so how is it done?

Suburbia exists, and most of us live there.  And yes, stuff that already exists is harder to change than it is to make new stuff.  

At Shaping Suburbia we strongly advocate an evolutionary adaption of the suburbs.  Suburbia shouldn't be leveled - as some believe it should - instead it just needs to be shaped.

One important aspect of successful shaping is that it can occur over time. Change to our built environments are usually slow. There are good reasons for this: 
  • we are all at different stages of our lives and have different dreams and desires
  • people often are fearful of change, particularly if they dont fully understand whats going to happen
  • when someone wants do develop, its pure chance if their neighbour wants to, or is able to, at exactly the same time
Accordingly our approach allows for change to occur gradually. 

Click on the picture to enlarge.  It shows how three different 'lots' / blocks of land need to change to create the right type of environment for our cities.
  • 'A' represents large blocks.  It is a 950sqm block of land - but represents the approach for anything around 900-1200sqm.  The good ol' aussie quarter acre block is approximately 1000sqm
  • 'B' represents a possible solution for a mid-sized suburban blocks.  'B' is show as a 540sqm block and
  • 'C' represents a very typical block size of 400-500sqm.  It has been shown in the image as a 450sqm site.
If your land area is smaller than about 300sqm, then there are diminishing returns in undertaking the changes proposed here.  Shaping Suburbia advocates starting with the 'low-hanging fruit' first i.e. areas with larger blocks, well serviced by public transport and preferably those with lower socio-economic status and in need of upgrade/improvement.

From the diagram you can see how 'A' can deliver four titles to get to the desired 'sweet spot'. 'B' needs to be divided into three to get there, and 'C' needs about 2.5 - which translates to two or preferably three titles from one block. Shaping Suburbia advocates that as long as the target density is met, that good built-form will follow. It is expected that different people be able to choose which is right for them.

The diagram also shows the changes in area, plus and minus, for each of private land, road, footpath zone.

Outlined below is a more detailed example of block type 'A'. It shows how it can happen over time - even with some land owners who may not want to be a part of it.

Before we get to that, you might be thinking "isn't it better to leave it alone - with all those bricks and all that concrete?" the answer is "no, the ongoing operational (living) impacts have far higher impact than the embodied energy in the built-environment in the order of approximately 10 to 1".  

Maybe you are thinking "isn't it easier to leave it?". The answer to that is "yes, it is - in the short term, but we're not here for the short term".

in an existing area?

Following is a real world example of what increasing the density from about 9 dwellings to about 40 dwellings per hectare in an existing area.

Note: If you are wondering about how Shaping Suburbia arrives at the 'sweet spot' of 35-45 dwellings per hectare, then you should read our methodology by clicking here.

To achieve the 'sweet-spot' density requires smaller block sizes (for US = lot sizes, for Kiwis = sections, for anyone else = title or just 'land area') than are usually provided.  The target lot size to realise the 'sweet-spot' for the suburb works out to about 180-220sqm depending on the amount and size of roads.  

The old great Aussie dream was on a quarter acre block which equates to approximately 1000sqm.  This means making one lot become four.

See the slideshow below. There is a road on the right and this pattern 'repeats' in every direction (apart from the cross roads), just like suburbia.

The slide number is in the bottom left hand corner of the frame
  • # 0 shows the current situation with approx 1000sqm blocks
  • # 0.5 shows new road alignment relative to current 
  • # 1shows each property after the boundary shuffle. Each property gets 35sqm smaller than the 1000sqm original. Some minor outbuildings and perhaps a swimming pool may need demolition.
  • # 2 shows the first round of subdivisions. Some go for all four titles, some choose to stay as they were
  • # 3 First round of development appears
  • # 4 Second round of subdivision/development occurs
  • # 5 Third round of subdivision/development occurs achieving approximately 38 dwellings per hectare.
Note two of the 10 owners remained as they were.  Others were keen to capitalise on the development opportunities.

NOTE: if you are experiencing difficulties seeing the presentation in your browser, please click here 
and kindly email and let him know too

At the outset of the process, each household is presented with five options:
  1. Stay and remain 'as is'
  2. Stay and subdivide and part sell
  3. Stay subdivide and develop
  4. Go but retain ownership and develop the sites
  5. Go sell to someone else

so how would the financials work?

At shaping Suburbia we believe the financial development model is an intrinsic part of the urban solution.

To read more about the financial model click here

what if some don't want it?

Like anything - some will like it and some won't.  For many people selling their property above market value is attractive, and others will not want any change to their circumstance no matter what.  

Those that do not want to be part of it - we expect this to be about 10% of the total number of people - fall into one of two camps:
  1. Those that want their house and land to remain as is but 'accept' that there will be monetary compensation for the slight reduction in their land area - approximately 35sqm for a 1000sqm block. 
  2. Those that want their house and land to remain as is and will accept no change to their land area, even after they understand any benefits provided to them or their community.
For those in the first camp,  once the framework is set up, they need not change their house - as is their wish.   There will be other changes occurring on properties around them, and their property value will probably increase.

For those in the second camp, there is a bittier pill to swallow.   Society is made up of a multitude of decisions that weight up the rights of the individual with the good of the 'group'.  Two widespread and simple to understand examples are paying taxes and road speed limits.
In the case of making things better for a suburb, and a society, and in order for the public benefits to materialise, it is anticipated that there will be a need to resolve at least some instance of property 'hold outs' even for the small amounts of land area transfer discussed above.  

While often gaining negative press, compulsory acquisition is often well understood for certain components of infrastructure such as an new road or electricity easement.  It is the view of Shaping Suburbia that social infrastructure -such as place making - should be given the same importance as other types of civic improvements. 



where to start?

Pick any low density suburb currently preferably already serviced by heavy rail.  Its simplest if there are no heritage issues and that the area is currently of lower socio economic value - the gains to the suburb and the financial gains should go to those most in need.  It is also preferred that the area has shops or areas zoned to permit shops.

It is important to note that it is proposed that these changes occur only for low density suburbia of 12-15 dwellings per hectare and below.  It is these suburbs that have the most open space making the change simpler but also these areas also have the most to gain.

Suburbs consisting of quarter acre blocks tend to have densities of about 9 dwellings per hectare.

For densities above 25dwellings per hectare, while they would benefit for all the reasons discussed here, there would need to be a high proportion of  knock-down & re-build to achieve the outcome.  Accordingly it is not proposed to start in areas of this density.

Changing the concentration of people per unit area creates a suburb that means that making the right choices are the easy everyday choices.  It shapes our built environment so that:
  • the proximity of where you live relative to workplaces, transport, shops or other services is walkable (or at least you dont need your car)
  • where you live is a more connected, stronger community where people look out for one another and is a safer place to live
  • houses are more affordable and cater for a range of people/families
  • living a low resource use/ low carbon emmission life is the norm

If you would like to go to Methodology click here