Grattan Institute report calls for new suburbs to be flexible and adaptable

A NEW report from the Grattan Institute's Cities program, 'Tomorrow's suburbs: building flexible neighbourhoods', argues that greenfield suburbs must prepare to meet the needs of future generations, not just today's residents.

Launching the report last week, Cities Program Director at the Grattan Institute, Jane-Frances Kelly, said that within a generation, these new developments will have residents with very different profiles and needs from those of today.

"If these suburbs are to thrive in the long-term we should make them flexible and able to change right from the start," Ms Kelly said.

Ms Kelly said that flexible suburbs contain land that can be used for different purposes, shopping centres that suit a range of businesses and shops, and buildings and homes that can be adapted as people's needs change over time.

"But the communities being established in greenfield areas lack these qualities - even when they work well for current residents," Ms Kelly said.

The report argues that older parts of Australian cities have been highly flexible and adaptable because they have characteristics that make change possible, including a mix of different land uses, a diversity of buildings and flexible shopping strips that can grow and change.

Further, the report says that because these existing urban areas are well-connected to a wide range of jobs, goods and services, residents and business can still get the resources they need, even if their needs change.

On the other hand, the report states that many of Australia's newest suburbs lack such characteristics, with land use tending to be segregated, lot sizes relatively uniform and connection to other parts of the city relatively poor, inhibiting the changes in land and building use that have characterised older parts of cities. 

While the report states that this is not a problem yet (as new suburbs are designed to meet the needs and preferences of their first generation of residents), it says an inability to adapt will become a problem in the future as those communities mature and change.

Grattan's report recommends ways to make new suburbs, shopping centres, buildings and homes more adaptable to change, without imposing undue burdens on current residents.

The goal of the report is to ensure that greenfield developments are flexible enough to become the successful suburbs of tomorrow.

The report, 'Tomorrow's suburbs: building flexible neighbourhoods', is available from the Grattan Institute website at <>.

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