a financial model too

Of course all development approaches need to be financially viable, and Shaping Suburbia has an innovative approach for how to realise better suburbs.


There have been many instances where, often with the best will in the world, authorities have aimed to increase the vibrancy and residential density of an area.  Invariably this has resulting in the authorities ‘upzoning’ an area allowing more intense development to occur.

At shaping Suburbia, we call this the ‘zone and hope’ approach (a term kindly borrowed from Vince Hardy of cityscape planning+projects). It often occurs in regional towns/cities where there are already some shops, perhaps a high street. They are often surrounded by suburbia.

The table below shows median prices for units compared with houses in Penrith NSW, an area trying to undergo change and in need of the growth that is discussed here.

Source: Australian Property Monitors November 2010

If you wanted to stay in the area, what would you choose?

Invariably the ‘zone and hope’ approach often requires a fairly hefty change to the development controls to try to make it worthwhile for developers: maybe 6 or 8 storeys plus a basement carpark.

With the approach, many projects, even if they achieve a Development Application, do not proceed, due to poor or unworkably narrow development margins  - you just cant build an eight storey development with basement parking and sell the apartments for a median price of $245,000 - also see the table below.

Even where the projects do get built, the apartments are often not that much cheaper than perhaps a slightly older house on a block of land a few streets away. 

The ‘zone and hope’ has a poor track record in all but the most active already established areas, preferably view a view of the water.  It is an approach that leads to only sporadic change.

So it’s a polarised situation:

  • small scale change isn’t appropriate for the high street and it doesn’t interest the larger property developers
  • big scale change interests the larger property developers but requires property amalgamations, larger capital investment usually basement car parking, multi unit residential (apartments) and therefore is based around a completely different purchase market.

our approach

Shaping Suburbia is different.  Our solution is a new development type for suburbia and uses an innovative development model.

Referring to the section What Does it Look Like we see that for a typical quarter acre block suburbia, each block of land can become two, three or four property titles.  This provides an uplift in value.

There are some infrastructure costs such as roads, sewer and electrical connections associated with the changes which comes from this increase in value.


To an extent, we are like large development projects in that we use the uplift in the land value to fund the change, but we are different in two main ways

  1. the development will be undertaken by householders - in effect they become the developers
  2. the scale of work is familiar to, and can be readily built by small residential builders.

Its a difference that is borne out by data provided by Urban Development Institute of Australias recent Padstow Local Centre Case study.  The study revealed that that one key reason the large developments are not being built is due to poor returns for that market:

To see a larger version of this table click here

Source: UDIA Padstow Local Centre Case Study - Philip Graus, Cox Richardson Architects and Planners

For this market, the terraces are the only development that provide a Gross Margin (a return) that a developer would get out of bed for. 

Keeping away from basement car parks, multi storey construction, large contractor overheads and the apartment market sounds straightforward but provides a radically different cost/benefit, and therefore development model compared with other infill options.

The solution proposed in Shaping Suburbia has the potential to house many new people in existing areas.  As discussed in the section Affordability of Suburbia, such a solution also provides additional housing and relieves the need for new land release areas which are costly.

It will be a welcome addition of housing supply in a constrained market and has the potential to create a new housing boom. 

Shaping Suburbia believes that understanding the markets desire for a suburban setting where you can own your own home and a patch of dirt too, but live sustainably is key to the success of our cities.

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