Future-proofing vertical villages

By Janette Corcoran 

Are our vertical villages becoming obsolete?

Anticipating forthcoming trends and developing ways to minimise their shocks while maximising their benefits is a process called future-proofing.

Widely used in industries such as industrial design, electronics and climate change, future-proofing techniques have also been applied to historic buildings to help direct major refurbishments.   In these cases, careful consideration is given to how a historic structure can be “sustainably” altered, such as improving its energy efficiency, while also protecting its historic fabric and preventing further deterioration.  

And increasingly there is talk of the need to future-proof our “younger” vertical villages as they rapidly head towards their 20s.  

While it is clear that a lot of things have changed since our vertical villages were originally conceived, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that many previously state-of-the-art features are now spoken about in terms of their obsolescence.  

Admittedly there are different types of obsolescence with some demanding more immediate attention than others. There is physical obsolescence which is when the entity itself deteriorates and requires replacement. There is also functional obsolescence which occurs when the entity can no longer fulfil its intended purpose, while aesthetic obsolescence refers to when the entity is no longer in style. And there is sustainable obsolescence which is when an entity is unable to meet resource efficiency goals. 

However, while obsolescence is an important characteristic of future-proofing as it emphasises the need for continued viability, a more challenging component of future-proofing is the ongoing need to anticipate yet-to-arrive changes and their potential impact upon our vertical villages. 

Take the very mundane topic of car spaces.  Two futures are immediately apparent.

On one hand, there is the scenario of the rise of the electric car. Here, owners’ corporations will need to consider the demand for power charging facilities for residents’ cars. Issues include whether there will be central bays where people “plug and power” or whether each car space owner will need to install points (at their cost) in their own bays. 

With the central bay option, consideration will need to be given to payment methods, while the owner installation option needs to consider the case of tenants (i.e. if the owner won’t install such a facility). And just to add to the mix, with many residents deciding to age-in-place, there will likely be an increase in mobility scooters and, with this, an additional demand for recharge points.

On the other hand, there is the scenario that individual car ownership will decline in tandem with the rise of car-share schemes, ride-share services and pedal-power. This may lead to an overall decline in demand for parking spaces and requests for these spaces to be repurposed. 

For example, in many villages there is already growing interest in having more dedicated space for bike storage, along with additional facilities for their repair. Might an owners’ corporation consider purchasing or leasing (long-term) a group of bays from their owners and offering these as communal bike spaces?  

And if it is agreed that an owners’ corporation can purchase and/or lease (long-term) a group of bays, how else might this space be used? 

Additional recycling facilities comes immediately to mind.

However, some designers in the USA are already creating parking spaces with an in-built capacity for future conversion. For example, in Cincinnati three floors of an internal car park have been designed to convert into additional office space. 

However, this degree of retrofitting is more difficult for us as our car spaces have not been designed for human habitation, meaning that they typically have low ceilings and sloped floors. 

This said, there are some other suggested uses for unused car spaces. Beddown for instance, has partnered with Secure Parking with the aim of creating pop-up accommodation for the homeless. They will do this by using car spaces that are empty at night and setting these up to offer safe, secure and comfortable overnight accommodation. Currently Beddown is conducting a trial of this pop-up accommodation in selected Brisbane CBD car parks and is running a GoFundMe campaign to enable this.  

This option will, undoubtedly, have little appeal or realistic application to our own residential parking. However, what these types of initiatives might do is help us start rethinking the “DNA” of our vertical villages and contemplate how we might reconfigure ourselves to extract benefit in the future – and so begin our future-proofing journey.

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