This is a guest post from John Polkinghorne
I really enjoyed Matt’s post on why he wants intensification in his neighbourhood. I thought I’d write one on why I love it in mine. First off I should explain that I live in a CBD fringe apartment.
1. Work is a ten minute walk away. This is hard to beat, and you can believe me when I say that I don’t miss long commutes. This means more time to do the things I want, and less money spent on petrol. It was also great to be close to the university when I was doing postgrad (again, pretty much a ten minute walk).
2. A slightly longer walk takes me to Britomart, Wynyard Quarter, Queen St, the movies, you name it. There are 650 cafes, restaurants, takeaways and bars in the CBD, there for the taking (subject to budgetary constraints).
3. I’m a five minute walk from the supermarket. Sure, it’s a Countdown and pretty expensive, but it’s good for top-up shopping. We try to do bigger shops out at Pak N’ Save, and this is one of those situations where the car comes in handy.
4. In summary, we are very well set up to do a lot of walking to places, rather than driving. This is presumably good for my fitness level.
5. This all means that my partner and I get by very well with one car between us. We’re thankful we’ve got the car, it gives us a lot of options and we wouldn’t want to be without it, but we don’t need two. This is probably saving us at least $1,000 a year.
6. There’s always something happening in the city. Lantern Festivals can break out at a moment’s notice.
7. My apartment complex has a tennis court, a gym, a lap pool and a sauna. I don’t use these facilities as much as I should, but it’s nice to know they’re there! If I go for a run, I can take in Princes Wharf, Victoria Park and other enjoyable locales. Or I could head the other way out to Tamaki Drive.
8. There’s better security. You need a swiper to get in the front door of the complex, and then again for each floor, and you’ve only got access to your own floor. Plus there are surveillance cameras at the main entrances. It’d be pretty hard for people to get robbed here.
9. Higher density living is low maintenance. There’s no worry about mowing the lawn, less outside area to clean up and so on. I actually enjoy the small amount of cleaning up I do get to do outside, but looking after a whole house would stop being fun pretty quickly.
10. This apartment is the warmest place I’ve ever lived, including my parents’ houses and any number of flats. The best insulation you can have is another dwelling attached to yours. In my case, the only surface exposed to the elements is a single wall. I’ve got a little fan heater which I put on now and again in winter, but I can’t even tell the difference between my power usage in summer and winter (I’m the kind of person who records this). On average, we pay $90 a month for power, water and water heating combined. Which includes my share of the water used in common areas and the pool.
11. I’ve got friends living in the same building as me, and I can go and annoy them any time I want!
Sure, there are down sides. If other friends come round, it can be tricky for them to find a park, and of course this is even tougher in the centre of town. But you’re always going to get that in the CBD, and if friends want to take public transport – perhaps it’s a Friday or a Saturday evening and driving home doesn’t seem like a good idea – then it couldn’t be any easier.
Soot and black dust builds up in the courtyard and, to a lesser extent, inside. I’m not too sure what the air quality is like but it’s probably a bit worse than, say, a lifestyle block in Karaka. Our neighbours tried to grow some lettuces in those ready-made potting mix bags that you get from Mitre 10, and that stuff actually built up inside the lettuces as they grew. So growing stuff you’re going to eat is a no-no here. This situation probably has a bit to do with cars and a lot to do with the trucks from the port, but hopefully cleaner vehicles will make it better over time.
At this level of density, it’s not practical (or allowed, in the case of my building) to have pets like cats and dogs. But renters struggle with this everywhere in New Zealand. For medium density, side-by-side townhouses and so on, I can’t see there being any problem with cats and dogs.
I’m also lucky to live in a fairly large one-bedroom apartment (60 m2 plus a sizeable courtyard). It’s not a shoebox and I wouldn’t want to live in one, but some people do and I’ve got no problem with that.
On the whole, high-density living isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be. This is a point which has been brought up on this blog time and again. People aren’t going to be forced to live in apartments, or even townhouses. But there should be choices available. For me, right now, high-density living is great. I’ve been here three years so far and I could be here another 3-5 years easily.
After that, maybe I’d want to start thinking medium-density, somewhere with a little more space where my hypothetical kids can run around and be closer to schools (which the CBD is not well endowed with). If there were more good 2-3 bedroom apartments available in town, and if there were better facilities for kids, maybe I’d stay in the CBD instead. But low density? Big house, big backyard, long commutes? Not for me.