Planner says it’s time to urbanise the suburbs

With many homebuyers extending their property searches to outer-suburban areas over the past year, a leading urban planner says it’s time to break the conventional suburban ‘housing estate’ mould.

Commenting on the population shift to regional areas since the start of the pandemic, Mike Day recently spoke with Elite Agent about the need to carefully consider the existing character values of regional communities when formulating growth strategies.

Now he has turned his attention to planning and character design in Australia’s outer suburbs.

The decline in housing affordability has been a major factor in pushing many homebuyers to the outer suburbs and Mr Day, a partner at award-winning urban planning and design firm Hatch RobertsDay, said many people were still keen to experience the benefits of inner-city neighbourhoods. 

“Many want the urban experience and lifestyle: from the inner-city layout of small parks, mini main streets, and public transport at their doorstep to the bustling cafe and restaurant culture and an integrated community feel,” Mr Day said.

A recent report from the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation forecasts that Australia will need an additional 781,000 new dwellings by 2025.

According to the NSW Department of Planning, in Sydney alone, 154,550 new homes will need to be built by that time to meet housing supply forecasts.

“With hundreds of thousands of new dwellings set to be developed in the outer city fringes, urban planners, developers and councils need to ensure we get this urban mix right,” Mr Day said. 

“The last 30-40 years saw planners follow the conventional suburban model of separating land uses – with houses in one area and shopping centres and business hubs in another, which were only accessible by car. 

“We need to foster a diverse range of housing with more compact and attainable homes centred around mixed-use community hubs. Australians are now finding that the community they buy into is just as critical as choosing the home they live in.”

Having worked closely with several of Australia’s leading urban developers and home builders, Mr Day said there was a need to “urbanise the ‘burbs”. 

Mr Day said new housing estates could co-exist with other land uses and has suggested connected footpaths to community hubs, and schools, shops, restaurants, and facilities within walking distance.

“We should look to the blueprints of our cherished inner neighbourhoods in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and apply the fundamentals of what makes these areas so desired to new housing estates,” he said. 

“Pre-1970s, the neighbourhood structure was sound, and this is what we need to emulate in our new suburbs.”


1. Diversity in housing types 

Communities that contain a mix of apartments, townhouses and single-dwelling homes attract residents across all ages and incomes – a solution to Australia’s lack of housing affordability. 

Mr Day suggested stepping away from suburban resident-only enclaves and large homes on large blocks that segregate people from others and their local community hubs. 

Instead, he advocated for a shift towards modest, compact homes to create strong local connected communities.

2. Integrated communities with centralised amenities

Mixed-use developments blend residential with commercial, cultural, and entertainment uses. Mr Day said having local community facilities in a central hub would enable residents to walk and cycle to their daily needs and reduce the reliance on cars and promote healthier lifestyles. 

Mr Day said new urban neighbourhoods require mini main streets that safely and easily connect shops, parks, schools, and community centres to homes. In doing so, residents can also minimise the cost of owning and servicing a vehicle – which could save them thousands each year.

3. Open green space and ‘destination parks’ 

With back yards shrinking and the average lot size 16 per cent smaller than in 2009, according to the Housing Industry Association, Mr Day said there was a further need for neighbourhood parks, signature streets, and green spaces. 

He also advocated for more tree-lined streets and small green “destination spaces” with playgrounds and outdoor equipment.

4. Driveways and garages positioned on small streets at the rear of the home 

Mr Day said townhouses in inner-city neighbourhoods were often designed with small streets behind the home that provided access to driveways and garages. He suggested suburban streets should return to this timeless layout to provide more appealing streetscapes. 

He also said removing driveways at the front of homes would more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly paths.

5. Separate and wider walking and cycling pathways

Mr Day said walkable neighbourhoods required wider and separate pathways for pedestrians and cyclists, which in turn increased safety for residents.

He said this would also motivate more people to reduce car usage and subsequently reduce road congestion and air pollution and create a sense of community.

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Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson was the news editor for Elite Agent. He worked with the company from February 2020 to June 2020. For current stories, news alerts or pitches, please email

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