Urban sprawl: the big picture

Space.

We strive for space to inhabit throughout our lives – for work, leisure, and housing. We instinctively know when the space surrounding us is great by the way it makes us feel. There is an abundance of space on Earth – it is inside and outside of buildings, and is formed by objects both natural and artificial.

Humans are inquisitive by nature. As many futurists predict – it is inevitable that one day, humanity will sprawl from Earth into what seems to be infinite space.

Space, or, the universe, exploded into existence 13.8 billion years ago. By our observation, it is estimated to contain 2 trillion galaxies. Within the Milky Way galaxy alone, are an estimated 200 billion stars. Most of these stars are orbited by planetary systems, with an estimated 20 billion containing planets located within their stars habitable zone A.

What lies beyond what we can presently observe?

Figure 1:  Powerlines beneath the Milky Way
Source: Whitman 2015[B]

While space technology underwent its remarkable birth throughout the 1950s and '60s, and futurists were making such predictions, another kind of colonisation was rapidly spreading – right here on EarthC. It was the dawn of the modern suburb, a time of post-war prosperity and growth that saw housing developments suddenly appear across the landscapeC.

Space technology has grown with our cities. Today, hundreds of artificial satellites orbit Earth – making observations and gathering terabytes of data. Such an array is providing 'big picture' spatial coverage. Among many things, it has supported a better understanding of the many problems associated with urban sprawlC.

The formal term for urban sprawl is “greenfield development”, which involves clearing land on the urban fringe for housing.

Presently, more than half of humanity – 3.5 billion people – live in cities, and it is forecasted that this number will continue to riseF. In all regions of the world from 2000 to 2015, the expansion of urbanised land surpassed the growth of urban populations, resulting in urban sprawlF.

Research into the effects of urban sprawl has identified many environmental, sociological, and economic problemsD. Some of the headlines include air and water pollution, loss or disruption of environmentally sensitive areas, decreased open space, and reduced quality of lifeD. Our lives are far better when we live in reasonable proximity to work, family, recreation, public transport, and essential services.

Infrastructure – particularly transport infrastructure – shapes our cities. The past 50 years of urban development in Australia has focused on building new automobile-dependent suburbs on the urban fringe of citiesH. Such development is no more evident than in Perth, Western Australia (WA), where 3 out of 5 new homes are built on the urban fringeE. Many of these homes are situated far from public transport, which continues to drive dependence on automobilesE. In turn, such reliance increases traffic congestion and accelerates the depletion of fossil fuelsD.

In a bid to deal with problems such as these, and deliver ‘equitable, efficient and sustainable use of land and natural resources’, there has been a shift in focus by governments to deliver urban infill developmentF. The economic advantages associated with such repositioning were estimatedI. Costs to the Australian Government in providing infrastructures – such as roads, water,  power, communication, emergency services, health, and education – to greenfield sites are $150,389 per lot, versus $55,828 per lot to urban infill sitesI. For every 1000 lots developed within inner-urban suburbs, equals a saving of up to $94.5 millionI.

Despite these incentives, ‘curbing urban sprawl’ in Perth appears to have become nothing but a catchphrase in recent years, with new analysis suggesting that it is closer to fantasy than realityG. With councils failing to meet urban infill targets, developers struggling to convince buyers to downsize, and new plans showing suburbia set to extend north of Yanchep and south to WaroonaG.

The Australian Government needs to place greater importance on urban infill development. Ultimately, cities such as Perth will reach a density-reckoning as urban sprawl cannot continue infinitely.

At Collier Homes, we recognise that there is great availability of unused land throughout the inner-urban suburbs of Perth. Such land can be developed to realise its housing potential and market value. In collaboration with POST- architecture, we are working on quality, well-designed, sustainable, and scalable solutions to assist in filling this void.

Alberto Amara BAppSc(Hons), DipBldg is a third-generation builder and experienced construction professional with extensive experience across building and construction.

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Figure 2:  Perth as seen from the International Space Station
Source: Kopra 2015[J]

References

A – PowerfulJRE. 2019. Joe Rogan Experience #1233 - Brian Cox.  2:34:53. https://youtu.be/wieRZoJSVtw

B – Whitman, Jay. 2015 (@jay.whitman). "#powerlines beneath the #milkyway #exmouth #westernaustralia #astrophotography #universetoday #longexposure." Instagram photo, August 26, 2015. https://www.instagram.com/p/62OMdSMH_y/

C – National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 2002. "Urban Sprawl: the Big Picture." https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2002/11oct_sprawl

D – Brody, Samuel. 2013. "The Characteristics, Causes, and Consequences of Sprawling Development Patterns in the United States." Nature Education Knowledge 4 (5): 2. https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/the-characteristics-causes-and-consequences-of-sprawling-103014747

E – Acott, Kent. 2019. "Perth’s urban sprawl driving our love affair with cars." PerthNow, February 1, 2019.  https://www.perthnow.com.au/news/transport/perths-urban-sprawl-driving-our-love-affair-with-cars-ng-b881091421z

F – Bolleter, Julian, Melsom, Chris, Myers, Zoe. 2018. Missing in Action: Strategies for delivering the 'missing middle' in Perth. Perth: Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, Landcorp, Department of Communities. https://www.audrc.org/missinginaction

G – Emma Young, Emma, and Allan-Petale, David. 2018. "Halting Perth's urban sprawl is not as easy as it sounds." WAtoday, September 4, 2018.  https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/halting-perth-s-urban-sprawl-is-not-as-easy-as-it-sounds-20180830-p500t1.html

H – Trubka, Roman, Newman, Peter and Bilsborough, Darren. 2010. "THE COSTS OF URBAN SPRAWL – INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORTATION" Environment Design Guide (83): 1:6. https://www.crcsi.com.au/assets/Resources/b6e1625f-d90b-433d-945a-6afeff2e42f6.pdf

I – Ludlam, Scott. 2016. "Design Perth vision saves billions." Media release, June 3, 2016.  https://greensmps.org.au/articles/design-perth-vision-saves-billions

J – Kopra, Tim (@astro_tim). 2016.  "Great night passes over @Australia - beautiful #CitiesFromSpace. #GoodNight @CityofPerth from @Space_Station." Twitter, April 17, 2016,  3:22 p.m.  https://twitter.com/astro_tim/status/721826178894585856

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