Extract From 'SUBURBAN ADAPTATION' by Trina Day
CURRENTLY LIVING WITH: Philip and Elliot (youngest son)
Nerida and her husband Philip, Nerida’s sister Aisla and her partner Cath, and a friend Mary Anne, have decided to sell their 3 individual houses and buy a property where they can build 4 apartments with shared gardens and other facilities.
Why give up your family home in Leichardt to live in a development with other people?
The idea started in a conversation with my sister Aisla and our friend Mary Anne. We realized that as we grow older it might become difficult for us to see each other as often. Also, none of us are interested in living in a nursing home.
What are you looking for in your future home?
We are worried that as we grow older, we might become isolated if we continue to live separately. Older people can become a little crazy if they spend too much time alone. It is important to talk to someone that loves you every single day.
What accommodation options have you considered?
We looked at a number of Ageing in Place developments, but we didn’t like how younger people were excluded from buying in. We also looked at community based retirement villages, but in larger groups there is always one person who is a complete pain to deal with. We decided that living with family and friends would suit us better because it is a small group and negotiation will be easier with less people. If there is someone who gives grief within our group then at least there is already a strong relationship, and the negotiation will be done with respect and consideration because of the connection that already exists.
Is 3 households the ideal group size?
When we started talking about this idea with friends some of them expressed interest, but we decided we didn’t want the project to become unwieldy, and we are already planning to build an extra apartment for a future live-in carer. Of course, the final number of households will depend on the property that we find, but at the moment 4 apartments seems to be the right size.
What facilities are to be shared?
We all want separate apartments so that we can retreat when we need. The apartments can be quite small; one bedroom, one open plan living area, a study area for each of us, and a big bathroom or maybe 2 smaller ones. I have read that older people need one toilet each. And wide doorways for if we ever need wheelchairs.
Aisla, Mary Anne and I are all keen gardeners, so the landscaped areas are extremely important. We expect to be able to grow all the fruit and vegetables that we need. Aisla is in charge of the productive gardens, my area of care will be the native garden. Where we live now in Leichardt we use our backyard for a garden to spend time in, and we use the back half of our neighbour’s yard to grow vegetables. The neighbour’s house is a rental property and we first asked to use the garden for vegetables about 5 years ago. We share the crop with the tenants. There have been 3 lots of tenants through that house and the system has worked for all of them.
We all need space for work and hobbies. Mary Anne sews and will need a space for that, and I do patchwork. My husband Philip is a woodworker and needs a shed not only for tools and equipment but to house his hoard of timber. Aisla’s partner Cath is a builder and Philip and she will share the shed. Ever since we were students Philip and I have always cooked meat outside the house. We do this all year round, though it is often a very quick process in winter. We want an outdoor kitchen, shared between all of us with enough area for large all-weather social gatherings. When we are cooking in the outdoor kitchen anyone is welcome to come and join us. When we cook inside it is a private meal.
We will have a shared guest studio, and again it doesn’t need to be large. There will need to be some strategy of kicking the kids out of this when they have overstayed their welcome. We have decided to have one car between all of us. And some shared bicycles. Also a shared laundry and washing line.
What do you see as the most important design considerations for your development?
The design will need very careful attention to perceived territory. For example, if I am on the footpath outside my house and a neighbour walks by I will make eye contact, smile, voice a greeting and be prepared to stop and chat. If I am on my front porch then eye contact and a friendly greeting is enough. If I am sitting in the sun just inside my front door with a newspaper, if I don’t make eye contact first then I don’t expect anyone to disturb me. The design needs to preserve these layers of privacy. Also if I get a disease like Alzheimer’s I want my friends and family to be able to avoid me without guilt.
What ownership model do you have in mind?
We are considering community title because we all have different amounts of capital. It seems that owning a percentage of shares in the property allows more flexibility than a strata title. It doesn’t bother us that we don’t own an individual title to a defined section of land.
Do you imagine the development as a very social place?
Both Aisla and Mary Anne are the hubs of large communities. Like the old system of ‘maiden aunts’, they are both very generous and gregarious and look after whoever is in need. At various times in our past we have all suffered some form of mental illness. For me it was post natal depression. At a time like that it is very important that there is somewhere that you can just land and be still for a while, and our society doesn’t provide for that very well at all. Our spare apartment can be useful at those times.
We also want for our kids to be able to stay. Our oldest son left home a while ago, and our second son is probably not far away. We will miss him. He does lead a very separate life, but even if we just see each other for 10 minutes a day it is really valuable time. There is something special about proximity.
Is it important to own a place rather than rent?
If renting had more surety maybe it would be an option for us, but the rental market here is too volatile. Our oldest son has been looking for a rental apartment for months and has ended up in a 2 bedroom apartment in Epping for $460/week. It is extraordinary. He has a good job and a decent salary but he had to move that far away from the city to find anything he and his flatmate could afford. Even there the foyer has that particular smell.
In places like Holland renting is far more feasible. There are long term contracts and you can take real ownership of the place that you live, without the fear that your rent is going to rise to an unaffordable level. Here you can’t rely on stable rent and in addition to that you can’t even hang pictures on the wall.
What are your priorities when you start looking at possible locations?
Aisla wants to live close enough to the city that she can catch a cab home from the Opera house. Mary Anne plays a lot of golf, and I mean a lot. So she wants to be close to a good course. My priority is to be able to walk to all the facilities I need regularly; coffee, newspaper, chemist, doctor, supermarket etc. A place like Bowral is a lovely place to be, but without a car it just becomes a prison.