Perth's suburbia has served the city well for a century but it might not be the right model for the next 100 years, one of WA's leading experts on city planning says.
University of WA architecture professor and director of the WA Urban Design Centre Richard Weller said despite generations of an expanding urban frontier, Perth still had 300,000ha of degraded farmland "up our sleeve".
But rising oil prices and an urban environment designed almost entirely around the use of private cars meant Perth could leave its residents stranded.
"Perth's problem will be, if indeed we do start to run out of oil or the prices become so high as to be unaffordable, you've got a really dumb city because you can't get to your house," Professor Weller said.
"The city could adjust, jobs will decentralise and more people will work from home. But it's a bit of a trick, because we always say we are going to chase these new suburbs with jobs, and we don't.
"We're a very sprawled city that is still heavily reliant on its CBD."
Professor Weller's landmark 2009 book, Boomtown 2050, sketches a series of development scenarios for Perth out to 2056, when the city's population is projected to hit 4.2 million.
The State Government's official planning policy, Directions 2031, aims to cater for an extra 557,000 residents and 328,000 homes over the next 20 years, with 47 per cent of new homes to be built as infill and 53 per cent greenfield development. The existing percentage of infill development is just 30 per cent.
"I personally think we're going to see much more sprawl than you will infill because of the NIMBY (not in my backyard) factor," he said. "It's just going to kill it, it's too hard."
Professor Weller said the debate quickly degenerated into sprawl versus anti-sprawl but the reality was more nuanced. Suburbs developed their own character, diversity and community.
"If you start slagging the suburbs you're seen as un-Australian, if you don't slag the suburbs, you're seen as romanticising an imperilled form of urbanism.
"Inner-city dwellers and intellectuals like to look down their noses at suburbia. Those people can afford to live in fairly salubrious inner-city environments.
"Whereas in the suburbs, those homes are still affordable.
"Critics will argue, however, that the full costs (of suburban development) aren't being tabulated. That is to say that the carbon footprint of low density suburbs is very high. It all becomes pretty relative pretty quickly."
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