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The Australian dream of a big backyard for kids to play in is becoming out of reach for many families. But do kids actually need a yard? We weigh up the pros and cons.

Ask any family with young children what’s on their wish list when house hunting and they’ll usually throw in “a backyard for the kids”.

However, in Australia’s larger cities, this is becoming more and more of a tall order. A report released by the Australian Population Research Institute found that by the year 2022, Melbourne will need an extra 355,000 homes and Sydney will need an extra 309,000. Currently up to 60 per cent of freestanding homes in middle ring suburbs are occupied by people aged 50 plus – with many vowing to stick put for as long as possible.

This means more families are forced to seek out bigger dwellings further out of town. But with many preferring to remain close to the city for work or social ties, unless you fork out big bucks for a big property, often the alternative is to buy a smaller house with much smaller yard, or an apartment with no backyard.

The case for:

  • Homeowner Michael Belmont, who lives in the Sydney suburb of Dulwich Hill, says a home with a big yard was a priority for his kids aged 5 and 3 after living in small apartments, but adds that it’s hard work.

  • “I’m constantly mowing the lawn or at Bunnings buying manure. The kids do enjoy the space – they’ve got a trampoline, swing set and hammock. However, they’re not out there as much as I thought they’d be.

  • “There are days I nag them to go out and wonder what else I can put out there to capture their attention. It was still the right choice, I don’t think my kids’ friends who have smaller spaces or no backyard are having any less of a fun childhood.”

The case against:

  • State Custodians’ senior manager Anouska Linz from Newcastle, NSW, says she and her daughters aged 17, 15 and 11, could easily do without a backyard. “My kids are way past wanting a big yard to play in,” she says. “Many kids are only interested in a yard when they’re young. I personally like small yards as I don’t want to pay someone to look after a big yard.”

  • Anouska says you need to carefully weigh up what your kids’ interests are before you make a purchase. “If your kids are really active they might want a yard, but if they’re into computers and reading, it might not be important. Having facilities down the road such as a park might be sufficient,” she says.

  • Anouska says people should really ask themselves whether they can live without a big yard when house hunting. “Make sure there’s only a couple of things on your wish list that are non-negotiable. Unless you buy land and build your dream house, finding a place with every single thing on your wish list is unrealistic.”

  • She also says if you’re really keen on an area you want to live in for the next 50 years, you might have to forgo a yard in preference for location. “The government wants people to build their own homes with sizeable yards,” she says. “But unless you want to push your kids further out of town, this isn’t possible for everyone.”

  • If you need to compromise on a backyard remember that plenty of children that grow up with little or no yard are perfectly happy. If you’re still pondering, weigh up this list of pros and cons:

Pros of a backyard

  • More outdoor space for kids to explore and exercise in without supervision

  • Fosters kids’ connections with nature and gardening.

  • Gives kids space to escape to and develop independence.

  • Provides room for outdoor entertaining.

  • Enables kids to own pets such as dogs or chickens.

  • Gives incentives for kids’ friends to come over if there are outdoor attractions such as a pool.

Cons of a backyard

  • You may have to live further from the city which means more commuting and less time with kids.

  • You may be so stuck in suburbia that your kids might grow up in a bit of a cultural void.

  • You’ll have to spend time gardening which may reduce family time.

  • Your kids might eventually get bored and outgrow a yard leaving it unused.

  • You may fall into the trap of “hanging at home” and not make an effort to get kids out of the house.

  • The monetary garden upkeep, or expensive asking price may leave you with less cash in hand.