Walkable neighbourhoods

Walkable neighbourhoods add

Privacy has, and always will be, a highly coveted commodity when it comes to our living environment. For quite some time, there has been a prevailing stereotype that medium density housing is the antithesis of privacy and, as a result, it has courted some degree of controversy. But as the shift towards sustainable living continues, the many virtues of these residential developments are being extolled by architects and inhabitants alike.

Ahead of his 'Medium Density Housing and Creating Lively People Places within Shared Spaces’ talk at this year’s ADNZ Conference, we talk to Steve Pattinson of Co-Design Architects about the benefits of this way of living.

“I studied architecture in Auckland in the late seventies and we did a study back then on alternative housing. Our economics professor had done a lot of research on the most affordable way to build cities looking at 3-4 storey timber housing and shared communal spaces that were well serviced with public transport."

This study coincided with an energy crisis in New Zealand, prohibiting the use of a car on certain days. In turn, the stage was set for a more robust discussion about medium density housing with a strong community heartbeat and situated close to recreational assets and essential amenities.

“I was very keen on it from this time and was aware of plenty of European examples. Kiwis are like Americans though - we are suburbanites by nature - so I didn’t think we would take on the concept."

It wasn’t until he pursued higher education through a masters research degree in 2010 that Pattinson understood the medium density housing idea was still very much valid and an integral part of the property landscape.

“What surprised me is that a third of all housing in Auckland is medium density and this is increasing quite rapidly. As a part of my research, I also looked around Wellington, Christchurch and Melbourne as I was interested in seeing if communal spaces or shared open spaces were featuring much in these cities.

“There has been a long-standing perception that medium density housing is what you have to have if you can’t afford a real house. A lot of the stuff I saw during my research I could see why this perception exists - it was very repetitive and cookie cutter - but now, we are doing it a lot better."

Having moved well beyond the realm of the ‘rack ‘em, pack ‘em, stack ‘em’ mentality, Pattinson says lateral thinking about the concept has led to configurations that don’t pose a threat to privacy in suburban situations, with more of an emphasis placed on the benefits of cultivating a strong community.

“Bay shaped housing developments automatically create a shared outdoor space that can be used for casual social interaction. They also offer a passive outlook and a very nice landscape because they are not dominated by cars.

“We’re yet to tackle the issue of creating ‘walkable neighbourhoods’ - places where cars become optional. This is achieved by creating mixed use developments that host housing, offices, shops, recreation, schools and entertainment.”

Not dissimilar to the importance of diversity in setting, Pattinson also believes such developments benefit from the vision of many different people. “We can do better for our children and our designs should deliberately create places for them. Teenagers often get overlooked and we should let them have a role in designing these shared spaces.

“I think we should make our living spaces more intergenerational. Creating a sense of community where people feel attached, can connect, and benefit from local economy comes down to letting them have a say in how they are developed and maintained.”