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Employment: to concentrate or to disperse?

I’ve spent the last couple of days at an interesting conference, based around trying to be smarter about how we intensify our urban areas. There seems to be general agreement – at least amongst planners, architects, policymakers, urban designers and so forth – that we do want to intensify our urban areas, for important sustainability reasons, but also for simple economic efficiency reasons (that I’ve discussed before). The problem is the disconnect about actually making it happen. For a number of reasons, it seems that developers just don’t want to, or can’t, build the type of intensive urban development that our regional policies want. Something’s getting lost in the process.

There were many reasons for this discussed at the conference, issues like a misalignment between regional policies and ‘on the ground’ District Plan rules, the effect of minimum parking requirements, the mis-match between the location of “growth nodes” and where the market for higher density development actually is, the practical difficulties in amalgamating land – and so forth. Perhaps one of the most useful parts of the conference was learning about things a bit more from the developer’s, or real-estate expert, point of view. Trying to work out why they’re not particularly keen on building apartments next to the New Lynn rail trench, but instead want to build massive houses on 400 square metre sections in Flat Bush – and then discussing what interventions might be useful in turning this around so that the reality can match the regional strategies for once.

Interestingly, most of the discussion was about residential intensification. It seems that when we talk about intensification we often tend to really focus on answering big questions like “Auckland’s going to need another 350,000 dwellings by 2041, where the heck are we going to put them?” Incidentally, that number is true and we certainly will have to work hard to find out where to put those dwellings: in centres, along development corridors or through urban expansion? That is perhaps the biggest question that the upcoming Auckland Spatial Plan will need to answer.

But that’s only half the story in many respects. In 2041 Auckland will also have a whole pile more jobs, and probably will have jobs of a different kind than we do now as the economy changes and develops over time – particularly in response to technological advancements. An equally interesting question is “where are we going to put those jobs?” Are we going to sprinkle them around the region or are we going to concentrate them in the city centre and in a few key growth nodes? Drilling down a bit further, we obviously have different kinds of business activity – some being very jobs intensive (like offices) and some being very space intensive (such as warehousing and industry). Where are the most appropriate, efficient and sustainable locations for offices, where are the best places for less concentrated employment zones? Should we be letting offices establish in areas originally set aside for light industry and/or warehousing?

Now this being a transport blog (primarily) one thing that I find interesting is thinking about the different transport patterns that might result from different ways in which we structure the location of our employment nodes in the future. Furthermore, the decisions we make about what transport infrastructure to invest it will have a huge impact on where the market may wish to locate – improving access to the city centre through a project like the CBD Rail Tunnel is likely to make that area more attractive, and therefore in the longer run would encourage office space to locate there. Similarly, if we make planning provisions to focus office development in the city centre, Newmarket, Manukau and another couple of locations with excellent public transport links – both by encouraging it there and by discouraging it elsewhere – we can support investment in our public transport network.

If we looking internationally, it actually seems as though it’s the location, concentration and density of employment that has a bigger impact on the popularity and effectiveness of public transport than the density of residential dwellings. In fact, if we look at population density and try to compare it to public transport use we get confusing results: Sure, those are just four cities I’ve plucked results from, but they seem to clearly show that the relationship between population density and transit modeshare is somewhat more complex than one might think. I would suggest that perhaps a focus on employment density might be more useful: after all Los Angeles have highly dispersed employment compared to New York City, which has, in the form of Manhattan, some of the highest employment densities in the world. (Oddly enough though, Vancouver has a similar percentage of its jobs in the CBD as Auckland, yet has well over twice the PT modeshare – they just to PT well in Vancouver I suspect.)

If we bring this back to Auckland, statistics show that our employment is incredibly dispersed:

The region’s biggest single growth “hub” since 1996 has been in what Statistics NZ calls “North Harbour East”.

That and neighbouring Albany have grown from having 0.8 per cent of the region’s jobs in 1996 to 2.7 per cent in 2006.

The other two biggest growth areas are East Tamaki/Otara/Flat Bush (up from 2.9 per cent to 3.7 per cent of the region’s jobs), and Auckland Airport (up from 1.9 per cent to 2.3 per cent).

There has been modest growth at Mt Wellington/Penrose (up from 5.9 per cent to 6.1 per cent) and around Manukau Central and Wiri (up from 3.2 per cent to 3.4 per cent).

Two other traditional business centres, Newmarket/Grafton and Takapuna/Westlake, have had their shares of the regional workforce shrink slightly, although with 3.2 per cent of the region’s jobs Takapuna/Westlake is still marginally ahead of its upstart rival at Albany.

But the overwhelming pattern in the region is that jobs are scattered widely – almost two-thirds are outside all of the “hubs”.

The last line is quite amazing. Two thirds of jobs in the Auckland region aren’t actually within any particular employment hub. While in some respects that might be good, if people live and work locally, what it also probably means is that if they don’t work near where they live, they’re almost certainly going to be driving to work.

Furthermore, in growing employment hubs, we aren’t exactly designing these places to be public transport friendly. This is an aerial photograph of “North Harbour East”: All those buildings are 2 to 3 levels of offices. They’re located in a way that’s actually fairly difficult to service with good quality public transport (even though the Constellation bus station isn’t too far away, it’s probably just beyond walking distance). This means that two-thirds (at least) of the land “needs” to be dedicated to parking – a somewhat inefficient use of land one would think.

There are some interesting debates to be held around the question of whether we want to concentrate or disperse employment – particularly where we want to locate office buildings that naturally will have a higher intensity of employees compared to warehouses of the same building size. Certainly having more employment on the North Shore has reduced peak-time pressure on the Auckland Harbour Bridge (peak time flows haven’t increased since the early 1990s in terms of vehicles), in south Auckland the development of new employment areas around East Tamaki and the Airport has certainly provided some people with the ability to work locally. Once again, if we look at the statistics we certainly see this happening:

Obviously breaking this down into former council areas is somewhat out of date, but it provides some useful patterns. We can see that around 60% of people living on the North Shore work there too, with a similar percentage in Manukau City. For Auckland City around 80% of people worked ‘locally’. Only in Waitakere City did more than half the population have to leave the area for work, but even there more Waitakere City residents worked locally than in Auckland City. It goes without saying that the shorter the distance people have to travel, the less pressure they place on the transport system and the more sustainable our outcome is. So employment dispersal certainly appears to have had some benefit.

But I can’t help but think there is also a cost here. It was probably reading through the business case for the CBD Rail Tunnel, and subsequently doing more research to learn about wider economic benefits, that I started to wonder whether Auckland is missing out on something by having such dispersed employment patterns. The enormous amount of money we have to spend on providing parking, the enormous amount of time our businesses must spend getting from “North Harbour East” to see their various clients and suppliers, the enormous cost that employees are burdened with when it comes to ensuring they’re able to drive to work, what is the economic impact of that? Furthermore, what is the cost when it comes to not enjoying the agglomeration benefits that may arise from a greater concentration of employment activity?

One theme of the conference was highlighting areas where we don’t know enough, where we haven’t undertaken enough research to really know what the best way forward is. I certainly think that the question of whether to concentrate or disperse employment is something we need to understand better – and should form a critical part of the Auckland Spatial Plan. I suspect that Auckland would benefit hugely, in economic terms, from having more concentrated employment patterns – because it would unlock agglomeration benefits, because jobs located in the higher concentration areas are likely to be more productive, because we won’t have to spend so much money, and two-thirds of our city, on providing parking. Of course, the fact that we’re also likely to be less auto-dependent in a city with a greater concentration of employment is also a positive, but I tend to think of public transport as the enabler of higher employment densities, not the reason for them.

Ultimately, I think we need to know whether it makes a difference to Auckland’s prosperity if a particular job is located on Apollo Drive in “North Harbour East” or whether it’s located on Albert Street in the CBD. I suspect, through agglomeration benefits and productivity effects, that Auckland would be better off having that job on Albert Street. But I think it would be helpful for the Auckland Spatial Plan to provide more clarity on this matter.

39 comments to Employment: to concentrate or to disperse?

  • Gian

    Very interesting post. I would just like to add that hopefully in 2040 there will be in NZ really fast and cheap broadband, so more people will work from home, eliminating or helping to solve the problem of transport from the beginning. It’s a process already started, allowing people to work locally but any job. Just need some real investment and commitment on it, and quick. Money spent there is saved on a lot of other things.

  • One consideration before assuming that living and working in the same council area is good is whether or not the trip can be made without a car. When I was living in Market Rd and working on Owens Rd, I could walk. But if I’d been working on Mountain Rd (say, Mercy Hospital) there would’ve been no convenient public transport option to get me there. I could’ve biked, but that’s only feasible if there’s a shower and storage. Same with walking, given that it’d be a 20 minute walk.

    If one lives in Henderson, is it feasible to work in Glen Eden, or Titirangi, without a car? I don’t know the buses in the area well enough to comment, but if it’s anything like living in, say, Ellerslie and trying to get to Onehunga up until last year, the answer would absolutely be no. Much like Mt Roskill to Otahuhu, which is still within the old Auckland City Council, but pretty impractical without private transport.

  • I would point towards “the network effect” described in Transport for Suburbia. The more dispersed a city is, the stronger the gains from the network effect.
    Squaresville has no CBD and all trips are entirely random and 100% dispersed. And yet you can design a PT system to serve something like that.

    A trunk and feeder system can get into the nooks and crannies of urban fabric.

    • David

      You can easily make a good PT system for Squaresville because it is completely dispersed and all trips are random. That makes things easy. It is clustering that makes things things more difficult to plan for — people all wanting to travel in the same direction at the same time.

  • “Perhaps one of the most useful parts of the conference was learning about things a bit more from the developer’s, or real-estate expert, point of view.”

    Oh, don’t ask them.

    I find real-estate agents (assuming they’re the “real-estate experts” you talk about) are completely clueless. I don’t want to live anywhere near a woodburner. I don’t want one in my house and I don’t want any neighbours who foul the air with their woodburners. I.e. I want clean air, and gas heating, or at a pinch heat pumps. There is just about nowhere in New Zealand where I can live with those requirements. Yet they go on and on about properties having lovely woodburners. It makes me sick.

    I’d want city living if the air was clean, and the cities were walkable and bikeable, and there was easy access to PT, but NZ cities are generally unpleasant and designed for motor vehicles.

    Are there any developers in NZ who could give me that?

  • Bris, the network effect would work equally as well with a nodal distribution of trip generators, something like a district centres or activity centre clusters. Bear in mind the grid topology is a functional characteristic, not the actual form, i.e. it doesn’t have to be a perfectly regular and even distributed square grid to work as a network.

    Furthermore, if you overlay the local grid network effect over a wider core grid (i.e. a rapid transit network) you get further synergies, as the base level grid acts as a feeder and distributor for the faster, more direct and more capacious ‘main trunk’ network. Then these node between the local grid and the rapid transit network (i.e. major stations) become areas of high connectivity which would logically support a greater concentration of trip attractors that a middle suburban street corner.

    In the case of Auckland I could see the proposed rapid transit web of primarily radial railway and busway lines working very effectively in conjuction with a reorganisation of bus routes according to the squaresville principle. Basically every little neighbourhood would have one or two bus routes through it frequently, these can take you to various local destinations directly, allow interchanges to dozens of intersecting bus routes, or give you a quick ride to two or three nearby rapid transit stations from where you can travel region wide very rapidly.

    Another possibility that would overcome Matts concerns would be a trunk and feeder model. I.e. ‘normal’ bus routes no longer exist, but are replaced by short, frequent local circulators feeding to rapid transit stations (and perhaps connecting with neighbouring circulators). These circulators could be used to both travel easily within the immediate local area, plus provide access to the wider region via rapid transit. The one problem I can see with this is that a journey a few kilometres over would require at least three trips, feeder, rapid transit (possibly with interchange to another rapid transit line) then distributor. With the grid type model you’d usually be able to use just the one gridline route to do the same journey.

  • Luke

    need to taken into account that their are two models of dispersed employment, one is good and one is awful.
    Having many jobs located outside the CBD is fine, as long as they are located in old style ‘town centres’.
    This is showcased by Takapuna, Otahuhu.

    The other model is what I would call ‘scattered’ and is exemplified by North Harbour East, and North Harbour west too, and is awful. These places will always be very difficult to serve by effective/efficient Public Transport. The really annoying thing is that these jobs could very easily be located in Takapuna, Albany centre or Glenfield and they would be far easier to serve by PT.
    Would just have to have slightly taller buildings to reduce area used by carparking and improve amenity and urban design outcomes.

  • bob

    This topic is at the heart of so many transport (and town planning) issues. Auckland has done it so badly thus far. Let’s cover a few core issues:

    1) “Auckland’s going to need another 350,000 dwellings by 2041, where the heck are we going to put them?” This myth is the central problem. NZ has static natural population size (births match deaths), so growth nationally is from immigration. Planners continually tell us they are just *managing* population growth, but they never want to discuss the option of pushing government to reduce immigration (say to a static overall population – setting immigrant numbers to match long-term departures).

    Population growth via immigration is a *choice* – one which dramatically shapes our town planning and transport systems. This issue should always be at the forefront of transport and planning discussions. Good planning links transport to urban form, but must also link to real discussion of what government immigration levels do to councils, and when government should be forced to obey local populace needs.

    Example – Helen Clark admitted she was using population growth as a driver for economic growth (it gave us last decade’s boom), but this has massive flow-on costs for councils, desperately trying to cope with pressure on transport modes. It was a boon for Auckland’s rail, as this was hardly used before the growth, but bus growth struggled, as they were badly impacted by the road congestion delays caused by growth in car usage. Lazy government caused bad transport outcome.

    P.S. Note the above is pro-planning, not anti-immigrant. I am a child of an immigrant after all ;)

    2) Residential affordability drives work transport. People choose to live in the urban city/region that they get a job in, but then pick housing in that city where they can afford the rent/mortgage. That explains why it is Waitakere and Manukau residents who mostly commute out of their (old) city boundaries – residents have jobs in Auckland, but can’t afford to live close to those jobs.

    I suspect the gap between residential housing costs in rich and poor areas of NZ cities has widened over the last 20-50 years, which exacerbates this problem. It is no longer realistic for a below median income earner to live close to a North Shore or CBD job. The cheap Mt Eden rentals are gone.

    Shame John Key just canned the census, as this has valuable questions on this housing-job relationship. Hopefully, it will be done next year, as we need the data ;)

    3) Urban form planning needs recognition of ‘tiered costs’. That is, town planning of urban form and transport needs to recognise the cost tiers for major infrastructure that depends on population size, such as sewage treatment plant, and pax capacity per rail track.

    For (a rough) example, if 1 rail track can take 10,000 pax per hour maximum, and a catchment suburb of 50,000 residents has 20% rail usage in peak, that station is at maximum, and building more homes will force the city to suffer congestion costs or build another track, which pushes rail costs up another tier.

    This is supposedly covered by developer levies, but these are actually minimal, and don’t cover the massive costs. It is a challenge, as you can’t fairly bill the developer who builds home number 50,001 the full costs of adding an extra rail track!

    Allowing population growth in a suburb, CBD or industrial zone is fine, so long as the costs of doing so are well explained and approved by the residents. Perhaps this could be shown on the Spatial Plan – put a thermometer icon next to each rail station, water pumping station, etc with mercury level showing how close it is to maximum capacity…

    Anyway, that’s my initial thoughts. Good to hear someone is discussing such issue :)

    • Bob, while NZ as a whole has a low level of natural increase (there are around 60,000 births and 20,000 deaths a year – so the increase is somewhat considerable), Auckland has patterns quite different to the rest of the country.

      Auckland’s population has a much greater ‘bulge’ in the 20-45 year age-groups, because people come to Auckland (from the rest of NZ and/or from overseas) to work and/or study. These years are obviously the prime years for having children, so the birth rate in Auckland is much much higher than the rest of the country.

      From what I’ve heard, Auckland’s population growth is two-thirds from natural increase and only one-third from immigration. We have a relatively neutral level of migration with the rest of the country (younger people arrive, older people leave) and obviously a positive inflow from overseas (though at a relatively low level as we lose heaps to Australia).

      So I’m not sure what you can really do to limit Auckland’s population growth. If anything our planning rules have tried to do that in recent years by making it very difficult to build new houses (by both imposing an urban limit and making intensification very difficult). The result has been skyrocketing house prices.

      In short, I think we do need to plan for growth. Growth can be good too – I think Auckland would function better as a city of 2-2.5 million people as we would finally have the population to support the infrastructure we desperately need now.

    • Tim

      Bob – I think the house price issue is a really important one, especially for Auckland. If one can move to be near work then travel of course reduces, to everyone’s benefit; house prices in Auckland tend to mitigate against sensible travel patterns.

      I’m becoming increasingly ambivalent about the possibility of focussing/intensifying development in Auckland – I just don’t see anyone achieving this in the recent past, and little sign of any desire amongst politicians to change the policies that will make it happen. Planners – you’re doing a great job but you just don’t make the decisions. The recent Dom Road process shows how the intentions fail to be translated due to whatever political agenda is around at the time.

      As an aside to the Auckland argument, and coming from a point of view of concern for Christchurch people rather than a detached view, the immediate future of our South Island capital will have to face and resolve these issues on a very different timescale and pressure. Articles like this in today’s Herald point out the reality that commerce may move very rapidly to a non-CBD model, for obvious reasons. Any practical, non-preachy planning advice for a city rapidly heading for decentralisation will probably be needed…

      http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10708758

    • Tim

      An afterthough – on the subject of the Census, I’m disappointed that it does not address transport issues, as is dealt with in other countries. We leave it to a secondary survey which does not really pick up the issues in enough detail. National should be getting more detailed and relevant data if they want to spend on “infrastructure” the way that they are spending on the so-called RONS etc

      • I’m pretty sure the census captures where you live, where you work and how you got to work on census day. Plus, perhaps, how you normally get to work.

        • Matt

          There’s a question on the primary mode of transport you used to get to your primary employment on the day of the census.

          • Tim

            Admin, Matt- thanks for clarifying that, but I really don’t think that level of detail offers any useful insight to anyone interested in transport enough to use census data. I’m assuming it would be pretty easy to ask more around how far people travel and how much they spend to get around, alongside mode split. These three questions would be pretty powerful information, especially when applied to census area mapping. I just can’t believe the census is not more proactive in addressing an issue with major expenditure, health and environmental implications. How can we blame politicians for poor decisions when definitive social information is not widely, regularly and consistently gathered?

  • Here is a crazy idea: be indifferent to dispersal or concentration of employment.

    Personally I feel that some more employment in the CBD would help. But this is personal opinion only. Am I allowed to say on this forum that I was actually a bit shocked when I visited the Auckland CBD; Where were all the big stores? Were were the supermarkets?

    However, if it is possible to alter the transport network to serve whatever urban form, then why impose one particular set of ideas on what the “right” shape is. Canberra has tried the “urban form” solution, but it hasn’t really worked- they didn’t build the busways and they have huge amounts of car parking everywhere. So the entire city is very auto oriented.

    Let businesses and the people decide where they want to locate- if they locate somewhere bad, they are going to find it difficult to get employees and custom. That’s quite an incentive not to set up in such an area in the first place.

    Having a good trunk PT system is what needs to come first I think. The market and people will respond automatically once that is in place, as they have with TOD.

    • rtc

      There is a big supermarket in downtown Auckland as well as a lot of big stores, I’m still confused as to why you keep claiming there were no shops downtown?

      • It just felt strange. Maybe people who live there don’t notice it, but I do.
        I also walked past a giant billboard which said how much money was flowing out of banks in NZ to Australia, lol…

        My main question is this: if it is possible to design (within community practicalities, no-one will be impressed if people are ‘forced’ to move for their own ‘good’.) a transport system that can effective serve ANY urban form (100% dispersed or 100% concentrated), then what are the grounds for choosing urban form X over urban form Y???

        The question is: is it even necessary to prescribe as it might happen automatically anyway if a proper PT system was put in place.

  • I agree with Bris, sort the transit and the city’s shape with rationalise. Provided, of course, planning rules are relatively neutral or rational. At the moment they are proscriptive. And the bias with its set-backs, sit coverage, and especially minimum carparks, is towards low rise, autodependent, sprawl. Even so the increasing costs and frustrations of car use simply because of the size of AK is leading to a change in patterns despite the absence of an efficient and widespread modern PT system. This is where our efforts must go.

  • Swan

    Downtown is where most of the nationally significant and productive jobs are. Downtown employers have an employment market many times larger than employers in secondary centres. The potential pool of talent is one of the most important reasons for cities. Auckland is New Zealand’s alpha city, but if we don’t have downtown growth its advantages will be lost.

  • Amidst the tragedies of the earthquake in ChCh there is an opportunity in the almost blank slate of its CBD to plan and build a fantastic new centre that could make for a successful rebirth of what was in many ways a declining economic area. Instead of defining itself by its past so much ChCh should, I believe, take this opportunity to grow an new core like a smaller scale new world city from the emerging economies. Napier is surely a model here. It will require an effort of will by Cantabrians to see the possibilities in a new definition of their self image and it will require help from the rest of the country, and some very clever pricing/rating/tax policies to incentivise this. But especially a new Christchurch will need a new idea of itself to be really successful.

    Obviously new structures will be built to high seismic standards, but also should reach for the best environmental performance and offer vastly improved urban design qualities. There is is also the chance to create world standard architecture to attract the world’s visitors and businesses there. And here is the chance to ditch the failures of the past like the oneway system and greatly expand the tram network to create a great new fully sustainable, walkable, livable and connected CBD. As a symbol for this I would start by building a new spire on the cathedral in contrasting contemporary design to both commemorate the victims of the quake and also reach forward to a new future. The old spire has come down three times in quakes so is clearly an imported model that is simply not appropriate to this geography. Also, I humbly suggest, this insistence on sticking to this form can be seen as symbolic of a kind of failure to actually fully inhabit the city’s location in this country – a sort of failure to really leave the old country of the mind behind. It is time while retaining all that is good and able to be kept from Christchurch’s built heritage, to forge new and forward looking city, a city that could be truly great and truly new world and right for this country and the centuries to come.

    Instead of only counting the costs ahead we all, and this is an Aucklander writing, should also be open to the possibilities ahead for the country’s second biggest city and the possibilities it has for helping all of us to both squarely face the challenges of this century and lead us forward.

  • bob

    @ admin – the myth is perpetuated by the sneaky use of planner jargon.

    “Auckland’s population growth is two-thirds from natural increase and only one-third from immigration.” [my emphasis]

    But NZ has static overall population, as I said. Births=deaths, so population is not growing in NZ. Of course, some cities may shrink while others grow – this is domestic migration, which is the ‘natural increase’ causing 2/3 of Auckland’s population growth that planners speak of. Hard to plan for, as it can surge instantly (like when Chch folks understandably flee a quake), and no-one wants to tell others that they can’t live in a part of our country because it’s ‘full up’. But planning mechanisms must be developed to protect the environment and quality of life.

    The 1/3 of Auckland’s growth from immigration CAN be controlled, and SHOULD be. This is government’s role, but major councils like Auckland that are most impacted should insist on proper limits.

    People like Labour’s then Education Minister Trevor Mallard need to be put in their place when they witlessly blather about an ‘export education industry’ (=importing foreign students to study here). Such unthinking government policies put immense strain on Auckland’s systems without Cullen funding transport before the student surge hit. Councils need to go on the attack when government tries this nonsense, like Len Brown has over the CBD rail tunnel and airport rail. Force government to build into their cost-benefit analysis the costs that councils will face.

    The immigration control mechanism is simple, and already in place. The points required to migrate here can be raised or lowered to decrease or increase immigrant numbers. It works – use it.

    You claim “we do need to plan for growth” ASSUMES the population has agreed to population growth (which as explained above is coming from immigration, not the mythical ‘natural increase’ of domestic migration). Then we should plan for the level of growth the democratic majority has agreed on (with provisos for unexpected events).

    As for your belief that “Auckland would function better as a city of 2-2.5 million people as we would finally have the population to support the infrastructure we desperately need now”, I note that adding people NOW to progressively fund (through rates & taxes) projects you wanted in place now, actually creates pressure for further infrastructure works to cope with the larger population. It is an inflationary spiral of fiscal doom! Quite apart from the fact that many other global cities have far better PT than Auckland with similar or lower populations (Perth, Brisbane, hmmm).

    @ Tim – I agree the house prices are crucial. Another planner myth was that medium & high density apartments would be cheaper than bungalows, but that has not been true in Auckland. Which does make me also question whether the calls for intensified living are justified in fact.

    Not to mention that most of the missing/dead in Chch seem to be in high density CBD buildings (albeit some that may not have been fully quake strengthened). The low density houses seem to have held up enough to save lives. A lot of planning lessons on urban form, which will require some innovative transport solutions to match.

    Sorry these comments are so broad brush rather than on one transport project, but they do critically impact on transport ;)

    • Except that births does not equal deaths in NZ at the moment. Read this article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10706665

      In particular this bit:

      The 63,900 live births registered in 2010 was up 2 per cent from the 62,550 in 2009, and the 28,440 registered deaths was down slightly from 28,960 in 2009, Statistics New Zealand said today.

      I’m not quite sure in what world 63,900 births and 28,440 deaths equals zero natural increase.

      That’s across the whole country, in Auckland the percentage difference between births and death is higher because Auckland’s population is much younger than the rest of the country’s.

      • Nick R

        The “blame it all on the immigrants” answer to all urban issues is quite prevalent in Australia at the moment. I’ve heard stopping immigration being the answer to sprawl, rising house prices, the cost of petrol and cost of groceries. I’ve heard the “piss off, no more immigrants after me” being spouted as the solution to traffic congestion, and in all serious as an alternative to building a national broadband network!

        It’s amazing, all we have to do is close the border and we no longer have to worry about planning or construction or any kind of urban governance ever again! Wouldn’t that be easy, lol.

        Oh and Bob, natural increase (births less deaths) is a very separate thing from internal migration. Auckland is particularly subject to both, it has a relatively youthful population that breeds strongly, it is the number 1 destination for migration within New Zealand, and it is also the number 1 destination for international migration (and also the number 1 origin for people leaving New Zealand permanently too).

        If we want to ‘fix’ this all we’d need a Chinese style birth policy, a Russian style internal passport with restrictions on freedom of travel, plus closing the border to foreigners…. At that point we could comfortably sit back and watch the economy collapse as growth hits zero, and then starts sliding into the negative as all the baby boomers retire and die and there aren’t enough young workers to pay their pensions or replace them in the workforce.

  • well Bob I just happen to disagree with your assumed premise: That smaller is better, no immigration is better, and no growth is better. I think a 2-3 million person AK is feasible and desirable. It offers the benefits of agglomeration and intensity, a big enough domestic economy to drive an internationally viable one. I just care enormously how we do it. If the only option is sprawl then I tend to agree that it is not only undesirable but unsustainable.

  • And Bob the people who died in Christchurch were killed by hopelessly old and inadequate structures not by the fact of being in a city. Please don’t try to appeal to the victims of the that tragedy to justify crappy development in Auckland.

    More relevant are the endless deaths on our roads caused every year by our auto-dependancy.

  • bob

    1) @ Patrick – I didn’t say people in Chch were killed by ‘being in a city’, but that high rise buildings are intrinsically harder to hold together in disasters. One architect on the radio described the 1g lateral quake force as turning buildings on their side and holding them by their foundations – no wonder some gave way, with terrible consequences. I just noted that the low rise Chch dwellings seem to have been faster to evacuate and that all the deaths were in *older* high rise buildings. Something to consider in urban planning.

    2) I never claimed to be in favour of no growth/no immigration/smaller is better. I said we should discuss and agree levels of growth democratically, not just assume growth levels that government sets (often for short-term political benefit) and try retrospectively build around such a lack of planning. Even NZTA recognise the advantage of greenfields motorway building in advance of residential development.

    I actually suggested static population, which is not the same as no immigration. As a large number of NZ residents leave for the long-term each year, we need immigrants to replace them just to maintain a static population. Obviously, it is smart to use the existing points system to pick migrants with skills we need, and support them so they stay in NZ.

    That’s hardly a ‘blame it all on teh immigants’ position, is it Nick R? And we don’t need one-child policies, and I explicitly rejected Russian style internal passport controls. Sheesh.

    But I DO explicitly reject your notion that we need population growth to create economic growth. That’s a pyramid scheme, with future generations being the suckers paying for it all. We have a finite world – at what point do we recognise that and build urban forms and infrastructure that match that? Every time you pump people into an economy to create economic growth, you are loading future health/transport/education/etc costs onto that economy. This is what we face now in Auckland – roads designed for 800,000 population struggling to cope with 1.4m, and immense upgrade costs.

    3) I understood house price rises to be primarily caused by developers ‘landbanking’ (buying vacant land inside the MUA and sitting on it waiting for capital gains when sold later at higher price when the population grows). That’s not directly caused by immigration, and can be addressed by Financial Transactions Taxes, or Capital Gains Tax, or by limiting land ownership to residents, etc.

    4) @ admin – My Bad! ;( I used a gross and crude oversimplification to try make my point, and was wrong to do so. Natural increase = births – deaths = 63,897 – 28,438 = 35,459 increase in 2010. Positive population growth for that year (and all recent years, between 25,000 and 35,000). Mea culpa.

    But a better long-term measure is live births per woman, which has sat at between 2 and 2.25 for the last two decades. This reflects the stable population growth over generations (which in NZ is static, at replacement levels only), not just in a boom time of a decade or two. IIRC NZ had population decline in the 1970s. This (slightly) offsets the growth of the 1990s and 2000s.

    Finally. I’ll throw a really radical idea out there. If we want better PT, and urban forms that match it, and more intensified housing, why not just massively coerce people to live close to the existing rail stations, ferry wharves, and arterial roads (with bus stops)?

    Areas badly served by existing PT infrastructure could get a huge targeted ‘transport rate’ added onto their rates that pushes them financially to abandon and bulldoze existing homes in areas like Botany, and build apartments next to Henderson station, or Birkenhead wharf. Boosts PT viability without the PT capex (by transferring the capex costs to residents who have to rebuild or buy new apartments).

    Please note I am NOT actually supporting such an idea – just trying to get people thinking outside the square, or MUA ;)

    Outrageous? But we actually do the reverse coercion. Councils rate rural land bordering urban areas at the value it is worth if converted to the more valuable residential use. This makes rural activities financially unviable, so farmers & growers sell up and take the capital gains property developers offer. Councils do this deliberately to gain more land for residential growth. They could rate rural land at what is worth for rural use only, which would solve this, and would raise viability for intensified housing.

    Whew!

    • Bob, the thing is that you’ll find immigrants to NZ over the past 20 years are generally very productive members of society (well educated, generally quite young, generally quite healthy) so they’ve actually made the situation better, not worse.

      Personally I think Auckland should do more to encourage more immigration – obviously looking for young and well educated people. I agree with what was said above about Auckland working better as a city of 2.5-3 million. Obviously those people wouldn’t be added overnight, so you would have the time to build up your infrastructure to cope.

  • Bob, regards your last point, I agree, although the word to use is incentivise, or at least let’s remove the disincentives for people to live more intensively. There is absolutely no need for coercion. So long as the PT is there. It is clear by the massive uptake in the improved rail service over the last few years that if we build it they will come. There is a clear pent up demand for a quality, frequent, speedy, PT service in AK, and especially any service that does not use the road [ie rail and the Northern Busway]. But now what it must become is more widespread, it is still so scattered. This really is the way to improve the quality of the growth of AK. To save the countryside from low standard and extremely expensive new infrastructure. Especially once electricfication is complete the urgent need is for expansion of the network, improvement and spread of the service will, on its own, improve the viability and desirability of living and working around nodes. Properties in the US and UK that are close to good PT are holding their values in otherwise weak markets.

    It is chicken and egg to a degree but it is clear that by providing the alternative to a monoculture of car use with its vast and increasing and crippling costs we will change and improve the shape of the city. For everyone’s benefit.

    We now spend every dollar earned selling dairy products to the world simply to pay for the oil we import, some 10 billion pa, this is unsustainable. We must, as a priority, encourage a change of patterns in our biggest city in order to lower this figure, or change will be forced on us more abruptly in the future.

  • Riccardo

    I think the discussion so far has hardly looked at the questions of what jobs? and what employers?

    We can all panic as PT advocates looking at these low rise industrial and commercial estates everywhere – but they reflect the sort of business being done.

    A banking conglomerate that needs 3000 staff on site is likely to end up with a CBD building – whether the site is well served by PT is a central government decision, pure and simple.

    But some small-time accountant in the suburbs isn’t going to rent CBD office space – too expensive, too hard for customers to get to, etc

    I was on the Gold Coast yesterday seeeing this first hand. Ex-urbia. An entire economy of real estate agents, small accountants, caryards, retailers, light fabrication and so on. No head offices, no large scale banking and finance, no major industrial plants, no real concentration of anything.

    None of these businesses are the ‘primary’ earner for the local economy ie bringing money into the region from outside, they only recirculate money within the region.

    There will always be such businesses, and they will always be hard to serve by PT. The question is, does AKL have enough support for the CBD it does have (and the businesses in it). Are people on the motorways not to get to their suburban accountant, but to get to their CBD high rise office job?

    • obi

      “A banking conglomerate that needs 3000 staff on site is likely to end up with a CBD building – whether the site is well served by PT is a central government decision, pure and simple.”

      Not necessarily. My UK bank (First Direct) is based in an industrial estate in Leeds. No branches. Just an agreement to use HSBC’s ATM network, internet banking, and a call center. Presumably they didn’t see the agglomeration benefits of locating themselves in the City of London for probably ten times the price per square meter. Or even of locating themselves in Leeds city center.

    • I don’t warm to the “dispersed” argument often put forward as reasons why public transport is so poor.

      It’s certainly harder than if all the demand were concentrated at one central point, but with a network of inter meshing routes I think even the Gold Coast could support a much improved service. TransLink is working towards this with their HFP (High Frequency Priority) plan. Naturally not every single business will be in range, but certainly a much better network is possible IMHO. The Gold Coast certainly has some fast arterial roads that go north-south (e.g. Ferry Road) and East-West (e.g. Ashmore Road) and with the Light Rail (North-South) coming the impetus to re-organise those bus routes to run east-west will be there.

      For those unfamiliar, the Gold Coast doesn’t have a CBD, but Bundall and Southport are de-facto business areas. It is a linear “coastal strip” development.

      • Bris, I do agree with you that low density housing and dispersed employment isn’t an excuse for poor PT. What I’m saying is that if we’re making decisions around whether to have our planning document encourage concentrated or dispersed patterns, what’s best?

    • Riccardo, have a look at the ASB bank’s North Shore headquarters at Albany here: http://maps.google.com.au/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&q=33+Corinthian+Dr,+Albany+0632,+Auckland,+New+Zealand&aq=&sll=-36.734323,174.713479&sspn=0.002975,0.004823&ie=UTF8&geocode=Fc17z_0dVulpCg&split=0&hq=&hnear=33+Corinthian+Dr,+Albany+0632,+Auckland,+New+Zealand&ll=-36.734585,174.713109&spn=0.00595,0.009645&t=h&z=17

      I’ve done consulting work on that site, there are about 1,000 staff. All of these are desk jobs, mostly telephone banking consultants, call centre operators and buisiness managers.

      Notice how there is nothing on the surrounding streets but they are all filled with parked cars. From the day it opened there was a near munity on the site over the failure to provide enough carparking for staff.

      This isn’t some small time accountants office, and indeed there is a rapid transit interchange station about a kilometre away and the whole lot is technically in a district centre. All the ingredients are there, they’ve just followed the car based dispersed recipe instead.

  • Luke

    Nick that shows my point about dispersed vs scattered employment. No one is suggesting that this office should be in the CBD. However if the urban design of Albany was different this site would be very easy to serve with PT. However it is just a little too far away from the centre of Albany considering the very unpleasant auto-orientated design of the streets. Massey Albany is even worse, on the wrong side of the main highway, with a very indirect pedestrian connection to the centre. People are much more willing to walk further in town centre/CBD environments than highly auto orientated environments like Harbour West and even outer Albany centre.

    PT can work well with dispersed employment, however it is very difficult to serve sites like that ASB centre well, but it would have been very easy to design the ASB site to make it PT friendly.

  • Funny example actually because that facility is the secure backup to the ASB central AK head brach. It houses duplicate servers and is an uber secure and is at an especially separate location form the CBD for that purpose. Of course no reason why it shouldn’t be connected to PT but it does explain why it is not in the CBD.

    Probably the same level of future proofing and planning went into the siting of that building as went into the new Lion brewery in FlatBush, when it could have a similar greenfields site with even better motorway connections and actually on the Main Trunk Line. They are a distribution company, and at least having the option of using rail could have been, at the very least, a good negotiating card. Ah well….

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