Friday, October 21, 2016

Parramatta and the dynamics of the apartment glut

I was a bit staggered to learn that there are now apparently more cranes servicing high rise apartment construction down the east coast of Australia (528) than in major cities across North America (419). This image is the Meriton Altitude Apartments development in Parramatta now well on the way to completion.

Each day I travel through the heart of Sydney apartment centrals, finishing at Parramatta. According to Greater Sydney Commission chief Lucy Turnbull, Sydney must be "re imagined" as three great cities for its growth to be successful.

The former Sydney lord mayor said the three cities of the future would be the Eastern Harbour City, the Central Parramatta River City, and the Western City in and around the new airport at Badgerys Creek.

I can see the changes in Parramatta. Its quite interesting and in a way exciting to watch the transformation of the city gathering pace. The level of new investment is enormous, billions of dollars. As a consequence, Parramatta has (I think) reached a tipping point. Developments already begun will certainly give the city a metro feel. I am less convinced about the Western City. Actually, I can't see it at this point. Parramatta's growth has been underpinned by the shifting of government jobs. It's a government city. Now that it has achieved something approaching critical mass, other things are following. Indeed, Ms Turnbull has suggested that the NSW parliament could be moved to Parramatta by the middle of the next decade. This was, she suggested, appropriate because the areas' west of Parramatta would increasingly be Sydney’s population, commercial and government centres. “What could be more logical than having our government right in the heart of the city where most of the population is based?” Ms Turnbull reportedly told an audience of the city’s business and political elite.

I shuddered a bit for reasons that you might understand.

At the moment, I can't see this type of dynamic happening in the "Western City". There is no natural focus, although those round Liverpool may challenge me on that, while there is no sign of Government job shifts.

Finishing with two brief points. The first is, and this has been widely reported, is that the level of apartment building in the three largest Eastern capitals has got to the point that a crash is almost inevitable, The second is that we have not looked properly at the dynamics of this in terms of what it means not just for the operation of Australia's largest cities, but for the Australian polity more broadly defined.


Randy McDonald said...

What impact do you think this urbanization would have on the Australian polity?

Winton Bates said...

Randy, the answer to your question might be along the lines that bureaucrats will tend to vote Labor, but that doesn't necessarily apply to others who might be attracted to Paramatta in future.

Regarding Western City, the issue seems to be how much growth a major airport is likely to attract. There is probably an international literature relevant to this question. Has anyone read much in this area recently?

Jim, I think I saw the pm and NSW premier on the news saying something to the effect that when their planned transport infrastructure is in place the average time for people to get to work in Sydney will be half an hour. Does this sound feasible to you?

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Randy and Winton. Sorry for the delay in responding.

Randy, its not just urbanisation but also the form of urbanisation. Australia has been an urbanised country since European settlement. During the colonial period, the proportion of the population in the capital cities did drop, but from the 1890s their share began to accelerate.

The growth of the apartment, I think that you call them condominiums if I interpreted a recent post of your's correctly, adds a new dynamic to already existing trends. Youngest shares an apartment with two others on the 22nd floor of a high rise on the Victoria Park side of the Green Square development. This link will give you a feel for the scale - While this is, I think, the biggest apartment development hot spot (there are 19,000 apartments under construction at the moment), it is only one of a number.

The high concentration of people allows for urban facilities, for the young it's quite fun and I enjoy the streetscape, but I can already see the problems. As a very simple examle, the present minuscule green space area is already too small for the number of dogs that everyone wants to own! Its dog central. Then the lifts just too small (at least in Clare' place) to make it easy for people to move in or out. With over 100 apartments in the building, each time someone moves it ties the lifts up for hours.

These are urban design problems. More importantly,these areas strike me as hermetically sealed. Australia has, I think, a slightly higher proportion of overseas born than Canada, although Toronto is a bit above Sydney. The demographic in Clare's area is younger and quite heavily Chinese. There is a growing disconnect between areas like this and many other parts of Australia. In very simple terms, there would appear to be damn all people who have connections with, experience of, other parts of Australia.

Obviously, this is not just an apartment question. However, apartment living is different from previous experience in terms of scale. Still thinking about this, but will pause there for the moment.

Jim Belshaw said...

Winton, I don't know of any major city based on an airport. Major airports are big businesses, but not that big. The first arguments about the economic impact of Badgerys Creek go back to the late eighties or early nineties. Then part of the argument was that the airport would bring business to Western Sydney based on the convenience of closeness to transport. I'm not convinced of that. In any case, it will be many years before BC has the air connections to make it a true center.

On the half hour average travel time, I guess that's possible if people limit their job search to a single metro center. Penrith to Parra for example is just over half an hour. But where people are solidly based in a locality and just follow the jobs, it's not. In my case, for example, contract work has drawn me to Parra but I haven't moved to be closer to work because I don't know that the work will be there should I move.

Anonymous said...

.. shares an apartment with two others on the 22nd floor of a high rise

the present minuscule green space area is already too small for the number of dogs that everyone wants to own! Its dog central. Then the lifts just too small ... to make it easy for people to move in or out. With over 100 apartments in the building, each time someone moves it ties the lifts up for hours

This is very close to my personal idea of the hell described in the movie 'Blade Runner'. But hey, the coffee's great, and there's a Sushi bar just a short walk - but mind the needles :(


Jim Belshaw said...

Afternoon, kvd. Sushi bar yes, not sure about the coffee and no needles so far that I have seen! But otherwise, yes!

Anonymous said...

Apologies Jim - was not personal. Just more maybe, wishing for simpler times. My dogs have about 7 acres to run on, but you do have to keep an eye out for snakes, I have to admit.


Jim Belshaw said...

Good lord, kvd. I didn't take that personally!

Unknown said...

We can't jolly well argue with modernisation though. What's important is the balance of the space. If every available plot of land is going to be turned into a high rise or retail chain then we're going to have a lot of problems. Better that they renovate abandoned buildings that are glorified storage units rather than constantly building anew...

Jim Belshaw said...

I agree with you James. I think that variety in the visual space is important.