City Futures Research Centre UNSW Built Environment

Reassembling the city: understanding resident-led collective property sales

Cities are constantly being built, unbuilt and rebuilt, at an increasingly rapid rate. City-dwellers all over the world will be very familiar with the experience of seeing a row of houses or old apartment block transformed to something much taller, wider, and bulkier. But the process of assembling the land that lays beneath these developments is much less familiar.

This process is the subject of a new three-year research project, jointly undertaken by researchers at City Futures Research Centre UNSW and Macquarie University. The Australian Research Council funded project ‘Reassembling the City: understanding urban renewal through resident-led collective property sales’ examines the phenomenon and process of neighbouring residents acting together to sell their properties in areas of urban renewal, in Sydney and Vancouver in particular.

Urban policy in recent years has encouraged densification of existing built up areas. ‘Compact city’ planning strategies have encouraged ‘activation’ around key strategic centres and urban renewal corridors, in the context of high population growth and demand for new housing supply. At the same time, the financialisation of housing has supercharged housing markets globally. The higher density development driven by these trends requires larger land parcels, which can be difficult to find in established urban areas. Governments and large developers were behind the first wave of site assembly, but recently a more bottom-up process appears to be gaining popularity. Owners of both detached properties and units in ageing apartment buildings are now finding that working with their neighbours to sell as a collective is much more profitable than selling their property alone.

Such a process raises several questions. It brings the tensions between housing as an asset and housing as a home into sharp relief. It blurs the boundaries between notions of individual and collective interests vis-à-vis property rights. It challenges conventional understandings of top-down versus bottom-up processes of urban development and the role and nature of the growth coalitions reshaping contemporary cities. We know little about the extent to which collective sales are proactive or reactive – driven by the entrepreneurialism of owners versus pressures or obligations. The different types of collective sales, and their geographies, has received scant attention to date.

The Reassembling the City project will pursue these questions through an international comparative analysis. Sydney and Vancouver are the primary study cities, complemented by secondary study cities of Hong Kong, Fukuoka, and Auckland. The project investigators include A/Prof Simon PinnegarA/Prof Hazel Easthope, and Dr Laura Crommelin from City Futures Research Centre, and A/Prof Kristian Ruming from Macquarie University. Research assistance is provided by Zahra Nasreen (Macquarie) and Dr Alistair Sisson (CFRC).

The project team will map collective sales that have taken place in Sydney and Vancouver over the past five years, and examine a number of case study sites in each city in greater detail.  The team will be seeking to interview a range of stakeholders involved in servicing and enabling the collective sales process, as well as the residents involved and the relevant planning authorities. Feedback from neighbouring residents will also be invited.

For further information about the project, please contact Dr Laura Crommelin.

Interested in this project? Come join us!  We are currently offering a MPhil scholarship for a student to work on a project associated with this research - applications due 18 May 2020. Please click here to download the full application details.