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A better life on the block?

Catherine Carter

Are we looking towards a future of high-rise hell? Or could apartment living give us the lifestyles many of us crave?

Around Australia, 40 per cent of new homes under construction are apartments or units. And, as building approvals for apartments now outnumber those for houses, we can expect more people to opt for medium-density living.

Some years ago now, my family made the move from a leafy Canberra suburban home to an inner-city apartment. This was one of the best decisions we have made.

Despite friends and family warning me about the perils of living in a ‘dog box’, my life has got larger, not smaller.

I have parks, cafes and shops, not to mention the sparkling Lake Burley Griffin on my doorstep. My children’s school is a five-minute walk away, I hold meetings in the many cafés along my local street, and don’t need to get into the car to pick up some last-minute bread or milk. The breathtaking beauty of Canberra’s natural surrounds is no further away than it ever was, and my family, including the dog, have never been happier.

I know apartment living isn’t for everyone. But it isn’t just a ‘second choice’ for first-home buyers who can’t afford the dream home or downsizers looking to free up capital. Increasingly, people from all walks of life are attracted to apartments.

To start with, I never get a shock when I open my quarterly utility bills, even in the dead of winter. Apartment living is generally more energy efficient, and not just because you have a smaller place to heat or cool. Apartments also have good ‘thermal mass’ which makes them more comfortable spaces all year round.

I don’t miss gardening and lawn mowing soaking up my time on the weekends either. That’s not to say you can’t keep your green thumb – many of my neighbours have herb gardens, or pots of tomatoes and lemons on their balconies. But the hard graft of maintaining a large garden is no longer a regular part of my routine.

Apartments often offer extra amenities that may be otherwise unaffordable – from rooftop gardens that provide spectacular views of the city to gyms and swimming pools. I for one have never missed our big backyard. The precinct has become our playground.

I love the ‘lock up and leave’ aspect of my apartment too. Like many Canberrans, I can skip down to the South Coast on the weekends without worrying about the need to pull out the ivy that used to choke the trees in our backyard or the pergola that needs to be painted before BBQ season swings around.

Another benefit of apartment living – and one which people rarely consider – is the safety. Most apartments have several layers of entry, not to mention the ‘safety in numbers’ of many eyes watching over your block. It’s much harder for potential thieves to make away with your TV without witnesses.

Apartment living does take some adjustments. I’ve got smart with storage, for instance, by investing in furniture that does double duty, and I’ve got better at decluttering. While I still have space for hundreds of books, I’ve learnt to buy less, and to look critically at the things sitting in the back of the cupboard. The sherry glasses, piles of old birthday cards and boxes of knick-knacks had to go. But guess what? I didn’t miss them, and I’ve felt lighter since saying goodbye.

Our family has learnt to be tidier too. With less space to make a mess, we make less mess. And that means even less time spent on weekends cleaning and more time being together as a family.

And a smaller indoor space gives us more opportunity to appreciate the outdoors. Without all the mowing and maintenance, cleaning and reorganising clutter, we have time to enjoy the views from the balcony or get outside in the fresh air.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics are revealing. We are now building three times more apartments than houses in Canberra. While this statistic is driven by housing affordability, the cost of land and the ACT Government’s preference for higher density living, it also reflects demand. Increasingly, Canberrans are opting for a better life on the block.

Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and creative thinker, Catherine is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now heads up a boutique consulting firm, Indigo Consulting Australia, where she provides a range of specialist business and communication advisory services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010. More about the Author