Where have all the gardens gone? An investigation into the disappearance of back yards in the newer Australian suburb

Urban planning Landscape design suburbs Precinct indicators Australia

The disadvantages of the low-density car-based suburbs that surround Australian and US cities are well known and widely debated. These include facilities located to the disadvantage of non-car users, wasteful use of land, cost of infrastructure, time and energy expended on driving, low incidence of social contact and lack of exercise. Nevertheless, the older Australian suburb also has compensating advantages for both the residents and the wider community. This includes a higher degree of biodiversity, the presence of trees also provides shade, modifying the microclimate and giving aesthetic pleasure. The planted areas around the dwelling also aid the process of storm drainage by retaining water and reducing run-off. The private amenity space around the dwelling can accommodate not just a garden for the pleasure of the occupants but also barbeque facilities and an in-ground swimming pool. These not only benefit the residents directly but also facilitate social interaction with friends and neighbours. In some parts of Australia, notably Queensland, use is made of verandas to provide outdoor living sheltered from the sun. Although very large, all encompassing roofs may be employed, a significant part of the space under them is open to the air and to the surroundings.

The more recent suburbs, however, display a disturbing trend, signified by the problematic design and layout of dwellings. The dwelling now extends near to the boundary of the plot and, in consequence, near to adjoining dwellings. There is very little private amenity space to the rear of the dwelling, in extreme cases none at all. Houses are predominantly singlestorey, with only a proportion rising to 1½ or two storeys. There is little in the way of balconies and verandas. The design is square or deep-plan and incorporates an integral double garage greatly reducing the scope for natural lighting and ventilation, windows are often small and tinted. Normally only one room provides an outlook to the front and surveillance of the street. While the disadvantages of suburban living still apply, the advantages referred to above have disappeared.

This paper provides a quantitative analysis of this change to the morphology of the Australian suburb. Comparisons are made with selected examples in the USA and UK. The effects and possible causes of the change are discussed and remedies suggested.

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