Why Aucklanders need more common ground

March 31, 2017

Design for Auckland

Following on from last week’s post on what it takes to turn a street into a neighbourhood, we look at the equally important role of communal open space in creating a sense of community within residential developments.

As humans, we require contact with others to fulfill our social needs. The urban environment has a significant, yet often underappreciated, influence on how people come into contact and interact with each other. It also has an impact on how included they feel and how actively engaged they are within their neighbourhood and local community.

People need other people, so its important we design spaces where people can interact

People need people, so it’s important we design spaces which promote this interaction


Social interaction takes place largely outside the home

Over the last century, Auckland has seen a rapid increase in motorways, car usage and urban sprawl, which has resulted in many people feeling increasingly isolated. Lengthy commutes and long working hours mean many people leave and come back to their homes in the dark, without any interaction with their home’s surrounds or neighbours. This has increasingly led to a low attachment to place, social exclusion and high levels of transiency.

As such, quality residential environments are essential for physical and mental health. People that know their neighbours and feel connected with their local community have a greater sense of belonging and wellbeing. They also tend to perceive their area as being friendlier or safer than those who don’t know their neighbours.

Urban sprawl has impacted how connected people feel within their neighbourhoods

Urban sprawl impacts how connected people feel to their neighbourhoods


If suburban sprawl hasn’t delivered a happier and more socially connected Auckland, what would increasing density mean for our city?

High density living in Auckland has become largely associated with poorly designed inner-city apartments and cramped living conditions. This sort of living can also be isolating, particularly if there are no common spaces for residents to bump into each other, and limited surrounding amenities, such as parks or squares, for them to enjoy.

While increased density brings more people closer and can reduce commuting distances – creating spaces where people can connect requires thoughtful design. Communal open space or common space refers to land or built structures where ownership is classified as neither public or private, as it is split between two or more apartment units or town houses.

Done well, communal open spaces create inner city communities.  For children and the elderly, demographics who are likely to spend much of their time at, or close, to their home, these spaces provide an opportunity for play and relaxation.

An example of communal cpen space within an apartment or mixed use development

An example of communal open space within an apartment or mixed use development


Designing for communal open space

The design of communal open space is integral to its success and use. As a focus for the development, communal open space needs to be inviting, sunny, and incorporate greenery such as lawns or plantings (soft landscaping); a grey, blank or concrete space will rarely be used. Ideally, the space should have adequate seating for people to stop and rest, or have a neighbourly chat, and provide adequate lighting so users feel safe in the evening.

Residents need to be able to easily access communal spaces from their apartments or townhouses,  as if it were an extension to their home. Clear visual cues, (such as low fences, planting, hedges or levels changes), can be used to distinguish what is private from what is communal and cars should be kept well away.

An example of communal open space (Freemans Bay, Auckland)

An example of communal open space (Freemans Bay, Auckland)


The above space, slotted in the middle of the entrances to the terraced and apartment buildings, is an inviting, sun-filled lawn for residents . This space provides users with an understanding of the layout of the development, while the greenery provides a pleasant outlook for residents. While functional, the space could be improved by providing direct access for residents and removing visitor parking from the front of apartments.

Where a site is restrained, opportunities may exist to the incorporate communal open space on the upper floors of a building. This practice is commonly used in dense cities overseas and is beginning to become more popular in Auckland. Placing these spaces on upper floors has the added bonus of providing residents with views over their neighbourhood or city.

Am example of communal open space within a large residential development (Portland, Oregon)

Am example of communal open space within a large residential development (Portland, Oregon)


Where a site is 'built out', communal open space can be integrated on upper floors (Grey Lynn, Auckland)

This communal open space provides a range of seating options, allowing residents to gather and host social events (Grey Lynn, Auckland)


The Isaac 540 x 360

Where a site is ‘built out’, communal open space can be integrated on upper floors (Grey Lynn, Auckland)


Interested in finding out more about communal open space? The ADM’s Apartments and Mixed Use Design Guides provide advice on how best to design communal open space for your development. Check out case studies, such as The Isaac and The Ockham, for examples of developments with exemplary communal open space.

Next week: With the New Zealand Planning Institute’s (NZPI) Annual Conference around the corner, we look at the ever-changing role of planners in our country. 


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