OPINION: Apartment living offers new possibilities for Christchurch, especially as a way to encourage more people to live in the heart of the city.
Would you live in an apartment?
"I'm a Kiwi bloke and I want my own house and section," was one man's reaction.
"That's why I came back to New Zealand," another wrote, "so I didn't have to live in an apartment."
"Slums of the future" was how someone viewed plans to build more multi-unit dwellings in Christchurch.
Well, I wouldn't mind, but I would need green space and gardens nearby.
Apartments are not for everyone, but they can be attractive.
They offer an alternative to space-hungry 1950s-style suburban subdivisions on the city fringe.
For millions of people around the world, apartment living is the norm.
What matters is the quality of the design.
Apartments can be good or bad. They can be pokey shoeboxes or luxury penthouses.
In Cologne, Germany, my apartment was a two-level unit with a balcony in a seven-storey complex near the city park. I biked to work. A stadium was next door. I got to hear Tina Turner for free.
When I visited Japan this year, Lisa, my translator, told me she lived on the 38th floor of a tower block. It swayed drastically in the massive March 2011 quake, but the Japanese remained calm. Buildings are designed to cope.
Less than a month after our February 2011 quake, we joined some friends for a holiday in Kuala Lumpur, and rented an apartment on the 13th floor of a complex. There were about a dozen buildings, each 30 storeys high. Imagine a vertical suburb with neighbours literally living on top of each other.
The apartment was 140 square metres - about the same as a modest suburban house.
We had Gurkha security guards, a fitness centre, and three swimming pools. A fire alarm triggered that familiar adrenaline surge, and then a smiling face appeared to say it was only a test. Locals ignored it.
Other friends rent a high-rise apartment in Hong Kong. It is tiny but they get community shops and gardens and a harbour view. During a fire-alarm test they found the emergency doors locked, which would have been unsettling.
I visited a Soviet-era apartment in Riga, Latvia. It was compact and the lift was minuscule, but thick double glazing and hot air wafting through the building kept residents warm while snow blanketed the city.
I am not really a fan of high-rise living, partly because I am nervous of heights and partly because I don't think high-rises create the best communities.
From three to seven storeys - the maximum permitted for new buildings in the Christchurch CBD - works well. You can use the stairs and get to know your neighbours.
Older European apartment buildings of this height look gracious and elegant, while modern ones often look imaginative and striking.
Modern apartments are much more comfortable and cosy than a draughty suburban house.
Because you are living together in one building, apartments must be designed to minimise noise and maximise sunshine, space, and privacy.
Italian architect Caterina Steiner said her favourite place would be a sunny balcony so she could sip coffee, gaze at the world, read and sketch.
Residents can enjoy shared facilities, such as pools and gyms, barbecue areas, tennis courts and community gardens. Car parking does not dominate.
While apartment living typically suits singles and couples best, co-housing or multi-unit dwellings can also cater for families, offering a sense of community and security, write American architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in Creating Cohousing - Building Sustainable Communities.
Walking to cafes and entertainment venues is an attraction, but drunken youths roaming the streets turn people off living in the city.
So do boy racers. These are social problems in New Zealand that need fixing, rather than a reflection on apartment living.
Christchurch apartments designed by Sir Miles Warren and Peter Beaven in the 1970s and 80s - those that remain - still appeal.
The CPIT flats in Madras St, designed by Sheppard & Rout, have attractive facades and internal balconies.
The same architects designed an entry for the Breathe! eco-village competition.
More apartment buildings are shaping up in the central city.
Plans by the Viva Group and Di Lucas with her Pita Kaik (Peterborough Village) deserve to win support.
One big question mark, however, is affordability - for buyers, tenants and developers.
To encourage more innovative housing development in the central city, the Christchurch City Council must slash compliance costs and permit more mixed-use.
Community land trusts, outlined by visiting Australian expert Dr Louise Crabtree, provide one mechanism to stabilise costs.
As our population and demographics alter, exploring new forms of housing - or learning from successful overseas models - is vital.
- © Fairfax NZ News