By Waveney Warth
How to Save the World visits sustainable apartment dweller to record episode.
Apartment living is a very new cultural idea in Aotearoa. What we know is growing up with space for kids to run around and private backyards. But as house prices climb, and lives get busier, there is a new generation of urban kiwi's beginning to embrace a totally different way life - with totally different pros and cons - not just for lifestyle choice but also for sustainability outcomes. It's interesting that while in theory a big backyard means the opportunity grow most of your own food (e.g. Urban Garden Research Project) in reality most of us are (or feel) too busy make the most of the space. Choosing to have land in a city, if its not integrated into a sustainable lifestyle (growing regeneratively, working & playing local etc), can actually be a pretty unsustainable model. Its funny that on the one hand people living in apartments can sometimes view their situation as a barrier to sustainability and then on the other hand you have people like Chloe Swarbrick and the low carbon team at Auckland Council in favour of doubling down on apartments and urban intensification in order to prevent urban sprawl. What's the problem with urban sprawl? gee - perhaps go back and read blog 1 (Wait!? Why are we here?). This generation needs to stop the creep into wild spaces and treat the arable farmland around cities like the taonga that it is. These two images contrast the path we have been on with a vision of the very best of how apartment living could help save the world:
The pro's and con's of apartment living in NZ
Apartments have another advantage over the traditional free standing New Zealand house: energy use. The embedded energy in an apartment block with 1000 homes is a lot less than 1000 new freestanding homes. Even if they were the same size homes. But often apartments are actually smaller as well which amplifies the effect. Then add to that the daily energy use in an apartment. When visited Otahuhu apartment dweller Anglea Lees to interview her for the first in a series on different Green Living lifestyles, I was really impressed when she said that she has never used the heater. Not even on the coldest winter days. Usually, in a free standing house, heat leaks out of the house and thats that. In an apartment block, heat leaks out of your ceiling or walls and where can it go? It leaks into your neighbours floor and walls, and happily, theirs leaks into yours.
Matthew and I lived in an apartment when we first moved to Auckland and we loved it! In the end I missed the actual 'earth' - but I did love the light and air, the view, the warmth and the location. We were downtown and didn't need a car, we could walk or catch a bus everywhere and occasionally used City Hop, a car sharing service. When apartment dwellers are supported by local farmers markets, bulk food stores and other sustainable consumption options there really is some sustainability magic that can happen.
Aside from sustainability, if you are thinking about whether or not to jump into apartment living Angela also highlighted the lifestyle bonuses:
In addition, I observed a massive difference in free time when we were unshackled from the quarter acre with weatherboard house (never again). House and grounds take a huge amount to maintain, we even found it demanding with two adults and no kids.
But there are also obvious downsides, and this is actually why we decided to do this episode, I've heard people, so many times, say that they can't compost, garden, buy bulk etc because they don't have space (or because they rent). So we went on the hunt to see if we could find someone who had figured out how to work around the constraints and that's how we found Angela.
Angela (left) and Waveney, at Angela's apartment
Angela lives in a 60m2 apartment in Otahuhu, Auckland, with two flatmates and two cats. It’s a sunny spot with a sweeping view of the Auckland isthmus, maunga and city. Angela, who works from home and keeps very busy with part time study as well, made a conscious decision to buy something small and central. Angela’s story highlights how apartment dwellers can be part of the solution. She embraces local shopping options, transport hubs, and vertical balcony gardening. But the thing I was most excited about was her solution to food waste: a bokashi bucket to collect scraps, which takes about 3 months to fill up before it needs emptying and which she then empties via Sharewaste. A free online platform that connects local gardeners who want food waste with people who want to give it away. This is fantastic because its scaleable and anyone can do it. If you don't have a service like Sharewaste in your area you should be able to find a community garden or friend who wants it. Bokashi solids and liquid are incredibly valuable in garden and farm ecosystems and when that is understood there should be a calamitous grab to be the first in to get it. (E.g. one litre can create 7.5 tons of organic Bokashi compost, rich in beneficial microbes).
Angela is an inspiring subject! She also somehow finds the time to make her own yogurt, kombucha, sourdough and mend and upholster! Check out the episode here.
The only pest this garden needs protection from!