Suburbamania: Choking Australia

Posted by Kevin Rennie

The Victorian Sustainability Commisioner was stating the bleeding obvious:

A DAMNING report on Victoria’s environmental health has called for a halt to urban sprawl and dramatic changes to the “unsustainable” materialism and consumption of the state’s citizens. 

Just two days after the Brumby Government announced an extension of Melbourne’s urban boundaries, the state-appointed Sustainability Commissioner has warned of serious environmental damage on the city fringes and called for the boundaries to be fixed.
Brumby told to halt the sprawl (The Age 5 December 2008)

We have travelled extensively throughout Australia during the last 20 years, mostly by car. Two clear messages stand out about how we are choking our continent. Our obsession with living in suburbia is strangling our cities and regional towns and destroying the surrounding environment. Flowing out of these is an endless traffic grid-lock.

The suburbs:

Western Australia is state of the artless. Perth, plus most regional cities and larger towns, is now surrounded by the new suburbs. They are expensive spec developments. The pillared entrances display the obligatory double-barrel names on either side: Dolphin Waters, Floodplain Flats, Pacific Palms, Platypus Park, Pirates Cove, Redgum Ramble. They cluster around mega shopping centres. Strolling through the Karratha, Port Hedland, Mandurah, Esperance or Albany plazas, I often wondered which town I was in as the same franchises canyoned before us. You needed an advanced driving course just to negotiate the car park.

At South Australia’s lower lakes, Hindmarsh Island sports the inevitable suburban style marina. Ironically the boat launches behind the houses have quite a drop to water because of the sad state of the Murray mouth. Exmouth has the latest marina residential development, the envy of the old Gold Coast white-shoe brigade. Both noble attempts to tackle the nationwide marina shortage.

The traffic:

Regional cities like Geraldton can now boast peak hour traffic, bumper to bumper. Civilisation has arrived. The mania forbids straight lines in the new suburbs as the Crescent and the Courts mimic Canberra’s curves and roundabouts. A rule of thumb: move on when they put in the second set of traffic lights. I challenge you to drive into Pelican Waters near Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast without getting lost. Broome now has a multi-lane road to the Port that splits Cable Beach from the other new suburbs and the old town.

Between Geraldton and the iconic Shark Bay is Kalbarri, which has its own Kalbarri National Park. It also has suburbia. Eco Flora estate is an example:


We have lost our way since the intense debate about alternatives that took place in the 1970s. The sprawl is supreme.

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19 Responses

  1. But what’s the alternative? Only in large cities can one access the full range of medical, dental and educational service. Only in large cities can one get the full range of entertainment and the like.

    The alternative is row upon row of high rise. Beijing is a recent example of mile upon mile to the same soul destroying apartments. It reminds one of termites nests with the occupants bound by four walls never afforded the opportunity to feel the grass beneath their feet.

    And pets. Pets are a problem! In Barcelona, another termite mound, I visited a Sunday market where they were selling Australian birds as pets. Trouble is, one of the birds was an emu chick. Lol.

    Imagine an emu in a Barcelona Apartment. Talk about kicking the dunny door down.

    Kevin, in Australia there is no really large city when compared with the rest of the world. We haven’t the traffic chaos one finds in Saigon or Bangkok. In parts of Europe they simply put the trucks off the road for hours so that the other traffic can move.

    It would seem that those ‘joys’ await us.

  2. Screw em’

    I’m so sick of people moving to cheaper areas 40 kms from where their job is so they can have a huge block of land and an energy draining McMansion and then demanding that the State Govt builds a bloody public transport system to get them back into the City to go to work within a time period of no more than 45 minutes.

    Get a friggin’ job in your local are first and then move out to the sticks………………….!

    I paid a premium for my house which is modest in size so I could live closer to where I work.

    Why should I have to pay for “Them”

  3. The solution is that developers have to establish major infrastructure/community support systems before they are permitted to plop in their concrete curbing.

    For example..a subdivision of X number of houses must have – a library, a community centre, a swimming pool (no it’s not a luxury, it’s been part of the Australian way of life for decades) and other and not just a spot for the local Coles or Woolies store and couple of takeaways. The later is often advertised as ‘community facilities’.

    Far too often a subdivision means developers skimming the cream and leaving the rest of the community to have to establish community facilities paid for via ever increasing rates and taxes.

  4. So what is the plan to rectify this problem?

    I believe in twenty five years our population will double and most of the sub-tropic and moderate coastal plains will be a sea of roofs that has smothered our most productive land and I am already seeing the dawn of the food shortage.

    We have to spread out and reclaim the marginal lands and utilise same for not only settlement but for food production and future industry.

    For me a national coverage of fast speed unfiltered broadband
    is a step in the right direction as many IT industries could
    move away from the major centres and would assist in reinvigorating inland centres that will ultimately die due to the young moving to the big smoke in search of opportunity.

    Estates will be future slums, no matter how well they are
    planned and how many services are supplied…I am already
    seeing the evidence in Brisbane!

    In fact I’m growing a dislike for the place and all I will need is communications as I will generate my own electricity, produce my own food and harvest the water from the sky…rather than exist in a wasteland.

  5. The way I see it is like this:

    Australians in general don’t like high density housing. It’s imprinted in the DNA of the nation. Many Australian cities had their first major growth spurts due to immigrants who wanted to escape the dreary high density housing of Industrial Britain and that’s how the quarter acre block was born.

    I live in the inner suburbs in Melbourne and there any attempts in increasing the density of these areas is met with strong resistance by well educated articulate groups such as ‘Save our Suburbs’.

    People living in the outer suburbs vote. And oftren they create marginal seats. They demand better freeways etc. and the politicians will respond.

  6. In fact I’m growing a dislike for the place and all I will need is communications as I will generate my own electricity, produce my own food and harvest the water from the sky…rather than exist in a wasteland.

    Get over your self – bash boy

    Where’s the proof?

    All hat…no cattle

  7. agap – how unusually insightful.

  8. another girl – another planet

    You have been to Central Australia apparently. There’s not many people there. And for good reason! Hot in summer. Bloody cold in winter, especially at night. Dry and dusty. And that’s on a good day.

    But you must be careful not to shatter dreams. Or should you be applauded for exposing delusions? Not sure.

  9. Our obsession with living in suburbia is strangling our cities and regional towns and destroying the surrounding environment.

    Well, don’t look at me. I’ve spent a total of about 5 years of my adult life in the cities/suburbs (and I am coming up to 50 years of age now). Been on a residential bush block for 20 odd years. Same one too. Moving is an expensive, disruptive bitch.

    And Nature 5 makes a good point that most of Oz is not really that suitable for any substantial numbers of people to live in permanently. Extremes of heat and cold, serious lack of water and fertile soil, long distances to anywhere, very limited access to basic infrastructure, etc. There are very good reasons why we preferentially settled around the temperate coastal regions.

  10. One solution is a reinvestment in our existing regional centres such as Shepparton and Warrnambool. Remember the days when Warrnambool meant the woolen mills.

  11. “So what is the plan to rectify this problem?”

    I think we need to recognise that some cities are now full. Specifically Sydney. The CBD should be pedestrian, bicylces and light rail only. From Circular Quay to Broadway.

    The government should build a new fast skytrain to replace the archaic train system and buses (as per Bangkok)

    I don’t think any amount of effort can “fix” the existing train system. It just needs to be replaced. Wipe the slate and start again.

    If Bangkok, a sprawling city far larger than Sydney, with some 17 million people, can have a fast efficient, and very cheap public transport system why can’t Sydney?

  12. Another girl-another planet…I find your reference to myself as “bash boy” insulting to say the least!

    Why should I furnish you with any proof at all…are you not the one that wrote that you love cocaine and champagne the other week???

    I notice the time of your post and imagine that you have had quite a few lines by then…by my research, one that uses becomes delusional after constant use.

    And there is the “Man from Melbourne” who takes every opportunity to fire a shot…kind of reminds me of the person who sits in the corner of a pub on a Friday night casing his target then on closing time king hits from behind…very honourable!

    And then there is Nature 5…obviously human nature, who believes that I might be delusional…can’t let that one slide as it is not only a slur upon myself but the federal government, a certain faction in the opposition, the Greens and their supporters, corporate and union elements and most importantly of all, the members who are not only readers but contributors at this site!!!

    I suggest that if you want to persist with this derogatory line or the gutless attacks on GSC then you take it up with me directly instead of lowering the standard of discussion here either through my website or if you are genuine.

    tlmack@optusnet.com.au

    I await…

  13. wtf is a GSC? I thought it was a GFC?

    scraper, you chose this forum to make your statement,post, comment, rant, whatever the hell that actually was. People who are interested in responding to such drivel will do so, quite rightly in the same forum it was originally presented.(I know you prefer to run off and get yourself some backup via other places, but grown-ups don’t need to get “mates in” . grown-ups stand by what they say…. I watched you run around like a wounded child last time how laughingly precious)

    Say what you say, If I’m interested, I will respond, here or wherever you say it(quick now, time to run off and get some backup!

    Big guy, I’ve taken lots of differant types of drugs, Cocaine’s just one of them as have many other people here

    A valid reason to reject their opinions? .. desperate rubbish

    hypocrite, much?

  14. Truly is a shame to see Australia becoming a carbon copy of America? Its remote and unspoiled coastlines soon will have major hotel chains and designated as property where only the top 5% can afford to live or within miles of, just sad. Phoenix has gone through much of the same (minus the coastline of course) going from a city of about a million in the early 90’s to almost 5-6 million now. Not very long ago, one could drive 10 miles and be in the open desert without the sounds of vehicles etc. Now, it’s all gone. Heading north along I-17 towards a once sleepy Flagstaff, one can hardly be free of it with swank new developments which have sprung up all along the way placing even more demands on shrinking resources. It is almost as if you never leave the city. We must find a balance folks. My country, with over 300 million and growing in leaps in bounds is all but lost. Australia has the opportunity to do things differently but sadly appears to be set on turning every coastal town into a giant strip mall with as much originality as a chain store. Yes, let’s keep promoting unsustainable growth in the name of diversity, good will or the economy by importing human capital as our politicians seem incapable of offering any other way of stimulating productivity. Skills shortage, of course there is a skills shortage when immigration is outpacing services but let’s keep using this “self-propagating” shortage to justify more immigration? Meanwhile the scarcity of resources compounds and we say goodbye to what made Australia unique.

  15. Very good points made Sparta. Firstly we need to have the will of both local councils and State governments. At present local councils can knock back developments based on over-development of the site/ inconsistent with current surrounding usage/strain on resources, community and otherwise. That is IF you have a elected council that is pro-community rather than pro-development.

    However, even with a local council with the will to put the community first, developers immediately nick off to the Land & Environment Court (or the State equivalent) and developments are immediately passed thereby circumventing LEPs etc. That is, without the will of State governments to stand with local Councils, inappropriate developments will continue.

  16. I agree Min and Sparta.

    Unfortrunately Councils are too often seduced by the mighty dollar when it comes to development at the expense of what the community actually wants.

    A once beautiful character mountain village – Leura, in the Blue Mountains of NSW, is now basically a carbon copy of Double Bay in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, thanks to developers.

    I am an advocate of “sensible” development that is sensitive to the local community, surrounds and environment, and in sync with what the local people want.

    Senseless development that purely has developer’s interests and the Council purse at heart is nothing less than scandalous and a travesty of our democratic process.

    Of course, Council’s typical response is “how could we have got it wrong? We engaged a consultant!”

    Council. Just like our State and Federal Governments – no responsibility, no accountability.

  17. “Councils are too often seduced by the mighty dollar”

    Real estate agents and developers should be ineligible to run for Local Government. But that’s totally unworkable because they would simply buy their favours from whoever is elected.

    We need and independent corruption commission but that a notion also has its problems.

  18. “We need and independent corruption commission”

    We have the ICAC.

  19. Reb, I must have been fortunate to have been an elected member of local government during the time where we were trying to save red soil farmland from the developer. We were lucky, we were backed up by a State government who also recognized that this was a limited resource that should never be buried under concrete and bitumen.

    That is there was a lot of developers banging their fists on tables when we knocked back their ideas as being overdevelopment of the site and detrimental to the local community. The developers took their application to State government who likewise promptly knocked them back.

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