The Great Australian Dream of home ownership is alive and well but the way forward requires a shift in thinking.
In the prosperous decades following the second world war, a Great Australian Dream took hold in the nation’s collective consciousness. It meant a home of your own on a quarter acre block and a brand-new car in the driveway.
The dream became a reality for millions of Australians as capital cities across the country swelled with new people and the homes they built to live in. But as we know now, the Dream created its own set of unintended consequences.
Large homes on large blocks has meant constant outward pressure on the urban fringe, pushing Australia’s cities to become among the largest and least densely settled in the world. The twin penalties of rising infrastructure costs and skyrocketing land prices dramatically reshaped the housing market, ushering in an era of denser development. That’s been good for affordability, but hasn’t always addressed other issues like social isolation and loneliness, which is paradoxically growing even as our social media use explodes.
THE ANTIDOATE TO ISOLATION IS COMMUNITY
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m having more and more conversations with people nostalgic for their childhood before mobile phones were a thing and when life felt less intense.
A lot of the young families that we see coming into our developments are looking for more than just a home of their own; they’re looking for a sense of kinship with the people around them. Fostering community engagement that facilitates that kinship is among the most important work that we can do as property developers.
It’s for this reason that the arc of our urban design and masterplanning at Frasers Property Australia bends toward what we once might have quaintly called villages, but now call communities. Places that support real human connection and civic spirit. Places people feel proud to live in and belong to.
In general terms, this means addressing more than just housing and roads and how many schools you’ll need, but also employment, leisure, transport, retail, entertainment and civic services. It means stepping into the customer’s shoes and really understanding their aspirations, hopes and frustrations. Not just designing for the way people live today but designing for how they really want to live in the future.
Take transport, for example. It’s generally assumed that Australians just love their cars and that’s why most of us have one, if not two, in the driveway and it’s our preferred way of getting around. But the rise of the car-sharing economy and Uber and our packed city trains tells us a different story.
The reality is that we’d like an easier, cheaper, less stressful way of getting around than driving our own car. It just needs to be convenient. So at projects like Central Park, Ed.Square and Discovery Point in Sydney, we made sure that mass-transit was built into the underlying masterplan, with residential and retail connecting seamlessly with it.
And while transport that gets you around is critical, equally too is the amenity that helps you enjoy the times you stay at home. At Fairwater in Sydney’s Blacktown, the masterplan came together around the existing flora on the site. As a former golf course, the land was dotted with giant gumtrees in excellent health and condition; trees we wanted to ensure many future generations to come would enjoy.
The reality of place-creation is that it must happen in alignment with forces bigger than you – the property developer – or the customer’s hopes and dreams. Governments at both state and local level have their own vision plans to be synchronised with, as well as multiple authorities and bureaucracies that must be navigated.
The more complex or ground-breaking a masterplan is for creating community connection – such as Melbourne’s Burwood Brickworks, with its two thousand square metre urban farm and farm-to-table restaurant atop its retail centre – the harder it gets. But the more worthwhile the payoff.
And it's not just the byzantine world of government approvals to navigate. Successful community creation also depends on private sector support. At Cockburn Living in Western Australia, the building of the aquatic and recreation centre meant that negotiations to secure training facilities for the Fremantle Football Club were concluded in favour of the local community. Quite aside from the obvious health and wellbeing benefits of having these world-class facilities on hand for Cockburn Living residents to enjoy, being home to the training grounds of the Dockers has been a source of immense local pride to the wider Cockburn region.
Adding to the three-dimensional chess nature of it all, is of course, engineering and architecture.
When you’re building 30-storey towers sitting on top of transport tunnels (Central Park) or designing your own thermal energy systems (Fairwater), or thinking about how an area is going to grow and change over time, you have incredibly complex problems to solve. Thankfully, we have a brilliant multi-disciplinary team of people at Frasers Property and also in our wider consultant team who believe that pushing the envelope of urban design toward more liveable and flexible spaces is a cherished responsibility.
WHERE TO NEXT?
As we reach the middle of our tenth decade in business, we’re turning our focus to an extra dimension of community creation: health and wellbeing. In practical terms this means investing in design principles and community initiatives that help people to feel better, live with less environmental impact, and encourage diversity and inclusion.
Our investment in providing free Live Life Get Active fitness classes across the Frasers Property Australia network of communities has seen more than 7,700 residents take part in the program. The results have been truly inspiring: 5.8 tonnes of weight loss since the program’s inception and almost 73 metres of total waist circumference lost. Best of all, our residents have been able to meet and socialise with their neighbours, in turn becoming good friends and building support systems for ongoing health and fitness goals.
Like all things in life, the Great Australian Dream has evolved. Less about the big house and the quarter acre block, and more about the culture, lifestyle and wellbeing that comes with living in social urban villages, this new dream looks pretty good to me.
We acknowledge and thank our collaborators:
Live Life Get Active