Our urban environments are becoming increasingly densified in two respects: there are more and more people living per square kilometre than before; and the private space these people are living in is shrinking. This is placing more pressure on developers of high density housing products to add value through better designed and more functional outdoor and common areas. It is also placing increasing pressure on urban planners and local authorities to re-assess the value and purpose of existing open spaces and ask whether the basic formula of grass and shade trees is adequate.
The urban density of Australia’s major cities is increasing across the board, particularly in a number of concentrated high density precincts in and around our CBDs. In many of these areas, the scale of density today is a fraction of what various planning schemes propose for the future. Not only does this change the shape of our inner cities in terms of built form but within this change are other dynamics which will alter the way that residents will use available open space.
First, there is the move toward shrinking apartment size. Today, development economics and market demand mean that many of the new apartments being released to the market are much smaller than even just a decade earlier. Two bedroom apartments are frequently less than 85 square metres in size, including balcony. A decade earlier, similar units may have been 120 square metres in size. There are also more one and two bedroom apartments being built than three bedroom apartments, which wasn’t so much the case a few years earlier.
These smaller apartments can be very efficiently designed and well-priced to meet people’s budgets. But smaller apartments will also increase the value of open or shared space. Where once an apartment building containing larger apartments may have featured a simple pool with paved surround and BBQ area, the trend now is to enhance the value of this shared space through extensive landscape design which creates a shared ‘outdoor room’ space which takes advantage of local climate.
These designs need to take into account features designed for the climate, they need to factor in wind corridors, and they need to be highly durable and capable of taking heavy traffic but at the same time offer a high degree of visual amenity. Surfaces should ideally feature a mix of textures and finishes, to create an intensive sensory environment even in the smallest of places. This is exactly what we are seeing in many other highly urbanised cities, perhaps best illustrated by the roof top gardens and other spaces being created for residents of New York.
But what will also happen in time is that existing neighbourhood parks and public gardens will take on aspects of the shared community space. Local authorities wanting to encourage higher rates of inner urban density may need to think about updating open space from the basic ‘grass plus shade trees’ formula into more intensive spaces.
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