Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

RESEARCH | Sustainable Lives in Sustainable Communities

As consultants it’s important to keep tabs on what is happening in the research realm. The connections and flows between research and practitioner (or industry) aren’t as palpable as they need to be to influence change in professional and corporate practice. Yesterday I was reading a newspaper report in The Australian about the issues facing women in outer suburban (particularly greenfield) communities, usually masterplanned and usually with a minimum of infrastructure or community resourcing. The impact on women is obvious – lured to the outer suburbs by affordable housing, those who work face crippling commutes which means they are not readily accessible to their families. They often compromise and, in giving up their jobs, women become the mainstay of community resourcing and development using their professional experience in a voluntary capacity in the community, yet foregoing career or professional advancement. The result, according to the article, is that women return to the life of the ‘1950s housewife’. These comments reminded me of an important article by social planner Wendy Sarkissian written some 20 years ago titled ‘Planning as if women mattered’. It also exposed the lingering taint of the thinking behind some of Australia’s major planning initiatives undertaken in the post-war era in which women were captured in the domestic suburban realm.

The Australian article was referencing research completed by the Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia together with key corporate partners. When I googled it, I found a rich and comprehensive study that identifies the key issues affecting people’s ability to achieve sustaining and sustainable lives in 10 Australian communities. The study examines how work, home and community interact to affect people with different care obligations, in various relationships with the labour markets and at different stages of life. The study presents a timely reminder, in this era of population growth, that planning decisions for work, community development and housing needs to be integrated. There is also a need to plan for better community service provision and recreation – particularly for teenagers who have limited access to opportunities for social interaction, work experience, education and physical activity. The lack of community resources perpetuates inequality and disadvantage. The study also highlights the importance of considering life stage, space and time in relation to the core themes of paid work, home and community.

The study resulted in four reports which are downloadable from the project website:

  • Linked Up Lives: Putting Together Work, Home and Community in Ten Australian Suburbs: Overview Report
  • Sustainable Lives in Sustainable Communities? Living and Working in Ten Australian Suburbs
  • Mobility, Mothers and Malls: How Home, Community, School, and Work Affect Opportunity for Teenagers in Suburban Australia
  • Work, Home and community: findings from the household survey

The website also offers a very neat downloadable poster that sumarises the project and its conclusions – we’ve already pinned it to our wall as a reminder that people come first in the planning process. The Radio National’s Life Matters program has also interviewed the project’s principal researcher, Dr Pip Williams, with the podcast available online.


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