and education, the arts, and social housing for those who need it. 

The ideals of the garden city movement – with Canberra as the embodiment of those ideals – are viewed by many as intrinsic to the Australian way of life. And yet, a growing number of Australians are embracing the culture and convenience of urban life. Others simply don’t have the budgets for backyards, or don’t want them.

The arguments for increasing density are compelling: productivity and income gains are found in cities where people, businesses and industries can connect and collaborate. When we prevent people from accessing these opportunities, it isn’t those with the high incomes suffer – it is people on lower incomes that must accept the arduous and costly commutes.

It may make sense for a community group to oppose a particular development, but what happens when every single community prevents new housing from being built in their established enclave?  Housing prices escalate, because a reduced supply will raise prices. This may be good for those who don’t want development in their suburb, but it most certainly detracts from the quality of life of the larger community.

Our unwillingness to increase our city’s density will make Canberra less affluent, less innovative and less sustainable. And Canberrans from all suburbs will pay the price for not changing with the times.

But I remain optimistic. At its core, Canberra is a diverse city, and one able to adapt to change.  From its earliest days it was a melting pot of people from all walks of life who came together to build a city for a new nation. Fast forward to today, and we can build a true ‘meeting place’ that welcomes people from all over the world – but we need to ensure that we have places for them to live and opportunities for them to seize when they get here.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia