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High-rise parenting: raising children in Melbourne's high-rise estatesPeter McDonald and Helen Brownlee
This article on the circumstances of families with children living on high-rise housing estates in Melbourne today, begins by examining the background to the decision of the Housing Commission of Victoria to build high-rise blocks in inner Melbourne between 1962 and 1974. The authors critically discuss a number of reports on the benefits and disadvantages to families of high-rise living. Using data relating to 101 estate families with children (interviewed as part of the Australian Institute of Family Studies Australian Living Standards Study), the authors identify issues in which families living on high rise estates are significantly different from other families. Issues discussed include: the socioeconomic characteristics of the sample, their reasons for living in the high-rise, over-crowding, the condition of housing, satisfaction with aspects of housing, assessments of the neighbourhood, advantages and disadvantages of living in the area, neighbourliness, the cultural mix, local facilities and general levels of satisfaction. The authors present a number of case studies which present the experience of high-rise living for different types of families.
Between 1962 and 1974, the Housing Commission of Victoria (HCV) built 45 high-rise blocks in the inner suburbs of Melbourne containing 7834 units. This extraordinary building program was part of a slum reclamation scheme vigorously pursued by the Victorian Government. Although discredited as a form of housing for families with children, the legacy of the period is still with us today and, given the life span of the buildings, is likely to remain with us for another 100 years.
Using data relating to 101 estate families with children interviewed as part of the Institute's Australian Living Standards Study, PETER MCDONALD and HELEN BROWNLEE discuss the circumstances of families with children living on high-rise estates today.
THE RISE OF HIGH-RISE
Slum reclamation was promoted in Victoria from the 1930s as a crusading effort for the salvation of children, in particular, by the social reformer, F. Oswald Barnett. Early rebuilding endeavours in North Melbourne were brought to a halt by the Second World War, but pressure upon government mounted again in the early part of the 1950s. At the time, 1000 families were living in very poor conditions in camps in Williamstown and Royal Park (the notorious Camp Pell). The early history of this movement to slum reclamation has been told by Renate Howe and the history of the building of the high-rise estates by George Tibbits (Howe 1988; Tibbits 1988). The history of the HCV itself and the background to the decision to build high-rise estates is described by Tony Dalton (1988). The story of the local protest movements which brought the program to an abrupt end is told by Tibbits (1988) and Burke (1988).
Tibbits recounts that, in the early 1950s, church groups were strident in their condemnation of Melbourne's slums. The Brotherhood of St Laurence mounted an extensive public campaign for social justice for slum-dwellers by distributing pamphlets and making films to expose slum conditions and the social threat that they posed to young people. An all-churches meeting in 1952 set up the Slum Abolition campaign and, in 1954, the Brotherhood of St Laurence published the influential, What's Wrong with Victoria's Public Housing Programme?. According to this publication, there were 7500 dwellings in inner Melbourne which were so inadequate or so deteriorated as to endanger the health, safety and morals of its inhabitants'. The Federal Coalition Government through Senator Spooner was also highly critical of the Victorian Labor Government for not addressing slum reclamation in the inner areas while building in the outer areas. Spooner, along with private sector interests, pushed the Victorian Government to leave building in the suburbs to private developers.
All this pressure, in the words of Tibbits, led the new Victorian Government into a 'brutal slum clearance program after 1956'. The Premier of the time, Henry Bolte, expressed the Government's determination to clean up 'the decadent areas of Melbourne' as 'bad houses made bad people' (Ministry of Housing and Construction 1990). The HCV now had both political and community support for slum reclamation and broad powers to press on with the job. At first, redevelopment took the form of two or three-storey flats, but these were criticised as uneconomic given the costs of reclamation, monotonous and inadequate for the amount of housing required. High-rise emerged as the solution following a study tour to Europe by two HCV officials (Dalton 1988). Criticisms from within the HCV itself that United Kingdom evidence proved that families preferred houses to flats and that children had not been considered in flat design and construction were swept aside.
High-rise was a central image in the modernist architecture of the Frenchman, Le Corbusier, which was based upon a fusion of art with mass-production. In particular, 'the Greater London Council embraced these socio-architectural ideas, together with those of standardisation and mass-production and in the later 1950s, began developing high-rise estates after the Le Corbusian manner' (Tibbits 1988). High-rise provided architects and engineers with the opportunity to redesign the urban environment on a grand scale. To do so required large spaces to be declared for slum clearance and, in Melbourne, in 1960, the HCV obliged by declaring several large areas of inner Melbourne as being 'so substandard in nature that economic repair was out of the question' (Dalton 1988; Tibbits 1988). The fact that the HCV's pre-fabricated concrete plant could produce the materials required was a further stimulus to the program.
The ubiquitous theme of urban development in Australia, the evils of urban sprawl, was dusted off and brought into the debate as a further justification of high-rise development by such notables as Robin Boyd, R.I. Downing and Douglas Copland. Slum clearance was justified on the grounds that urban sprawl leads to social isolation and the cultural barrenness of suburbia in contrast to the revival of the cosmopolitan life of the central city.
And so, high-rise estates came into being with the completion of the Emerald Hill estate in South Melbourne in 1962 and, soon afterwards, the Hotham estate in North Melbourne. Reclamation and construction continued throughout the 1960s driven on by 'the relentless production and narrow possibilities offered by the industrialised housing system pioneered by the Commission' at its Holmsglen factory. No less impressive than the construction abilities of the HCV was 'the creation of intellectual support for the program which argued a rationale, even an inevitability, for the rebuilding projects' (Tibbits 1988). This intellectual support was used to dampen criticism at the time that high- rise estates were the 'new slums' or 'prisons in the sky'. Part of this intellectual support was derived from the only study conducted of the residents of high-rise estates, the report, High Living: A Study of Family Life in Flats, prepared by Stevenson, Martin and O'Neill for the Brotherhood of St Laurence and published by Melbourne University Press in 1967.
In retrospect, the title of this book, High Living, could only be described as unfortunate. While the book contains a mixed evaluation of the benefits to families of high-rise living, on balance, it could only be described as an apology for the then-existing policy. Its conclusion points out that the residents would have preferred to live in houses and that their hearts 'were set on the suburban way of life that the rest of the community apparently enjoys', but it accepted that this was an impossibility and that the residents were fortunate to have what they had in comparison with the housing from which they had come. High-rise estates were considered to be an inevitability.
The book begins by describing the high-rise estates as part of 'a long-awaited redevelopment' and by describing some criticisms of 'even professional people' as emotional. It ends by stating that 'the Commission deserves the strong support of the community' in making the high-rise estates better places to live.
The apology for existing policy is no more evident than in the book's analysis of child rearing on the estate. The final chapter is critical of various aspects of raising children on high-rise estates, however, this contrasts sharply with the chapter relating specifically to children. That chapter dismisses the 60 per cent of parents who stated that there were major problems with raising children on the estates by stating that 'ways must be found to help those parents who are confused and unable to cope'. The 40 per cent who did not complain, in contrast, were described as the 'more adaptable group of parents' who 'had confidence in themselves'. That is, the inadequacies of the estate became the inadequacies of the parents. Claims by mothers that play for children had been better where people had lived before were dismissed as due to inadequate recall because how could play be better in slum conditions. The authors 'were surprised at the negative way parents spoke about bringing up their children' and considered that this may have derived from a sense that the researchers were 'looking for problems'.
Standards may have changed but it was surprising by today's standards to find the authors uncritical of young children being left unsupervised in the grounds of the estate:
It seems that once a child is able to get downstairs and roam around the estate, it is permitted by the mother to do so; as far as we could tell from parents' responses, almost all the pre-school children from three up to five years were outside most of the time during the day without any organised supervision (p.92).
Indeed, one young mother who expressed reservations about young children playing outside was said to have failed to understand the needs of her children as they reached different stages: Her attitudes and her way of handling her children illustrate the confusion in the minds of many of the parents we spoke to about the restriction of children and the freedom allowed to them (p.92-93).
The high-rise sample in the study included only 18 families with a total of 24 children, none of whom was under nine years of age. The conclusions about child rearing were based on the families living in the walk-up flats on the same site. Despite this sample, the authors, with no experience at all of young children living in the high-rise units, were able to exhort the Commission to concentrate on high-rise flats as distinct from the walk-ups.
Often, when difficulties were expressed by respondents, the authors contrasted the existing conditions with the housing conditions of the slum-dwellers. The first page of the report states that it was on behalf of these low-income families, the least vocal in our community, that 'the voices of protest were raised'. Yet, almost all the estate dwellers were employed and more than two-thirds had moved from areas outside the inner area of the city. Indeed, the incidence of two-income families was uncommonly high. Ironically, subsequent studies of what happened to the 'slum-dwellers' suggest that many moved to the fringes of the city and did not wish to move back to the centre (Tibbits 1988). If the high-rise policy was driven by motives of social justice, the greatest injustice was clearly the levels of compensation provided to those compulsorily removed from their houses in the inner city.
In 1993, one of the authors of High Living, Elaine Martin, stated in retrospective reference to the study:
Although as researchers we believed that we were standing back from society and questioning common assumptions, it is very difficult not to be over-influenced by trends, by current thinking, by what is happening elsewhere, by the sorts of constraints that we see in terms of possible solutions. On the one hand, we can't be unrealistic and produce recommendations that are totally beyond possibility; but we must also be ready to challenge current assumptions and thinking, to ask whether we are on the right track or not, and, what is probably even more important, to question whether trends are inevitable. (Brotherhood of St Laurence 1993, p.16)
SLUM RECLAMATION DISCREDITED
The hype surrounding high-rise estates reached its peak with the completion of the Park Towers estate in South Melbourne in 1969. The building received a major, architecture award. Within two years of this success, in May 1971, the Victorian Government announced the phasing out of high-rise public developments. During the 1960s, the population of the inner areas had changed. Ironically, purchase prices had dropped because of the threat of future compulsory acquisition.
The purchasers were recently-arrived, Italian and Greek migrants and wealthier people who had the money to restore run-down, nineteenth century cottages. These new residents came together in a coalition of resident associations which were impossible to budge (see, for example, Brooks Crescent, a report of the Fitzroy Residents' Association). The HCV commissioners were accused of being cultural vandals for destroying Melbourne's 19th century architectural heritage. Books were published displaying the splendour of inner-city cottage architecture. In effect, the slums had been cleared through private restoration and repair rather than by the bull-dozer. The income circumstances of the working-class, inner-city dwellers had improved with good economic conditions. Many purchased cottages in new areas on the urban fringe where the new factories were located.
Local councils which had used the ratepayers own funds to remove slum-dwellers in the 1960s came on side with the residents' associations. As Terry Burke (1988) has pointed out, the heavy-handed approach of the Government and the HCV inevitably led to the demise of the program.
Studies were published which indicated that inner-city, high-rise developments were high cost in comparison with cottage and flat development in middle and outer areas (Burbidge 1971; Fitzroy Resident's Association 1972).
The arguments against slum reclamation and high-rise estates were summarised in Michael Jones' study, Housing and Poverty in Australia, published in 1972. This study was severely critical of two of the fundamental assumptions upon which the program was based. First, Jones was able to point to numerous studies which indicated that there was absolutely no foundation to the assumption of government and social reformers in Victoria that bad housing led to bad people or that poor quality housing, per se, caused social problems. Second, his own work and that of Peter Harrison was used to prove that inner city, high-rise public housing was bad economics.
Jones (p.181) quoted studies in the United Kingdom, where high-rise estates were also under attack, which showed that the higher the flat the less the tendency for children to play outside their homes. According to Holme and Massie, quoted by Jones, play is bound to be inhibited if a major effort is needed to reach a suitable and permissible place to play and all imaginative attempts to overcome this problem in high-rise estates had failed. To quote Jones at some length:
Coupled with the cost disadvantages of high-density living are the social effects: the loss of privacy; the inflexibility of the dwelling unit to changes in the life cycle; the difficulty of controlling children where there is no secure open space; and the many other features of high-density accommodation that make it unsuitable for families with young children . . . It is ironic that for all the professional talk about high- density accommodation, very few private flats or home units are used by families with young children. It is most unjust that poor families with children should be forced to bear the costs of an ideology which is not only false but is not followed by other sections of the community. The Commission can do it only because they are dealing with people in desperate situations. (p.216)
THE 1990 CARLTON STUDY
In 1990, the tenants of the Carlton high-rise estates conducted a survey of themselves because of a fear at the time that the flats would be sold off (Patmore 1990). The survey obtained responses from 717 units from a possible 1060. The questionnaire was short and directed towards a small number of significant issues. There is somewhat of a tendency in the report to overstate the level of satisfaction actually reported by residents. For example, the 32.2 per cent of people who provided the answer, 'so-so', to the question, Are you happy living in these flats?, were in the report included in the summary description, 'more than happy'. Nevertheless, the report showed clearly that a majority of respondents were happy living in the flats. The report also makes the important point, as we do below, that there are many advantages to living in the inner city high- rise flats. The Carlton study questionnaire did not address affordability as an advantage: our own study finds this advantage to be extremely important.
In anticipation that security would be a problem for estate dwellers, the study questionnaire provided a list of possible new security measures for consideration by the residents. Aside from better lighting, the options provided were all very much on the heavy-handed and high-tech end: more guard patrols, guard stations in foyers, and closed circuit television in foyers, lifts and car parks. Surprisingly high proportions of residents said that these initiatives were very important. Indeed, much higher proportions said this than said that they were very happy living in the flats. Specific security measures on high-rise estates in Melbourne were evaluated by Fitzgerald and Wettenhall (1991) and the general issue of security has been reviewed recently by Steve James (1993). These writers report that experimentation with closed circuit television during the 1980s was less than successful. The equipment was expensive and unreliable and not well-received by residents. While private guard services appeared 'to have a stabilising effect upon estates which have experienced crime problems', some tenant groups were concerned about the 'authoritarian implications of a permanent formal social control mechanism on the estates' (James 1993). James also reports that police argue that the alleged problems of estates as criminogenic are exaggerated, and, at least from the perspective of residents being victims of crime, this is supported by our Australian Living Standards study.
Of greater concern in the context of the present paper, the Carlton residents' association study paid scant attention to the needs of families with children. The only concessions to this topic were the offering of 'child-related issues' as one among a list of responses to 'the main disadvantages of living on the estate' and among a list of matters considered to be adequate or not. No tables were provided of resident responses according to household type, indeed, not even the distribution of household types of the respondents was given. The report, as a consequence, provides little understanding of parenting on the estates.
AIFS AUSTRALIAN LIVING STANDARDS STUDY
The legacy of the high-rise ideology is still with us today. Statistics published by the Ministry of Housing and Construction (1990) show that there were 2141 families with children living on high-rise public housing estates in the inner areas of Melbourne in May 1990. Five of these estates and 840 of the families were in the local government area of Melbourne sampled by the Institute in 1991 as part of its Australian Living Standards Study. Further details of the methods of the study are provided in McDonald (1993). The randomly-selected sample of all families with children in the Melbourne local government area obtained interviews with 101 families living on the public housing estates. This represents about one in eight of all such families. Families were interviewed in the language of their choice. The study was conducted in the latter part of 1991 and early 1992.
The Australian Living Standards Study is a general study of the wellbeing of families in different locations in Australia. As such, it is not a specific study of life on high-rise estates. Questions directly related to the Melbourne high-rise estates were not included. At the same time, in planning the study, we envisaged that families living in high-rise were likely to constitute a reasonable number of the respondents in the local government areas of Melbourne and South Sydney and so questions of a descriptive nature, such as the level upon which the family lived were included. Furthermore, many of the questions were sufficiently general or open-ended to allow respondents the opportunity to draw attention to their particular needs, whatever these were.
In examining the circumstances of families living on high- rise estates, a comparative approach is required. That is, their circumstances need to be compared with those of other families. If this was a study of high-rise as a housing option, the aim would be to compare those in high-rise with those of similar characteristics living in other forms of housing. However, this is not a study of high-rise as a housing option; high-rise as an option for families with children was discredited more than 20 years ago and no one seems to be suggesting that it be revitalised. Furthermore, the high-rise residents are so specific in characteristics that it would be extremely difficult to find a matching 'control' group.
We have taken the approach, therefore, of comparing the 101 high-rise families with all other families included in the study in Greater Melbourne. The comparison group, therefore, consists of 1724 families living in the local government areas of Berwick, Box Hill, Werribee and Melbourne (excluding the high-rise estates).
Our aim is to identify issues upon which those living on high-rise estates are significantly different from other families. The question then becomes whether identified negative aspects of life in the flats are open to improvement. This assessment must take into account a comparison of the socio-economic characteristics of families who live on the high-rise estates with those of other families. It should be noted that couples, groups and single people also live on the high-rise estates along with families with children. This paper deals only with families with children, the group for whom high-rise is likely to be least suitable (Thorne 1986).
The data relate almost entirely to families living on the high- rise estates. While most (80 per cent) lived in high-rise towers, some lived in the 'walk-up' flats on the same estates as the towers. A few lived in walk-ups which were not part of an estate. By floor, 45 per cent lived on Floors 0-3, 35 per cent on Floors 4-9 and 20 per cent on Floor 10 and above. The respondents lived in the following suburbs: Carlton (35 per cent), North Melbourne (30 per cent), Flemington (21 per cent) and Kensington (14 per cent). Two- thirds had lived in their present flat for less than five years and almost 40 per cent for less than two years. To avoid stigmatising, we do not report results according to the particular estates on which people lived. However, we can say that, although the numbers on individual estates are small, it is evident that reported problems apply to some estates more than others.
Sixty-one per cent of the high-rise families were couple families and 39 per cent were sole parents. In the rest of the Melbourne sample, 87 per cent were couples and 13 per cent were sole parents. The ages of the children in the high-rise families were very similar to those in all other families. In terms of the number of children, however, high- rise families were somewhat more likely than other families to have one child (42 per cent and 32 per cent respectively), but also more likely than others to have three or more children (30 per cent and 24 per cent).
The most outstanding characteristic of the high-rise sample is that 82 per cent use a language other than English at home. This contrasts with 17 per cent in the rest of the Melbourne sample. In the 1960s survey by Stevenson, Martin and O'Neill, almost none of the sampled households were non-English speakers. The language breakdown of the sample was Vietnamese (20), English (18), a Chinese language (15), Spanish (15), Turkish (14), Arabic (10), and eight other languages (9). The language groups are similar to those observed in the 1990 Carlton study and in statistics published by the Ministry. Fifty-seven per cent of the non- English speakers had arrived in Australia since 1985. Thus, near to half the residents were recent migrants of non- English-speaking background.
The other characteristic which is drastically different from that found in the 1960s survey is employment. In the earlier survey, almost all families had at least one parent in the family who was employed and a high proportion had two parents employed. In our high-rise sample, no parent was employed in 67 per cent of families (47 per cent for the couple families and 87 per cent for the sole parents). As a consequence, social security payments were the main source of income for 69 per cent of the high-rise sample compared to 15 per cent of the rest of the sampled families in Melbourne. Seventy-nine per cent of high-rise families had incomes below 120 per cent of the poverty line, the level generally regarded as 'poor', with 57 per cent below the poverty line itself.
There was no difference between the high-rise families and other families in the percentage who had a member with a long-term illness or disability.
Thirty-eight per cent of high-rise families did not have a car compared with 4 per cent of other families, however such families were not as disadvantaged by a lack of private transport as similar families in other locations of the city because of the comparative accessibility of public transport in their inner-city location. Almost all high-rise families (96 per cent) had a telephone.
Thus, compared with other families in Melbourne, high- rise families are characterised by disadvantage: their non- English-speaking background, their low incomes, and unemployment. Seventeen out of the 18 English-speaking families were sole parents, while more than 20 per cent of the sample were sole parents of non-English-speaking background, a formidable combination of disadvantage.
Reasons for living in the high-rise
Seventy-four per cent of high-rise families said that they had had little or no choice in their housing compared with 25 per cent of other families. Essentially, when their name rose to the top of the Ministry of Housing waiting list, they accepted this housing:
'If we didn't take this flat we would have lost our place in the waiting list of the Ministry of Housing.'
'This was the first available place which I had to wait for over two years.'
This reflects the underlying reason of affordability and many families referred directly to low income, high rents for alternative housing and unemployment as the reasons that they had little or no choice:
'We can't afford private rent. We accepted any Ministry of Housing accommodation available.'
'I was without accommodation, living on the streets.'
The Victorian Department of Planning and Development advises that current procedures enable families who apply for public housing assistance to identify three preferred locations. Some 90 per cent of the available family housing stock in inner Melbourne locations is high-rise or walk-up accommodation and, according to procedure, families are advised of this when specifying locations. They are also advised of the waiting times for different types of housing. There is higher turnover and shorter waiting times of high- rise in these locations compared with detached housing almost anywhere else in the State. It may be, therefore, that those who specify inner Melbourne as their choice are either making a very deliberate choice of locality or they are looking for a shorter waiting period.
Eighty-seven per cent of high-rise renters and 63 per cent of other renters in the study areas said that they were renting because they could not afford to buy. Fifty-one per cent of the high-rise renters felt that they would never be able to buy compared with 34 per cent of other renters.
Aspects of housing
Table 1 compares features of high-rise housing with other housing as reported by survey respondents. The list is ranked from the negative to the positive in relation to differences between high-rise families and others.
High-rise residents are better off than other families with regard to all measures of the convenience of the location of their housing: services, families and friends. However, they are worse off than other families on all features of the immediate environment. It should be noted, however, that, in relation to security, the difference between high-rise residents and other families is small.
The table clearly shows the concerns of high-rise residents with a safe place for children to play outside, noisy neighbours and neighbourhood, traffic, pollution, privacy and heating/cooling. These features are indeed matters of concern to high-rise residents because over 90 per cent said that they would like to have each of the first seven features listed in the table.
Brownlee has developed a measure of overcrowding for use in the Institute's Australian Living Standards Study. The standards applied in the measure are: a maximum of two people per bedroom; single parents and unmarried persons aged 18 and over to have a separate bedroom and; children aged 10 to 17 years to share only with the same sex. On this measure, 26 per cent of high-rise families live in over- crowded conditions compared to 8 per cent of other families. Thus, overcrowding is more common among high-rise families, but three-quarters are not overcrowded.
The Brownlee measure is consistent with public housing allocation policy but, subsequent to allocation, new members may join the household, or new children may be born. There are no four-bedroom high-rise flats.
Condition of housing
Respondents were asked whether they had problems with various aspects of their dwelling. If there was a problem, this could be reported as a major or minor problem. Forty- two per cent of high-rise families reported any major problem compared to 18 per cent of other families. Table 2 shows the percentages reporting major problems for the two groups of families. Again, they are ranked from those that appear to be worse for high-rise residents through to those that are better.
The two most common major problems that high-rise residents have, lifts and common areas, are not relevant to most of the comparison group of families and, in large part, explain why more high-rise families had any major problem. Only 39 per cent of high-rise families had no problems at all with the lifts and only 41 per cent had no problems at all with the common areas. Two aspects which stand out as problems for high-rise residents, cooling and storage space were also problems for other families. Overall, however, aspects of the state of the repair of the dwelling do not appear to have the same salience as aspects of the environment shown in Table 1. There were very few families who had major problems with such basics as hot water, plumbing, wiring and the stove.
In open-ended comments, many residents referred to condensation as a problem. This had not been offered among the list of closed-coded options. In these comments, complaints were also made about the speed with which the Ministry repairs problems:
'Service provision is too slow. The lifts are broken down quite often - the Commission does the repairs.'
'If something breaks down, they take their time to fix it. We have two washing machines. If they break down there is only one workman.'
'The doctor gave me a letter to the Housing Commission (related to repairs) because I was so depressed, but they say they don't have any letter from me. I talk to them but I don't know what they say.'
The finding that it is aspects of the environment or features common to all residents such as the lifts and the common areas which are problematic lends weight to theories proposing that 'an uncared environment is a vulnerable environment', particularly when improvement of that environment is outside the control of those who feel vulnerable (James 1993). More cleaners and service people may have a greater impact upon residents' sense of wellbeing than more security guards.
Satisfaction with aspects of housing
As an overall assessment, respondents were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with various aspects of housing on a nine-point scale ranging from 1 = extremely dissatisfied to 9 = extremely satisfied, with 5 = mixed feelings. The mean scores on this scale for the two groups of families are shown in Table 3. Again these are ranked from those that appear to be most negative for high-rise families relative to other families.
The table shows a similar pattern to those already observed. High-rise flats score well on convenience to services, family and friends, but less well on aspects of the immediate environment. The safety of children playing outside again is the leading concern. This contrasts with the Stevenson, Martin and O'Neill study of the 1960s which concluded that mothers were prepared to let their three and four-year old children wander the estate unsupervised.
Relative to other families, the most favourable aspect of living on the high-rise estates is the cost of the housing. While focusing on some of the negative aspects of the environment, it is all important to remember the centrality of low-cost housing to the large majority of high-rise residents. Low-cost, high convenience and adequacy of the basics of housing is a powerful combination of advantages.
In terms of the overall level of satisfaction with housing, parents, secondary school children and children who had left school all expressed significantly lower levels of satisfaction with housing if they lived on the high-rise estates. Larger differences in satisfaction were expressed by the children in comparison to the parents, perhaps because the cost aspect was more salient to the parents. The scores of high-rise parents were not significantly different according to the age of their youngest child, although those with children aged less than five were the least satisfied. However, parents living on the 10th Floor and above were very much less satisfied than those living on the first ten floors (scores of 4.0 compared to 5.6). The views appear not to compensate for the inadequacy of the lifts and the distance from play areas.
Assessments of the neighbourhood
Each parent was asked whether various problems existed in their neighbourhood and whether or not each problem was a major problem. Responses relate to 154 high-rise parents and 2947 other Melbourne parents. The response category, 'don't know', was offered as part of the responses to this question. There were sometimes very large differences in the percentages who answered, 'don't know', across the two groups. For example, high-rise residents were much less likely than other residents to say 'don't know', in respect of domestic violence, alcohol and drug addiction and marital problems, but they were much more likely to say, 'don't know', in respect of gang fights and assault in the street. This perhaps reflects greater awareness on the estates of domestic problems (perhaps because of proximity) and less awareness of more public problems. On the other hand, both groups had high percentages who did not know whether child abuse and sexual abuse were problems suggesting that the very private is kept very private.
Table 4 shows the percentages of parents who said that the particular problem was a major problem in their neighbourhood. The percentages are based on populations which maintain the response, 'don't know', in their totals. Responses are again ranked according to the relative difference being unfavourable to those in the flats.
The data in the table show perceptions rather than objective reality. However, the emphasis on alcoholism, in particular, is backed up by open-ended comments about the disadvantages of the high-rise neighbourhood. While burglaries are the fourth most important major problem as perceived by those in high-rise estates, there is no difference between their perceptions and those of other families in Melbourne. On the other hand, those in the high-rise consider car stealing to be a bigger problem than those in other families.
Objective data indicating whether any member of the household had been a victim of crime in the past three years show that there had been a victim of crime in 19 per cent of high-rise households compared to 25 per cent of other households. In the past three years, the 101 high- rise households had not experienced a huge level of crime: seven assaults, seven thefts from cars, five house burglaries and four thefts of cars. These data tend to support police assessments reported above that high-rise estates are not hot-beds of crime.
Advantages and disadvantages of living in the area
Parents of children of all ages were asked what were the advantages and disadvantages of living in the area for families with children of that particular age. Children of secondary school age, those who had left school, and parents themselves were also asked their own views about the advantages and disadvantages of living in the area. For all these questions, responses were obtained in their own words.
Many of the answers emphasised the positive and negative aspects of high-rise living already discussed. On the positive side, residents referred to the accessibility of facilities and services and cheap housing costs while on the negative side, they talked about lack of a safe place for children to play outside, problems with the lifts, litter, graffiti, vandalism, problems with noisy and drunken neighbours and lack of privacy. The lack of a safe place where children could play unsupervised was particularly an issue for parents of primary school children. The following are a selection of their comments which reflect more general views.
Parents of pre-school children:
'We live near the children's health care centre: child care centre and family doctor.' 'Cheap housing so we can afford to spend more on the child.' 'Variety of available services targetted at children.' 'Lifts never work.' 'Can't let them out by themselves - too much traffic.' 'No safe place to play like a back yard. Not enough room - house is too small.' 'Too many people close in together: lack of security/safety; lack of privacy.' 'In this building we have to listen to many troubles with other neighbours - drugs and alcohol.'
Parents of primary school children:
'Lots of parks, places to go for a walk. Close to everything.' 'Low rent.' 'Everything is very close i.e. hospitals, schools.' 'Too much litter around the flats and horrible graffiti.' 'No place to play unsupervised.' 'Kids can't play outside. A flat doesn't have much room for playing and kids are noisy.' 'The lift is often dirty.'
Secondary school children:
'Close to city. Convenient for public transport.' (parent) 'Close to school, city, transport, shops.' (child) 'Easy access to public transport. Access to library. Access to shops. Access to city centre.' (child) 'Vandalism - drunken people create noise at night.' (parent) 'Some people are very, very dirty.' (child) 'Noise and cleanliness of the building and lifts problems.' (child)
Children who have left school:
'It's easy distance. You can get anywhere from here.' (parent) 'I've got access to many areas around here and all facilities are more or less close.' (child) 'This is not a good area to live because lots of crime.' (parent) 'Living condition is too crowded. Too noisy. No privacy, difficult to study.' (child)
'We are near the education centres, markets, community transportation, child care centres, health care centres and hospitals.' 'Near public transport and the city; mixing with people of a variety of ethnic background, cheap rent.' 'Proximity to childcare, health facilities, close to city, shopping centre, parks and library.' 'Lots of parks, central to work and recreation, good local school, close to friends.' 'Using the lifts (which stink sometimes) and meeting those drunk people.' 'No children's playground facilities; major problem of rubbish disposal and littering.' 'Too much vandalism, thefts, fighting, dirty and noisy.' 'Too many residents are alcoholic, noisy.' 'The stairway is dirty.' 'Children are always kept in the flat because of fear of something happening, lifts are in bad condition.'
Respondents were asked how likely they would be to talk to a neighbour about any problem issue in their locality. Forty-one per cent of high-rise parents said that they would be likely or very likely to do this compared with 70 per cent of other families. Asked if they had actually done this in the past five years, 25 per cent of high-rise residents had done so compared with 58 per cent of other parents. High- rise residents, therefore, appear to be much less likely to consolidate in order to improve their circumstances.
A greater lack of support from neighbours in the high- rise estates is evident also from data relating to how likely you would be to ask a neighbour for help (Table 5). High- rise parents also had a weaker sense of being part of their neighbourhood than other parents, as measured by the 'sense of community scale (see Brownlee 1993). Using this scale, we have tested whether the observed differences are due to language (speaking a language other than English at home) or to type of housing. This analysis suggests that language was not the important factor and that differences between high-rise residents and others persisted when language was taken into account.
High-rise advocates sometimes have a somewhat romanticised view that neighbourliness automatically goes with high or medium density housing and that isolation is the story of the detached suburban house. Our data suggest otherwise (see also, Brownlee 1993). Of course, a lower level of neighbourliness may reflect the rate of turnover in the flats. It is possible for the 'tenants groups' that exist on many high-rise estates to act as a surrogate for a neighbour - if high-rise tenants need some 'neighbouring' tasks done they can go into the tenants' office and get these services in that way.
High-rise residents correctly identified their neighbourhood as being very culturally mixed (77 per cent said this compared with 28 per cent of other families). However, only 12 per cent of the high-rise residents described their area as 'too mixed' compared with 5 per cent of other families. While the numbers are small in the high-rise estates, in both high-rise and other families, English speakers were much more likely that other language groups to say that their area was 'too mixed'.
Respondents were asked their levels of satisfaction with their access to a picture theatre, an indoor sports centre, outdoor playing fields, an outdoor swimming pool, an indoor swimming pool, a hall for live performances, a public park and a park with play equipment for young children. There were no differences in satisfaction with access of high-rise residents to these facilities compared with other families. High-rise residents reported higher levels of satisfaction with their access to a place where teenagers can get together and with the visibility of police services. Both high-rise residents and other families had low levels of satisfaction regarding safety levels for children crossing roads.
When asked what they would like to change or improve in their locality, in general, the high-rise residents were not very forthcoming. Cleaning up the place was about the most frequently mentioned response:
'Paint the block of flats, fix the mail box, improve the appearance of the place'.
General levels of satisfaction
Despite their disadvantaged circumstances and some of the inadequacies of the environment in which they live, most high-rise residents are not in a constant state of depression, dysfunction or family conflict as may be envisaged by others. This is evident from their scores on various aspects of life satisfaction (Tables 6 and 7). The scores are scores on a nine-point scale where mean scores of 6.5 and above can be taken as, 'satisfied'. Not unexpectedly, the high-rise parents and children are somewhat less likely to be satisfied with their standard of living than those in other families, but the difference is perhaps not as great as might have been expected. On the other hand, inter-family relationships show generally high levels of satisfaction for both groups. Satisfaction with life as a whole falls marginally below the satisfied range for high-rise parents, but within the satisfied range for children.
The high-rise estates were built in a short and remarkable period which changed the shape of the urban landscape of inner Melbourne. Thirty years later, it is the high-rise blocks themselves which are regarded widely as the blot on the urban landscape, while the restored 'slums' that they were to replace are regarded as the jewels of the city. In October 1990, the then Federal Treasurer, Paul Keating, included the elimination of the high-rise 'eyesore' as part of a plan to save Melbourne (Sunday Age, 4 November 1990). Sale of the estates has also been mooted: by the Liberal Party in its 1984 election policy and by a subsequent Labor Minister of Housing (Patmore 1990). The present policy direction, with which we concur, appears to be refurbishment with some redevelopment. For example, the tower block on the Hotham estate has been refurbished and the walk-up blocks, very poorly designed from the outset, are being replaced with two-story townhouses using Better Cities funding from the Federal Government.
Our analysis shows that the high-rise estates provide low- cost, convenient and basically adequate housing for families who have few alternatives. The difficulties that exist relate primarily to the common areas and the immediate environment of the estates. Some of these difficulties can be addressed to some extent, while others are much more problematic.
While zones of the grounds could be set aside for young children, a safe place for children to play on the estates cannot approximate the safety of the back-doorstep in the fenced, backyard, or, for children of primary school age, the court or suburban street. This problem is intrinsic to the design and location of the estates. Wealthy families taking up residence in the new central city developments (there are a few in our sample) will have exactly the same difficulties, except that they may have the money to take the family out of the city on weekends. The younger the child the greater the problem. Consideration perhaps should be given to some method of providing families with pre-school and primary school children priority access to housing more suitable to the needs of young children. The difficulty with such a policy is that it carries an implication that families would be moved out of their priority accommodation as the children became older.
More amenable to improvement are the condition of the immediate environment and the state of repair of common areas and facilities. James (1993) has referred to the 'broken window' syndrome. The broken window left unrepaired for some time is an invitation to break more windows. Additional money spent upon more rapid repair of facilities which have broken down, especially essentials such as lifts and washing machines, and more frequent cleaning of common areas would appear to have a greater impact on residents' sense of wellbeing than money spent on expensive, high-tech security or private guard systems. Fencing of the estates also would give residents a stronger impression that the grounds were their grounds and, likewise, provide the same impression to non-residents.
Residents were satisfied with the visibility of police services. While crime on the estates does not appear to be as big an issue as is sometimes portrayed, cooperative initiatives between local police and residents should continue to be encouraged.
Walk-ups, as pointed out by Stevenson, Martin and O'Neill as early as the 1960s, have fundamental design problems. They are simply too high to manage without lifts unless you live on a lower floor and have your own washing machine. The strategy underway on the Hotham estate of refurbishment of the tower blocks and replacement of the walk-ups with more appropriate medium density housing seems to be the right direction.
It is always difficult to encourage interaction and cooperation in artificial ways, and this is made more difficult where residents speak a wide variety of languages. Nevertheless, it is our feeling that a greater sense of community and control on the part of residents would improve general wellbeing. These are issues for the residents themselves to decide and about which we claim no expertise, but if it were possible in some way for residents to have greater control over repairs and maintenance and cleaning of common areas, wellbeing is likely to be enhanced. Perhaps residents could themselves be trained and employed to carry out these services. Some 'tenants groups' have already been successful in such cooperative arrangements with the Ministry. Kensington estate has developed its own security system employing tenants and its own garden maintenance company for both the Estate and private work in the area.
Most importantly, high-rise estate residents represent a concentration of disadvantage and initiatives related to reduction of their levels of disadvantage must take a high priority. Training for employment, employment schemes perhaps conducted in cooperation with local employers, drug and alcohol programs, English training and educational assistance for children need to be encouraged. We should not be repeating the fundamental mistake of the 1950s by assuming that housing, per se, creates disadvantage.
- Brownlee, H. (1993), 'Who Needs Neighbours?: Views from the outer and inner suburbs', Family Matters, No.35, September, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne.
- Brotherhood of St Laurence (1993), Looking forward, looking back: The Brotherhood's role in changing views of poverty, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Fitzroy.
- Burbidge, A. (1971), Housing rehabilitation and community development, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Fitzroy.
- Burke, T. (1988), 'Public housing and the community', in Howe, R. (ed), New Houses for Old: Fifty Years of Public Housing in Victoria 1938-1988, Ministry of Housing and Construction, Melbourne.
- Dalton, T. (1988), 'Architects, engineers and rent collectors: an organisational history of the Commission', in Howe, R. (ed), New Houses for Old: Fifty Years of Public Housing in Victoria 1938 1988, Ministry of Housing and Construction, Melbourne.
- Fitzgerald, P. and Wettenhall, G. (1991), Evaluation of the Management of Security Services on High-Rise Estates, Equasearch Pty Ltd, Melbourne.
- Fitzroy Residents' Association (1972), Brooks Crescent: A Study of the Current Slum Reclamation Procedures of the Housing Commission, Victoria, Fitzroy Residents' Association, Fitzroy.
- Fontaine, E. and Healy, L. (1985), 'Working with youth', Community Quarterly, No.3, March.
- Howe, R. (1988), 'Reform and social responsibility: the establishment of the Housing Commission', in Howe, R. (ed), New Houses for Old: Fifty Years of Public Housing in Victoria 1938-1988, Ministry of Housing and Construction, Melbourne.
- James, S. (1993), 'Crime prevention and public housing', Socio-Legal Bulletin, No.9, Autumn.
- Jones, M. (1972), Housing and Poverty in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
- McDonald, P. (ed) (1993), The Australian Living Standards Study: Berwick Report, Part 1: The Household Survey, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne.
- Ministry of Housing and Construction (1990), The High Rise at a Glance, Ministry of Housing and Construction, Melbourne.
- Patmore, A. (1990), The Future of High Rise Public Housing: A Study of the Perceptions of Public Housing by the Residents of the Two Carlton High Rise Estates, Steering Committee of the Future of Inner Urban High Rise Study, Carlton.
- Stevenson, A, Martin, E. and O'Neill, J. (1967), High Living: A Study of Family Life in Flats, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
- Thorne, R. (1986), 'Inner city high-rise: Is it a suitable alternative to house the elderly?', in Thorne, R. (ed), The Housing and Living Environment for Retired People in Australia, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney.
- Tibbits, G. (1988), 'The Enemy Within Our Gates: Slum clearance and high-rise flats', in Howe, R. (ed), New Houses for Old: Fifty Years of Public Housing in Victoria 1938-1988, Ministry of Housing and Construction, Melbourne.
To protect confidentiality, identifying characteristics have been changed in all the case studies.
UNHAPPY WITH HOUSING
Peter and Janet and their three pre-school children have lived in their two-bedroom flat on the 12th floor of a high- rise tower for the past five years. The flat is very overcrowded; they have two boarders who share a bedroom with the two older children and the baby shares a bedroom with the parents. All the family are Australian born. Peter has been unemployed for the past few months and the family is dependent on social security payments. Peter and Janet are extremely dissatisfied with the size of their home, its state of repair, the amount of privacy within the home for parents, the safety when children play outside, the privacy from neighbours and the level of noise from neighbours. When asked about the disadvantages of living in the area, Janet replied: 'I can't let children play in the playground here. It's not safe'. The family has major problems with pest infestation and with the lifts. 'The lifts are always breaking down. There are cockroaches in summer. The Housing Commission won't send pest control'.
However, the family is extremely satisfied with closeness to public transport, shops, schools, parks, family members and friends. The family's four-year-old daughter goes to a local preschool for 40 hours a week at a cost of $500 a year and although this is not the closest preschool, the mother and the child walk to and from preschool.
Peter and Janet know a neighbour well enough to ask them to do a number of tasks including having a child minded, but both have a weak sense of belonging to the neighbourhood. They are extremely dissatisfied with some physical aspects of their neighbourhood, such as the cleanliness of the air and the streets, and their closeness to highways and major roads. Peter and Janet feel that their neighbourhood is too mixed ethnically and culturally.
Juan and Carlotta live in a 3rd floor flat with their two children, one pre-schooler and one at primary school. They came to Australia from Central America in the early 1980s and have lived in their two-bedroom flat for the past five years. The family speaks Spanish at home. The younger child has a disability and has been in the Royal Children's Hospital in the past year. Juan is working as a labourer for a neighbouring council, while Carlotta is doing a TAFE course locally.
They are both satisfied with their housing costs, particularly with the cost of the rent, the lack of maintenance costs, its state of repair, the security of the home, the privacy from neighbours, closeness to public transport, Juan's work, shops, schools, friends and people of the same ethnic background. The older child goes to school nearby and walks there and back. Juan and Carlotta, however, are extremely dissatisfied with the size of their home and with the safety when children play outside. Carlotta says: 'It's cheap housing, so we can afford to spend more on our children, but there's no safe place to play like a backyard. There's not enough room - the flat's too small. Can't go outside to play - have to be careful with neighbours and others'. She considers that 'other children who live in houses' are better off than her children. Overall, Juan is satisfied with his housing, Carlotta is dissatisfied.
Juan and Carlotta are satisfied with most physical aspects of their neighbourhood, including their access to a public park with play equipment for young children, but they have mixed feelings about the safety of children crossing roads. However, they feel that generally 'this neighbourhood is not very good for children'. They know a neighbour well enough to do most simple neighbourly tasks, but both parents have a weak
Carlotta thinks that the main advantages of living in the area are 'to live close to schools, shopping and public transport', while the disadvantages are 'sometimes when we have noisy neighbours'. Juan sees similar advantages: 'It is close to shops, bus stop and train station', but says that 'there is so much vandalism'.
SINGLE PARENT WITH TEENAGE CHILDREN
Lucy is a single parent who lives with her three secondary school aged children and her elderly mother in a three- bedroom, first-floor walk-up flat. The flat is somewhat overcrowded: Lucy has to share a bedroom with one of her teenage daughters. Lucy and her family came to Australia from South East Asia in the early 1980s and they have lived in the flat for nearly ten years. The family speaks Chinese at home. Lucy is not employed and the family is dependent on government income support payments.
Overall, Lucy is dissatisfied with her housing. She is satisfied with the costs of the rent, the lack of maintenance costs, closeness to public transport, to shops, schools, family members, friends and people of the same culture or ethnic background. The family has no car and Lucy takes public transport to go shopping, and to the doctor, and the children take public transport to their school in the western suburbs. Lucy also has close relatives living in the same street.
However she is dissatisfied with the size of the home, its state of repair, and the amount of privacy within the house for herself. The flat has major problems with drainage, a leaking roof, the conditions of the internal walls, the state of the floors and storage space. The drainage problems are serious: it except the walls need tearing down. We live in an unhygienic condition because the walls and bathroom and kitchen floor are usually wet'.
Lucy is satisfied with most aspects of her neighbourhood, although thinks that her children are worse off than other children in Australia because of the area in which they live: 'We are a single parent, low income family, living in a crowded slum area'. Lucy knows a neighbour well enough to do a number of neighbourly tasks and has a strong sense of belonging to her neighbourhood. She thinks the area is very mixed in terms of cultural and ethnic background, is happy with the mix and would not want to change it.
Lucy's children all have mixed feelings about their housing; two of the children rate the area as 'fair' for people of their age, the other rates it as 'good'.
MARRIED COUPLE WITH FOUR CHILDREN
Tom and Jenny have lived in their 8th floor, three-bedroom flat for the past four years. They have three primary school aged children and one pre-school child; their teenage niece who has just arrived from Tonga also lives with them. The flat is somewhat crowded; the six-year old child, by choice, shares a bedroom with his parents. Tom and Jenny came to Australia from Tonga in the mid 1980s and all the family speaks Tongan at home. Both Tom and Jenny work full- time, Tom as a gardener in the Parks Department, Jenny in a shop.
Tom and Jenny are both extremely dissatisfied with their housing. They are dissatisfied with the size of the home, its state of repair, the amount of privacy within the home for parents, the safety when children play outside, the privacy from neighbours and the level of noise from their neighbours. They have major problems with rising damp, paint work, the conditions of the internal and external walls, doors and windows, storage space, floor coverings, the lifts, the common areas such as around the stairwell and the laundry. They consider that the 'filthiness of the lifts, laundries and the park estate' causes them serious hygiene problems. They want greater 'cleanliness and stricter monitoring of lifts. Everything's public and not everyone treats the flats the way they should be treating them. The buildings are really good when people look after them'. 'The only reason we're living here is we can't afford a house'.
However, Tom and Jenny are satisfied with the flat's heating/cooling system and with their closeness to public transport, their places of employment, schools, parks and to other family members. A relative who lives close by cares for the children while the parents are working. The older children go to the nearby primary school and all walk to school together. The flats are close to Jenny's work and she walks to work. 'If I got a house then I'd have to finish work.'
Tom and Jenny are dissatisfied about many aspects of the immediate neighbourhood, including the safety of children crossing roads. However, they are satisfied with their access to a playing field where children can go. When asked about improvements to their local neighbourhood, they said they would like 'less drinking/drug addicts/unsafe living.' They think their neighbourhood is very mixed culturally and ethnically, but this doesn't matter to them 'as long as people can live together and respect each others privacy and properties'.
Tom and Jenny know their neighbours well enough to ask them to do a number of simple tasks, but neither has a strong sense of belonging to the neighbourhood.
Jenny thinks that her pre-school child is worse off than other pre-school children, 'He would be a lot better off if he could have a bit of backyard. I have to take him out'. She says that there are no advantages of living in the area for children of primary school age: 'All you get is kids that swear and are abusive to people and drunkards in the lift. ... (The kids) ... are exposed to all that sort of thing. The places (building itself) are really good, but drunks shouldn't be using things'.
Tom said that to him the main advantages of living in the area were 'convenient for children's school, shops and work', while the disadvantages were 'dwelling, flats'. Jenny said that to her the advantages were that it was 'convenient for kids school, work, market, hospital and everything', but that the disadvantages were the 'high-rise flats, dirty people, kids exposed to drunkenness, filthy lifts, rough kids and foul language. People with no respect to other people's rights - Otherwise flats are very nice but its the people that ruin it - not being appreciative'. She saw the major pressure in her life as being 'finance and the availability of support to young families, housing etc., taking into consideration their ethnic background'.
SINGLE PARENT WITH SECONDARY SCHOOL AGE CHILD
Hadia, a single parent with a teenage daughter, has only lived in her 6th floor two-bedroom flat for the past few months. Hadia came to Australia from Lebanon in the late 1970s and she and her daughter speak Arabic at home. Hadia is not in paid employment and the family is dependent on social security benefits. She and her daughter both have a long term illness.
Hadia is highly satisfied with her housing. 'The high-rise flat we live in is very quiet and clean'. She is highly satisfied with her housing costs, with the size of her home, its state of repair, with its heating/cooling system and with closeness to public transport, shops, schools and parks. She has no car and uses public transport to go shopping and to the doctor, while her daughter uses public transport to get to school. Hadia is not dissatisfied with any aspect of her housing, but has mixed feelings about privacy from neighbours, the level of noise from neighbours, the amount of traffic in the street, closeness to other family members and the surrounding environment.
Hadia knows a neighbour well enough to do small items of shopping for her if she is ill, but not to keep an eye on her home if she goes away. She has neither a weak nor a strong sense of belonging to the neighbourhood, since she has only lived in the area for a few months.
Hadia considers that a main advantage of the area for children of secondary school age is that it is 'close to public transport'. However, she is dissatisfied with the safety of children crossing roads. She thinks her neighbourhood is very mixed culturally and ethnically and is very happy with this mix.
Hadia says that the main advantages of living in the area are that 'it is very close to the main shops', while the disadvantages are that it is 'overcrowded and noisy'. Her daughter says: 'It is a good place to live because it is close to everywhere'.
MARRIED COUPLE WITH TWO CHILDREN
Carlos and Maria and their son and daughter have lived in their three-bedroom, 3rd floor flat for two years. Their son is at university, their daughter at secondary school. The family came to Australia from South America in the late 1980s and they all speak Spanish at home. Carlos works full-time as a builder's labourer, while Maria works part- time in a hospital laundry.
Both Carlos and Maria are highly satisfied with their housing. They are satisfied with the size of their home, the amount of privacy within the house for the parents, the privacy from neighbours, the level of noise from their neighbours, the amount of traffic in the street, the closeness to public transport, convenience to their work, and closeness to shops, schools and parks. Their secondary school age daughter walks to the local Catholic secondary school and Maria uses public transport to go shopping. However, they are dissatisfied with the state of repair of their home, its security, the heating/cooling system and safety for their younger child outside the flats.
Carlos and Maria are satisfied with most physical aspects of their neighbourhood. When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of the area for children of secondary school age and children who have left school, Maria said: 'Not advisable ... (to live here) ... because of the social environment: gangs, alcoholism, drugs and prostitution. This is not a good area to live because lots of crime. We're saving up to buy a house elsewhere.' Maria said that her son 'can't make many friends because the kids in this area are not suitable.'
Carlos and Maria do not know a neighbour well enough to ask them to do any simple neighbourly tasks. Both have a weak sense of belongingness to the neighbourhood. They both regard their neighbourhood as being very mixed ethnically and culturally and are both happy with the mix.
When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of living in the area, Carlos said: 'It's close to facilities like transport, but there's lots of crime, drugs, and so on.' Maria replied: 'It's close to shops, accessible to transport, health practitioners and schools. They're a vital part of a neighbourhood, but there's some crime present in this area.'
Their daughter is extremely satisfied with their housing and rates the area as an 'excellent' place for children of secondary school age. Their son has mixed feelings about their housing, but rates the area as a good place for young people who have left school. He says that the advantages of living in the area for people his age are 'I've got access to many areas around here and all facilities are more or less close', but that the disadvantages are 'having to wait for public transport'.
MARRIED COUPLE WITH PRE-SCHOOL CHILD
Hassid and Fatima have lived in their two-bedroom, 13th floor flat for two years. They have a one-year old son. The parents came from Syria in the late 1980s and speak Arabic at home. Hassid has been unemployed for the last year and the family is dependent on social security payments.
They are both satisfied with their housing. They are satisfied with their housing costs, the home's state of repair, its security, the amount of privacy within the home for parents, the amount of traffic within the street, closeness to public transport, shops, schools and parks and the surrounding environment. However, they are dissatisfied with the privacy from neighbours, the level of noise from neighbours, their closeness to other family members, to friends and to people of the same culture or ethnic background.
Hassid and Fatima are generally satisfied with most aspects of their neighbourhood, apart from the cleanliness of the air and of the streets.
The couple does not know a neighbour well enough to ask them to do any simple neighbourly tasks and both have a weak sense of belonging to the community. They think that the neighbourhood is somewhat mixed ethnically and culturally, but it doesn't matter to them.
When asked about the advantage of living in the area for families with pre-school children, Fatima said 'child care is close', but the disadvantages are 'drunk people at weekends'. Hassid saw the advantages of the area as being 'close to public services and the city area', but the disadvantages as being 'not many children, a lot of drunk people and not safe'.
SINGLE PARENT WITH PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN
Sally, an Australian single parent, lives with her three children, two of whom are at secondary school age and one at primary school, in a three-bedroom, 10th floor flat. The family has lived there for the past two years. Sally last worked about a year ago: she was employed in a hot-bread shop. Sally is looking for full-time work and the family is dependent on social security benefits.
Sally is extremely dissatisfied with her housing. She is extremely dissatisfied with the heating/cooling system and with the privacy and level of noise from her neighbours. However, she is extremely satisfied with the security of her home and its closeness to public transport, to shops and to schools. She has no car and takes public transport to go to the shops and to the doctor. The children all use public transport to get to school. She says that there are major problems with the heating/cooling system of her flat and with the lifts.
Sally is extremely dissatisfied with a number of aspects of the neighbourhood, including how safe it is for children to cross roads. However, she is extremely satisfied with a number of other aspects, including access to a place where teenagers can get together. When asked what she would like to change about her neighbourhood, she said, 'pull the flats down and build houses'.
Sally does not know a neighbour well enough to do any simple neighbourly tasks; she has a weak sense of belonging to the neighbourhood/community. She thinks that the area is very mixed culturally and ethnically, but says that she doesn't care about this.
When asked about the advantages of living in the area for children of primary school age she said 'none', while the disadvantages were 'heaps'. She said: 'It's not fair to kids, but I've got no choice.' The main advantage to Sally of living in the area is 'cheap accommodation', the main disadvantage is that it's 'too crowded'.
Sally's older child is dissatisfied with their housing, while the middle child is extremely satisfied. Both children think that there are no advantages to living in the neighbourhood, while the disadvantages are the lack of bands and discos.
In this issue
- High-rise parenting: raising children in Melbourne's high-rise estates
- Parental involvement in reading with children and television viewing in the first five years
- The development of competence
- Parenting resources in one and two parent families
- Well being of young people in different family circumstances
- Australian families: an Indonesian perspective
- Contact with non-custodial fathers and children's well being
- Young adults living at home
- Adolescent cigarette smokers and their families
- A lost generation?
- Physical punishment of children in the home
- Market principles and welfare