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The saga of Opal Tower, the 36-storey Sydney apartment building evacuated on Christmas Eve after frightening cracking, has helped to expose the deep cracks in Australia's approach to building apartments. The tower's size, age (it is less than six months old) and the timing of its cracks might have made it particularly newsworthy, but badly built apartment blocks are far from unusual. Right now across Australia's cities many buildings have significant leaks, cracks and fire safety failings. So we can't just address faults in individual developments. We need to identify the systemic flaws in how "compact city" policies have been planned and implemented. As the population of Australia's capital cities grows, more of us are living in apartments. Governments have been promoting greater housing density as an alternative to sprawl for decades. But they haven't always ensured this density has been done well, including in terms of building quality. We can't afford to ignore the growing evidence that our cities are cracking under the strain. Because like the Opal Tower owners, we're all going to bear the cost when things go wrong, and we'll all have to live amid the wreckage.