ideal suburbia?

We all want to live well - we want to be happy, make some money, be healthy. Of course we do.

Is the current suburbia ideal for this? Well, probably nothing is ideal, but what are the aspects that enable people to live as well as possible, for now and for future generations too?  

This website is about the part of living-well that is contributed to by how and where we choose to live. The choice of where we live and to some extent the type of house we live in affects more than you might, at first, think.

If we work away from home, then its clear that location affects how much time we spend commuting. Its also a safe bet to use where we live, and its proximity to shops, to predict how we will get daily supplies like bread and milk - assuming we dont grow them ourselves.

The type of place we choose to live is also a good indicator for things you might not expect such as our likelihood of obesity, our CO2 footprint or how much we see friends and family.

the contribution of built form

Built form is a term used to cover the nature of the built components of a place. Are the houses connected? Are there very big land sizes? What is the proportion of roads to buildings?

Built form doesn't try to say for example what type of shops might be there or what type of people might choose to go there/live there, instead it is used to describe the type of buildings, their height, set-backs from the street, their density, site-cover and so on.

While the built-form is important, at Shaping Suburbia our research indicates that built form is not as important as residential density is to living well.  At Shaping Suburbia we make this claim:

"residential density is more important 
than built-form to living well"

In fact we dont care what the buildings look like - which is very hard for us to say because we are architects - at Shaping Suburbia we believe passionately about getting the density of existing suburbs right.

the density factor

There are many ways of studying/examining our living environments and at Shaping Suburbia what we believe is one key and determining issue: 

"the amount of people living in a given area is the best predictor of the vibrancy and sustainability of that area"

When talking about the number of people in an area, we are of course talking about a ratio of people to area, and that ratio can be labelled 'residential density'.

Density is growing as a focus in its own right for planners and architects as an indicator for creating successful and sustainable places.  Residential density is an effective way to understand existing places for example, why Rue de Berri (Paris) is very different from Berry St (Detroit).

So how dense is Sydney? How does it compare to other international cities? Paris? London? Well of course it’s a trick question - there is no one density that is meaningful to use for such large areas. Such averages are misleading. Even within small suburbs of say 3 square km, there are always distinct areas with their own character, house-types and community. 

It is at this scale – the scale of the community - where density becomes a fantastic predictor for the types of places we want for our cities. 

Residential density simply tells us how many people (or dwellings) there are in a given area, but because density is usually closely linked to the types of houses that must exist to create that density, and how many people will be there all needing to buy bread and milk and looking to get to a workplace and so on - the metric begins to become a predictor for what a place is, or should be like.

Shaping Suburbia has research and found a positive correlations between specific densities and livability.

so then why do we live like this?

Its a fair question and one worth asking when we're looking at suburbia. 

In short, suburbia was the outcome of needing to keep peoples houses away from polluting industries /work areas. Things have changed and are continuing to change fast.

If you want a brief history of suburbia - and its quite interesting - then click here 

Our cities are now growing quickly and people are moving from the country to urban areas the world over faster than ever before. 2008 was the cross-over point when more than half of the worlds population lived in an urban environment. Some 80% of Australians already live in cities.

As this trend continues and our living conditions increasingly urbanise, there will be growing pressure on cities to cater for more people.  Suburbia represents a built-form that was a response to past pressures and a response to a dramatically different set of variables than we have today.

If you want to look at the attributes and implications of suburbia, then click here