Image of Stuart Penklis

Stuart Penklis

Head of Residential

Stuart Penklis was appointed Head of Residential in April 2017.

A Return to What Matters

6th May 2020

While this pandemic will no doubt have lasting effects, I like to think that one silver lining will be the chance to hit reset on the way we live our lives.

An opportunity to rethink how we live.

I think it's fair to say the situation we currently find ourselves in - collective lockdown - has given us all reason for pause. It's an opportunity to take stock and reassess exactly what is important to us, and what's not. While this pandemic will no doubt have lasting effects, I like to think that one silver lining will be the chance to hit the reset button on the way we choose to live our lives. And from our perspective, that gives us a compelling reason to rethink everything - from urban planning to built form - so that what we do build in years to come supports how we see ourselves living in a post-COVID world. As designers of our future cities and communities, we have a responsibility to harness this moment in time, so that when the worst of it passes as it inevitably will, we can find the positives that ultimately improve the places we live.

Like many people, I've enjoyed spending more time at home. I've relished the slower pace in the morning, and having more facetime with my family. I've enjoyed being able to stretch my legs and exercise in the local park - a luxury usually reserved for weekends - and the added bonus of being able to say g'day to my neighbours as we go about our daily routines of checking the mail and putting the bins out. I've loved the simple pleasures of gardening and helping the kids with their homework. These are the daily rituals and habits I'd like to continue, at least to some degree. So the question I've been asking myself lately - and which the industry needs to help answer - is how do we hold onto the best of this otherwise bad situation?

The question I've been asking myself lately - and which the industry needs to help answer - is how do we hold onto the best of this otherwise bad situation?

Reflecting on what I've enjoyed most about being in isolation, I keep coming back to the central idea of connection. Connection to my family, my neighbours and community. Which is no surprise given our innate human need to feel connected to others and our environment. Good design and thoughtful development, of course, can play a key role in creating a sense of community. It's something we have always focussed on at Mirvac, but which feels particularly relevant now. Connectivity speaks to big-picture planning goals, such as creating 20-minute neighbourhoods that put all of life's essentials within easy reach, right through to simple but effective design measures, such as ensuring our apartments include appropriate balcony space to give residents a sense of connection to the great outdoors.

How connected homeowners feel to their communities depends on the type of housing they occupy.

In fact, the desire for connectivity has been a recurring theme of our biannual Housing Choices customer surveys, the most recent of which was conducted last year. It's interesting to look at the 2019 survey findings against the backdrop of our current situation: according to last year's results, there is a notable difference in how connected homeowners feel to their communities depending on the type of housing they occupy, with people living in freestanding houses more likely to know their neighbours. Of all respondents, 55% felt a sense of connection and 61% felt their neighbours looked out for each other. And interestingly, the customer segments of Baby Boomers and Traditionalists were shown to have a greater sense of belonging to their neighbourhoods than younger generations. I think these findings show that while we have taken great strides in creating more connected communities, there is room for improvement in alleviating social isolation and continuing to look for opportunities to better connect residents with their neighbours through common areas, shared amenity, enjoyable streetscapes and where possible, parkland. To this end, our inhouse design team is exploring ways to ‘blend’ new development with established communities for a greater sense of connection.

It's these and many more as yet unformed ideas that will enable us to emerge from COVID-19 not only with a clearer picture of how we want to live our lives - but by working together as a property development industry - the collective will to make it happen.