While there is a need for less urban sprawl in Perth, planning experts say the gradual loss of backyards and green spaces is bad for residents’ health.
Planning expert Linley Lutton, an adjunct senior teaching fellow at the University of Western Australia, recently told ABC Radio Perth that the suburban backyard was vanishing.
“We are building the world's largest project homes; they are massive, and at the same time we are reducing the land area on which they sit,” he said. “I recently did some aerial photography looking at what is happening in Perth in the outer suburbs, and I found that houses are effectively going from boundary to boundary.”
Verdant spaces on the whole are dwindling in Perth, giving residents fewer opportunities to plant trees and flowers, and for children to discover the beauty of nature. According to Lutton, this will impact the health and wellbeing of city dwellers.
Lutton warned that this disappearing greenery would impact the health and wellbeing of city dwellers.
“There is a lot of research now beginning to show that urbanites are very stressed, and this is having a direct impact on their mental and physical health," he said. Then there is another body of research which talks about biophilia, the relationship between plants and people and nature, and that's really mind-blowing.
“A number of studies confirm that people do a lot better mentally when they are able to look at trees, plants and recreate in open space.”
Lutton emphasised that he was not arguing against higher-density housing developments, which has long been advocated by the state government and local councils as the solution to Perth’s growing population; instead, he was questioning the preference for building surplus bedrooms over outdoor spaces.
“These are massive houses which are occupied by an average of 2.5 people,” he said. “That is not increasing densities at all.”
Public parks are only part of the solution, as they do not give children the chance to engage in unsupervised creative play.
“The argument is that the kids can go to the park, which we still provide,” Lutton said. “But that is a problem when they are very young; parents have to go with them. There is a really strong argument that kids develop a more agile brain if they are able to work out their own games, build cubby houses and do their own private play that they do in gardens.”
Lutton also questioned the push to shift Perth’s residents into inner-city apartments and high-rise developments.
“[These types of homes are] really good for people who want to live in apartments and are physically fit and resilient and so on, but it's really not necessarily a child-friendly approach to planning. When you look at the whole planning push at the moment, it really treats people as if they are one homogenous type of individual.”
Ultimately, Lutton said he would like to see politicians lead the way in mandating more backyard space in Perth. “Someone needs to regulate this. It is not going to be planning departments; politicians actually need to wake up to this issue,” he said.
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