Adapting housing aspirations and expectations on the coastal suburban and regional fringe

Housing Urbanisation Suburban growth Australia Victoria

The trend towards larger, detached, energy intensive dwellings in poorly serviced, low-density, urban fringe locations, leaves governments, households and communities vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The planning and design of new outer urban areas, and the retrofitting of existing ones, affects the extent to which communities can adapt to changing climactic conditions.

The think tank focused on the south-east peri-urban and coastal growth region of Melbourne, which contains a large amount of low density greenfield development. This area is potentially highly vulnerable to temperature increases, rainfall decreases, increased bushfire risk and sea level rises as a result of climate change.

Given the multiple and competing objectives of the stakeholders involved in housing provision, the challenge to build communities’ capacity to adapt to change is more complex than attempting to change the attitudes, behaviour, barriers and choices of individuals. What is needed is better understanding of the dynamic and integrated processes involved in shaping expectations and aspirations for housing across a range of stakeholders.

Research need

There is a need for research to strengthen theories and models that address gaps in urban design and policy between factors such as supply-demand or technology-behaviour relationships and ways to assess the role that multiple actors play in shaping housing expectations and aspirations. There is also a need to build stronger links between that type of research and the policy development process.

Policy needs

1. Government housing and planning policy needs to reconsider the relationship between supply and demand in the housing sector. The persistent belief that ‘builders provide what the market demands’ was expressed but heavily disputed amongst participants. Building standards, housing and urban design should anticipate future changes in climate and the need for current and future homes to be increasingly efficient in water and energy efficiency. This should include incentives and regulation for rental properties.

2. Adapting to a variable and changing climate presents significant problems for current models of planning and housing delivery in growth areas. These can be addressed through stronger regulation of the urban growth boundary, incentives to increase housing densities (while maintaining open space and urban ‘green infrastructure’) and to offer a variety of housing types, and provision of important infrastructure and services such as public transport in outer areas. These recommendations are particularly pertinent for the State Government as they are in the process of preparing the next metropolitan strategy for Melbourne.

3. House pricing policy and claims of improved ‘affordability’ need to reflect the long-term running costs of housing as well as cost of land development and construction. Government policy should encourage home buyers and those who finance, build and market homes to factor in the long term costs of climate change in their decision making. Simply shifting responsibility onto consumers and encouraging them to make better housing ‘choices’ is unlikely to achieve significant change regarding the types of housing people expect and aspire towards.

4. Planning and policy development by State and local governments needs to involve collective engagement with the community in its broadest sense (general public, developers, investors, householders, etc.) to assist in transitioning to meet challenges presented by climate change. What it means to have a ‘good life’ is often not compatible with the long-term sustainability of those lifestyles or broader community resilience and resolving these differences will require difficult conversations with the wider community. This engagement needs to provide spaces where people are open to the views of others from different sectors and fields of practice, where people can relax their grip on certainty about right and wrong and listen to the possibilities that emerge from open dialogue.


The Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation is a partnership of Melbourne, Monash, La Trobe and RMIT universities. The University of Melbourne administers the centre on behalf of the partners.


Susie Moloney, School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning;ID=5z485wq081f2

Yolande Strengers, Centre for Design;ID=nniptapo5kh7

Cecily Maller, Centre for Design;ID=negkg36jwcmfz

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