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Does diversity mean everywhere has to be the same?

By Alan Davies - posted Monday, 4 April 2016

More diversity seems to be a “no-brainer” to most urban policy-makers and it’s mostly a very good thing, but insisting on it at every scale misunderstands what bit cities are about

The three proposed apartment towers next to Flemington Racecourse railway station, on land in Ascot Vale.

The three proposed apartment towers next to Flemington Racecourse railway station, on land in Ascot Vale, currently under examination by Planning Panels Victoria.


The idea that every new building, neighbourhood and suburb must be “diverse” is a truism in urban development.

It might be imagined that most attention in new developments would therefore be focussed on fostering diversity on crucial variables like income and cultural background.

The reality is that politicians and planners almost always find that too hard so they mostly focus their attention on easier objectives like creating a mix of household types e.g. singles, couples and families with children.

The standard approach is to require new developments to provide a range of dwelling sizes, from one bedroom through to three or four bedrooms. The theory is singles and couples will self-sort into the smaller dwellings and families with children into the larger ones.

So inner city developers who respond to market demand by providing mostly one and two bedroom dwellings often face stiff opposition.

For example, here’s a report in Monday’s paper on what Melbourne City Council’s Barrister, Juliet Forsyth, put to Planning Panels Victoria in opposition to a proposed development on Flemington Racecourse:


This development appears to be aimed at the investor market and will deliver more of the same: small one and two bedroom apartments with few measurable controls to ensure reasonable levels of amenity and [an] appropriate mix of dwelling types.

I discussed another instance yesterday; the City of Yarra’s rejection of a proposed development in Cremorne on the grounds that 80% of apartments would have one bedroom (see Is 20% two and three bedroom apartments diverse enough?).

This idea that there has to be diversity of household types at the building, neighbourhood, or even suburb level is flawed thinking. It misunderstands what cities are about.

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This article was first published on Crikey.

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About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

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