I recently spoke at a Griffith University business lunch as part of a panel discussing the creation of communities for tomorrow. The host of the panel, ABC personality Adam Spencer, started the discussion with the question: “What has been the biggest change we have noticed in the last 15 years in respect of the communities we create?”
As a strata manager, concerned with the issues of strata communities, the biggest change I have seen is “attitude”, and an acceptance that living closer to each other does not always conjure the myriad of problems that we previously imagined.
Over 2 decades we have seen that 800 square meters – the quarter acres block in the suburbs – is not a magical and mystical amount of space which allows someone to be sufficiently separated from one’s neighbours to ensure all potential neighbourhood conflicts to dissipate into the ether. We can in fact live quite happily on 600, 400, and even 150 square meter blocks. We can also live on top of each other in apartments and abutting each other in town houses – and World War 3 won’t break out.
Attitudes have also changed in respect of design. It is not that many years ago that the very notion of a residential apartment block in the CBD was thought to only be appropriate in cities like Manhattan. The concept of a coffee shop, retail space or commercial office space in the same structure as residential apartments was thought to be unliveable, and unpalatable to buyers of apartments.
15 years ago I used to sit in meetings with developers to take instructions from them about what they wanted in their by-laws. Did they see the apartments they were creating as allowing pets? What sort of pets could reside with their masters? Could people have a BBQ on their balcony? These were big issues.
There was concern that allowing pets in apartments would create all sorts of issues. It was cruel not to have an 800 square meter yard for Fido to run around in. Fido would make to much noise for the surrounding apartments to sleep at night – not to mention the hygiene issues of having a pet in doors. With respect to BBQ’s, it was imagined that it was a public nuisance for a person to smell his neighbour’s sausages cooking.
Over time, our attitudes have changed. There might be something comforting about a the smell of a sausage sizzling. We have realised that while living close by other people may occasionally be irritating and difficult, most people are considerate of each other and inconvenience usually passes quickly. We have learnt to tolerate these inconveniences. People in the major cities of the world (like Paris, London, New York etc etc) have been living in apartments with pets and cooking odours for decades, if not hundreds of years. Australians are not different.
With our acceptance that living closer is now both necessary and tolerable, and regularly quite beneficial compared to the amenity of our previous housing styles, we can all be sure that more and more strata communities will be created.