When a decade ago I returned to Adelaide after living overseas in Dallas some years, I was initially pleased to see some apparently nice apartment buildings near the lower end of Rundle St. I even investigated buying one however I soon was disappointed by some obvious shortcomings. Rooms were not only small but pokey and claustrophobic, windows were not double glazed and floors not vibration isolated despite nearby nightlife with high-volume music venues and crowds of excited people everywhere. Lost interest immediately.
There is renewed interest in higher density living on major roads leading to the CBD. How can we get this right? First off, think old Europe… elegant five or six story buildings built around or half around private pocket parks where kids can play safely and neighbours can sit & chat. Cafes, bakeries, wine bars & shops at ground level with ramps down to basement parking. Spacious rooms with high ceilings, vibration isolated floors, balconies or at least window flower boxes off every (double-glazed) window, impressive staircases & foyers, a boutique low-cost lift and a roof garden. In the street outside, a bicycle lane on the footpath delineated with differently-coloured pavement and bike racks by most entrances and in the interior courtyards and pocket parks.
In Dallas, I lived overseas in a different sort of apartment building where the units were set out like staggered townhouses each with steps to private front doors and internal access to individual basement garages. The internal staircases went up to a living area with a void rising to upper level bedrooms all with walk-in robes and balconies – some overlooking a courtyard with gas-lit central pool, spa, gym & function rooms for entertainment. Nothing pokey about that – and noise and heat isolation was perfect!
So whether Euro-style or USA-contemporary, apartment buildings can provide great amenity and life-style if well-planned & integrated into the neighborhood properly. Key to affordability is getting the infrastructure in first. Subterranean passageways with all utilities and others for underground trams or U-bahns put in before or with the buildings – not afterwards. Think in 3D for movement: walkways and bike paths crossing over major roads ringing the parklands and trams crossing under & ideally staying under in the CBD & adjacent high density precincts. Alternatively those cross streets could be recessed into canyons so motor traffic too crosses over them on bridges.
With the higher density should come more hours a day for living versus commuting, easier & more frequent commutes, more income for councils to provide our services, and more opportunities for going out and mixing or pursuing cultural & sporting interests.
How about an audacious master plan with carefully sequenced building schedules and costed phases starting on roads facing the parklands and along major roads leading to them? Once underway, stamp duties & rate contributions could make the process virtually self-sustaining. You would need some flagship components well-executed & integrated to wet the public appetite and dispel the current cynicism that public and private stakeholders can coordinate progress, that private development & public infrastructure can be competently synchronized, and that cost & benefit can be well balanced.