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urban sprawl « Previous | |Next »
November 17, 2009

As I drive between Adelaide and Victor Harbor I notice how the city is stretching ever southwards. There appears to be no limit placed on the urban expansion. The same urban sprawl is also happening in the northern part of the city as well between Elizabeth and Gawler. In both cases it is low-density housing in areas already under-serviced by public transport, other infrastructure, services and amenities.


There is little to no sense of an urban policy designed to contain sprawl development. In fact, the sense is one of the continuing hegemony of the sprawl land development paradigm as population growth is placed at front and centre of the Rann Government's economic development and urban design plan--Adelaide 2038. Many people in Adelaide continue to think public transport is a second rate transport option.

The development lobby and the Coalition say that Australians have to accept that urban sprawl is the price they have to pay for affordable housing. The developer's promise is an affordable house and land packages-- the housing dream --on the urban fringe. This requires a steady supply of urban land and ever more freeways to avoid gridlock.

Behind the promise lies the reality of social disadvantage. Adelaide is a city divided by socio-economic fault-lines and entrenched inequality. As the former SA state planning minister Jay Weatherill conceded:

We drive low-income people out to the city’s extremities where services are the most stretched ... The paradox is that governments unwittingly subsidise this sprawl … A Perth study has found that the direct cost to government of providing infrastructure for a fringe block is more than three times the cost of an inner block … So we have a situation in which government is providing high subsidies for low-income people to live in fringe areas where services are low and where building communities is hardest....The paradigm of cheap land on the fringe of the city no longer exists and, in fact, has not for many years. The true cost of urban sprawl has been masked through cross-subsidisation of infrastructure by governments.”

This form of urban sprawl is not just in Adelaide. Melbourne is the same. Plans to contain Melbourne's urban sprawl are "stone dead", the city's green wedge zones are in danger, and urban planning is led by the development community with the Government just rolling over.

In both cities there is urban encroachment (houses and expressway ) on prime agricultural land which threatens the state's food security and export ability at a time when climate change also threaten the sustainability of horticultural industries (eg., in the Adelaide Hills). This will continue --eg. the Rudd Government's thirty year plan for the future forecasted a projected growth in population of 560,000 with most expected to push out of the city limits and into the north, expanding to the Gawler region. The once regional town will be transformed into a metropolitan super-town that impingeson the Barossa winegrowing region.

The Australian Institute of Architects, the nation's peak architectural body wants Australian cities to focus on boosting their inner and middle suburbs' density rather than release land in outer areas, in order to become more sustainable. Rightly so because car obsessed, low density suburban Adelaide is not a compact city, and it is probably not sustainable in its present configuration in a heated up world.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:12 AM | | Comments (16)


Adelaide was founded as a colonial city in the expanding British Empire to exploit the resources of the hinterland. It has become a city where the urban lifestyle is auto dependent and it currently has a big ecological footprint with a small population.

The city is characterised by unnecessary car use, through the urban sprawl of our low density suburbs, to excessive use of our water resources. There is the poor water quality of the Torrens, lack of shade in open space, pressure to intrude on parklands, and urban and architectural design without due consideration of the future environment.

Climate change should be at the forefront of concern here in the driest city in the driest continent. Adelaide's urban environment can begin to be improved by reducing motor vehicle traffic and greening local streets.

Kevin O'Leary, an Adelaide-based urban development expert, argues that despite the Government's claim the Adelaide 2038 plan will limit urban sprawl, in effect it encourages a great deal more. The Government's "business-as-usual" approach will open up 17,000ha of broad-acre land on the urban fringe.The Adelaide (and Melbourne) approaches to urban design run completely counter to the advice of the peak architectural body, the Australian Institute of Architects.

He says that Adelaide 2038:

does not give much consideration to the initiatives being used in other cities to reduce car travel or to make it more efficient: car pools, extensive free community bike programs, travel-smart programs to schools, work and within local communities, and statutory travel-demand management plans imposed on developers.
There are few solutions in the pipeline for relieving problems with traffic congestion on our roads, with a number approaching gridlock.

He adds that many of the urban consolidation projects that have occurred in Adelaide up to now have been of a very low urban-design quality and so the public has adopted a very anti-urban consolidation stance.What 's more:
In the context of more density proposed in existing suburbs in Adelaide 2038 the recent introduction by the Government of a residential development code, which essentially dumbs down current urban design and planning standards. So we can expect even poorer development outcomes.

Adelaide is still stranded between urban sprawl of yesterday and the smart growth of tomorrow.

Sprawl at the edges of Adelaide is influenced by high inner city housing prices and a lack of affordable alternatives (owner occupied, rental, cooperative, and public housing) within existing urban borders.

This forces many home-seekers into the outer suburbs where homes are often much cheaper. Others are attracted to the suburbs because of the larger homes with larger yards. A very real and pressing lack of housing choices contradicts the assertion of many in the development industry that they are simply satisfying market demand which, they say, is largely for detached housing at the urban edge. Developers love sprawl.

There are not many forward-thinking developers building compact, smart, inner city housing that would find a ready market.

Smart growth, rather than sprawl, means that population growth does not need to mean sprawl.New smart growth is more town-centered, is public transport and pedestrian-oriented, and has a greater mix of housing,commercial and retail uses. It involves:

promoting minimal expansion of the existing urban growth boundary; increased densities in the city centre and along transit corridors;

multi-modal transportation options;

protection of neighbourhoods, parks and other greenspaces.

It involves a broad mix of strategies to protect nature, curb sprawl, and foster more livable communities. These strategies are designed to protect the countryside by channelling new growth into existing cities and towns and by improving the quality of life there through building communities rather than just subdivisions.

Win, win, win, win, win.

We could have, but didn't, taken the billions wasted on the desal plant and with some federal assistance:
1.Bought out a lot of the irrigators along the Murray thus winning extra water for the river and essential urban use.
2.Rehabilitated the growers involved by offering service employment, plus on the job training etc, in local hospitals, schools, local councils, national parks etc thus enhancing community services.
3. Devoted resources [human, financial, existing infrastructure, growers] to regional native revegetation programmes thus reducing GHG emissions and encouraging biodiversity water quality and long term tourism
4.Built small to medium scale solar/sustainable power stations for long term employment and local industry thus reducing GHG state wide and national.
5. And had money left over and little, if any, ongong costs compared to the costs of desal water production.
6.Decreased the demand on inner metro services by creating attractive well serviced regional communities as an alternative.

But we took the usual 'easy way' out instead and wasted the billions.

What opportunities have been missed for such a long time.
Remember Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi", Verdelle Smith's "Tar and Cement", or the even older Pete Seeger thing, "Little Boxes".
One weeps for the Fleurieu.

Yeah, thats the problem with free will. People do seem to use it to decide where and how they live.
Can't they all be re-educated somewhere like maybe a big farm or something?

it is a bit shortsighted to convert prime agricultural land that supplies vegetables to the city to cheap housing estates with no public transport and limited services. It's about planning as much as individual choice.

I couldn't agree more. Have a look at what Parnell is saying here about Rann Govt re solar tariffs + Riverland:

One of the things the Government has said in it’s statement is that currently there is a maximum limit for the size of the solar system we have in order to benefit from this special feed in tariff and it’s a 30kw system. That’s equivalent probably to 20 houses worth. Now that means that there are some small businesses for example who have got a lot more roof space or in fact … there’s some struggling citrus growers in the Riverland, who are thinking of planting solar panels rather than their orange trees. You know, you don’t need River Murray water for solar panels so … small businesses wanting to get into renewable energy. … The Government is announcing that the upper limits of these schemes will be reduce to 10kw … any small business people who are thinking that they might want to diversify out of oranges and perhaps into some solar electricity, it’s not going to be viable for them. The systems will all be too small so that’s the fear that I have, is that a scheme that started off with such promise was the first in the country, was the best, … it was the only one. We’re now lagging behind the other states. All of whom have just about got better schemes than us now and we’re even looking at winding back our own scheme. … I think it’s very disappointing that the Government doesn’t recognize that individuals, small business people, community groups, churches whatever are really keen to do something practical and personal for climate change and yet this sensible scheme is being wound back.

Crazy stuff. These guys have rocks in their head in the way that they defend the coal electricity companies and coal industry. Or it is the dead hand of Treasury? Or both?

Inner Melbourne is being redeveloped into higher density housing by private developers a block at a time. This has the effect of overloading sewer, water mains, electricity grid, removing trees and green space thus increasing summer temperatures.
The private developers have to make a profit so they buy a house with garden for $700,000, pull it down and build 2 townhouses which they sell for at least $750,000 each. Clearly not low income housing.
If the block I live in had been compulsorily acquired and redeveloped then there could be parkland, garaging for cars, low cost housing. As it is, the block is covered with 8 expensive units per house number that will be the slums of 2030.

What I meant to say is that small developers are redeveloping house block by house block but if you want pleasant places to live and low cost housing you probably have to redevelop 5 acre sites ie acquire at least 20 quarter acre blocks at a time.

Clearly the problem is a lot more expensive to solve than the means of individuals so you have to ask why does the government support the big players and ignore less resourced individuals.

re your comment: "inner Melbourne is being redeveloped into higher density housing by private developers a block at a time.

It's also happening in Adelaide as well re expensive townhouses -in the CBD --block by block. Only some of the small workshops are being kept and renovated as offices for media and lawyer professionals in the south east corner of the CBD.

There is some low income housing being developed by the state Government and Adelaide City Council.

I think that only state governments are big enough to provide low cost housing, private investors can't afford to develop big sites. Private investors can't afford to lose 6 to 10 weeks rent a year on their negatively geared property as often happens with low income tenants renting in the private rental market.

The Victorian state government appears to be reducing its housing stock.

In Sydney the housing commission is moving low income tenants out of the CBD and redeveloping housing blocks as medium income housing. Expensive areas of Sydney can't get low paid workers because they have to commute so far

one model of urban planning is for mixed inner city neighbourhoods--low and medium income housing, small businesses to service the needs for households (hairdressers, restaurants, gyms, pubs etc) professional businesses (accountants, designers, photographers).

Is that Fitzroy in Melbourne?

I blame Tom Playford. He imported a bunch of LA transport analysts back in the 50s, and they determined the future direction of growth in Adelaide.

Apparently, it went something like,"The car's the way of the future, Tom. Rip up the tram lines, and build more roads."

Yes there are mixed inner city neighbourhoods around Melbourne. The last one was completed in Brunswick for the Olympic Games then before that one was completed about a decade ago in Collingwood.

Private developers will not or can not fund low income housing in inner urban areas and the Victorian Housing Ministry is concentrating on providing cheap housing in regional areas where houses are cheap and they can take over old Defense Housing. This entrenches generational poverty as there are fewer jobs in rural communities and fewer resources like libraries.