A new research project commissioned by the Property Council WA aims to demystify density, create a new “language for our leaders” and shift community mindsets from “no” to “yes, if”.
It takes a village: Density, diversity and the new Australian dream, prepared by strategic communications consultancy Meerkats, unpacks the learnings from community conversations with Perth residents.
It finds that people value the benefits of density and can recognise quality density in other cities around the world, but find it difficult to point to examples of density done well in their own backyards.
Sandra Brewer, executive director of the Property Council in WA, says people want affordable housing, a range of housing options, lifestyle, amenity and jobs close to home – all benefits of denser communities – but they remain uncertain and “in some cases hostile” to increasing density in their suburbs.
“We need to turn the conversation around – and to understand why people are resistant – because well-designed, integrated medium-density development can deliver the very things people want from their lifestyles and their suburbs.”
Conversations with community members found the term ‘urban density’ typically evokes a negative reaction. While some people imagined “restaurants, retailers, people and more public spaces” more people thought of treeless, congested streets.
Those interviewed had a clear sense of medium density and high density, and a preference for the former – describing it as “not too high and not too low” and “probably the best”.
The biggest disparity in perspective arose when participants were asked whether urban density promoted or compromised safety. While some thought density represented “safety in numbers”, others associated it with “more transient and less trustworthy neighbours”.
While the project centred on Perth, the findings are applicable across Australia. It takes a village includes a five-step process to reframe the conversation and a new language for urban density.
For example, the report recommends replacing the phrase ‘high density’ – which people associate with ‘squished and cramped’ – with ‘better living spaces’. ‘Infill’ equates to ‘filling in space’ in people’s minds, but ‘connected’ and ‘well-designed’ resonate.
The report also encourages the industry to “crowd out bad examples with good”.
Brewer says a new conversation with the community must be built on trust, and “only then can we begin to shift mindsets from ‘no’ to ‘yes, if’.
“This project is about listening to community concerns and trying to understand what’s meant by urban density and the benefits for existing communities.
“From this we've tried to demystify density and to reassure the community that it can bring people together for good.”