Canberra needs to embrace Transition Town, Transition Street initiative by Tony Trobe
TT: Allan you have always been interested different housing types (largely missing in Canberra). What is transition housing?
AS: Generally it involves two or more households co-locating on one block of land and building small smart homes with some shared facilities (workshop, gardens, laundry, car space, studio, guests accommodation, etc). The intention is to maintain separate housing but live more co-operatively than suburban housing typically allows. The model can include: co-housing, townhouse developments, granny flats, dividing an existing home into separate occupancies, clever additions with two kitchens, etc.
TT: What big-picture issues drive this notion of transition housing?
AS: “Transition”: identifies with the Transition movement (Transition Town, Transition Street); a grassroots community initiative that seeks to build a more environmentally friendly, low-carbon, socially just, healthier and happier future, which is more enriching and more gentle on the earth than the way most of us live today.
TT: Why would people be interested in this form of housing?
AS: Households are getting smaller but houses have got bigger; hence costlier and more time-consuming to maintain. Downsizing within our existing neighbourhoods is often not an option due to the limited number of alternative housing choices (apartments or apartments). There are also financial disincentives (stamp duty, agent’s fees, moving costs) to relocating.
TT: How would the ownership arrangements be resolved?
AS: Ideally the property is unit titled but planning restrictions currently exclude this in RZ1 zones which constitute most of our suburbs. The Fluffy blocks have recently been designated a special status to allow unit titling. We are lobbying for an extension of this provision to most suburban blocks. In the interim some form of company title could be formed to provide security and shared benefit of ownership.
TT: What financial benefits would this model bring?
AS: The biggest is the shared land costs. Two households merging onto one block of land in a middle suburb could release around $700,000 which would go towards building more compact, much better quality energy-efficient homes with much lower running costs. Sharing resources like cars, lawnmowers, workshop equipment, solar panels, etc also reduces living costs.
TT: Are there less tangible benefits?
AS: Yes, social benefits are one: Companionship, particularly valued as we grow older, reduces reliance on immediate family and enriches our lives. Of course, choice is the key, hence good design provides opportunities to socialise but also for privacy.
TT: Does the model tick any other boxes?
AS: One obvious one is the environmental benefits: increasing density, particularly near transport corridors and shops reduces car travel and the need for more infrastructure and development ever further from city centres, thereby reducing our carbon footprint. Also there is the multi-generational aspect; the social and financial benefits of transition housing are attractive to both the young who are increasingly excluded from home ownership and their parents who are often under-funded for their retirement.
TT: What about improvements in neighbourhood cohesion?
AS: People don’t need to live together – Transition Street initiatives can achieve similar benefits while maintaining current or adapted housing arrangements. There are also examples of households removing separating fencing or joining yards with gates to foster sharing of productive garden space. The few examples of similar models in Canberra have proven to be very desirable places to live.
Tony Trobe is director of the local practice TT Architecture. Is there a planning or design issue in Canberra you’d like to discuss? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.