He’s known for his web series Josh’s House, which looked at how low density housing could be made more sustainable, but now presenter and environmental scientist Josh Byrne has turned his attention to denser forms of housing.
His new series, Density by Design, will make the case for higher density residential developments that incorporate sustainability, liveability and affordability.
Speaking to The Fifth Estate, Dr Byrne said while single dwellings were still important and made up most of the volume building industry, things were changing rapidly.
Urban sprawl has led to poor environmental and social outcomes, as well as stifling the economic productivity of cities, so many cities have responded with ambitious infill targets. However, the density going into our cities is not necessarily being done thoughtfully, and Byrne says there are many examples where it hasn’t gone well.
He blames breakdowns in the planning process, a lack of creativity in design and developers trying to deliver something as cheaply as possible, particularly when the development is purely investor targeted. This has led to a “growing tension” in the community regarding densification, particularly in inner and middle ring suburbs.
But density, when done well, can have a range of benefits and add to the richness of a community.
“Density done well brings enormous opportunities,” Byrne says.
“We’re aiming to show the more positive side to densification, and contribute to the national conversation that’s happening.”
The first four episodes, available to view now, look at four different projects across the country, which each communicate a different facet of density done well, and include Christie Walk in Adelaide, The Commons in Melbourne, Bowden in Adelaide and One Central Park in Sydney.
Byrne says Christie Walk is a pioneering project that stands as a beacon for what can be achieved in multi-residential infill development. The Commons, he says, is important for both its excellent design and the innovative Nightingale model that underpins it. Bowden shows the importance of state government agencies implementing design controls at the precinct and building scale, and One Central Park has shown how the top end of town and international developers can deliver the high quality high density developments of the future.
While the projects are of different scales with very different proponents, they are all tied together by good design, Byrne says.
The next six episodes of the show will focus on WA state land agency LandCorp’s WGV development, which Byrne has worked closely on as a consultant and researcher.
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“We’ll be following the project from start to finish and will tell the story around energy, water, group housing and community.”
The Density by Design website, Byrne says, is also a platform to share open source research findings. The project is part of a broader research project on low-carbon residential precincts being undertaken by Curtin University’s Sustainability Policy Institute and the CRC for Low Carbon Living, and the website will share research updates on WGV alongside the episodes – on projects like the baugruppen development and the strata solar and battery system.
So what does Byrne feel needs to be done to increase acceptance of higher density development? Increasing and rethinking green space, placing a greater emphasis on the public realm and funnelling part of the value uplift of higher residential development into more liveable spaces are some of the solutions Byrne feels could turn sentiment around.
“It’s not out of reach and we should expect it.”
But how do we get there?
For Byrne it’s a combination of market-led responses and additional regulatory mechanisms, both at a local and state level.
But he is wary to advocate just for regulatory intervention.
“It’s not just about regulation. You need market acceptance and desire. When you have that, it’s a lot more powerful than to push through with stick regulations.
“When there’s market-led responses they tend to be quicker and more powerful.”
But regulatory responses and political leadership is needed to push the laggards to act, he says.
He says his show is about raising community awareness about what is possible, and that that could help to make market and regulatory change happen more easily.
“It’s about raising the level of conversation.”