Urban renewal is the biggest planning issue Australia has faced since World War II but proposed solutions of building higher and denser ignore the realities of residential demand, a UNSW housing expert has said.

Professor Bill Randolph, Director of the City Futures Research Centre in the Faculty of Built Environment, has warned urban consolidation may not deliver sustainable results for Sydney unless more attention is paid to the socio-economic structure of the city.

"Given the pressures facing Australian urban areas, urban renewal is the most important planning question this country has faced since the Second World War," Professor Randolph said, delivering the third Utzon Lecture at UNSW.

"The debate over the form our cities should take is often misinformed, abstracted and subject to an overriding obsession with design-led 'solutions' and environmental prescription that ignore the social realities of our cities.

"These approaches see higher density as a solution in itself: build it higher and denser and the problems that our cities face - demographic shift, population growth, housing affordability, climate change, even obesity and social disfunction - will be resolved."

Professor Randolph said the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy - the 2005 plan released by the NSW Government for dealing with housing, population and employment issues over the next 30 years - would prove difficult to implement unless there was better understanding of the requirements for housing in different parts of the city.

One key factor, he said, was that in middle-ring western and south-western Sydney suburbs where incomes were generally lower, the market prices attainable for new housing were not high enough to encourage new development. However these were often areas where there was ageing or low-density housing which could be replaced with new, higher-density stock.

"Markets can't deliver in places where the market does not work. If there is no effective demand for the product, no amount of tinkering with planning costs will generate development. That's the central problem of our socially polarised city - it's not a supply problem, it's a demand problem," he said.

"The kind of demand in the west of the city is going to need a very different approach if renewal is going to get off the ground compared to those in the east."

The Utzon Lecture Series was established this year by the Faculty of Built Environment to focus on major issues in contemporary urban Australia.

Media Contact: Professor Bill Randolph | 02 9385 5117 | b.randolph@unsw.edu.au

UNSW Media Office: Peter Trute | 02 9385 1933 | 0410 271 826 | p.trute@unsw.edu.au