Forget smashed avocado and low interest rates: millennials can look closer to home for their scant access to housing in leafy neighbourhoods. New data presented to the Melbourne Economic Forum last month confirms what many already suspected: The culprits are their Baby Boomer old folks wielding their “We will oppose inappropriate development” signs.

The middle ring of suburbs located from 5 kilometres to 20 kilometres from the city centre has seen “almost no change” in population density in 30 years, especially in Melbourne but also in Sydney, Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley told the forum.

By contrast, the inner 5 kilometres of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane have seen dramatic increases in density, as apartments go up and students, hipsters and downsizers move in.

Peter Seamer, chief executive of the Victorian Planning Authority, a state government agency, worries that projected growth in Melbourne’s CBD will produce densities “much more significant than London or Manhattan”.

Even the suburbs located in the 20 kilometres to 30 kilometres belt have absorbed more new residents relative to their area than the middle ring of Melbourne, the data compiled by University of South Australia geographer Neil Coffee and colleagues shows.

Population density increase

Productivity Commissioner Stephen King says the logical thing for millennials to do would be to buy cheaper housing in the western suburbs.

That’s already happening. Even so, despite the emerging hipsterdom in Melbourne’s inner west – following Sydney – there’s still a strong east-west differential in housing.

The Victorian Planning Authority’s Peter Seamer says huge efforts are going into designing denser housing and mixed-use developments, but it is easier to do in de-industrialising western and northern suburbs like Tottenham, Braybrook and Broadmeadows.

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