baby

'I'm part of a new minority. I'm raising my child in an apartment, not a house with a yard.'

I moved back to Australia from the UK with my new little family for the good life – the big house, the outdoor lifestyle, the weather, the slow weekends.

My idea of the Australian dream was a home – a free standing dwelling – near the sea. After all, I had lived in a house near the beach when I was a poor student.

But it has been a long time since then and I lived in a small country town on the north coast and the landlords were desperate to rent their place out.

So after nearly a decade of living abroad, I found myself homeless and queuing up for rental viewings with 20 other people in the inner city.

After three months of searching I moved into a lovely flat – it’s a modern high rise apartment overlooking the city and I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

My 18-month old son has always lived in flats, he doesn’t know any different. When he was learning to walk, our downstairs neighbours complained about the banging. I tried to stop him from falling over repeatedly, I really tried.

Now I have to stop him from going outside. I have bolt-locked the balcony doors – it’s a long way down. He’ll be allowed out one day. When I imagined coming back to Australia, I had expectations of an outdoor lifestyle, a backyard, a home with space on every side of it – like the one I grew up in,  a house.

How do the majority live?

Of the 8.4 million households living in private dwellings  79 per cent live in separate houses, 11 per cent in flats, units or apartments, and 10 per cent are in semi-detached, row or terrace houses or townhouses, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The majority of Australians are in a house. In the city – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide – the numbers of those living in a house ranged from 61 per cent in Sydney to 84 per cent in Perth, according to the ABS.

It’s amazing that apartment living isn’t more popular given that the largest city in Australia has a new median price of $995,804, as reported in Domain.

My apartment block is full of new families – and a lot of designer dogs. I can hear my neighbour’s newborn crying during the night and every time I get in the lift there is a child – or a tiny dog.

Local mum, Claire, has lived in her flat for five years but says she has no long-term plans to stay.

“Everybody pretty much keeps to themselves,” she says. Well, there goes my theory that there will be a sense of community from living in an apartment block.

Claire says her son Thomas, 7 months old, will need more space as he gets older.

"Mealtimes are becoming fun for us but it would be nice to have a safe outdoor space to feed him and not worry about food going everywhere," she said.

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"A house with backyard would be very practical. A clothesline would be nice as my washing increases," she added.

A new minority

The ABS says the average Australian lives in a free-standing house and it hasn't changed much over the years. Only a small change can be attributed to high rise units.

"High rise units (flats or apartments in four or more storey blocks) made up 4 per cent of all dwellings in 2011, up from 2 per cent in 1991," according to the ABS.

"High rise living is more common for younger adults rather than older people or families with children (48 per cent of people living in high rise units were aged 18 to 35 years, compared with 25 per cent in the general population)."

Only 9.4 per cent of couples in flats have a child under the age of five and that number goes down as children age, say the ABS latest figures.

A whopping 90.4 per cent of couples with a child aged between five and 14 are living in a separate house compared to 3.1 per cent in an apartment, the ABS found.

However, I am surrounded by new families in my apartment block.  I spotted prams and babies in the area before we moved in to make sure it was a family friendly neighborhood.

I see mum groups in the local cafe. There are toddler playgrounds near me.

I am surrounded by other high rise apartment blocks with dogs and babies.

How are we the minority?

But according to these figures, a lot of these people will move out and find a real house soon. For couples with a child 15 years-old or over, only 2.2 per cent live in apartment.

Apartment living with kids is a minority and I am part of it.

Unlike Claire, I am making long-term plans and I want to belong to a community.

I am priced out of owning my dream home but I can live a really good lifestyle in an apartment.

I have shops and cafes at my doorstep. I don't even need a car. But is it good enough for a child to grow up in?

I wish I could give my son the innocent Australian childhood I was bestowed. Monkey bars in the backyard, a swing set and a flat piece of plastic slippery slide in the summer. Plum trees and bee stings, and a garage with a ghost. A short walk to school and his own room full of posters.

Perhaps I can't give my child the house and backyard I wanted for him in Australia but I think it's OK. Instead he has an aerial view - he can see the horizon. He watches cars and trucks and planes from his bedroom window and he's pretty impressed with that.

Is moaning about clutter a first world problem?

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