Great Australian backyard ‘romantic’ ideal

Caroline Schelle
(Australian Associated Press)


The great Australian backyard appears to be a “romantic” dream that’s fading as more people eschew a lawnmower and move into apartments.

So, is there a life cost when there is no personal plot of land just a step away?

“Part of the idea of the backyard is the romantic notion and the sense of community that it gives you,” leading Queensland architect Philip Follent says.

But the former Queensland government architect and Gold Coast city architect says there are plenty of opportunities to blend apartment and traditional living.

Apartment developments can add a community feel with gardens, communal space and family-friendly floor plans, he says.

But some residents still very much want a backyard.

“There’s still many people who feel that the home is their castle,” Mr Follent said.

To cater for all residents, city areas should have a mix of housing options, he says.

This includes medium- to high-density apartment buildings, detached housing, units, townhouses and public outdoor space.

There were important physical, psychological and social benefits for people having access to open space and more specifically, their own outdoor area, RMIT Centre for Urban Research director Jago Dodson said.

“People having access to a space for gardening, leisure activities or even storage for example are all important benefits,” Professor Dodson said of backyards.

But he said there was a “trade off” between having a detached house or living in an inner-city apartment

“People who live in high density urban environments are more physically active but with less open space they tend to use parks and public spaces more … and those spaces are becoming more limited,” the professor said.

Melbourne urban planner Frank Perry says more apartments are being built because of property prices and demographic changes, with more singles or couples with no children.

But Mr Perry, who has run his own planning practice for 19 years, said there needed to be a balance between the number of apartments going up and protecting the character of a neighbourhood.

“You don’t want to transform the suburb to such an extent that it detracts from the intrinsic value of that suburb,” the planner said.

Despite the “explosion” in apartment developments in the past 25 years, many Australians tend to favour a property with a backyard.

“It’s an easier transition to accept townhouses and units with smaller backyards than going straight to an apartment, for some people,” Mr Perry said.

Prospective apartment buyers are also facing a greater risk of compromising their access to outdoor living through purchasing “off-the-plan”, rather than seeing the property in situ, Archicentre Australia director Peter Georgiev said.

“Off-the- plan purchases are like a game of poker for buyers owing to the uncertainty in build quality and basic functional amenity,” he added.

“It doesn’t matter whether the property is being purchased to live in or as an investment, these issues can impact on lifestyle quality as well as re-sale value,” Mr Georgiev said.

In the past 25 years the number of occupied apartments in Australia has increased by 78 per cent, the ABS reports.

The 2016 Census found that 10 per cent – or more than 2.3 million people – of all people in Australia spent Census night in an apartment.


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