Frustrated young children confined in the small apartments proliferating in New South Wales are naturally inquisitive and incapable of judging risks. They climb onto window sills or balustrades to fall onto concrete many metres below.
The results have been appalling. In Sydney during the period 1998 to 2008 169 children have fallen to serious injury or death, and, as the proportion of apartments increase, so do these tragic incidents, of which there is now one a week.
Apartments are especially unsuitable for bringing up very young children. Research reveals that there are poor health and parenting outcomes. Crawling and walking is stymied due to space problems with children having little access to areas for meaningful activity. There is a lack of safe active play space outside the home. Parks and other public open space offer poor security due to the use of these areas by local youth gangs and the socially dysfunctional.
Over the past decade, the goal of the New South Wales Government has been that more than half of the population of NSW be squeezed into apartments by the year 2030. These high-density policies have placed a restrictive growth boundary around Sydney, and have been enforced by stripping away the planning powers of those local authorities that dared to offer any resistance.
This draconian approach is despite the fact that the vast majority of Australians prefer living in free-standing homes rather than in apartments. Half of apartment-dwellers would rather live in a house with a garden.
The government has been creating a child-hostile city and a child-hostile city is a disaster for the future.
The Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney formed a working party in 2009 in response to the growing number of child tragedies. As a result the NSW Government has now belatedly announced that window safety locks that restrict the degree to which windows can open will be mandatory for new apartments.
But is locking children into apartments and restricting fresh air a good solution? Surely a much better resolution is for the high-density policies to be unambiguously abandoned. Housing that the vast majority of people want should be readily available – that is family friendly single-residential housing with a safe backyard for children’s recreation.
There is some good news for young children, namely the recent announcement by the New South Wales Government of a proposed modified Metropolitan Strategy with the Minister of Planning saying “We’re trying to be less constrictive and restrictive and what we’re saying is the market place should have far more of a say in what the mix of housing is and where it will be.” Might the long-suffering families in Sydney and their young children hope that the iron grip of the high-density policies of the last two decades could be weakening at last?
The new Metropolitan Strategy announcement may indicate a faint light at the end of the tunnel. One hopes this will not be a mere will-of-the-wisp, but that this glimmer will brighten into a beam that will consign urban containment policies to the dustbin of history - and prevent the ongoing falling deaths of some of our most vulnerable kids.