Urban infill development that can deliver affordable and liveable homes could be the solution for Australia’s rising housing crisis, says urban planning expert Mike Day.

“The housing crisis is most damaging for low and middle income families who face unstable living arrangements, long commutes and spaces that don’t allow them to thrive. As we scale up our housing targets, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build up, not out – to deliver truly liveable, sustainable and connected neighbourhoods for those who need it the most,” says Day, who is co-founder of global urban solutions provider Roberts Day and partner at Hatch Urban Solutions.

However, in the race to build more homes, the focus on greenfield development along city peripheries is leaving well-located sites within existing urban areas underutilised, he observes.

20-minute neighbourhoods

Master-planned communities on urban infill sites offer an opportunity to deliver on the 20-minute neighbourhood principles, with residents able to access their daily needs within a 20-minute walk from home while embracing key pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Urban infill sites offer us a rare opportunity to masterplan healthy communities that are truly attainable and located in proximity to existing infrastructure and employment. Rather than relying on piecemeal development, these sites allow for the sustainable increase of urban growth and the creation of a vibrant urban centre, instead of just a network of streets with no discernible centre,” Day says.

Leveraging urban regeneration to offer more diverse housing typologies as well as bring housing closer to jobs and amenities without dependence on cars can drive a more inclusive vision for Australia’s housing future, he notes.

Liveability goes hand in hand with density

“Australian cities are among the most sprawling in the world, and a lack of density means outer suburban greenfield development falls short on walkability, access to transport, schools and healthcare – meaning families incur more day-to-day living costs. Development in outer suburban settings might deliver affordable housing, but not affordable living,” says Day.

Inner city neighbourhoods such as Melbourne’s Fitzroy, Carlton and East Melbourne are a good place to start for city planners looking for examples of transit-based, compact, medium-density communities that embrace the core pillars of 20-minute neighbourhoods.

To address the problem of the ‘missing middle’, Day suggests human-scale buildings with multiple units that are compatible in character and form with detached single-family homes. “With population densities of 25-35 dwellings per hectare, we can increase walkability and affordability and create thriving local economies.”

Target 1.2 million homes in 5 years

According to Day, there are several suitable infill urban sites across Australia, which will help achieve the Federal Government’s ambitious target of building 1.2 million well-located homes in the next five years.

Projects including the now-approved Kinley development on the site of the former Lilydale Quarry, a 163-hectare site in Melbourne’s north-east, and New Epping, a 51-hectare mixed-use community in Melbourne’s northern growth corridor, have significant potential in demonstrating the value of infill development.

Day says local Melbourne developer Sterling Global’s plans to regenerate the former Talbot Quarry site, located in Oakleigh South in Melbourne’s south-east, into Talbot Village, a residential-led, master-planned community, has the potential to be Australia’s first true representation of the 20-minute neighbourhood principles and help realise the vision of Victoria’s Housing Statement.

With plans for more than 1,000 new dwellings, the Talbot Village masterplan lays the groundwork for an accessible and connected neighbourhood that introduces much-needed housing diversity for key workers in the City of Monash. However, the project is currently awaiting the green light after more than a decade of planning and community consultation.

“With increasing costs and red tape, the pipeline of new builds across Australia is shrinking, and we’re seeing infill developments like Sydney Flour Mill and Talbot Village wait more than ten years for planning approval – delays we can’t afford when Australians need housing urgently,” says Day.

“Planning authorities need to give more consideration to infill development as a way to deliver healthy and liveable communities, which have a true mix of uses at their heart. Minimal refinements of land use planning could pave the way forward in supporting the sustainable growth of new, vibrant, walkable urban communities that our suburbs urgently need.”

Image: Talbot Village has the potential to be Australia’s first true representation of the 20-minute neighbourhood