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Living Closer Together in Australian Cities

Posted in Movements, Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on June 14th, 2011

Source: The Age

Image: xenization via flickr CC

From “Love thy neighbour. Gen Y embraces closeness of urban living” by Tarsha Finney:

Research released last week entitled ”Why We Buy”, published by RAMS Home Loans and the market research firm, IPSOS, has shown that despite the increase in the value of residential property, young Australians still want to own their own home. But now, they are just as happy living in and buying apartments as they are houses.  This is exciting news for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is the beginning of the de-coupling of our domestic fantasies from an economic pragmatism that sees wealth generation in the ownership of property. This is good for the city; it’s good for the production of housing, for the creation of density and for the making of public space.

With the loosening of the grip of this fantasy over our capacity to imagine a future, we can now as a community and as planning and design professionals start on the real work we need to do in our cities — to plan for two inevitables: population growth and climate change.  Whacking a couple of solar panels on the roof doesn’t cut it (although I agree it makes some of us feel good). We need to fundamentally rethink our cities in terms of transport infrastructure and density. And to do that, we need to begin to rethink the issue of housing and what that means: how we organise our private space.

But, probably more importantly, this news of the beginnings of a shift from houses to apartments is indicative of what might seem like an astounding fact. Actually, most of the time, we really like each other and we like living together. We like being known by our neighbours, but also I would argue, we like the anonymity of the civilised urban crowd. Apartment living, despite the myth of isolation, is actually about less private space coupled with more collective urban living space. This is sociable space. Space where we get together in groups and hang out.

Gen X and Gen Y Australians know this. They know it from their experience as backpackers, not consumers of organised tour groups, who in their early 20s and 30s, have spent weeks if not months gloriously bumming around cities in Asia and Europe. There’s an exciting creative dynamism to this shared space and being together, where we get to look at each other and engage in civic life — even if it’s just for 20 minutes of lazy gossip while we get some sun on our backs and grab a coffee. But in a more profound sense, it’s this collective public space and environment in which we get together and look at each other; where we work out who ”we” are as a collective: as a neighbourhood, as communities of interest, as city dwellers and as citizens of a nation.

In small, but important moments, these informal meetings are known as the ”bump” factor. Interestingly bio-medical research institutions all over the country have examined these creative ”bump” scenarios. What these institutions have noticed is that some of the most important exchanges we make with each other happen in informal settings — over coffee, walking together up the stairs, over lunch, at the gym — they don’t happen at conferences or when we sit in our own private offices. These ideas have been harnessed by organisations such as the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland when building new research and work spaces.

Read the full article by Tarsha Finney in The Age.


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