Jim: Apartment living’s under scrutiny more now, partly because of the Grenfell catastrophe, of course. And while tower blocks such as they are here in New Zealand may be safer, is living up in the air really the recipe for happy urban living?
Or even in smaller apartment blocks, the ones which we put up all across Auckland?
Discussion today, courtesy of Fairfax in Australia, about the problems of apartment dwellers in Sydney. At the mercy of having to use the stairs when the blackouts occur or when the lift breaks down. Inadequate generator backup. Communal letter boxes pilfered. Mailboxes in apartments have become targets for criminals.
Flimsy construction. ‘Loud urinating at night’ has become one of the most common complaints to the New South Wales Department of Fair Trading. And complaints from apartment owners have increased by a third over the last year.
We want to talk to Matthew Bradbury about apartment living. Does a life in the city for both of you sound more attractive now that we’ve gone over those points? I know it doesn’t to you, Mac.
Full Audio Interview (transcription below):
Mac: Well actually, I don’t mind it so much because I do spend a lot of time in apartments when I’m in places like Mumbai. I’ll stay there for two or three weeks at a time, sometimes staying in an apartment. Current one’s on the 12th floor that I often use.
The stairs get a lot of use because the lift’s pretty rickety and even if it’s working, sometimes you don’t want to take that chance. But it’s about the style of living. So you’re not spending a lot of time in the apartment.
It’s a wee bit different when I’m at home in Hanmer Springs, in your home all day, even if you’re a slave to the laptop and to the Internet, and to the world outside of Hanmer. And so that would be very different situation. But when I’m traveling and spending a lot of time, apartments are cool.
Ann, my wife, just recently spent two months with my daughter in an apartment in Chicago. And Lucy’s on the 48th floor. And it’s an amazing way to live. And doing it very successfully. And she really enjoys it.
Tracy: It’s probably like anything, you get what you pay for, right? So I was thinking about this problem of the loud urinating at night.
I’ve talked to both my parents who separately live in apartments, one in Wellington, one in Auckland, and neither of them reports being able to hear other tenants urinating at night. They have other problems. But soundproofing, I think, probably the better apartments cover that off pretty well.
Jim: We’ll ask Matthew that. Providing schools in the middle of town is a big problem. And as you take parking away, people become less and less keen to come and visit you.
In recent years, everything’s become so touchy in apartment-land in Sydney, that unit owners have been forced to get approval for even minor cosmetic changes like putting a picture hook on a wall. Bigger renos can be a nightmare.
And by the way, upgrading a lift – you mentioned lifts, Mac – in a 40 year-old-building can cost a quarter of a million dollars. And increasingly, thieves are finding their way into the car parks of apartment complexes.
But you do get the downtown lifestyle. Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Auckland’s Unitec is Matthew Bradbury, kindly joining us. Matthew, good afternoon.
Matthew: [Tena koutou?].
Jim: The convenience of apartment living is sold to us, isn’t it, not so much the inconvenience?
Matthew: Well, yeah. I mean I think of some of it is actually a little bit cultural, I think. I think we don’t really– well, Kiwis, perhaps Aucklanders– we don’t really know how to live in apartments. I think we tend to live in our apartments like we live in our– how we grew up in suburban houses.
So we tend to sort of run around, and shout, and play music, and have parties. And I think that definitely contributes to the problems of living in an apartment. And maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it’s going take a generation for us to learn how to– we actually do have to behave differently when we live in an apartment.
Jim: So there’s a different apartment culture, and you think people overseas in the big cities have learned that?
Matthew: Absolutely, yeah. Absolutely, yeah. I think when you visit friends in Europe or London, if they live in apartments, then– and they definitely behave in a different way than we do in our apartments.
So I do think a lot of the problems I mentioned in that article, in the Sydney article, are cultural problems. Just learning how to behave in an apartment, learning how to live in an apartment, is different from living in the suburbs.
Jim: Okay. Tracy’s point before you came on. We’ve had HOBANZ on with us, Matthew, expressing a decent degree of pessimism regarding all the builds in Auckland. Everyone’s talking about this vibrant future, but it’s not so vibrant when you have to get places recleared or re-roofed or etc.
So isn’t this going to be a problem? I mean, Tracy said, “You get what you pay for.” But I wonder how many of the apartment dwellings are going to be like that?
Matthew: Yeah. Well, that’s definitely an issue for existing apartments as we all know. The whole leaky home, leaky building situation. If you’re looking at an apartment built in the ’80s or ’90s or even the naughts, that’s definitely a big issue. It is quite [strengthening?]. It’s a bit of a moving [feat?].
But at some stage, an older apartment building’s going to have to be strengthened, even if it’s not strengthened now. And fire rating. That’s another issue with apartment buildings. And apparently, just anecdotally, it’s as big a problem as leaky buildings.
So there’s three kind of big issues that if you’re going to buy an apartment you really are going to have to– I mean, to be honest, you probably really should get it checked out by an independent building inspector or an engineer.
Jim: But even then you don’t entirely know what’s in the future, do you?
Matthew: Exactly. And can an engineer really check out the fire rating? Was the [proper?] [inaudible] used? And as you say, you buy a new apartment, I guess you’re hopeful those sort of issues have been resolved. But it’s a tricky one.
Tracy: And the trouble is once you’ve taken the apartment on, you’re bound by what the body corporate decides to do. It’s not like in your own home. You can decide not to upgrade it or to upgrade it.
Matthew: Yeah, no, the whole– yeah, just talking about the construction side of it. But yeah, the whole legal side’s also a big issue.
Jim: This gives us great encouragement going forward. Matthew, thank you. Matthew Bradbury.
Source: Radio New Zealand
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