light rail sydney
Train at a light rail station in Sydney, Australia

SPINIFEX: Philip Bull’s, article Posh Sydney says No to density attacks the Urban Taskforce and the Save Our Suburbs group for advocating for highrise so that the suburbs can be saved.

Our two organisations have raised serious concerns about the NSW government’s championing of the “Missing Middle” as the solution to Sydney’s growth. Philip however, is much more comfortable with terms like “middle” and “medium” that look like they could not be challenged by mainstream, middle class, Australians.

Clearly, the middle is a safe place for politicians to operate in but it seems that many suburbs do not agree.

The Urban Taskforce over recent months has had a series of meetings with mayors and chief executive officers of a number of councils including Burwood, Canterbury Bankstown and Liverpool and the common issue has been community concerns about the potential change to the character of the suburbs through medium density.

Every time a house is replaced with two terrace houses with no parking the street becomes congested. The mayors said that taller development in the town centre got far less opposition.

This is why 50 councils applied to the NSW government to defer the missing middle code. Canterbury Bankstown, not a “posh” suburb, has issued a four page flyer to its residents with a big red WARNING stamp on the cover.

They say 68,000 unplanned new dwellings could arrive, off-street parking will be slashed by half. Council then outline their “plan to protect your neighbourhood”.

The Urban Taskforce can’t ignore these strong messages from so many communities but we also can’t stop all development.

The clear better solution is to protect the suburban neighbourhoods as communities seem to want and manage the new growth in apartments around metro rail stations and in urban centres.  

Councils may decide some areas are appropriate for medium density. But the cleanest way to accommodate much of Sydney’s growth is to build around the new metro stations.

After all the NSW government is rolling out turn-up-and-go metro rail lines across the city similar to the networks in London and New York. This opens the opportunity for a new way of living that is different to the car based suburban model.

Sydney is fast becoming a city of two characters. One is the sprawling, car based low-density suburbs and the other is the more urban, public transport connected high density living.

The first focuses on the family owning everything they want on their lot the second is about co-operative sharing of amenities with a smaller owned apartment.

Australia’s houses have become the biggest in the world. Research from the University of Melbourne found that in 1950 the average house had 30 square metres per person, this has now risen to 90 square metres per person.

So our houses are amongst the biggest in the world and not surprisingly are among the most expensive in the world.  

But the average house is also around $400,000 more expensive than the average apartment. So many people, including families are preferring the more affordable apartment with access to amenities rather than ownership. This seems to me to be a more sustainable way to grow. Apartments have much smaller footprints and residents share amenities, walk more and use public transport.

Research we undertook on the 2016 census showed that 30 per cent of Sydney’s homes were apartments and 28 per cent of these were occupied by families.

We recently profiled apartment dwellers including Lauren from Roseberry with her young son Lucas who goes to the child care in the building. They use the shared large garden and the shared swimming pool as well as the park across the road.

Lauren reckons she has the perfect family lifestyle with the amenities all maintained by someone else. Even a terrace house with a pocket garden does not compare.

So my reading of Sydney’s future is that well designed apartments in the right locations close to public transport and amenities is the way forward to accommodate most of our growth and this will protect the suburbs.

Discrete areas of town houses where councils nominate this type of density will be a small part of the future.

Philip Bull seems to want the comfort of the middle but the best answer for Sydney is to get behind the swing to a more co-operative lifestyle where residents share more, walk more, use public transport more and have more affordable homes.

This is a better way to achieve equity and ultimately the sustainability of our city.

Chris Johnson is chief executive of the Urban Taskforce Australia. 

Spinifex is an opinion column open to all, so called because it’s at the “spiky” end of sustainability. If you would like to contribute, we require 700+ words. For a more detailed brief and style guide please email

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  1. It’s not either/or, terrace houses are what they’re talking about. You can mix single storey houses and two or three storey terraces perfectly well. It’s what you’ll find everywhere already in ‘posh Sydney’ – so why shouldn’t people living in other parts of Sydney be able to choose what posh Sydney already enjoys? Terrace houses, with their own small gardens, are brilliant, people love them, if there were more of them, they wouldn’t be so expensive and exclusive.

  2. we can have both – small vernacular medium density buildings in the suburbs and high rise near stations. At the moment the first is often forbidden in the best parts of Sydney. That’s what I am concerned about.