Merepeka Raukawa-Tait: Apartment living the future

By Merepeka Raukawa-Tait

So now we're being told New Zealanders must start to get used to living in apartments. This is the future. We won't be building out but up.

Gone are the days when we could all hanker after our own small _ or large for that matter _  home with a reasonably sized section. Where we could look out the window and keep an eye on the children playing safely in the backyard.

Of course, we know children are more inclined to be inside these days. There's television, computer games or the attraction of the internet as after school activities. You can bet those advocating apartment living never had to grow up in one.

I spent 10 years living in apartments and most of these were in cities overseas. They were quality, well-built ones and I enjoyed the experience, but I always knew that at some time I would return to New Zealand to my own house.

Apartment living is not for everyone but it can suit some people at various stages in their lives. I remember I often just wanted to sit on my own back door step, have a cigarette (those were the days), throw bread on the lawn and watch the birds land.

Even being able to empty a bucket of water outside was another simple pleasure I missed. And I can recall a couple of years without feeling grass between my toes. Imagine that. Unheard of in New Zealand.

I never got used to the closeness that is apartment living. People in the lifts, passing each other on the stairs, popping out of doorways _ at all times of the day and night. Their nearness can be quite disconcerting, as can having to be considerate and tolerant of others all the time.

I remember raising my voice one day, a short time after moving into my first apartment. I didn't think I was that loud but my neighbour immediately rang the doorbell to tell me I was disturbing the peace and would need to quieten down. Try that in New Zealand and see how far that gets you, I thought. My husband was embarrassed and I couldn't have given a damn. I never learnt the art of arguing quietly.

But you do conform though. Because if the boot was on the other foot I wouldn't want my peace disturbed either.

Those who are likely to favour apartment living will be people from overseas where this type of housing is the norm for them rather than the exception. Young professionals, too, who just want to focus on their careers and socialise, and don't have the time to spend on the upkeep of a house. And retired "baby boomers'' with years of enjoyment owning and living in their own homes now behind them. Their children are all off doing their own thing, probably overseas living in apartments, and they just want to kick back, enjoy life and do as little as possible.

But when apartments are proposed for family living it's the children who will suffer, no matter what the proponents and developers say to support this type of housing. New Zealand children deserve better. There may be a tissue-sized play area provided but as the developers will want to maximise all available space, this will not be a priority.

And as with stand-alone houses, the quality of apartments will vary considerably. If young families are being encouraged to look at apartment living because there are not enough houses to go around, then they will be the "tenant market''.

They will continue to be in the same vulnerable position they are in today. Probably worse off. Most are finding it difficult to get a foot on the home ownership ladder. They may be able to afford the mortgage repayments _ many rents are similar _ but they struggle to raise the initial deposit required, no matter how hard they try. And tenants, like apartments, will vary considerably too. Some will understand apartment living and possibly enjoy the experience while for some others they will suffer it, not necessarily in silence.

Home ownership, like the family unit, has changed considerably over the last 40 years. The dream of owning their own home has all but disappeared for many young families.

Apartment living may be one answer to the housing crisis for families. But for those of us who were lucky enough to know the freedom of being brought up in a house with our own backyard, albeit in my case a state house, this is something we will cherish for life. We had a head start.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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