As an urban planner, with a particular interest in transport matters, I find myself fascinated by the meeting point of land-use planning and transportation planning – the questions of whether land-use patterns drive transport or whether transport drives land-use patterns, whether it’s both, how they interact with each other and so forth.
If we look at how one arrives at land-use outcomes (or, put more generally, how our city ends up) there are probably three key matters for consideration:
- Matters that drive demand for redevelopment in certain areas (and not in others).
- Planning rules and the restrictions they apply.
- Intermediary matters making it more or less difficult to develop (incentives, availability of credit etc.)
When we’re talking about the effects of transport policy on urban form (by that I mean how different transport policies generate different land use outcomes, such as motorways promoting sprawl), we’re talking about the first matter shown above, what drives demand. Clearly, what drives demand is tempered by the planning rules – as almost by definition they restrict development to ensure that it fits in with what’s around it, or is otherwise appropriate for the area. The intermediary matters are also important, as often (for example) there might be demand for intensive housing, planning rules that allow and promote it, but other matters such as inflexible development levies, a lack of available credit or something else which prevents this from happening.
If I was to have one big criticism of land-use planning in Auckland over the past 10-15 years it would be that so much attention has been placed on “matter 2″, while the other two have been generally quite ignored. I think there’s a trap, which I have certainly fallen into in my thinking at times, that planning rules will determine urban outcomes – that development will simply just happen where we want it to happen, and will simply not happen where we want to avoid it. So much land-use planning is aimed at “stopping stuff”, perhaps because the resource management act is fundamentally around avoiding, remedying or mitigating adverse effects on the environment – ie., not making things worse than they are now. That’s fine for relatively untouched natural, or rural, areas – but really when one is planning urban areas, particularly if one is trying to intensify or improve existing urban areas – what you are trying to do is actually make things better.
Because our planning framework is very much based around “stopping bad stuff from happening”, we have been reasonably effective at making planning rules to restrict development – particularly in terms of using the Metropolitan Urban Limit to minimise the amount of urban sprawl, or at the very least ensure that it only happens where we’ve directed it to. However, this is a constant battle, and because restricting sprawling development is only half the story in terms of making a ‘compact city’ (the other half being promoting intensification), what planning rules and regulations over the past 10 years have generally most achieved is simply: stopping development. The natural result limiting the supply of housing, while demand has continue to increase, is that prices have gone up.
Now there are a great number of reasons why the “other half of the bargain” in developing a compact city, and by that I mean development through intensification, hasn’t happened as much as anticipated over the past decade. Planning rules have been incredibly slow in changing to allow intensification, there has been a public backlash against it because much of the intensification that has been built is complete rubbish, there has been the leaky buildings crisis, banks have been less willing to lend for these kinds of development, developers have to “try something different” which is a bit scary, the list goes on. But I think that one very overlooked aspect of answering the question of why we haven’t really achieved the level of intensification hoped for over the past decade comes down to our transport policies – and the fact that they’ve often worked in complete contradiction to what our land-use planning policies are trying to achieve.
As I explained in a recent post, if we base our transport investment around how it supposedly will “save time”, what we inevitably do is encourage people to drive further – and over time encourage our urban environments to spread out more. Well known British transport academic David Metz argues very convincingly that our ‘time budget’ for travelling has remained fairly constant over time, so any improvements to the transport network (which usually involve making travel faster) tend to result in the average trip length getting longer and longer. While this might be good in terms of enabling us to access more places, in terms of the effects on our urban environment this is bad news – as it tends to result in development further and further out becoming viable.
To improve the connectivity between the growth areas in the northern Rodney area
In other words, “to enable further sprawl on the very edge of the Auckland region”. Now while I realise parts of Rodney District have been identified for further development in our growth strategies, we’ve generally had little problem in making sprawl happen in the past, so I don’t see why we’re spending $1.6 billion to just encourage it further.
In short, transport investment shapes our urban environments. The faster we make transport, the further we encourage people to travel, and the more spread out our cities become. There is a huge amount of “talk” about how Auckland needs to align its transport and land-use policies – and this seems one of the major drivers of the upcoming “Spatial Plan“, but if we truly delve into how transport investment shapes our cities I think we’re going to come up with some interesting outcomes that strike at the core of how we currently view transport policies. Perhaps we’ll need to look at the advantages of making transport slower, rather than faster, we’ll need to concentrate on how to make busy transport corridors interact sympathetically with the people who live/work/shop along them and I think we’ll certainly need to find better ways of measuring transport benefits than simply “how much faster does this enable people to travel?”
While I bemoan the lack of integration between land-use and transport policies, perhaps one of the major reasons why this integration has been so difficult is because what it could lead to is quite scary for both land-use planners and transport planners.