High-density housing may be the answer to Sydney's urban sprawl but risks creating an unsustainable society where many apartment dwellers are unhappy in their homes and in conflict over shared open spaces and building management, new research has found.

Researchers from UNSW's City Futures Research Centre have found that while the number of apartments in Sydney and Melbourne is set to grow dramatically under metropolitan renewal strategies, apartment living is not always a desirable option among the general population.

With the NSW Government's Metropolitan Strategy planning 640,000 new dwellings for Sydney - about 70 per cent of which will be high-density - the researchers warn that planners must make apartment living more desirable if urban consolidation is to work.

The research, by Dr Hazel Easthope, Professor Bill Randolph and Andrew Tice, was presented at the 4th Australasian Housing Researchers' Conference in Sydney last week.

The researchers found that Sydney's apartment dwellers don't fit the "ideal" apartment resident profile of young singles and couples or empty-nesters. In fact 38 per cent of Sydney apartment dwellers are low-income battlers, two-thirds of whom have children, who see apartment living as a matter of necessity rather than choice.

"Planning assumptions based on an ideal type of apartment resident - young singles and couples and downsizing empty nesters - don't sufficiently capture the complexity of the apartment population," Professor Randolph said.

Dr Easthope said: "Our research also indicates that smaller households do not necessarily prefer to live in smaller dwellings and that the extent to which apartments are seen as a desirable option has more to do with a person's age and stage in their lifecycle than their household size."

The research used a survey of 1,597 apartment residents in Sydney and Melbourne and 29 in-depth interviews to assess the desirability of apartment living. It found that about half of apartment residents in Sydney and Melbourne would prefer to live in a house and a similar proportion did not see apartment living as a long-term option.

The results suggested that apartment living does not suit the lifestyles of approximately one in four apartment residents, which can be extrapolated to suggest that approximately 190,000 people in Sydney and 67,000 people in Melbourne are currently living in apartments and do not think that apartment living suits their lifestyle.

The survey findings indicated that those areas that require the most immediate attention in order to improve satisfaction levels are the provision and quality of shared open space and the management of apartment buildings.

"In this case, the question is not whether more apartments are a sustainable option but whether increasing numbers of people living in apartments in our major cities can be sustained," Dr Easthope said.

Media Contact: Peter Trute | 02 9385 1933 | p.trute@unsw.edu.au