Brisbane has a unique distinction among global cities, and, sadly, it’s not a good one.
While cities like Portland, Minneapolis, and Vancouver are increasing the allowable mix of housing in their suburbs, Brisbane has taken a strong stance against new housing in our low-density neighbourhoods. We favour restricting housing types almost exclusively to single-family dwellings in the name of protecting neighbourhood character. However, this comes at the cost of reducing housing supply and driving up house prices.
While housing diversity has gone down, minimum parking mandates have increased. Minimum parking requirements on new housing projects are now the same regardless of whether the location is a walkable neighbourhood or close to high-frequency transit. Parking adds a significant cost to housing which is ultimately borne by the consumer, adding to our growing housing affordability crisis.
Recently, one inner-Brisbane community successfully petitioned Council to downzone their neighbourhood to block new unit development. This was despite their proximity to the CBD, transit, schools, and local centres. And this is hardly the first such occurrence.
All this is in stark contrast to international cities whose councils are scrambling to upzone neighbourhoods, decrease minimum parking mandates, and ban exclusionary zoning practices.
In doing the opposite, we are forgetting that our city is growing, and that we need to manage that growth. Listening to the people who say, “Not in my backyard,” may make some happy, but what about those for whom owning a home in Brisbane is becoming increasingly unattainable.
We may all celebrate a little when median house prices in our suburb rise; however, it’s easy to forget that this comes at the expense (literally) of those who want to buy or rent in our neighbourhood. It’s also short-sighted; our children may wish to rent or buy a home close to where they grew up, to family or work, but find they are priced out.
Those who have campaigned to limit housing diversity in their neighbourhoods perhaps haven’t thought about their own future; what type of housing might they prefer when they’re older and can no longer maintain a big house and backyard.
None of these people likely consider themselves irresponsible citizens; on the contrary, many are driven by a passion for their community. However, limiting housing supply in existing neighbourhoods places increasing pressure to open up more land at the edge of suburbia. Brisbane is already one of the world’s most sprawling cities. This approach increases commute time, reliance on cars and fossil fuels, and requires further roll-out of urban infrastructure. It also leads to increased vegetation clearing and loss of biodiversity.
What will it take to change community sentiment about new development in our suburbs? When will we place more value on climate change, sustainable growth, affordability, or intergenerational equity in housing? Let’s stop talking about the “greedy developer” or “planner in their pockets” or “politicians with brown paper bags”. Let’s instead focus on the real issues facing our city.