How do you feel about a 250m2 or maybe even 180m2 building block?
Too tight? Too close? Worried you’ll hear your neighbours flush the toilet? No room for trees?
Infill is real. It’s here. It’s the one of the answers to Perth’s embarrassing and unmitigated sprawl. Love it or hate it, we have to solve the problem of more people living closer together. Our underdeveloped inner city suburbs reek of inefficiency. Big back yards in the inner city are an extravagance and lead to underused infrastructure. This is expensive and a poor use of a city’s limited resources.
There are chattering swarms of chardonnay socialists who have run the green flag up the aerial of their Range Rovers claiming cockatoo habitat will be harmed if they have to hive off their tennis courts to make way for more housing in their inner city enclaves. But ultimately this is NIMBYism at is finest, combined with an elitist snobbery, that can’t countenance the thought of “nasty little houses” next door to their palatial gin palaces.
Perth’s metro area is twice the size of Tokyo but has just 1/6 of the population.
Just let that stat sink in. It is horrifying how we blatantly have misused our finite resources.
Perth was established on the fertile banks of the Swan river and the around the string of wetlands that ran North and South along the coast. This provided farm land and sustenance for the colony. Ironically we have in most cases long since built over these desirable tracts of viable farmland and forced food production further from the city and into more marginal farming country, destroying fragile native ecosystems.
Every new house built in a paddock 50km from the CBD, that the state government incentivizes with cash payments (your money) to new home buyers is a damning indictment on our ability to plan and prepare for the future.
We must look at small inner city building lots as part of the solution. A solution that provides diversity of housing stock within suburbs. Creating the opportunity for a generation of inhabitants to live within a suburb never having to move too far to find the next housing solution. This cohesive existence builds communities and shores up social fabric as relationships are maintained over time. It allows for inter-generational housing that cater for very different needs and wants.
The process of infill does often mean the removal of trees. It does not mean the absence of trees. Local Authorities can step their game up when it comes to habitat and canopy in parks and other council owned property. And certainly we need to look at how greenery can play part of the micro-climate solution in regards to our own homes. But the cry of ‘canopy’ and ‘deep soil penetration’ should not be heard louder than those voices that seek to make our city more efficient. For infrastructure to work in an economical manner density is the answer. Whether that is public transport, NBN, water, power the closer we live together the more efficient it can be to deliver those services.
Importantly, infill has in the past meant lower quality housing. That is not the case any more. In fact for infill to work and for small lot living to be desirable these houses must be better. Better design, better materials, just better in every way. And this is exactly what is happening. And as the small lot revolution gathers pace, I can tell that the benefits of small lot living are becoming a reality for buyers. Once upon a time, buyers would ask, ‘how big is the block’, ‘how many square metres is the house?’. These are rudimentary questions that did not account for design, for energy efficiency, for materials or any of the many factors that impact on how we live in and enjoy our homes. Now buyers ask about orientation, floor plan, flow, light, amenity and storage.
I have a friend in Victoria Park who has manipulated a small (less than 300m2) inner city laneway block to provide two separate living areas, a downstairs bedroom with ensuite, an upstairs master with ensuite, two more bedrooms, undercover alfresco entertaining, an expansive kitchen, a pool, lawn and three trees, strategically placed to provide a shady summer solution and screen the back of the house from future overlooking. This is a large family home. And it works.
There is hope for Perth. We know the answers to our problems of congestion, sprawl and inefficiency. Lets hope we can capitalize on the knowledge we have to ensure that Perth remains a truly livable city.