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What is a “family-friendly” house?

When you’re house-hunting, there’s a continuum of numerous factors weighed against each other, including indoor space, outdoor space, location, walkability, and plenty more, including of course price.

By walkability, I mean the walking distance to amenity such as parks, good public transport, shops. (Walkscore attempts to measure this.)

From some points of view, perhaps the traditional position is that growing families will prioritise indoor and outdoor space over other factors. Big house, big garden.

I didn’t prioritise those when I bought my house; within my budget, I prioritised location and walkability over space. This had both pros and cons of course.

I wanted to flag one of the big advantages.

When I moved, my sons were 7 and 10. Now they’re 19 and 22. Location and walking access to shops and trains (under 10 minutes away) has been absolutely crucial to them gaining a sense of independence through their high school and university years and beyond.

Public transport problems notwithstanding, they’ve been able to get themselves around relatively easily, and enjoy it too, without a long walk or a long wait for a bus to get home — either of which would push them quickly towards driving.

Just for now, my sons are holding off learning to drive, but will do it eventually. With my concerned parent hat on, the risks of personal safety issues while out walking and using public transport are far less than the risks of driving. (The equation might be different if they weren’t both boys.)

Philip Street, Bentleigh (near Patterson Road)

I hadn’t really thought about how this had played out until my sister mentioned pondering moving her family from Moorabbin (under 15 minutes walk from a station) out to “where you can get more house for your money”.

It made me think that teenagers’ mobility is an important issue. You don’t want them being driven everywhere, and neither will they. You do want them to have access to friends, jobs, events and education independent of their parents.

Lack of space has obvious disadvantages. My front and back gardens are pretty, but not big enough for playing footy or cricket or other such activities. More private open space would be great.

But we have a park down the road, and being on a quiet street, we’ve been able to use that space for outdoor activities.

More indoor space would be possible by renovating, expanding upwards, but the budget hasn’t really allowed for that.

When it comes down to it, we sacrificed private space for the ability to get around without driving — for both my sons, and also for me.

Beyond their independence, being able to leave the car at home most of the time is also good for the health and finances of all of us.

It also means they have access to opportunities without the cost burden of owning their own cars.

I’m not alone in going down this path. With pressures on real estate prices, others are raising families in smaller houses or flats / apartments.

Whether it be buying or renting, we all make our choices. Hopefully those choices take everything into account — including things that may not be immediately obvious.

I’m not trying to tell anybody what’s better for their family, but if I had my time again, I don’t think I’d change a thing.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

15 replies on “What is a “family-friendly” house?”

I definitely agree with your observation that having boys is different to girls (especially if the girls’ mum lives in the same house). We have always given our girls more freedom than most other parents we know – even so, my wife doesn’t want them walking home from the railway station in the dark by themselves. If they have their car parked there, they can drive home. Otherwise we will walk to the station and walk them home.
I’m guessing your kids don’t play footy in Narre Warren every second weekend, or go camping in the Grampians a lot or regularly go scuba diving on the Great Ocean Road. (They have fulfilling lives in other ways, I’m sure!) These sorts of young people need a car or rely on others who do.
Although I am a huge fan (and user) of PT, on balance I think that the opportunities for young adults are greatly increased if they have their drivers licence and access to a car.

Is that “normal” now, putting off learning to drive for so long?

When “I were a lad” you went for your L’s pretty much as soon as you turned 16.

A few examples from my personal experience:

– My mum grew in the 1970s outside Geelong where the only way out was driving, or riding the school bus. She got a motorcycle learners permit at 16 so she could get to work herself, because she was too young for a car licence.

– My mum’s sister and brother both bought houses outside Geelong to bring up their families. By the time my cousins were teenagers, both had moved into Geelong, in part because they were sick of driving them into Geelong all the time.

When the time came for my wife and I to buy a house, we ended up opting for a small run down house walking distance from a railway station and shopping strip, instead of a bigger house in better condition located further away, or an even bigger brand new house out on the edge of Melbourne.

When I go driving through newer suburbs I sometimes think what it would be like to have four bedrooms and a double garage to play with, but then I remember that our single car sometimes sits in the driveway for weeks at a time.

@jon I dunno if its normal to not have a license at 22, but it is normal to not own a car or regularly drive and to take public transport instead.
Cars are expensive, depreciate and lots of teenage interaction has moved to smartphones and social media rather than driving and meeting up in person.

We bought in the inner west (moving to the other side of town) after looking in other parts of Melbourne, including the outer east. My take was that you got more land, but not necessarily more house, for the same amount of money.

The land we’re on was marketed back in the late 1800s as being close to both government roads to Melbourne (i.e. Geelong Rd and Ballarat Rd), as well as the central train station in Footscray (showing the station much closer than it actually would’ve been!), but didn’t get built on until 1914 (by which time there were two closer stations!).

Has anyone ever put together one of those maps that shades in everywhere that is [in this case] x minutes walk from a railway station? There’s a name for them, but I don’t remember it.

My parents moved me to an outer suburb with no public transport when I started high school. I hated the reliance on them to drive me around everywhere, and even when I had my licence it remained expensive and curfews in terms of using their car etc applied.

Some time after I’d grown up and moved out, my father actually apologised to me for that move. He acknowledged he had not considered the impact on me in terms of my burgeoning independence at a crucial time of my adolescence.

Given my experience, if I were a metropolitan parent I would never move somewhere without a regular public transport service.

A family-friendly house? One with insulation so the inside temperature isn’t the same as the outside temperature e.g. anything that was made since the year 2000. Sadly, housing laws are virtually non-existent in Victoria compared to other states and countries so most older houses are nothing more than a shed made out of wood and/or bricks. I think Australia is one of the only countries in the world to still have single-glazed windows in houses, and where insulation and air conditioning is an optional extra. I think the only thing Australia has done with houses in the past hundred years is moved the toilets inside.

I know for a fact my house (a fifty year old housing department unit, yes, I have been a houso since 2004, complete with the stereotypical neighbours) has no batts or any other form of insulation whatsoever (if it ever did have insulation, it was probably made of asbestos and ripped out decades ago). When it’s 30 or over outside, it’s about two degrees cooler inside regardless of how many fans are running. Likewise, when it’s between -2 and 12 degrees during winter, the house is freezing unless the heater is on full blast, and an hour after the heater is turned off the house is cold again.

Yes, this whole post is absolutely right. I grew up within eight minutes’ walk of a busy station, and within close range of buses to shopping centres and uni. I would *hate* to try to raise a family *without* easy access to frequent public transport. As some others have said, that’s just condemning your kids to begging for lifts all the time, completely stifling their development and sense of independence.

For this reason, I really resent the idea (present in one comment, and hinted at by a throwaway line in your post) that independence and freedom is only required for BOYS, and GIRLS must continue to be coddled, driven everywhere, never allowed to set foot on a street after dark, etc. – as if you’re only preparing a daughter to be passed off to the guardianship of a male partner anyway, so self-reliance is unimportant for her. Thankfully my parents weren’t sexist and I was happily catching NightRider buses everywhere at 2 and 3am on the weekends, haha. Honestly, while I know there are many countries where it’s unsafe to be a woman out at night alone, this isn’t one of them. Any danger to young women is orders of magnitude more likely to come from men that they know than strangers on the street, and banning young women from walking home from the train station does nothing to address that. Apologies for the rant but it’s a paternalistic sentiment that really grinds my gears.

I grew up in the 1970s15 minutes walk from the train station in a middle ring suburb of Sydney. I traveled widely with complete independence, by public transport, from the age of 12. I don’t recall ever asking a parent for a lift. I value those memories greatly.

And that early experience is valuable to this day in making me confident about using PT in strange cities. We should never forget the psychological barriers that discourage people from doing something simply because they’ve never done it before. That’s why it’s so important to recruit new occasional users by providing good public transport to special events such as the Boxing Day sales that Daniel blogged about recently.

Absolutely, John. A former colleague in Adelaide lives walking distance from her stop on the Glenelg tram. Her workplace has just moved opposite the City South tram stop on the same line — yet she still drives to work! Why? She has a car park, and she’s not used to public transport.

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