Alternatives to addressing Adelaide’s population growth

In recent months, the South Australian Government has been pushing its 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide to see more infill development (targeting 70% of new development) compared to greenfield development on the urban fringe (targeting 30%) reducing urban sprawl. The plan has a major focus on transit oriented development – or TODs – where high density development will be focused on locations around major public transport corridors including train lines and Adelaide’s northeastern busway, the O-Bahn.

The plan still awaits much action. The first TOD at Bowden in Adelaide’s inner west is still at planning stages and proposed expansions of subdivisions in the outer reaches of Greater Adelaide in Mt Barker, Gawler and Buckland Park do anything but demonstrate the Government’s promise of more consolidated development within the existing urban footprint.

In addition to this, some local councils are strongly opposed to different elements of the 30 year plan. Both Gawler and Mt Barker are opposed to the plan due to the potential strain on the existing infrastructure which is inadequate in its current state to deal with increased populations. Other councils such as Walkerville and Norwood Payneham St Peters are opposed to higher density developments as they wish to maintain their existing leafy and traditional streetscapes as they currently exist. There are a number of council areas that do support the plan for increased population density and/or TODs such as the City of West Torrens, City of Onkaparinga and the City of Playford.

Whilst I do understand the need for TODs within Greater Adelaide to improve the usage of some underutilised infrastructure such as public transport in some locations and creating more focal points for employment and community activity centres – Bowden and Woodville on the Outer Harbor train line are good examples of ideal locations – the TOD by itself can’t be treated as the holy grail to dealing with population growth and limiting urban sprawl. There are other solutions to addressing the housing needs without forcing all the population growth into apartments or units or to new homes on the edge of Adelaide.

One of the simplest solutions that has been overlooked is the increased use of subdivision of properties with detached houses, which by far make up the majority of Adelaide’s housing. There are a large number of the properties with very large lot sizes with small houses that can be subdivided to allow two or three houses to be built in the same area. An example from the suburb of Richmond (City of West Torrens) in Adelaide’s inner west is shown where lots previously supporting one house have been divided into three.

Subdivided properties in the inner western suburb of Richmond

By undertaking subdivision in this way, councils still maintain relatively tight control over their suburban streetscapes while increasing population densities gradually and better utilising infrastructure across the entire metropolitan area. In addition to this, subdividing provides a greater diversity and choice in housing as well as providing opportunities for those who would otherwise be pushed out of the housing market (usually first home buyers). Not everyone wants to live in an apartment or unit!

Not surprisingly, the same councils that support higher population densities are the same ones supporting subdivision and vice versa. The City of West Torrens currently allows lot sizes as small as 270 square metres while the Town of Walkerville requires lots in excess of 600 square metres in some areas. A greater emphasis on subdivision could allow for thousands more homes to be built in the existing urban footprint without resorting to either the urban fringe or forcing people into apartments.

This is not to say that apartments shouldn’t be part of the solution to solving Adelaide’s housing and urban sprawl issues, they certainly have their place in the urban environment and in giving individuals greater diversity in housing choices and are ideal in certain locations where the infrastructure can support this type of high-density development.

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