Having spent the past six months living in an “apartment block” built in the late 90s I have come to a conclusion:
we have already built our next generation of slums.
The development I was living in was cited as an example of an executive development, much in demand and with features designed to appeal to the professional. There was allocated underground parking, regular maintenance on the grounds and grass and access to cable broadband and TV throughout. Yet it was the small details that betrayed the potential for this development to slowly decline over the coming decades.
Build quality was poor with wood framed double glazing and almost all windows showing signs of rot and flaking paint. Walls were painfully thin, so much so that conversations held at normal volume could easily be heard between flats. Rooms were small, so much so that the second bedroom in my two bed flat wasn’t large enough for much more than a single bunk bed and a small chest of drawers. Carpets in communal areas hadn’t been replaced in 15 years, with cracking appearing and a lack of service lifts making it increasingly difficult to find companies to supply large items beyond the front door. There was very little green space on the development either, with a single small playground tucked away in one corner and children left to play in the car parks or on the small grass strips that were dotted about.
I would like to say this is something unique to this particular development, only it isn’t. Over the past few months, as I’ve looked for a new home, I’ve seen the trend repeated. Green space is sacrificed for more units. Rooms are too small to be practical. Cheap materials are used to keep costs down today without thinking about how they will be maintained tomorrow. Service charges don’t account for the maintenance (or lack of it) that is completed. Thin walls and poor sound insulation merge families into one communal mass with little sense of being private.
My fear is that thirty or forty years from now these modern apartment blocks will have become little more than run down shells accommodating families trapped in poorly maintained and decaying boxes. Unfortunately it appears few planners and architects can think beyond the rush of excitement to get the building up. The consequences may not be felt for some decades to come.