In praise of urban density

THE Centenary is around the corner and Canberra is flourishing.

There are now more than 373,000 of us, with the ACT Government predicting around 28 per cent growth over the next quarter century. As one of the fastest expanding States or Territories, catering to the needs of our increasing population is a critical issue.

According to urbanist Ricky Burdett, population growth is the greatest challenge of the next 25 years for cities across the world. Speaking at the recent Property Council “Growth Summit” in Melbourne, Burdett urged Australians to embrace urban density. Traditional suburban planning, he says, can only result in greater social inequality and ignores the opportunities that density has to offer.

“Density… promotes intellectual exchange and economic activity, and environmentally it is a no-brainer,” he says.

Burdett made comments pertinent to our preoccupation with suburban housing, noting that “the level of sprawl, car dependency and dispersion in the Australian city is significant and… there seems to be far more to do to deal with these profound behavioural and structural challenges”. Mind you, given this is his first time in the country, maybe he doesn’t fully appreciate our cultural attachment to the suburban “Australian dream”. But Burdett did shine the streetlight on important issues – people in new suburbs do deserve the best access to healthcare, education and community services and such services are not always provided on time.

In Canberra, we can “grow up” with the same quality results we have achieved in “growing out”.

High-rise and terrace-style, mixed-use development in combination with Canberra’s unique suburban experience will enhance what is already a beautiful city. Combining medium and high-density living with vibrant parks and public spaces, cultural institutions and an effective public transport system would embrace a growing population offering a range of lifestyle choices.

As we approach our 100th birthday it’s time to grow up – we can plan and deliver a future capital that sets the standard for Australian sub and central urbanism.

Catherine Carter is ACT executive director of the Property Council of Australia.

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