The COVID-19 pandemic has driven most of the world into isolation. Australia, similar to many other countries, is adopting unprecedented social distancing measures including requiring residents to live and work at home, and shop or exercise within their own neighbourhoods.

As the coronavirus outbreak evolved into a global pandemic, the world witnessed a significant reduction in carbon emission levels in China and the United States with people preferring to work from home. With their daily commute eliminated from their schedule, people are finding more time to walk, run and cycle in and around their neighbourhoods.

A leading Australian urban planner and designer believes that the current crisis will encourage governments, urban planners and developers to consider the idea of creating more healthy, resilient, self-sufficient, attainable and liveable communities in future. Mike Day is co-founder and director of  urban planning and design practice RobertsDay and a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia.

Monocultural suburban housing developments – typically seen in the outer suburbs of many Australian cities – that are not connected or walkable and have limited public transit connections to remote business centres, compel residents to use a car to get around.

Observing that most of the master-planned communities in Australia continue to follow the conventional suburban blueprint of the 1970-1990s in which residential areas are beyond walking distance of shops, jobs and open space areas, Day says Australia needs to rethink on community design, one that is aligned with timeless urbanist principles to enable planners and urban developers to shape and deliver transit based, mixed-use, walkable urban neighbourhoods.

To substantiate his point, Day gives the example of RobertsDay’s Ellenbrook town on Perth’s north-eastern fringe as one of the best examples of a self-sufficient and liveable community.

A masterplanned community that will ultimately deliver 11,500 dwellings and approximately 8000 jobs, and be home to over 30,000 people on completion by 2025, the multi-award-winning Ellenbrook is one of the largest and fastest growing new town developments in Australia.

Ellenbrook has several unique aspects – each of the mixed use and connected neighbourhoods is structured and designed to support local identity, walking/cycling and a genuine sense of place and community; additionally, a town centre successfully assimilates an open-air, main street mixed-use strip with an enclosed shopping centre environment.

Each neighbourhood has its own discernable civic centre and community hub, and contains spaces and services that meet the residents’ daily needs, providing independence of movement and helping them stay connected.

“Nearly all Australian suburban neighbourhoods prioritise vehicles over pedestrians. As the cost of owning and running cars in the growth areas of our capital cities is beginning to exceed the cost of housing, ‘liveability’ – rather than ‘affordability’ – has become the new catch cry,” he says.

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