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‘Broken’ housing system pushes gentrification from city to suburbs

“This was quite surprising to us, because the conventional wisdom is that you get high levels of gentrification in the centre of cities and less the further out you go,” Dr Pojani said.

“Instead we found the inner cities are actually pretty stable. They’ve seen a little bit of change but not nearly enough to call it gentrification.”

Sydney's gentrifying suburbs

Sydney’s gentrifying suburbs

In particular a ring of suburbs from about five kilometres to 15 kilometres outside the CBD seemed to be either fully gentrified or rapidly gentrifying.

Dr Pojani said the phenomenon was relatively uniform across all three cities and showed what she believed to be the result of Australia’s focus on housing as investment and not necessity.

“The fact that there is any gentrification is an indication of a broken housing system,” she said.

“We need to fix the housing system so this phenomenon is removed from geography and urban planning.

The gentrification in Melbourne mirrors that in Sydney and Brisbane

The gentrification in Melbourne mirrors that in Sydney and Brisbane

“We need to instil in our policy makers the concept that a house is a place for living. It’s not a place to store or showcase wealth.”

She said viewed through that lens, resistance to gentrification in the inner ring of the three major capitals suggested more of a drive to preserve the “character” of suburbs for wealthier residents, rather than a concern for poorer residents.

“Some of it is pure NIMBYism, people who don’t want new development no matter what, they want to keep their property prices high and one of the ways to do that is keep supply low,” Dr Pojani said.

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“Gentrification has moved out from the CBDs steadily, so there might be people who want to live closer in but they just can’t afford it.”

She and the other researchers suggested stronger planning approvals across the country, rather than trying to “patch” gentrifying pockets on an ad hoc basis.

In Brisbane, suburbs such as Fairfield, Moorooka, and Sunnybank, which have had historically high immigrant populations, are now seeing more affluent groups move in, while Wooloongabba is seeing rapid change due to its proximity to the CBD.

While Brisbane has an almost perfect ring of suburbs rapidly gentrifying, Sydney’s gentrifying suburbs are mostly in a large southern strip, the research found, while the northern suburb of Ryde had been the target of infill development policies.

Melbourne has two main gentrification clusters located five-to-15 kilometres to the north and west of the CBD, typified by suburbs such as Footscray and Sunshine. Much like in Brisbane, the historically migrant populations of those areas are being replaced by more affluent residents.

The researchers used common metrics for measuring gentrification, including increasing household incomes, educational attainment, home ownership and white collar occupations as well as decreasing age and growing population density.

This data was sourced from the Australian Census as well as local council data and Google Maps.

The research has been published in the journal Australian Planner.

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