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New lifestyles need new places,20867,21861060-25658,00.html

Bernard Salt
June 07, 2007

IN the last decade there has been a profound shift in the composition of the inner city.
New communities have emerged based on new lifestyles. Singles and couples and dinks and gays have invaded and conquered the inner city.

And so too has another unique market segment, the 18 to 28-year age group.

In previous eras this decade was spent forming new households and typically in suburbia.

Not so today: 18 to 28-year-olds are inclined to travel and to complete tertiary education.

This group invented concepts like the backpacker and, more recently, the gap year.

This decade is also spent falling into and then manoeuvring out of relationships. The purpose of this process appears to be to trial partners before making a selection just on the cool side of 30.

The point is that 18-28 is a decade jam-packed with events, energy, relationships and sexuality.

Here are 10 gorgeous years of discretionary time and discretionary money, the likes of which surface in no other decade.

Here is a decade that has positioned itself between childhood and adulthood.

In some respects this new decade of uncompromised freedom is regarded by its custodians as the last hurrah before submitting to life's responsibilities.

This is a decade like no other; it is also a creation of our time.

The notion of free time, travel, multiple relationships and an eerie absence of children and mortgage in the decade to 28 has been invented over the last 15 years.

And to some extent the energy of this newly funky age group has forced itself upon the urban form in the evolution of the various hip strips in Sydney and Melbourne.

But I think the new segment and its lifestyle offer the property industry an opportunity to further enhance the urban form.

Why do our cities contain no dedicated public or private space designed solely to the celebration of this "decade of transition"?

The continually changing demography of the 18-28 decade, combined with its youth, its energy, its sexuality, its career potential, its education and its connectedness to a global community, presents a unique development opportunity.

Why not bring all of the unique elements of this decade into a single place, then stand back and watch the frisson explode: this is not so much a people's Federation Square as it is a dedicated decade's Piazza.

What would such a place look like?

It would combine all the unique elements of life associated with being 18-28.

It would include a mix of student housing and apartments, backpackers' hostels, pubs, clubs, bars and cafes.

It would include an outdoor amphitheatre where impromptu performances could be staged.

Here is a place that would sit on the edge of the city and near to places of learning such as universities, hospitals and places of technology.

Here is a place from which nascent careers could be launched.

Here is a place of sport and music and of whimsical and youthful rendezvous.

Such a place might accommodate hi-tech warehouses and laboratories engendering the precinct with a brooding air of industrial chic.

Here is a place close to public transport. A place that projects sustainability to a community increasingly concerned about their ethical as well as environmental impact. Our cities have precincts dedicated to families as well as to commerce.

But with the greatest of respect to the inhabitants of these worthy precincts, they contain nothing of the energy that could be harnessed by the development of an urban precinct.

There are elements of this heady fusion of people from a narrow demographic band, together with their cultural accoutrements in places like New York's Soho and Buenos Aries' Palermo.

Bondi and St Kilda are accidental concentrations of shops and lifestyles favoured by 20-somethings.

They have none of the institutions or the broader linkages or the structured housing that could take such a concept to something that is truly and internationally unique.

The property industry responded immediately to the first whiff of the sea-change shift.

And partly this was because all elements of the property industry could jump on board.

A project of this scale, however, requires the right site in the right part of the city, and to be supported by a bold developer and an equally bold state planning department.

Bernard Salt is a KPMG partner.
[email protected]
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