42 Consuming Master-Planned Estates in Australia

Kamel Taoum, University of Western Sydney, Australia

Over the last three decades master planned estates (MPEs) have grown in popularity in developed and developing countries alike. This thesis is concerned with MPEs developed since the early 1980s in Australia, and with analysing some of the social and cultural factors underpinning their contemporary growth and popularity (Cheshire et al 2010). Among the first Australian MPEs of widespread notoriety was Sanctuary Cove, opened in the 1987, on the Gold Coast in Queensland (Kenna, 2007). Since then, MPEs have become a significant element of urban development across most of Australia’s major metropolitan centres as well as rapidly-growing mid-sized cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. In most instances, these estates have been marketed as ‘exclusive’ social and physical spaces offering something different from the broader urban landscape (Johnson, 2010).

While MPEs vary in characteristics globally, they can be understood as a form of large-scale residential development that differs from ‘traditional’ piecemeal suburban growth, and which includes a range of specific physical and regulatory elements. Cheshire et al. (2010, p.1) identified the Australian MPE as:

“examples of this form of development are generally accepted to share several characteristics: a comprehensive master plan accounting for all or most of the lived space within a development; a single developer or consortium responsible for delivering the plan; distinct physical boundaries; uniform design features and some sort of appeal to a communitarian ethic”

While MPEs have some common characteristics around residential development, land use and special regulations, their material and social form can vary widely, according to land size, zoning instruments, and governance arrangements, the number of residents and available on-site services and facilities (Minnery & Bajracharya, 1999). While definitions have tended to focus on the physical or regulatory aspects of MPEs, it is important to note that in terms of social and cultural life, MPEs comprise a range of material and affective sites of belonging for homeowners/residents, including their homes, their neighbourhoods, their local facilities, and the places where residents socialise, entertain and organise community associations. These social and cultural elements need to be more fully integrated into our understanding of MPEs and how they are defined. MPEs are not just developed and governed, but lived in and consumed.

Warde (2005, p. 8) defined consumption as:

 “a process whereby agents engage in appropriation and appreciation, whether for utilitarian, expressive or contemplative purposes, of goods, services, performances, information or ambience, whether purchased or not, over which the agent has some degree of discretion”

In other words consumption means that the agent (consumer) likes and appreciates, either to use, and display their taste for materialities, lifestyle, commodities, food, media and any other kind of needs or desire in which agent may apply his choice, preference and judgment. As Bocock (1993) noted, consumption is not just the act of buying items; it is linked to identity formation and the construction of social divisions and groups.

Corrigan (1997) argued that the consumption process has become increasingly important in shaping social identities and explaining social behaviour, and as a consequence the consumer has become a suitable case for social analysis. In terms of the relationship between consumption, identity and place, Wynne and O’Connor (1998, p. 1) pointed out that the process of commodification, and the production of the consumer and places of consumption, has been central to the transformation of cities and urban spaces since the nineteenth century. Miles and Paddison (1998, p. 8) argued that cities have long been associated with consumption, but in the postmodern city the realisation of consumption contributes to the changing form of the urban and social life where consumption has been harnessed by the new wealthy to display ostentatious forms of consumer behaviour. Miles and Paddison observe that in the urban context, consumers not only reproduce their physical existence, but also reproduce culturally specific, meaningful ways of life. Moreover, Knights and Morgan (1993, p. 2) noted an upsurge of interest within sociological circles in the study of consumption, arguing that the concept of collective consumption is the most applied concept to housing and other aspect of urban life.

Housing, suburbanisation, consumption and lifestyle have long-standing linkages in Australian society and are embedded in the national cultural imaginary. With the emergence of neo-liberalism in the 80s and its impact on socio-political life of Australia (McGuirk and Dowling, 2009), MPEs appear as a product that responds to the modern trend of consumption and a revolutionary commodity with a new type of urban governance (Kenna and Dunn, 2009). Kenna and Dunn (p. 3) furthermore, argued that this consumption was as a result of the rise of middle class lifestyle consumers and a tendency towards consumer market. The new trend of urban governance in MPEs have produced what Cheshire et al. (2009, p. 4) called “desirable acts of housing consumption” and McGuirk and Dowling (2011, P. 4) highlighted as “the self-regulating consumer citizen”, it can be noted that neo-liberalism transformed a welfare-state policy to an individual, privately run society where social and physical infrastructures are privately governed and regulated. Rosenblatt (2005, p. 3) noted that within the context of increasing consumerism, master planned communities have the characteristics that provide competitive advantage in the market when incorporating the desire for communal conditions on one hand and the desire for individuality, privacy and security on the other hand. Rosenblatt argues that marketing MPEs as idealised communities appeals to particular sensibilities in purchasers such as people looking for new lifestyle or security. Gleeson (2005) also observed that MPEs in Australia are exclusively marketed to discerning consumers who distinguish themselves as lifestyle buyers. Gleeson noted that the principal object of discernment is ‘community’, this explains that Australians tendency towards living in master planned communities is clearly not security nor racial or class segregation. This argument supported by Goodman and Douglas (2008, p. 4) which stated “consider that Sydney has relatively few truly gated communities and that those that do exist are probably more motivated by a sense of status aspiration than a true fear of crime”. Finally, Walters and Rosenblatt (2008) argued that MPEs concept is an echo for an ideal community that resonates in the collective imagination, evoking a nostalgic view of a small town or village setting and implores to a communitarian sense of sociability, happy family and environmental values.


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Author Biography

kamalKamel Taoum is a qualified town planner and licensed real estate agent. Prior to the commencement of his doctoral studies in the beginning of 2012, Kamel has completed a Master degree in urban and regional planning from Curtin University with a dissertation topic focussing on the impact of land subdivision on market gardens in Sydney. Kamel’s current research focuses on the relation between master-planned estates, consumption and subculture. He is also involved in the teaching activities within the university and has taught and coordinates numbers of units. Kamel is a multilingual; he speaks fluent English, French and Arabic and moderately controls Russian and Spanish.


Contact email: K.Taoum@uws.edu.au

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