Sydney’s suburban growing pains
How Sydney is becoming a mini- Tokyo
SYDNEY is on the verge of becoming a mini-Tokyo, with population density in at least 23 suburbs now nearly as high as the CBD.
A Sunday Telegraph special report has found those suburbs feeling the big squeeze include Hurstville, Canterbury, Auburn, Rockdale, Chatswood and Dee Why — already established areas undergoing what experts call the “suburbanisation of density”. Ryde, Strathfield, Liverpool, Penrith and Parramatta are other suburbs also facing the same population pressures.
The density drive means the distinction between city and suburban living is becoming increasingly blurred as locals deal with more congestion, increasing competition for green space, greater pressure on schools and facilities, and a creaking public transport network, as part of everyday life.
Experts warn the situation is only going to get worse as Sydney’s immigration-fuelled population growth boosts the need for housing and fuels a boom in invasive tower blocks, which is leading to the demise of traditional suburban living arrangements such as the backyard pool.
City Futures Research Director and University of NSW Professor Bill Randolph said the boom in development — and the increase in density — is fundamentally changing the fabric of affected suburbs forever.
“Nobody notices if you put a 20storey tower in central Sydney but if you put it out in Liverpool then people will,” Professor Randolph told The Sunday Telegraph. “These suburbs are never going to be the same again.”
The pace of change has been astounding. Sydney has built almost 628,000 new dwellings since 1991 — more than two-thirds the entire city of Brisbane. Between 2005 and 2017 Greater Sydney had a 25 per cent increase in urban density, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Last year, the CBD’s urban density was 7212 people per square kilometre. At the same time, 18 suburbs had a greater population density than the CBD, while another 23 were trailing by up to just 2000 people per square kilometre. Those with a greater population density include Potts Point-Woolloomooloo (16,229.9), Bondi Beach-North Bondi (9453.8), Lakemba (8297.8) and Petersham-Stanmore (7221.7).
Those within reach include the inner-west suburbs of Ashfield (7119.5), Campsie (6883), and Dulwich Hill-Lewisham (6619), as well as Dee Why-North Curl Curl (6566.8), Hurstville (7062.7) and Double Bay-Bellevue Hill (5692.8).
The density boom has been driven by Sydney’s population hitting 5.1 million in June 2017, an increase of 101,600 people — or 2 per cent — since June 2016. This was the first time on record Sydney’s population grew by more than 100,000 people in a year, according to the ABS.
While much of the population increase has been in greenfield areas that were once paddocks, some suburban re- gions within 15km of the CBD have had population density more than double in that time.
The biggest squeeze has been in Homebush-Silverwater, with a massive 145 per cent increase, followed by Waterloo-Beaconsfield (123pc), Concord West-North Strathfield (115pc), Homebush (90pc) and Arncliffe-Bardwell Valley (77pc).
Also copping increases of between 41 and 69 per cent are Parramatta-Rosehill, Redfern-Chippendale, Northmead, Lidcombe, Mascot, Kensington and Ryde. And it’s our “obsession” with high-rise apartments that has led to a concentration of the density in fewer areas.
“Sydney is obsessed with achieving increased density through high-rise apartments only,” University of Southern Queensland urban researcher Michael Grosvenor said. He explained Sydney was one of a handful of global cities, such as the nine-million strong Tokyo, creating highdensity suburban satellite cities such as Parramatta, Liverpool, Chatswood, Burwood and Hornsby.
“When it comes to our approach to planning, Tokyo and Sydney are in a league of their own,” Mr Grosvenor said.
“In Tokyo they have a lot of centres around outer urban areas. We are doing something similar.”
He said better planning could have allowed for the increase in population to be shared evenly among suburbs, with more less-invasive, low-rise apartment blocks and townhouses.
“The older-style three-storey apartment blocks could have achieved higher density without having the impact on community that high-rise apartments have had outside the CBD,” Mr Grosvenor said.
Prof Randolph said this sort of development had changed suburbs forever. “Places like Auburn and Strathfield are where urban densification is going in, but there is already a fair bit of density there already,” he said. “In the future, it is these areas where the crunch is going to come.”
Prof Randolph said the north shore has largely avoided overdevelopment and, compared to other councils, will continue to avoid the squeeze. This means developers will
turn to areas where they are least likely to encounter resistance.
“If the property market picks up again there will be pressure to carry on with the development that has already happened in those places. The market will go where it can find opportunities,” Prof Randolph said.
“I can’t see where else it is going to go unless the Department of Planning widens those zooming areas.”
Overseas migration accounted for more than 70 per cent of Sydney’s population increase, with both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Premier Gladys Berejiklian indicating they want a reduction in the number of migrants coming to Sydney.
NSW Labor Party polling has shown overdevelopment, congestion and immigration consistently make it into the top five hot-button issues for voters. Ms Berejiklian this week announced an inquiry into Ryde, which has seen a 41 per cent increase in people per square kilometre between 2005 and 2017.
The northwest Sydney council’s population is set to surge further with an estimated 9500 new dwellings going in between 2017 and 2022.
Dave Johnston, 48, drives through West Ryde on his way to work in the CBD as a corrections officer. He worries for the future for himself and his 11-year-old daughter, Jess.
He is thankful that the area between Victoria Rd and the Parramatta River has largely dodged major development and doesn’t want to see Sydney become unrecognisable.
“There is no doubt that the traffic is twice as bad as what it was five years ago,” the Rydalmere resident said. “I can understand big developments in Parramatta but it should not be outside that area.
“I don’t want to see traffic get even worse than what it is already.”
While development in Sydney’s middle-ring and inner suburbs has gone up, suburban sprawl has also continued on Sydney’s fringe.
An Infrastructure Australia report released in October found that 88 per cent of people in outer suburban commute by car, adding substantial travel costs to family budgets and productivity-sapping congestion to city roads.
David Johnstone, with daughter Jess, doesn’t want to see Sydney become unrecognisable. Satellite imagery from Denham Court near Campbelltown illustrates the rate of growth in our suburbs.