High-Rise Sprawl: Economic Growth around the World Has Seen the Suburb Spread Far and Wide. Now, Southeast Asia Is Seeing a Rapid Increase in High-Density, High-Rise Living

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England can lay claim to being the home of the garden suburb, but it was Australia that made suburban living the norm during the 19th and 20th centuries. "Australia was the pre-eminent suburban nation," says Dr Graeme Davison of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In the early days, the Australian government encouraged suburban growth by centrally funding services such as transport and education instead of forcing local authorities to foot the hill. "The railways were used to help open up the new suburbs," says Davison. By the 1890s, as much as 40 per cent of Sydney's population lived in the suburbs. "That was miles ahead of British cities. As in the USA, immigrant aspirations strongly assisted this. People who are out of poverty but not yet in plenty often aspire to home ownership. And it was easier in Australia where land is cheaper."

In Australia, the process of suburbanisation has now almost gone into reverse. "There has been a return of the wealthy middle class to the inner city. A similar thing has happened in the UK in London, but it has happened in a very marked way in Australia," says Davison. The government decided to cut spending on the suburbs, which had knock-on effects on education and transport. "Now it's the poor who are marooned at the edge," he says.

In the USA, suburban sprawl has become a headache for planners and politicians. Vast, low-density suburbs without effective public-transport systems are seen as direct contributors to pollution as everyone is forced to use cars. The last US census, carried out in 2000, revealed that from 1990, the suburbs grew more rapidly than their corresponding cities. Subsequent concerns have led to a change in planning strategy aimed at limiting sprawl.

However, there are concerns in the USA that concentrating development on smaller areas of land may force up real estate prices in the same way as has been seen in the UK. That has happened in the Netherlands where, according to a report prepared by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a restriction on suburban expansion in the 1990s, when demand was growing, encouraged house prices to almost double during the decade.

Development has very few restrictions in Southeast Asia. Two hundred years of city and suburban expansion in tire West is being compressed into just 20 years of development, and the buildings themselves are going straight up as people head for high-rise apartments. "In Korea and China, the densities are huge," says Professor Jeremy Whitehand. "It's so urbanised from the beginning. It is very different to the UK and Europe. Not only are the densities high but the speed [of development] is breathtaking." Whitehand cites the example of a town near Seoul in South Korea that grew from nothing to house half a million people in five years. …