Australian critiques of suburbia

As part of a larger discussion about the green (or not-so-green) features of high-density living, an Australian academic describes typical Australian critiques of suburbia:

The intellectual misadventure of high-rise urbanism also perpetuates a pernicious bias in Australian environmental debates in which less affluent suburban dwellers are treated as environmentally unsophisticated “bogans” – a stereotype recently denounced by Melbourne University’s David Nichols.

It fits within a long and regrettably continuing Australian tradition of denigrating suburbia whose recent version sneers at “aspirationals” in suburban “McMansions” driving “monster-trucks”. That complaints about suburban consumption lack objective scientific foundation, raises suspicions that the anti-suburban prejudice serves to deflect scrutiny from the more harmful consumption patterns of wealthier – and typically denser – inner urban households.

Those who criticise high-rise urbanism, though, risk being cast as apologists for urban sprawl. Disagreeing with Sydney’s Barangaroo proposal, for example, doesn’t equate to support for the latest fringe growth area splurge.

More single, detached dwellings in low density estates at the suburban fringe also causes harms. These range from the destruction of bio-diverse habitats to the social isolation of new residents from work and services. My own work on household oil vulnerability clearly reveals the future perils from higher fuel prices already planned into the fabric of many of our car-dependent fringe suburban zones.

The argument here is that being green isn’t so easy as simply saying suburbs are bad and cities are good. Unfortunately, the suburbs tend to receive blanket criticism.

It would be interesting to trace the rise of these attitudes in Australia compared to the United States. The US has a long history of these critiques which emerged quickly after World War II, particularly as examples of mass-produced suburbs like the Levittowns became widely known. Out of all of the countries in the world, Australia might have the most similar suburbs to the US (see a recent debate about McMansions in Australia as an example). Did Australian critics of suburbia simply borrow American critiques or did they develop their own independently? Sounds like a very interesting comparative project.

One thought on “Australian critiques of suburbia

  1. Pingback: Linking nicer cars to a suburb on the rise | Legally Sociable

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