Safe and secure in our vertical villages

By Janette Corcoran, apartment living expert

Safe City, Liveable City, EcoCity, Resilient City, Smart City, Knowledge City, Compassionate City – our Melbourne is a multi-themed and highly-considered metropolis!  

Last month, for instance, Melbourne played host to the international EcoCity World Summit, which had as a theme Changing Cities: Resilience and Transformations – and aimed to “highlight the need to deploy expert knowledge to make cities resilient in the face of rapid change”.

Not to be left out, Brisbane entertained those attending the Liveable Cities conference, which was closely followed by the companion conference, Safe Cities.

And being so well discussed, might we vertical dwellers, being a new and growing breed of city resident, feel assured that our issues are well known?

Having attended the recent Safe Cities Conference, I can say that high rise living was not a particular area of focus, with more attention given to topics such as the “night economy” and the need to “get it right” when managing events to attract domestic and international tourists, businesses and employees. We, city residents, were notable by our absence.

However, there are a range of safety – and security – issues confronting vertical dwellers. And, as I have been informed, there is a difference between safety and security. Broadly speaking, safety is more about protection from unintended incidents or accidents and is more concerned with health and wellbeing.  Security, on the other hand, is more about protection against intended incidents that occur as a result of deliberate and/or planned acts and includes malicious and criminal incidents.

So, what are the current safety and security issues for vertical dwellers?

Unsurprisingly, on the safety front, many issues relate to apartment design and their impact upon occupant health.  For instance, heat stress inside apartments was identified as a growing issue, most especially for west-facing apartments.  The Living Well – Apartments, Comfort and Resilience in Climate Change study (conducted by University of Melbourne) looked at apartment performance in “free running mode” (ie without air conditioning). Its finding was that most of our city apartments would turn into “ovens”.

But if you want a real scare, Alan March (Associate Professor Urban Planning, University of Melbourne) is your man. Speaking earlier this year at the HighRise Expo, Professor March challenged high-rise dwellers to “imagining the worst” – fire, power outage, water system breakdown, heatwave, terrorism, social unrest, major storm, pandemic and business breakdown. He was not overly positive about how long we could continue to live in our high-rise apartments if Melbourne experienced one (or more) of the foregoing.  Without power or water, things will get very unpleasant very quickly.  He asked: “Do our buildings have an emergency plan?” and “How much individual capacity did each of us have to last unaided?”  He suggested only a few days – and then proposed that we each use “resilience thinking” (doomsday prepping for vertical living!).

In regards to high-rise security, the issue of tailgating continues to be of concern, including pedestrians tailgating (ie the following of residents into buildings). Interestingly, one growing reason for this is short cutting.

As our apartment buildings become better connected through linkways, some people are seeking out these quicker routes by transiting through resident buildings. I know of one apartment building where the employees of nearby businesses routinely “cut through”, preferring to use the residents’ lifts rather than the external stairs.  Also growing in popularity (regrettably) is mail theft, which has had a boost courtesy of our short stayers. The issue here is that once people have access to your building, this also means they have access to resident-only mail rooms.

What to do?

Suggestions include using the Internet of Things so that we can better know what is happening inside our buildings (both for safety and security matters).   Perhaps this is where our “smart city” people can talk to our “safe city” people so our vertical villages can be part of a more resilient city?

If you would like links to the research or organisations mentioned, please visit and like SkyPad Living on Facebook.

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