Most housing conversations are around affordability and supply and these things matter but where we choose to live is probably the single greatest determinant of our quality of life and our impact on the planet. If our houses and sections are bigger than we need and too far from the places we need to be we are likely to spend more time than we need on maintenance, energy, and commuting and on earning the money to pay the mortgage.
Our housing initiatives are about enabling and persuading more of us to make the kinds of housing choices most likely maximise our quality of life and minimise our impact on the planet. New Zealand probably has no shortage of housing just too few houses where we need them and far too many unoccupied and under occupied dwellings.
The conversation that follows imagines a future where more of us make the kinds of housing and lifestyle choices that many clever Kiwis have already made.
The Urban village initiative…
What had begun as a move to rationalise a housing stock increasingly out of step with changing household needs, soon became known as the Urban Village Initiative.
As individuals chose to live on their own or with one other, the number of households increased dramatically continuing a trend that was already well under way by the end of the twentieth century but the urban village initiative had largely accommodated the new households within the existing footprint after the real estate industry in tandem with the local authorities and central Government cooperated in the “retrofitting” and “reconfiguring” many of the numerous under-occupied and oversized dwellings.
There had been mumblings about nanny state and people being made to change but there hadn’t been any need for compulsion after the word got out that there were more comfortable and affordable options to the retirement village or rattling around in houses much bigger and more expensive than necessary after the first few, frequently asset rich and cash poor, discovered that they could stay in their own reconfigured homes, in their own neighbourhoods in unimaginablycomfortable, very warm and very manageable studio apartment or granny flat, with additional income from renting the remainder, frequently to family members, have the whole process managed and completed for them by someone else and wind up with more to spend, less to spend it on and more time to spend it. Progressive councils had even accommodated home owners in council owned community houses while the work was being completed.
The urban village initiative took many forms.
Not all the reconfiguring was for housing. Homes were altered to accommodate whatever it might take to enrich lives and create communities. Neighbourhoods with nothing within walking distance that one might want to walk to sprouted shared spaces and work places, allotments, community care facility and café, corner store, and neighbourhood garden centre… to become the heart of the rapidly developing urban villages. People chose to work from home as employment moved into suburbia.
As retirees chose to “stay put” in their reconfigured homes, retirement villages aggregated with surrounding neighbourhoods, opening up to more diverse households to become the first grand scale comprehensive urban villages.
As the idea of living closer to the work place became a life-style choice, central city living saw unused retail and office space converted to apartment and town house as well as a range of community initiatives. The Urban Village Initiative had moved into the CBD.
The Urban Village Initiatives became evident more quickly than the most optimistic had anticipated and underpinned many of the lifestyle changes that followed. With the increase in housing supply home ownership once more became affordable. Unemployment plummeted as parents chose to job share, working fewer hours to free up time to spend with friends and family. There was a gradual transition from the nuclear to extended families. Health improved and obesity and the incidence of diabetes, depression and anxiety declined. Village living in tandem with carbon quotas precipitated a decline in motor car ownership and time spent commuting as people chose to spend more time being where they wanted to be and less time getting there. Car clubs enabled folk to choose the vehicles most appropriate to their changing needs.