You know these new suburbs.
They are ubiquitous. On a map, their road layout looks like a plate of cooked spaghetti. Without modern GPS navigational systems, we would have trouble finding our way through them. Without any map we may get lost.
Where did this sort of suburb design come from and why does it seem so prevalent? If a building was planned like these suburb roads are planned, the designer of the building might be barred from practice.
Maybe the current designers and developers of these complex road systems are just doing it because for the last 30 or so years it has always been done that way. Without talking to the original designers, we have to surmise why this type of design exists and that maybe the initial design thinking still prevails.
The only reason an outsider can think of, is that the complexity creates a more visually interesting streetscape. There seems to be no other design reason, so comparing to another type of street planning system might help our understanding of the overall design conditions.
For this comparison, let’s look at a street planning system at the opposite end of the design spectrum, and that is, regular grid-street planning.
New York city is a prime example of grid-street planning, with many numbered streets making navigation easy. Adelaide in South Australia is another notable example of grid-street planning. Landscape topography has a significant impact on street planning and grid-street planning is suited to a flattish topography.
There is a simple straightforward logic to grid-street planning. Regardless, many people will say grid-street planning is visually boring. They may have a point, but this thinking is purely a subjective opinion. Often simple landscape planting can negate any chance of this debatable negative characteristic occurring.
Grid-street planning has a number of practical design advantages. A major one is that when the main street direction runs east to west, all the houses can be orientated to face north.
North orientation is essential for building design in the southern hemisphere. It allows warm winter sun inside for free passive heating, and it blocks hot summer sun from getting inside, again for free passive cooling. Passive environmental control also has significant positive physiological and psychological benefits for occupants.
This north orientation would be further enhanced if each allotment was the optimal shape of a near-square rectangle with its long sides running east-west (ie long sides facing north and south). Also, giving every house a south driveway, via alternating east-west running main streets and small laneways (which could double as cricket pitches for children), putting carport doors on the south wall, leaving the north walls of the house for habitable rooms.
The grid-street plan also gives better views about the neighborhood for security purposes, both for parents and police. Police searching for specific vehicles or people must often be frustrated in the spaghetti-street plan suburbs.
Then of course visitors to a grid-street plan suburb would be able to find their way around without being so reliant on GPS navigational systems.
Grid-street plans are relatively easy to construct, with less materials used (due to the efficient layout) resulting in cheaper construction compared to spaghetti-street plans. Roads, curbs, gutters sewerage, stormwater and water supply lines would mostly run in straight lines saving a lot of construction costs.
Grid-street plans do need to be constructed on reasonably flat ground. This would allow gullies and hills to be kept as bushland for wildlife and for human recreational use.
The grid-street plan layout saving natural bushland in gullies and on hills could be expanded outward by introducing high-rise residential buildings into the outer suburbs, allowing more bushland to be kept around residences.
Isn’t it time for suburb planners and developers to start to rethink their approach to new suburb design?