What kind of development do we need?

by Councillor Charles Jago

I support an increase in medium rise development across Canada Bay, provided that the infrastructure is in place to support it. For environmental, economic and social reasons, medium rise offers more benefits than high density. Medium rise will still provide enough additional density to provide a very large number of new homes across Sydney.

Looking around the world, cities such as Paris and Athens stand out with a substantial height limit of twelve storeys. They do have specific central business districts with high-rise, but suburban areas mostly keep to the height limit. There are already high-rise buildings across Greater Sydney, but I recommend that Sydney’s suburban areas would be better off with medium density.

What level of medium development is best? From a purely technical point of view, a lower building such as 4 storeys will be cheaper to construct and more energy efficient per dwelling than a 12 storey building. The 4 storey building will also be able to harvest enough energy from its roof to power a lot of its energy needs, which is far less likely for much taller buildings.

However, we need to accept that there will be a range of building heights for different needs.

Why not high-rise?

I don’t support high-rise in suburban areas, because the construction and operating costs are higher, and also they are less energy efficient in both construction and operation.

High-rise construction requires extensive use of steel and concrete, creating higher costs than for lower buildings which use different – less expensive – building materials. Consequently, high-rise buildings also show increased energy intensity (ie reduced energy efficiency), due to greater embedded energy in the steel, concrete and other components.

Similarly, the operational cost of high-rise is higher due to the additional building services – primarily water and sewerage pumps, lift operation, air-conditioning and security – which is more than for smaller buildings. Then in their operation, these building services also require greater energy to operate than medium density buildings.

In addition, high-rise towers are intrinsically less safe. In the event of fire or any other emergency, people in a tall building take longer to escape. People trapped on upper floors may be out of reach of rescue vehicles ladders.

For these reasons, medium density buildings are intrinsically better than high-rise.

But even further, research shows greater social problems tend to occur in high-rise. The greater scale reinforces social isolation. This is a generalisation, but buildings of lesser height find it easier to establish a higher perception of community.

What else does good development need?

People need infrastructure:

  • transport – trains, buses, any other public transport and roads that allow people to move in a timely way, including access to constrained areas with only one road in and out.
  • schools
  • green space
  • and more…