We don't build houses for single people but the 800-year-old example of the Oxford Hall of residence might be the solution to our problem says Claude Lewenz of Me Aroha Waiheke Foundation
Halls of Residence a good model for citizens living alone
The other day, I was told 40% of the people living on Waiheke are solo’s – single people living alone. The national average is 24%.
But we don’t build housing for singles. We don’t address their needs; we really don’t think much about them at all. If we did, what would it look like?
The most innovative approach is 800 years old – the Oxford hall of residence. The solo person has their own suite, a comfortable living space with bedroom, living room and bath, but no kitchen. Instead there is a large, formal dining hall with food prepared and served. For social connection there is the living room often with a large hearth and comfortable chairs, and the library, a place to be quiet among others. Most importantly, they are elegant and beautiful, having been sponsored by a benefactor to make them wonderful places to live.
Imagine if we started building such places on Waiheke. The suites could be for one or two adults, but not for families with children who are well served since the NZ development industry still presumes the need is for the 1950’s three-bedroom detached house for husband, wife and two kids.
Food preparation is far more efficient when it is done for the clan than by and for a single person. Buying (or growing) in bulk saves money and the food is prepared more efficiently and with good cooks, more creatively.
The balance of public and private is most important, with the suite being comfortable enough to be a refuge, while the commons becomes the place of socialising. Governance is important, and in this the residence halls sorted it centuries ago – it’s all about ensuring folks get along with each other.
Such halls also provide for aging. The older you get, the more respect you earn, and since basic needs are provided for, when you stop driving, it’s not important; no need to move to a retirement home
To make such a place affordable, it needs to form in the same way those Oxford halls of residence formed – not by a developer driven by pecuniary interest, but by the future residents coming together, and if possible finding a wealthy benefactor who wishes to leave a legacy and help create something wonderful.
Can we do this here on Waiheke? Of course we can, except that ironically, the authorities charged with the duty to enable people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing (i.e. the purpose statement of the RMA) will have locked up land use to make it much more difficult to find an affordable parcel of properly-sized land that can be used. We can do it, but under normal circumstances, to get consent could take decades.
What needs to happen is for the people to come forward to form the community and ask to be enabled. The officers won’t know what to do with this, since the current process is to enable consultants and officers to declare effects will be minor to then enable developers to build same-same. However, the pressure is growing so great on Auckland Council that central government just might latch on to the idea and push it through.
While we may be small, we do have three MP’s in Parliament. Let’s see if we can’t become the innovators that show Auckland how to deal with growth so that it is not just sustainable but also wonderful.
Image: The venerable Senior Common Room at Keeble College, Oxford - Photographed by Mel Etitis - Wikipedia - Click on image for link