Common problems, common solutions?

Major cities around the world face a common challenge: how to provide additional affordable housing in the face of rapid growth. But is there also a common solution?

We wanted to find out, so we decided to look at the housing issues in three international cities – London, Shanghai and Sydney. 

Are there challenges they share, or are they unique to each location? And what – if anything – can each city learn from the other two?

Our global study involved collaboration between our studios in each of these three cities – Sydney, Shanghai and London.

We selected a common housing type in each of these cities: the walk-up apartment block in Sydney, the Xincun ‘super block’ in Shanghai, and the typical London row house.

The issues all cities face

We identified three key issues for cities trying to manage their housing needs:

_Housing density: the critical mass required to support shared city systems

_Housing quality: the diversity and legibility of a place to create more liveable communities – ie. places that offer a variety of private, shared and public space, support social equity and enhance environmental quality

_Housing delivery: the pace at which housing supply meets demand, which is fundamental to maintaining affordability within the market

We looked at how each of the three cities we studied performed on all three of these measures. What we found was that while each city does well in one or maybe even two areas, they don’t fare well on all three.

For Sydney, density is a major issue. In Shanghai, quality is a big concern. And in London there is a struggle to deliver on the urgent demand for housing.



Density (p/sqkm), quality (range), delivery (k/year)

More housing, more space

We then looked at how we could transform the three housing types to generate better social, cultural, economic and environmental outcomes for the cities – and the people who live there.

In Sydney, we considered renewal on a scale larger than a single lot. Through a combination of demolition and new construction, we could double the number of apartments and create 77,000 square metres of new green space.

In Shanghai, we proposed removing old industrial buildings in strategic locations close to schools and community facilities. That would allow us to create shared, centrally-located community facilities and space for new parks.

This approach could give more than 1.8 million people higher quality, better connected communities, with more green, public open space and better community amenities.

In London, we removed back fences to create a consolidated 'back yard' that opens up the potential for subdividing houses. If we applied that approach to just 10 percent of the city’s row houses, we could establish more than 100,000 new homes along with 30,000 new garden allotments.

Together, our design ideas would deliver up to one million new inner city homes and up to 1,000 great neighbourhoods across the three cities.

Read the full report, '1,000,00 new homes, 1,000 thriving neighbourhoods'.

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