There are many reasons for the current significant problems with housing in our major cities. A rapid increase in population, the move to cities and the often unaffordable house prices are among the most serious issues.
If we look at this in the context of smart cities, it is clear that a far more holistic approach is needed to properly address these issues, and such policies simply don’t exist at present. Solutions are haphazard and lack any long term vision and strategy on how we are going to manage the situation in the future.
With the growth of mega-cities a range of integrated issues needs to be looked at as well – for example job creation and job availability, and, linked to that, transport to these jobs.
These issues were addressed at a recent panel discussion: “Megacity Housing – Housing challenges for the future” organised by the Alumni Association for the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning. presents Megacity Housing.
Other key issues that were discussed include sustainability and livability. This comprises environmental factors, the impact of climate change, and the need for smart energy based on renewables – and also the design and/or integration of housing in relation to entertainment, social contacts, parks, healthcare, education etc.
The main conclusion was that these changes in society and economy requires far more flexible housing development. While a few decades ago nobody in Australia wanted to live in apartments, many of them are now moving away from the once highly popular one-quarter acre blocks. Furthermore, changes in demographics and the needs of people in today’s world will necessitate dramatic changes in policies and regulations to facilitate far more flexible housing. This might include more public facilities with apartment blocks, shared use of gardens, a mixing of old and young people, and facilities for extended family living.
Many of these developments are already taking place, in Europe in particular. The main reason for this is that housing there has always been a key government policy. The housing problems following WWII had a major effect on housing – these markets were not driven by investment properties. Governments in Europe are far more responsive to less profitable developments than is the case in Australia. Therefore in Europe there is a large section of the population – often above 50% – living in housing developments based on government policies, which include investing and financing policies and regulations that are keeping house prices significant lower.
The policy in Australia is largely based on a free market approach. In other words, how the most money can be made out of the housing market. The Australian market is largely driven by investment properties and there is very little government involvement to guide it towards better overall housing outcomes. It is the banks that are dictating which investments will be funded in this market.
While some countries are doing better than others, and some countries have better policies, regulations and financial models than others, the city housing problem is a universal one and we can all learn from each other, and from architects and the more serious housing developers who understand the seriousness of the problems.
…… Back to Australia, where government vision is seriously lacking. Obviously this will not change overnight, but the pressure on a far more flexible and affordable approach to housing will require significant changes in government policy.
The first examples of more flexible housing are beginning to appear in Australia. However current regulations make this a very difficult exercise and the bureaucracy, a range of fees and taxes from different government agencies, and often contradictory regulations is driving costs up to such an extent that the goal of making this more affordable cannot be reached.
We will have to make a decision – whether we see housing simply as a means of maximising investment profits or as a means of creating great places for people to live in.
This is extremely challenging, but I strongly believe that more flexible housing options need to be part of any overall smart city plan. It should be broadened to look at synergy with other sectors such as healthcare, education and infrastructure developments. This will require breaking down the silo culture and creating better regulations to explore synergies between these sectors. Housing is such a critical issue and at the moment it is often excluded from smart city plans and put in the far too hard basket.
The most difficult part will be brownfield developments. Based on all the other aspects of smart cities, decisions will need to be made on what sort of housing developments need to be undertaken, and in which parts of the cities, in the context of a smart city (transport, economy, environment, energy, livability and so on). These are very complex issues and require a holistic strategic approach.