City Futures Research Centre UNSW Built Environment

North Strathfield

Equitable Density: The place for lower-income and disadvantage households in a dense city

Higher density multi-unit residential developments, such as townhouses and apartment buildings, have become an increasingly common feature of Australian cities. Across the country, 2016 marked the first time when construction began on more higher density housing than detached houses. The trend towards higher density housing can bring both benefits and challenges, which are quite different to those associated with low-density, suburban development.

In the light of this shift, Shelter NSW engaged the City Futures Research Centre to identify the major challenges confronting lower income and vulnerable residents in higher density housing. Shelter NSW is concerned to explore and highlight how contemporary urbanisation processes disproportionately affect more vulnerable social groups.

Project Aims

  1. Identify the key economic, planning and housing policy settings affecting lower-income and disadvantaged households under the compact city model
  2. Identify key local planning contexts and issues that affect the provision of social infrastructures, public transport, shared urban spaces, and local services needed to ensure compact city policies do not undermine the quality of life of lower-income and disadvantaged households
  3. Identify a range of issues that affect the quality of the dwellings and living spaces being delivered under compact city policies.

Project outcomes

This project provides a summary of the research evidence currently available to answer these questions, as well as an indication of the gaps in evidence. The output is organised around three scales of analysis.  

  1. In higher density buildings (‘the building scale’), factors like proximity between residents, and the need to share responsibility for building upkeep, create a different living experience to that of detached housing.
  2. In areas with growing quantities of higher density housing (‘the neighbourhood scale’), this densification can strain local services and reshape the area’s socio-economic mix.
  3. In cities that have embraced the ‘compact city’ model (‘the metropolitan scale’), this policy objective puts pressure on governments to coordinate infrastructure planning and delivery, and to manage the social, economic and environmental effects of changing population patterns and urban form.

Many of these issues impact residents across the income spectrum, but different socio-economic groups have different resources available to respond to these pressures.

Because lower income and vulnerable residents generally have less choice and less influence than other socio-economic groups, they are disproportionately affected by the challenges of higher density living. For this reason, these reports focus on issues with higher density living that are specific to, or exacerbated for, lower income and vulnerable households. Where necessary, we have extrapolated from the more general research evidence to consider the impacts for lower income and vulnerable residents in particular.

Publications