Leone Lorrimer

To achieve liveable density, cities need a new approach to design and placemaking that delivers multi-functional communities, a report by architecture firm dwp|suters has found.

Chief executive of the practice Leone Lorrimer says one of the biggest hurdles needed to be overcome is the general public’s lack of experience with good examples of density in the urban context.

The Community Futures report draws on discussions the practice facilitated last year in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane that brought together leaders from the property sector, including the Green Building Council of Australia, Colliers, CBRE, ISPT, Stockland, GPT, Urbis, Schiavello and Lend Lease. The forums also involved representatives from local councils, the health sector, retail, recreation and leisure, state government, retirement living and the tertiary education sector.

The report says that great cities begin with great streets, not buildings. They also balance density with green space – for example South Yarra, which has greater density than Berlin but the feeling of density is balanced by public open space and vegetation.

The practice identified the key to successful density as co-location – putting education, health, residential, retail and recreational facilities in close proximity to each other, to build the sense of community, generate local employment, add amenity and enable the sharing of infrastructure between sectors.

“Much better outcomes are likely when buildings are designed around communities with health and community facilities, parkland and other community space,” the report states.

There are hurdles, such as ageing building stock that is “locked up in complex ownership and strata title deeds”. There is also a legacy issue with ageing buildings, where older commercial stock can successfully repurpose to residential, but ageing multi-residential stock with its lower floor-to-ceiling ratios and inflexible ownership models is more challenging to repurpose. It is recommended that a more standardised approach be taken to structural design to enable flexible repurposing.

Infrastructure deficiencies, including social infrastructure, is identified as a limiting factor on successful density, particularly in urban infill areas where schools already lack capacity and community facilities may be inadequate.

The report suggests that more attention needs to be paid to smaller-scale, localised, multi-purpose recreational facilities and less focus put on “large shiny facilities”. Walkability and green space needs to be prioritised over “large shiny lumps of infrastructure”, it says.

Planning needs to consider the spaces between developments, and take an approach where neighbourhoods and communities are considered jointly in long-term planning.

“Projected population growth in our cities has the potential to adversely affect our communities and our lifestyles. This raises important questions around how will we provide enough housing, workplaces and green space, whilst we maintain and grow our productivity,” Lorrimer says.

“By gathering and consolidating diverse insights we have developed an overarching value proposition that informs our planning principles, land use, potential for shared amenities and increased marketability, together with benefits such as social cohesion and development of social capital, economic benefit and sustainability.”