Property’s new frontier
One of those addressing this question is architect James Legge, whose firm Six Degrees has been involved with a series of innovative housing projects around Melbourne, including the groundbreaking Nightingale developments.
Six Degrees is also behind the Clyde Mews project in Thornbury, which incorporates six two-storey townhouses and two units on two large suburban blocks, built around a communal garden. Each dwelling has a parking space, but rather than having a garage adjacent to individual homes, parking is lined up side-by-side at one end of the site.
This not only frees up space at the centre for shared vegie gardens, but also encourages interaction between residents as they walk to and from their private homes.
“You can’t create community through architecture,” says James, “but you can foster it and enable it to flourish.”
The arrangement has attracted buyers at all life stages – from young families to empty nesters who want a sense of community and space for visiting grandchildren to play.
Breaking down the barriers
But not everyone gets it. James recalls one real estate agent who tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the developer to squeeze another dwelling into the open space, while the local council insisted each townhouse have its own private space fenced off from the communal area. Although fencing was at odds with his vision, James compromised by installing waist-high wire fencing between the townhouses and communal garden to allow interaction with the neighbours.
He says the idea of people sitting out on their back deck, being able to chat to their neighbours passing by, recalls the days when Thornbury and Brunswick were filled with Greeks and Italians who would sit on their front porches all summer, shooting the breeze with people in the street.
“There’s always been this idea that good fences make good neighbours. But I think good fences make lousy suburbs, quite often,” James says.
“We are communal animals. We feel safer and more secure when we know the people around us. Yet we have this funny thing about everything having to be private behind a six-foot fence. I accept most of us need some privacy but it doesn’t have to extend to every inch of our property.”
While he concedes the idea of community-focused living might not suit everyone, he says it’s about giving people choices about how they want to live. “Some people want absolute privacy and that’s okay. There’s plenty on the market for them. We want to put something different on the market for people who do want it.”