Hgh density housing for the poor – a mistake we may bitterly regret

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Ghettos come in many forms.  What they have in common is three things:

  • They squeeze people into spaces which are either too small or badly designed;
  • They are populated with people who live there because they cannot afford to be anywhere else; and
  • Over time, and sometimes right from the start, that are massively under-serviced by infrastructure, shopping, social services and transport links.

There is also, and we must not forget this, the pariah aspect.  The fact that people become labelled due to where they live.

The attempts in the UK during the 1950s and 1960s to solve city housing shortages via the development of tower blocks is a case in point.  The problems that they generated were so bad that many of them have been pulled down.  They particular impacted on children who had no privacy and no safe places to play.

The Red Road estate in Glasgow, a huge 1960s development (pictured) was condemned in 2008 and gone completely by 2015.

I have written about this before but it came back to mind in Auckland last week, when I stayed at a person’s house where, catty-corner, some small units are to be demolished to make way for a 5-storey, 41 unit development by Kainga Ora.  41 units on a space that is only twice the size of my section!

Now this is no Red Rocks.  However, with significant homelessness, raging untreated mental health problems in the community, poverty, inequality and so many other difficulties, the question needs to be considered about whether we are setting up mini-ghettos for the poor by building such developments.

41 is a lot.  In Christchurch we had a bad neighbour case earlier this year, where a vindictive neighbour poisoned cats, let down tires and harassed the others in the small, single storey u-shaped development of 8-10 flats. She was obviously mentally ill, but, as you must all be aware, she is not the only one. For whatever reasons we are living in fractious times, and doing so in much closer proximity to one another is a recipe for disaster.

And it will impact more on the have-nots than the haves. I have an Auckland friend living in a medium density development of six apartments in Parnell.  She describes cold wine on the balcony, tapas and dinners with neighbours.  Sounds great.  But i fear this is very far from the likely experiences of Kainga Ora renters in high density developments.

You will not have missed that Christchurch has refused to implement the ‘three/ three storeyed flats per section without resource consent’ rule. But we have our own versions of medium and high density developments post-earthquake.  I am worried that they are not very high quality, look ugly and will leak.

I have mentioned before that the state built my house in 1940 from local rimu – floors, framing, cladding, cupboards everything is rimu and a concrete roof. It is now over 80 years old.  It does not leak.  There is nothing wrong with it.  I have a large section with plenty of space. They would build 15 or 20 units on this space now and they would be ugly. I know the home I have is outdated and perhaps unsustainable, but the current models are, I think, socially dangerous and will lead to harm.

I wonder why debate on this is so muted?

3 Responses

  1. Hmm, locally in Lower Hutt, I see plenty of “boxes” being built and occupied by those eager to free themselves from the parasitical money grubbing of residential landlords and investors.

    “Boxes” where most sleeping rooms are upstairs. No good for infirm oldies!

    I reckon our politicians will be cursed in future for these “boxes” – they will be ghettos. I do not think those with money would care to live in “boxes” jammed close together!

  2. I live in the Waltham area where there still are some quaint workers cottages, a few villas and a variety of other housing. However I am astonished by how rapidly Brookfields and other developers are purchasing properties and bowling them and putting up their idea of tasteful two story units. These don’t look dreadful but they are quite pokey and frankly the prices of them are ridiculous, between $650,000 and $800,000. When what we need are homes for first time home owners. Those trying to get their foot on the ladder. There is of course on these properties no where for kids to play at all and you certainly wouldn’t be able to grow any veges and if you own a car it is likely to be parked on the street. Our house was built 7 years ago on a full quarter acre section and we had to have off street parking for two cars.

  3. The argument for medium/high rise apartments for renters is a)consideration of the environment. We can’t keep gobbling up land, even good food-producing land, for housing. The infra-structure involved in single-one-level houses is a drain on resources and increases mostly in increased car usage. Renters are the left-out ones in our society. There is need for a creative response to the current debacle where families are in “iffy” motels or perhaps cars. High/medium rise development does not need to be tacky. Mostly when I mention high-rise development, the U.K. and its problems are quoted. Yet, in Canada (I have seen) the Netherlands and Nordic countries there are very many examples of excellent development, giving attention to childrens’ needs, the elderly, the environment. There is a 12story apartment in Toronto built entirely out of wood. And another one in Sweden where access is by stairs, lifts, and cycle lanes! Chat some more, Liz, have been trying to get hold of you, Marie.

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About Insight Aotearoa

Most of the blogs published here will either respond to initiatives elsewhere or will be ‘newsmaking’. Some will also be reflective in more general terms. The blogs will be topical and interesting. I like to inject some humour into my blogs.

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