With Australia experiencing its fastest levels of population growth since the 1950s and 60s, issues surrounding urban planning policy are being thrust into the limelight. There is much talk about housing shortages and concepts of sustainable housing, but researchers at UniSA are looking beyond environmental concerns, to uncover the key factors that make an area good to live in.
What they have found is that an understanding of how households and work fit together is critical in that equation.
The Work, Home and Community project soon to be released by UniSA's Centre for Work+Life, identifies a range of issues that are central to the development of socially sustainable communities.
Led by project manager Dr Pip Williams, researchers surveyed more than 1000 adults, teenagers, workers and business and community leaders across four states from 10 traditional and master-planned communities (communities that include significant infrastructure including schools, recreation and retail facilities). The research represented high and low socio-economic sectors.
Dr Williams says the over-riding conclusion from the research is that planning decisions surrounding community development and housing must be made in the context of the work/life interplay.
"The increasing reach of work into households and across the lifecycle makes it more important to understand how work and home fit together for individuals and communities," she said.
"One example is the often long distances between where people live and work. The tyranny of distance puts some workers in the position of having to choose between a good job and family care. This often results in a clear division of labour, with many highly skilled and educated women feeling they have no choice but to abandon careers in the CBD to take lower paid jobs near home so they are available to their children. And it is no easy road for men either - many want to spend more time with families but need to travel long distances and work increasing hours to maintain careers."
Dr Williams says that while many residents of master-planned communities love where they live because of the convenience of local retail areas or schools, others found local services don't meet their needs.
"This is particularly the case for people working outside the area, who can't access local services at suitable times and for teenagers who feel their needs have been completely ignored," she said.
Planned developments often lack depth in community services and proximity to the informal social supports that families need to thrive.
"We found that dual-income families with high mortgage debt and few supportive relationships in their new residential area, had far less time and energy to contribute to community activities or get to know their neighbours," she said.
"In older suburbs there are long term residents and the community has established networks through churches, schools and clubs. These factors build increased social stability and supports for many residents, but not all. The older suburbs studied were generally poorer and a lack of investment in community infrastructure, particularly jobs, public schools and transport, perpetuated the disadvantages found in these areas."
She says research undertaken with focus groups, interviews and surveys, found a range of issues were significant across generations, so planning a housing development with a static concept of family will always be inadequate.
"Some developments are planned and marketed specifically for young families. But in a few years the community will be full of teenagers with completely different needs.
"We've found that teenagers want access to part time work while they are at school; young Australians need study and employment opportunities; couples and middle-aged Australians are looking for good spatial links between work and home so that they can manage the demands of jobs and kids; and older Australians want to be able to work for longer and gradually step out of that role.
"The needs of any community are clearly quite complex and dynamic. If we consider residents' daily activities at different life stages we are likely to design communities that facilitate easy access to work, education, care, recreation and social interaction. If housing is isolated from these activities communities struggle to be socially or environmentally sustainable."
Dr Williams said the take home message from the research for government and planners is clear.
"When housing is integrated with the daily activities of residents, either through co-location or excellent public transport, individuals and communities are better off."
To access the original news item visit: http://www.unisa.edu.au/unisanews/2009/October/mainstory.asp