High density living touted for region

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 13:00 26/11/2013

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Nelson and Tasman are facing similar housing issues to provincial cities in Canada and Australia and higher density living is one of the answers to those challenges, says housing expert Dr Wendy Sarkissian.

Taking a detour on the way to Hawaii, Canadian born, Dr Sarkissian spent time in the region talking at the Nelson City Council and the Tasman District Council about higher density living.

Tasman district council policy planner Jacqui Deans said having Dr Sarkissian facilitating a symposium for housing industry representatives involved in Richmond's urban density project was valuable.

"I think it was great we were able to take advantage of Wendy being in New Zealand," she said. "She's got a wealth of experience in medium density housing development internationally."

"I see you might be a little place, but you've got grown-up issues to deal with in respect to housing," said Dr Sarkissian. Rising house prices, which "tends to bite more sharply in smaller places", tourism development, part-time residences, and the need to provide a variety of housing options for different households were all challenges. "I see issues here with people really wanting housing choice and diversity," she said.

Dr Sarkissian said regionally there were limited development options so housing needed to be targeted and equitable while still providing variety.

On Tuesday she spoke to Nelson residents about medium-density housing with open shared spaces, which could build community-living. The region had "obvious appeal" to people looking to retire.

"This is such an attractive retirement location. I could just imagine retiring here in a heartbeat," she said.

The region had strong infrastructure to support retirees, but she believed more housing options were needed for this group. Dr Sarkissian said services needed to be brought to people's homes and for communities to provide supportive neighbourhoods rather than leaving it to charities or religious groups to look after the vulnerable.

Unhealthy homes have been linked to high rates of infectious and respiratory diseases, especially among children and Dr Sarkissian said the relationship between health and housing has been underestimated and not fully understood. She said the Government needed to provide information about the health impacts of housing materials while developers "needed to learn new tricks about healthy housing" and how to build breathable insulated homes.

Having built her own sustainable home she understands the complexities of balancing affordability, the paperwork, and mixed messages about healthy and sustainable homes. "I noticed there were contradictions at every turn - lots of times I said what's in this and they said don't ask." She used the internet for endless information and she recommends those interested in eco-housing do the same.

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For the future of the region's housing she suggested more diversity with higher density and an infusion of New Zealand's 100 per cent pure tourism ideals into the sector - 100 per cent healthy homes and with minimal footprint.

Dr Sarkissian is something of an environmental philosopher with a PhD in environmental ethics.

Her perspectives are underpinned by an awareness of the natural world. In the early 1990s she undertook a physical and spiritual journey to find her "ecological self" - a commitment where one "sees their little self sitting here as part of something extremely big and inter-connected".

She said there was a something in this perspective for planners, developers and communities "if we want to realise our full humanity as members of a wider earth community".

"We're just one species with the power to hold other species to ransom. It's dangerous to see ourselves as managers of creation - we are co-creators of the rest of the natural world. You are part of everything."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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