Density, diversity and the new Australian dream 

Fear and concern triggered by the D-word, density, has prompted the Property Council WA to commission strategic communications consultancy Meerkats to find out what the community needs and wants.

The report, It Takes a Village: Density, diversity and the new Australian dream, found many Perth residents not only value the benefits of density but want positive quality-of-life spinoffs of density including safety, being able to easily get around, a sense of community and affordability.

Property Council WA Executive Director Sandra Brewer said when people were asked about what they wanted most in their home and suburb, they said they wanted to feel safe, be able to get around easily, be close to work, beach, cafes and cultural pursuits, have a sense of community, be close to open spaces, the  river and bush and for it to be affordable.

Ms Brewer said it was crucial to turn the conversation around because well-designed, integrated medium-density development met those needs.

"Governments of all persuasions know that more quality urban infill in Perth is crucial to making housing affordable for future generations," Ms Brewer said.

"Despite leadership from state governments and the property industry, many people in the community are uncertain about or downright hostile to increasing density in our suburbs.

"The benefits of increasing density are clear, so we need to ask what's behind that concern.

"This project is about listening to those concerns and trying to understand what's meant by urban density and the benefits for existing communities.

"From this we've tried to demystify density and to reassure the community that it can bring people together for good."

It was important that Property Council WA with other industry bodies, advocacy groups and all levels of government worked together with communities to respond to concerns and explain how urban density could improve amenity for residents, giving a compelling answer to the question: "What's in it for me?"

Property Council WA commissioned Meerkats to find out what the community wants and how to change the conversation about density from one of fear to one about the beneficial side-effects that will win community support.

The report recommended talking about the opportunities delivered by urban density and reframing the conversation from problem solving: We need to accommodate population growth and stop urban sprawl; to one focused on benefits: We need to create better living spaces within existing communities. It also recommended directly linking community wants to urban density side-effects.

For example, many Australians are concerned about housing affordability and particularly worried about the price of well-located housing. Economising on space reduces the cost of buying into an area. There were other examples with Perth residents saying they wanted to feel safe and get around easily. Urban density has measurable positive impacts on creating a greater sense of security at home and on nearby streets. Those surveyed said they wanted to be able to get around easily.

Well-designed urban density, as part of the State Government's METRONET strategy, is to be walking distance to public transport, close to shops and cafes and parks, playgrounds and open public space.

Ms Brewer said the industry needed to ensure it crowded out bad examples of density from the past with great, well-designed developments that addressed community concerns and made the case for innovation. 

"We know that not everyone wants their suburb to change," Ms Brewer said. "But there's a clear opportunity here for the industry and policymakers. We need to start talking about benefits, building connections, creating choice, offering a variety of cultural pursuits and the upside of creating denser urban villages."

Panelists at the Property Council WA event at the Hyatt Regency to launch the report today include LandCorp Chief Executive Frank Marra, Meerkats Senior Strategist Emily Ryan, Frasers Property WA Residential General Manager Stuart Gardiner and Cannings Purple Director Fran Lawrence.