Back in the days when I had a house, it was right next to Wellpark College, a place where students of all ages studied natural medicine and the like. They were good neighbours. People who are dedicated to studying massage and aromatherapy and naturopathy are gentle souls, in the main. There was one bats**t crazy woman of a certain age who clearly needed someone in her class to realign her chakras when she started yelling and ranting that we shouldn't have two car parks, that it was just greedy and she was going bankrupt paying parking fees. But she was not the norm.
The students were, in the main, gentle young men, clear-eyed women with lovely skin and the odd red-robed Buddhist. When the college was sold, we were dreading what would happen next. It was a huge block of land stretching a block from one street through to another. The site was close to public transport, close to town and close to shops and supermarkets.
Grey Lynn had traditionally been home to the halt, the lame and the dispossessed – when we moved to the street 20 odd years ago, there were two halfway homes and a brothel on the corner. We felt right at home. The gentrification of Grey Lynn is only relatively recent, so it would have made sense to put social housing on the lot and it would have made sense to put a lot of it.
We weren't averse to that – the only thing we were worried about was that an apartment building would look straight down on to our backyard. Over the years we'd been there, we'd put in a lovely garden and a swimming pool and the idea of being on display didn't appeal. But if the only reason for objecting to a social housing development was that we didn't want people looking in our backyard, it didn't seem a good enough reason.
Fortunately, we didn't have to put our progressive tolerances to the test, because the land was bought by a private developer, the rundown cottage that was part of the campus was beautifully restored by craftsmen, and families have bought the parcels of land and are putting up single floor-level dwellings.
That's not the case in suburbs like Point Chevalier, Waterview, Remuera and further out in Glen Eden, Massey and Flatbush. There, communities are having to deal with single family homes being bought and bowled and watching as high-rise apartments and rows of townhouses are erected in their place. And with that comes the attendant problems of a lack of parking, increased traffic, a loss of privacy and sunlight, interactions with a whole lot more neighbours and, in the case of social housing, preconceptions about the new neighbours.
There's a lot of tension. People in leafy suburbs have been accused of NIMBYism – they want more affordable housing for low income and young families, but not in their own leafy suburb. But many of these issues could be alleviated if intensification was developed sympathetically and sensitively. If the desired outcome is that people end up with homes that are sanctuaries and havens, places where they can raise their children, where they relax and enjoy green spaces, where they can access public transport and where there is a sense of community, nobody would mind having medium-density housing in the hood.
But if all you know of intensive housing is the monstrosity that is the Auckland inner city you can understand people's reservations. The apartment buildings erected in haste and at the lowest possible cost are travesties that should be nuked. Intensive housing shouldn't mean cages for humans. They can and should be done well, giving the people who are currently locked out of the market a choice of healthy, future-proofed homes. And giving their neighbours the opportunity to show how welcoming and friendly they can be.