Covid Impacts Here to Stay – Don’t Fence Me In.

The current pandemic has now attracted the weighty title of the biggest social and economic event in a century. That somewhat magnifies the idea of ‘the new normal’ we were discussing just 12-months ago.

Housing has been a big topic since the start of this pandemic, impacting many aspects of the market including prices and the importance of location: inner city, the outer suburbs or regions. However, there’s also been a big shift driving the most popular design features of individual apartments and developments, even spilling over into building management.

Many of the changes have moved from ‘would like’ or novelty value into ‘must-haves’ as all buyers, including apartment buyers shift their lifestyle expectations. Heading the list is a desire for more space, both private and public.

However, it’s not really a new or an unfamiliar idea. Back in 1944 the lyrics of Don’t Fence Me In sung by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters expressed ideas that would ring true today.

“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, Don’t fence me in. Let me ride through the wide-open country that I love, Don’t fence me in.”

Today the quest for more space has taken on much more importance, and it’s a trend reversing many years of development where land lots got smaller and so did some apartments, but no longer.

Buyers are seeking more internal space to accommodate lots of different uses, and they are seeking flexibility and privacy. Balcony space is very important and so is shared space in apartment buildings.

However, perhaps the most sought-after space is access to green outdoor open space, as people crave a refuge from reoccurring lockdowns.

A colleague of mine recently recounted how he’d spent a big chunk of one Saturday morning doing circuits of his apartment to tally 6,000 steps while he avoided going stir crazy, one result was even more gratitude for his small sunny balcony.

When it comes to access to open space there’s some contrasting differences across Sydney, a fact that buyers are now much keener to understand.

It’s also perhaps easy to understand why there’s a debate surrounding the fate of some Sydney golf courses. Given the demand for open space access, how do different areas compare?

The inner west is low on green space. Even compared to other central areas of Sydney, these three local councils have the least amount of public open space per person in Sydney. Despite this fact, they remain very popular areas.

This may help explain why there’s so much competition for new open space that’s going to be created above the major Westconnex interchange at Rozelle.

Burwood Council, where we’ve seen lots of development, has more than 1000 people per hectare of public open space. Although the City of Sydney, Waverley Council in the eastern suburbs and North Sydney Council all have high density populations, they still maintain a higher ratio of public open space.

Waverley, currently the focus of development around Bondi Junction, has a low amount of public open space at 624 people per hectare of public open space. However, the popular areas of public access open space at Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte beaches with Centennial Park just outside of Waverley do attract a high level of visitors from outside the immediate LGA.

North Sydney Council and the City of Sydney both have more than 500 people per hectare of public open space, but these areas are also attracting more high-density development as they balance the desire to create more open space.

Randwick is a winner with only 190 residents per hectare as it contains Centennial Park, several crown land golf courses, and beaches such as Coogee and Maroubra. Mosman, Lane Cove and Hunters Hill are also well below 200.

Further west, Canterbury-Bankstown and Parramatta are relatively green, with ratios of 239 and 270 respectively. But they contrast with Sutherland Shire and Ku-ring-gai Council. Containing national parks, they are tied for the greenest areas in Sydney, with 84 people per hectare of public open space.

However, from this brief summary it is notable that many areas like Parramatta, Burwood, Waverley and Penrith have all seen increased population growth over the past five plus years, with further growth on the way.

For new apartment projects this is placing more pressure on the importance of private outdoor space including the now popular trend towards multiple rooftop gardens alongside easy access to public green spaces.

However, and perhaps less obvious, additional space is being provided to residents by projects with shared amenities providing private internal spaces such as dining rooms, children’s playrooms, lounge and cinemas. While such space is not accessible during lockdowns, they do provide a valued facility.

It’s also interesting to see that for most people the use of outdoor space is simple and does not need a big capital outlay. In a survey undertaken by The NSW Department of Planning and Environment the most popular use of outdoor space was for walking and jogging 85%, just relaxing 77% and for BBQs and picnics 65%.

Next week I’ll look at some more of the covid-inspired changes to the internal spaces of both individual apartments and buildings generally that are setting long-term trends.