Fitness crazes, aren’t they iconic? Who can ever forget those vigorous 80’s aerobics workouts? Those outrageous Fluro-coloured outfits, overzealous instructors and Jane Fonda’s best-selling VHS home workout that supposedly toned countless legs and bottoms worldwide. It’s been over 20 years since we wore violet coloured leggings and warmers whilst jumping and puffing around our lounges. Then we moved into Gyms, embraced F45 and the ‘Bruss’ culture. Then COVID-19 hit! Our daily gym workouts were a no, no. Those daily ‘gym selfies’ on Instagram disappeared. In its place a new fitness craze has emerged – Vertical fitness. Fortunately, this does not involve the return of violet coloured leggings. Thankfully, these have been kept in drawers. In these pandemic times City dwellers around the globe are stepping out onto their balconies and rooftops to engage in group workout classes.
In Spain and Italy, there are scenes of fitness instructors hosting workouts from their own rooftops, whilst people hang out and join in from the surrounding balconies. In Brisbane, the ABC news, showed the residents of a retirement village on the southside doing ‘vertical’ fitness. Their instructor stood in the park in the middle of the complex taking them through their paces with the help of a megaphone. It was good, safe and functional exercise for our most vulnerable members of society. And they all remained safely in their own homes. As well as fitness classes, balconies and rooftops are stages for DJ and flash mobs, musical productions and for simply getting some fresh air.
Coronavirus has provided unexpected case studies for many changes to our lifestyles such as, ‘working from home’ arrangements. The most fascinating to watch, is our ingenuity with balcony and rooftop activities now – even group exercise classes. The importance of having a well-designed balcony/rooftop in apartment developments never more so. It reinforces the ideal that human well-being is intrinsically linked to the outdoors and the natural environment. Developments need to be reflective of human behavior and create functional open spaces to nurture the human psyche. Precious square metres of balcony can offer 10-15% extra living space for an apartment. As we have seen during this hard and crazy time –outdoor space is extremely valuable for apartment dwellers. And as well as fitness, balconies can allow you to have little private gardens.
Sadly, however, our planning laws often result in poor outcomes for urban dwellers, perhaps inadvertently. In a scramble to respond to each compliant from neighbours, usually established homeowners themselves not the future residents of the project, our laws grow in scope and reach but at what cost?
During the 1980’s and 90’s, extremely narrow balconies were the result. The calculation of gross floor area included balconies once they were approximately over 1.5m in dimension. The notion of performance based planning was not an option. It was either comply with the then provisions or seek a relaxation. However, planners noted the gross floor area was almost never relaxed. No developer wanted to waste a single square metre of gross floor area on balconies. In fact, the minimum became the norm and now we are left with so many dingy balconies in older style apartment buildings. These apartment buildings are scattered throughout our inner suburbs, a disappointing legacy of the 1987 Brisbane Town Plan.
While the current City Plan 2014’s provisions have become far more flexible in relation to balcony sizes, they remain constrained under overall site cover restrictions (i.e. the area of the building’s footprint expressed as a percentage of the site area), which includes balconies. At least there are now minimum outcomes expressed for balcony sizes, typically 12m2 with a minimum dimension of 3m.
A more recent trend has been rooftop recreation spaces atop high rise apartments. Perhaps inspired by the iconic Marina Bay Sands infinity pool overlooking the Singapore CBD and the Singapore Strait, we are seeing inner city and suburban apartments with roof top pools, common areas, gyms and even dog parks. Unfortunately, our planning rules restrict fixed shade being provided over those spaces, which by default turns the space into a hotly contested ‘storey’ by definition. Whether intended or otherwise, this results in the recreational spaces being underutilised, particularly during the summer months. As discussed on previous YIMBY article, a 5 storey apartment complex with a rooftop dog park and fixed shade structure for recreation is then regarded as 6 storeys by the planning scheme. Therefore, it is perceived as ‘non-compliant’ by exceeding the ‘acceptable outcome’ for a building’s height, typically attracting a multitude of objections about ‘overdevelopment’. No considering the benefits of activated and shady rooftops seen demonstrated through ‘vertical fitness’. It’s time we look more closely at our planning rules, not with the NIMBY (not in my back yard) goggles, but with a focus on opportunities for better living.
Written by Priya Jolly and Natalie Rayment.