The aim of this workshop, is, for the first time, to assemble a cross-disciplinary group of leading established and emerging researchers to share and build upon this existing work on the MPE. In particular the workshop aims to use the differing disciplinary and methodological approaches of invited participants in the fields of sociology, geography, planning, criminology, labour studies and social work to address two key aspects of this phenomenon: The question of governance and privatisation of the public realm and the issue of community, and the way it is imagined and experienced, both by property developers and by residents.
In Australian cities, the days of piecemeal, minimalist suburban sub-divisions are largely over (Gleeson, 2006). Instead, new developments are increasingly subject to a sophisticated degree of ‘master planning’, where a private property developer – often in conjunction with a state government entity – conceives, plans and develops a residential estate with facilities and amenities either fully in place, or soon to be established (McGuirk and Dowling 2007; Minnery and Bajracharya 1999). Most commonly located on greenfield sites in the outer suburbs of metropolitan centres, master planned estates (MPEs) represent something ‘qualitatively new’ about the Australian suburban landscape (Randolph, 2008), incorporating new principles of urban design, place making and community development. As well as providing residents with an extensive set of commercial, educational and social services, MPEs offer a totally integrated lifestyle package comprising a highly aestheticised landscape of parks, lakes and green spaces, and a ready-made community to which residents are immediately invited to belong upon arrival.
The MPE has been the subject of increasing academic interest in Australia along several key lines of inquiry, which we plan to tease out in this workshop. First, is the way the concept of the MPE has become bound up with the commodification and marketing of a particular way of life, constructed around nostalgic images of close and familiar neighbourhoods, sense of community and a strong civic culture (Bosman, 2004; 2005; Gwyther, 2005). As well as examining the extent to which residents share the communitarian aspirations of developers (Walters and Rosenblatt, 2008), research has also revealed a disjuncture between the expectations of new residents buying into the package of an MPE and their experiences upon arrival whereby the reality of suburban living often fails to match up to the dream (Richards, 1990; Rosenblatt et al, 2008).
Second, the promotion of MPEs as a safe, secure haven from the harsh realities of life has also provoked criticism about the growing privatisation of everyday life and the potential for MPEs to exacerbate this process. For some authors (Ritzer 2003; Gleeson 2004; Costley 2006), the cultivated imagery of exclusivity of MPEs provides a means by which the more affluent members of society can retreat from the broader realm of public life into secure and socially homogenous enclaves of ‘privatopia’ (McKenzie, 1994). However, since there has been a tendency to conflate MPEs with ‘gated’ communities, this perception needs to be subjected to more rigorous empirical research that examines the social dynamics within and between MPEs and the broader social environment, and the factors underpinning residents’ choices in moving to such neighbourhood forms (Kenna, 2007).
Nevertheless, there is another aspect of the privatisation of society in which master planned estates feature strongly – one involving more private forms of governing. In terms of housing provision, this has entailed an expansion of the role of private property developers in recent decades through their appropriation of many of the functions that were once within the domain of local and state governments (Gwyther 2005). Urban planning, the provision of amenity and even the security of residents are roles that are increasingly being taken on by property developers, with local authorities playing a secondary or silent role, prompting concern about the implications for issues of affordable housing (Ruming, 2005), access to otherwise communal spaces (Dowling and McGuirk, 2005) and public accountability and equity.
Finally, while acknowledging many of the critiques of MPEs, it is nevertheless important to examine the ‘lived experience’ of MPEs (Williams and Pocock, 2005; see also Richards 1990; Rosenblatt, Cheshire and Lawrence, 2008; Walters and Bartlett) with respect to the way residents balance work, home and community; plan for retirement; maintain relationships with neighbours, friends and kin; access local and extra-local services; and articulate feelings of safety and security. From this perspective, the findings reveal that there is very little difference to living in a MPC in comparison to other outer suburban areas.
The aim of this workshop, is, for the first time, to assemble a cross-disciplinary group of leading established and emerging researchers to share and build upon this existing work on the MPE. In particular the workshop aims to use the differing disciplinary and methodological approaches of invited participants in the fields of sociology, geography, planning, criminology, labour studies and social work to address two key aspects of this phenomenon:
- The question of governance and privatisation of the public realm, with particular regard to the long term implications of the market construction of social space, the developer as provider of shared amenity, the potential loss of a civic culture, and consequences for the continuing role of the state.
- The issue of community, in its broadest sense, and the way it is imagined and experienced, both by property developers as they seek to market the commodity of the MPE, and by residents who bring with them their own understandings of community, which are often bound up with notions of place, security, aesthetics, family and lifestyle.
Further, the policy and planning implications of this work will also be considered during the workshop through a half day forum involving speakers from the private property sector, local and state government and urban planning.