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Towering apartment blocks

How high is too high? As our nation’s population continues to expand and the love affair with inner city living grows, there are new fights brewing about how much density is too much.

Denser living can be good in some ways. With people residing at closer quarters comes a vibrancy and a busyness that can create an interesting place to be, and in some ways, a level of safety not offered in the suburbs. If there are always people walking about on the streets, even late at night, there is (often) a feeling of safety in numbers.

Businesses can be also quick to respond to opportunities, diving into open new shops, eateries and services.

But private enterprise can only go so far, and existing infrastructure – roads, schools and public transport – needs to be strong to cope with big numbers of people moving into a suburb. Because if services can’t manage, instead of improving an area, large developments risk slowly choking suburbs to death.

That’s what is being argued in a stoush that’s already underway in the inner west of Sydney, where the former NSW government gave the green light to developers to build 19-storey apartment blocks. Ashmore Estate, as it is known, is surrounded by 1800s terraces, a few new triple-storey townhouses, and a good smattering of six-storey apartment units, some only just completed.

Just two days ago I stood on the south-eastern corner of this proposed development watching the cars go by as I waited to cross the road. Trying to make it to the other side without the traffic lights would have been like playing chicken.

It was a small moment in time but a sign that the roads already aren’t coping with the number of people they now have to carry. I used to live around this area so I am horribly familiar with the difficulty of cramming onto a bus in the morning, or squeezing into a busy train.

This proposed development straddles the gentrified suburbs of Alexandria and Erskineville. It’s an area where the existing road and transport infrastructure is already struggling, partly because it operates as an artery funnelling traffic from the south into the city. That’s without the influx of an extra 5200 people, all needing to get to work, and many owning a car or two as well.

It’s easy to see why residents are up in arms. Many would welcome a sensible development of the 17-hectare former industrial site if it meant that it brought extra amenity in terms of an appropriate number of dwellings and more accessible open space and retail areas.

Most reasonable people can see that with a growing population and no magic new land popping up, it’s fairly inevitable governments and councils will have to allow density in available infill sites if we are to fit everybody in, and provide a range of housing that offers different price points.

But how much is too much? And does that all depend on how much new infrastructure – particularly public transport, which still seems dire in most Australian cities – can be added at the same time?

Source: The Age Domain