Building community: Property development with a social conscious

The rooftop of The Commons. Photo: Andrew Wuttke

The rooftop of The Commons. Photo: Andrew Wuttke

Developers Small Giants and Neometro are setting the bar high for property development, with award-winning apartment buildings that are price competitive and include pioneering community initiatives and design.

A few years ago Jodi Newcombe had reached a crossroads, the Melbourne arts and sustainability professional was living in a rental and leasing out an under performing inner-city investment property. Although she wanted to become an owner-occupier, her apartment hunt had started off badly.

“The Melbourne apartment market is pretty depressing – the build quality is poor, the quality of design is poor and the quality of community is really, really poor,” she says. Newcombe lived on her own and was concerned by the absence of a community feeling around her investment property.

“People didn’t even say hello in the hallway. I just knew I wanted a place that would actually have a community and neighbours.” The project’s sustainability credentials were the final vital ingredient. “Having worked in the sustainability sector all my life, I needed somewhere that fitted with my values,” she says.

Jodi finally came across The Commons, a 24-apartment development in the gritty backstreets of Brunswick built with ambitious sustainability objectives in mind. She bought a two-bedroom apartment off the plan.

A landmark sustainability project

Sustainable development has boomed in Australia’s commercial property scene due to initiatives like the Green Star rating system. But there has been less leadership in the small to medium size multi-residential sector. This lack of developers pioneering sustainable apartment blocks was a bugbear for Jeremy McLeod, The Commons’ architect, and for developer, Small Giants.

“We decided the best way to influence the market was to build our own project,” says McLeod. The original intention was to create a zero-car, zero-carbon building that would subscribe to a triple-bottom line mentality. It had to be sustainable, affordable and livable. “It was really about this idea of reduction. We decided we would give people what they needed rather than what real-estate agents thought people wanted,” he says.

The architect created a design that omitted the standard features of many other developments in the area: underground carpark, individual laundries, second bathrooms, plasterboard ceilings, individual boiler systems and – perhaps most controversially – air-conditioning.

Developer Adam Borowski from Small Giants jokes that at times it felt they were spending all their time selling what they weren’t putting in rather than the actual features. But it’s all a matter of perspective. Savings on conventional features led to The Commons incorporating exemplary sustainable-design elements...

Read the full story here.

This is an excerpt from a story I wrote that was published in Australian Ethical's Good Money 5an edition I edited.