In Bob Meyer’s speech at the Better Planning Network conference at Parliament House, he referred to declining occupancy rates, which is planner-speak for a decline in the size of households. Specifically, he spoke about the decline in size of households after the Second World War. Although there was initially a baby boom, ultimately families became smaller, with fewer children.

We are all aware of this from our own experience. Many of us came from families with four or more children. We ourselves may have had two or three, and it is rare now to find families with more than this number.

The size of households varies considerably over time and from area to area. Typically an ageing area has smaller households. This was true of Glebe after World War One. People cease to be of reproductive age, their partners leave or die. Because Glebe was cheap at the time, it attracted single people and students, and while the population may have increased for a while it did not replace itself. Later, many students returned and bought the houses they had previously rented, and had families.

When the Department of Housing took over the Glebe Estate the population of tenants was low and ageing. The Department built special units for seniors and modernised and extended the houses. About two thousand new tenants moved in, many of them young. The Estate became the place for families. This was the first significant increase in the Glebe population in recent times, and few people noticed it because it did not involve any major development sites.

From the late ’60s on, a lot of flats were built in Glebe, but initially many were rented. The number of households increased considerably, but because the number of people in each was small, the increase in dwellings was counteracted by the ageing population, and hence decline in the size of households, in the rest of Glebe. Consequently the population of the area has remained fairly stable. This is typical of the Inner City, where the average number of persons per household remains at about two.

However, in the past, demographers assumed that flat or apartment dwellers would move from apartments to houses once they had children. The experience of Pyrmont/Ultimo, which has been redeveloped over the last few decades entirely with apartments, is that this assumption is incorrect. This is the main reason why there is such concern in Pyrmont/Ultimo about the lack of facilities, especially schools. Pyrmont/Ultimo now has a much larger population than Glebe, but has only one public primary school. Glebe has two, plus another Church school. It also has a public secondary school plus a Church secondary school. Ultimo has just the International Grammar School.