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Wednesday 15 June 2022 11:37am

New Zealand urgently needs to increase the diversity and quality of its housing stock if it is to meet its goal of reducing the country's carbon emissions by 2030 and meet the needs of our diverse population, researchers at the University of Otago say.

The researchers, whose work is published in the international science journal Wellbeing, Space and Society, say important sustainability and wellbeing benefits are associated with well-designed, compact housing developments that incorporate communal or public spaces and are located close to public transport.

Crystal Olin image
Crystal Olin

Lead author, Research Fellow Dr Crystal Olin, from the University of Otago, Wellington, says such developments offer an often-missing middle option between low-density single family homes and high-density inner city apartments.

“Buildings and transport together make up half of our carbon consumption and a shift to a focus on medium-density housing would deliver multiple benefits, cutting the amount of energy used to heat homes, and fostering cycling and walking instead of car travel.

Aotearoa urbanites increasingly prefer living in more compact cities that reduce travel times to work, school, and amenities, and encourage active forms of travel, such as walking, cycling and using public transport, and which also keep housing and transport more affordable.”

Dr Olin says she supports the Government's aim to shift the emphasis from standalone family homes to the development of more inclusive, collective and urban home spaces which it laid out in its 2021 Policy Statement on Housing and Urban Development, but says it needs to go further if Aotearoa's future is to be genuinely transformed.

“The Government needs to commit to increasing the supply and diversity of high-quality medium-density housing, with the focus on shared multi-generational houses, co-housing developments, where private homes are clustered around shared spaces, and papakāinga on Māori land.”

Dr Olin says conventional development approaches that focus on stand-alone houses for nuclear families and small, densely-packed apartments that lack common areas or accessibility to public space and public transport not only limit sustainability outcomes, but also reduce opportunities for community and neighbourly connections.

“In contrast, co-housing, collective, or collaborative housing models are designed with the specific goal of enabling community connection. Housing developments can support social connection with others by creating shared pathways in terraced housing, or shared entry lobbies in medium-density housing. Shared common spaces, such as communal dining rooms, laundries, outdoor areas and pocket playgrounds, all increase the potential for social connections.”

James Berghan image
James Berghan

Fellow researcher, Dr James Berghan (Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri), a Lecturer in the University's School of Surveying, says Māori collective housing models can also help build and facilitate cultural connection.

Papakāinga that are located on ancestral land can help whānau connect (and reconnect) with the wider cultural landscape simply by being on the whenua (land) of their ancestors or by having visible sightlines to important landmarks such as maunga (mountains).”

Dr Berghan says despite compelling evidence of the benefits of papakāinga and other collective housing models, a range of barriers still stand in the way.

“They include legal issues with land tenure, outdated or homogenous district plans and associated lengthy resource consenting processes, and risk-averse financial institutions that prefer to back 'normal' commercial developments.

“Residents, developers, planners and local and central governments have a variety of views on changing housing models, so the shift towards more complex, sustainable cities is often a complicated, contested and uneven process.”

Dr Berghan says the barriers are not insurmountable if local and central governments are committed to change.

“Local governments can act to reduce the barriers to sustainable developments by hapū and iwi by ensuring that planning rules treat kāinga or cluster housing as 'normal' forms of development, and central government can spur change by normalising collective housing models.

“This will help shift Aotearoa towards a more complex, sustainable urban future with a thriving diversity of home spaces.”

Publication details:

The research paper, 'Inclusive and collective urban home spaces: The future of housing in Aotearoa New Zealand' is published in the international science journal Wellbeing, Space and Society.

For more information please contact:

Dr Crystal Olin
Research Fellow
NZ Centre for Sustainable Cities
University of Otago, Wellington

Dr James Berghan
School of Surveying
University of Otago, Dunedin

Cheryl Norrie
Communications Adviser
University of Otago, Wellington
Mob +64 21 249 6787

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