TIM FANNING MY VIEW
The psychological trauma of being forced to live in an apartment as a child…
Perusing RTÉ’s new autumn/winter schedule the other day, I came across a programme to be aired at some date in the future called Apartment Kids. We’ve already had a scattering of documentaries which have aimed to tell the story of life in post- Celtic Tiger Ireland, and this is another.
This programme will apparently examine a new phenomenon, that of ‘a generation of children growing up in isolated, suburban apartments’. Trapped in negative equity, their families ‘have little choice but to raise their children in small spaces, apartments built without children in mind’. Worst of all, ‘the sociological fallout impacts the children, their parents and the community at large’. Now, all of this may or may not, depending on your point of view, sound a bit breathless.
There are thousands of families around the country who are experiencing considerable hardship as a result of crippling mortgage repayments for properties they have outgrown or which are far from the areas in which they wish to live. They may well have envisaged that the small apartment they bought to get on the property ladder would be swapped for a modest two- bed within a short couple of years. Many Irish citizens were also misled by a whole range of institutions, not least the Government, who had a stake in keeping the price of property spiralling upwards.
On the other hand, I wonder what some of our neighbours in Europe think of all of this. Italians and Spaniards manage to get by in small apartments without any psychological or sociological damage that I can see. They have a strong sense of family. They socialise in restaurants, cafés or at home. And their towns continue to support bakers, grocers, butchers, fishmongers and cobblers. Compare this with Ireland, where, increasingly, the local shop means Spar or Mace.
Yes, jerry-built boxes were built throughout the land during the boom, without proper regulatory practices being enforced. But I’m not sure the fact of living in a small apartment is the problem in itself. In fact, it may be that we Irish, for far too long, have demanded to live in houses as a right, without much regard for proper urban planning. At this stage, I’ll make a confession. I grew up in an apartment. With the exception of about five years, I’ve spent my entire life living in them. And I’d contend that the absence of a staircase, a broom cupboard and a back garden didn’t have any major impact on me, sociologically speaking. But then I’m no sociologist.