Flat Chat Wrap #41 – The future of apartments … bees vs locusts

We write and talk a lot about property developers in Flat Chat – not often in positive terms – but we rarely get the chance to hear their side of the story, at least, untainted by promotional spin for some new project or another.

So it was a pleasure to sit down recently with Chris Johnson, CEO of the Urban Taskforce, and get his views on what is happening in the world of apartment development for the Flat Chat Wrap podcast.

Chris is the former State Architect for NSW and Urban Taskforce represents the top developers in the country, so he knows a fair bit about the subject.  On top of that, he is as passionate about apartment living as we are – although from a slightly different perspective.

The discussion in this week’s podcast is wide-ranging and occasionally surprising.

We can’t ignore the issue of defects in new buildings, not least because of the damage that has done to public confidence.  It could take years to recover but Chirs believes the only way is up – literally – as cities reach their physical and geographical limits.

He believes the days of the McMansion are numbered, partly because you can’t fit any more houses into the space available but also because there’s a sea change in public thinking.

We are moving away from the “I, me, mine” mindset into more collaborative, sharing communities, he says.  He cites a development in Roseberry where there is a childcare centre right on the ground floor, so it obviously attracts families.

However, those families take it a stage further, with parents taking turns to host “play dates” where all the kids can go to different unit blocks each of which has its own playground – yes, they have children’s playgrounds – and swimming pools that they don’t have to worry about maintaining.  It certainly gives the lie to the old thinking that apartments are no place for young families.

You can find out more about that in an Urban Taskforce publication about why people love apartment living.

Elsewhere in our wide-ranging discussion, Chris muses about why registration of architects and engineers wouldn’t have prevented the crisis at the Opal building – the internationally known architects and engineers on that project would “get registration with their eyes closed” – and why a return to council-based certification wouldn’t have prevented the issues in the Mascot Tower (it was certified by the local council).

However, Chris does think there’s merit in a continuing “duty of care” from builders to apartment owners while making every contractor and sub-contractor take responsibility for their work in the construction of an apartment block.

He also thinks the “missing middle” in home building is unlikely to be filled with town-houses, if only because of the flawed economics of replacing a single dwelling with two terraced houses.

Instead he foresees a spread of European style, medium-rise, four or five story blocks – small enough not to lose human scale and deter communities but tall enough to merit installing the lifts that down-sizing baby boomers will demand.

There’s all that and more in this week’s podcast.

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