Putting community into medium density
This is a part of the Neighbourhoods feature
As the amount of medium-density housing increases in our cities, it is time to think of how we can improve the design, sustainability and functionality and its role in forming healthy communities.
NEIGHBOURHOODS are important – they have a unique character, identity and social fabric, and ultimately, they are where we live. In New Zealand, however, we are more used to thinking about delivering separate dwellings and not enough about the community they form.
What does success look like?
Beacon Pathway is currently working on a Building Research Levyfunded project that looks at the assessment of medium-density housing in New Zealand. The main research question is: How is the success of medium-density housing measured at the individual development and neighbourhood level? The project investigates how to evaluate medium-density housing against desired community, design and performance outcomes at the individual occupant, building and neighbourhood level.
Higher-density development is needed to meet housing demand, but it is often poorly understood and resisted by the community. Beacon’s study tours to the Pacific Northwest and Europe suggest that there is considerable potential to improve the design, sustainability and functionality of medium-density development.
Tool to help in planning, design and building
This research is currently defining a framework and a prototype tool providing developers, designers, government and industry with feedback about their approach to medium density. It will help them plan, design and build developments that are liveable, adaptable, sustainable and healthy for residents as well as acceptable to surrounding neighbours.
Developers will be able to better tailor their designs to attract future residents, and future residents will enjoy medium-density living that better meets their needs over time. The standards of medium-density design in New Zealand will be better, making it a more attractive and efficient option and increasing its acceptability within the community. Future developments will also be integrated more seamlessly into existing neighbourhoods, again improving the acceptability of medium density.
Grow Community a great example
An exemplar of density done well, which Beacon recently visited on a study tour to the Pacific Northwest, was Grow Community in Bainbridge Island off Seattle. Grow Community – and note the emphasis on community – is a combination of clustered dwellings and larger, higher-density apartment blocks based on One Planet Living principles.
The development illustrates how medium-density that aligns with outcome-based principles based on sustainability and community values can be successful and sell well. It also provides a model for nearzero carbon living, localised food production and happy residents.
Connecting people of all ages
The focus is on the community of people that the development is made for and, importantly, how to connect them to nature, to each other and to a walkable, liveable lifestyle. This includes using the built environment to reconnect generations of people – young and old.
Its credo is that ‘the majority of these new homes will be accessible and feature single level living that will encourage intergenerational living. We will pursue ways to allow ageing in place which will allow residents to live longer in their own community rather than face a move to a foreign environment at a time in their lives that should be cherished not dreaded.’
The scale of the neighbourhood that Grow Community serves is also important. It allows for investment into common areas for residents – bumping spaces where residents can informally meet and get to know each other and deepen relationships.
Incorporates sustainable infrastructure
It also allows greater scope for addressing key infrastructure delivery such as neighbourhood-generated electricity, rainwater harvesting and stormwater attenuation. These are all key areas that Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch would do well to think about as we intensify housing in our cities.
Grow is the largest solar community in Washington state – every single-family home and duplex in Grow’s first phase is powered by photovoltaics. The community takes sustainability development beyond LEED standards, with net-zero energy homes, a highly walkable community and community gardens that produce local food for residents. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a North American rating tool.
The Grow type of development could provide a useful model for New Zealand, provided we adapt and contextualise the approach to our unique circumstances. The focus of construction efforts in New Zealand, to date, has been on delivering medium-density housing. Instead, perhaps we should be looking at the wider social picture and realise that we are building medium-density communities and medium-density neighbourhoods.
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