March presentation: Goodbye to the Backyard

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This picture demonstrates the point made by Prof Tony Hall from Griffith University in his presentation at our March meeting. It is a promotional picture of a recent outer Brisbane development.The estate in the foreground shows how Australians have recently given up on the backyard concept. It’s a vicious circle. Young families work longer hours to pay for bigger homes, reducing the need for outdoor space which they don’t see as necessary in a dormitory suburb. Photo supplied to The Australian 04/05/2014. Here are some reflections jotted down from his talk.

  • Contrary to popular opinion, high density living does not exclude backyards. It all depends on the design of the building.
  • Backyards are not being sacrificed for higher density living, but for more indoor living space on the same sized block.
  • People’s behaviour is changing and this is reflected in the kind of housing they choose. A high percentage of Australians are working more than 50 hours per week and commute to and from dormitory suburbs each day. They do not see backyards as necessary as they don’t have time to use them.
  • Commuters drive some distance from the city to find houses they can afford. Developers maximise the floor space for the price by providing a single story dwelling on a concrete slab with a deep square plan. There are fewer windows and an internal garage.
  • For the environment, lack of backyards in suburbia means more storm water run-off, hotter microclimates, minimum biodiversity, and reduced absorption of pollutants.
  • For householders, it means poor security, poor aesthetics, no outlook from windows (fence), no secure play area for children, lack of connection with nature and no home garden.
  • Inside there are dark interiors and poor ventilation, creating a heat island effect and resulting in increased electricity consumption.
  • Current planning laws allow 50% maximum coverage of site, but this really means a margin of about 2 metres around a dwelling on a small lot. Much of this area is taken up with driveway and path.
  • Many of the latest subdivisions have abandoned the old Australian traditional ideals of outdoor living. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality when designing today’s houses which lack eaves, insulation and natural light.

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