The Need for Child-Friendly Design in High-Rise Apartments

More and more parents are raising children in high-rise housing in inner-city areas. In spite of this, much of the high-rise housing stock in Australia have been developed without truly considering its younger inhabitants.

A 2018 study published in Cities & Health discovered that while parents appreciated that apartments offered affordable housing close to employment, they found the apartment design did not accommodate for the needs of children.

The number of families with children living in apartments in Melbourne increased by 56 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to Census data from 2016. Almost 50 percent of apartment inhabitants on census night in 2016 were families with children.

The researchers then interviewed the parents individually and then as a group. They accepted some of the challenges in return for making employment more accessible, which allowed them to spend more time with their children. The parents were also accepting of having little or no amount of private outdoor space. However, many were worried that the communal outdoor space in their apartment complex was either absent or inappropriate. 

Adverse impact on health

A range of housing issues such as overcrowding and exposure to pollutants, hazards & noise have been associated with poor health and development outcomes for children. Despite this, specific research on the impacts of high-rise living on children is few and far between.

There are some reviews that discuss such negative impact on children’s well-being. Many such studies, however, focused on disadvantaged children in high-rise housing, so it’s difficult to isolate the physical aspects of dwellings from other socioeconomic influences.

Nonetheless, proof of the negative aspects of apartment living in Australia is surfacing. Research in Sydney showed an increase in children presenting at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead with serious injuries due to falling from apartment windows and balconies. 

What can be done

Victoria’s new apartment design guidelines, which include requirements for building arrangements and amenity, are a great start to addressing some of the concerns raised by families in the study mentioned above.

This does not guarantee, however, that problems in apartments designed before the guidelines were implemented would be resolved. Considering the large number of children living in high-rise apartments, the fact that the Victorian guidelines mention them only once leaves much to be desired.

Design guidelines developed in many Canadian cities could be drawn on. These include designing the environment with the safety needs of children explicitly in mind and providing them with easy access to appropriately located and designed outdoor play areas.

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