Alysia Bennett

Stealth Urbanism: The Covert Advance of Suburban Density and Diversity

PhD candidate

  • Alysia Bennett

Over the past fifty years, the composition of Australian households has shifted from predominantly nuclear families to a plethora of diverse small households, while the percentage of detached, single family dwellings within suburban areas has remained consistently high. Consequently, misalignments between household needs and available stock contribute to housing shortages, cost of living pressures, and suburban sprawl. The Federal Government’s solution is to increase the density of housing stock in established, serviced residential areas through rezoning, despite history indicating that planning legislation is incapable of directing or even controlling development.

Planning legislation is unable to reconcile density ambitions, diversity needs of variegated households, and de facto development. Therefore, this research explores alternative approaches to densification and diversification through infill strategies that negotiate planning constraints, popular conceptions and design tactics. Hobart is used as a test case indicative of Australian regional contexts to explore the potentials and implications of alternative approaches to sustainable suburban intensification.

The research makes a new contribution to suburban densification research by investigating barriers to the realisation of infill development with a specific focus on the planning process. A comparison of the desired development outcomes with planning allowances revealed a misalignment between the development expectations of planners, developers and the community which limits the uptake of multi-level residential development. However, by deploying residential architecture in an alternative dispersed, subversive and covert manner, identified planning barriers to residential density and diversity can be circumvented and the development expectations of all parties can be met.

The research develops a series of stealth negotiation tactics to counter the prohibitive constraints of planning regulations and decision making processes. The design of infill housing typologies tests tactics, and the analysis of local suburbs and international best practice developments generates strategies.

Stealth Urbanism demonstrates possible pathways to rectify the prohibitive misalignments between strategic ambitions and directives by working within, rather than replacing, established planning processes. The research demonstrates that the deployment of residential architecture in a covert manner can facilitate and encourage the diversification and densification of Australian suburbs. Consequently, the research provides a method for realising the network of government strategies that aim to increase the resilience of Australia’s cities.

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