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Why living closer to your neighbours makes you safer, happier and more connected

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20 July 2018

There’s no question we need more homes in closer proximity than before. But far from being a necessary evil, higher density living can have surprising upsides.

Children on a trampolineNew Zealand is a country built on close-knit communities – communities where children played in the streets until dinner time and where we knew our neighbours well enough to pop by for a cuppa. We walked to school as kids, and, as adults, left our keys in the ignition while we nipped into the dairy to grab a loaf of bread – sometimes with the engine still running. This is the New Zealand that many of us grew up in and the New Zealand we’d like to preserve for future generations.

The question is, how do we establish, and contribute to, vibrant communities while addressing unprecedented demand for state and affordable housing in New Zealand?

Inevitably, a growing population means building more houses in close vicinity to one another to make the most efficient use of land and public amenities. While times have changed and local townships are being absorbed into ever-expanding cities, Housing New Zealand is working hard to build a sense of community into its new developments.

“A lot of thought goes into how these projects can enhance the neighbourhood and suburb, not only for Housing New Zealand tenants, but for their neighbours too,” says Sue Evans, urban design manager at Housing New Zealand. “We’re not just building houses, we’re doing our best to create great communities.”

There has been a “fine, but not in my backyard” attitude to this approach in some parts of New Zealand. But research suggests that medium-density developments enhance the liveability of an area and help to foster vibrant communities, not only for the occupants of the new homes, but the entire neighbourhood.

The benefits of compact communities

Children behind a security gateHousing New Zealand has over 200 developments underway in Auckland across much of the city, providing 23,600 new homes over 10 years. Many are replacing old houses that are no longer fit for purpose with warm, dry and safe homes.

These redevelopments will be new additions to established communities, so it’s important that they are done right. Housing New Zealand consults award-winning architects, works with quality builders and contractors, engages community groups and local residents, and applies international best practice regarding urban planning and design to ensure these new developments fit seamlessly into their surrounds.

“Through careful attention to site layout and design, we make sure that our developments work well for the people who live there and the neighbourhoods they are built in,” says Sue. “Aspects such as sun, fenced play areas and landscaping all contribute to a development that feels good to live in and around.”

A recent example is the Jennings Street and Jersey Avenue development in Mount Albert where eight 1940s state houses have been replaced by 18 modern homes. The homes received a New Zealand Institute of Architects award and a New Zealand Property Council award for the way they integrate into and enhance the existing fabric of their surrounding neighbourhood.

So what can you expect when a Housing New Zealand development comes to your area? Here are just some of the benefits of higher-density housing, according to the latest research and evidenced by developments both in New Zealand and abroad:

Improved infrastructure

It’s a little known fact that Housing New Zealand often invests in improving core infrastructure, such as wastewater, stormwater, fibre, and underground power when it undertakes a new development. This is part of our commitment to building quality homes for our tenants, but it also benefits residents who live nearby as they can make use of the upgraded infrastructure at no cost.

Better public services and amenities

Increasing the number of people in an area frequently leads to more investment from government, council and the business sector. This might mean better public transport, upgrades to local parks, swimming pools and streets, more funding for local schools, and new supermarkets and cafes in close proximity. It also helps to support established businesses and provide jobs locally. All of these things benefit the community as a whole.

Closer connection with neighbours

NeighboursHousing New Zealand projects are underpinned by a community development framework that actively promotes a sense of community. This includes tapping into existing neighbourhood activities and supporting new ones, such as community gardens, workshops, street BBQs and afternoon teas, all of which create opportunities for neighbours to meet.

More compact neighbourhoods enhance walkability, creating more opportunities for people to ‘bump into’ and get to know one another. Research also shows that more people leads to increased passive surveillance and greater safety as neighbours are better able to watch out for one another. It’s more like New Zealand used to be.

Greater sustainability

neighbours strollingA community that is more connected to public transport typically results in fewer people travelling by car, which in turn leads to reduced carbon emissions, less green space being paved over, and better accessibility for non-drivers. More concentrated housing developments also make more efficient use of land, reducing the impact of urban sprawl on farmland, nature reserves and wildlife. Replacing old state houses with modern, insulated homes also improves energy-efficiency. These considerations contribute to healthier communities and environments for all New Zealanders as well as the government’s 2050 net zero carbon emissions goal.

“When done well, medium density can benefit the whole of New Zealand; we see improved health outcomes, less car usage and less power usage,” says Architectural Designers New Zealand CEO Astrid Andersen.

Enhanced liveability

The Auckland Plan aims to create New Zealand’s “most liveable city” by improving belonging and participation; homes and places; transport and access; and opportunity and prosperity, drawing inspiration from global examples such as Vancouver, Vienna, and Melbourne. Housing New Zealand strives to deliver these outcomes through the Auckland Housing Programme. The Auckland Plan outlines a vision for how more compact communities can enhance liveability:

“Developing more compact urban neighbourhoods offers opportunities to create healthy, stimulating, and beautiful urban environments. These in turn enhance social cohesion and interaction by attracting people across all demographic groups to a mix of cafes, restaurants, shops, services and well-designed public spaces. Such places provide a range of activities to meet the full spectrum of people’s everyday needs.”

Housing New Zealand has an important role to play in helping Auckland develop as a vibrant city. It involves building more homes, more compactly, more quickly. But it doesn’t stop once new residents move in. Every day, Housing New Zealand is on the ground helping to create communities and foster a sense of belonging, working with tenants, local residents, and community groups to uphold the values that are important to all New Zealanders.

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