An opinion piece by sprawl advocate Owen McShane in the National Business Review refers to a series of research papers undertaken by the Ministry for Economic Development over the past few years. The papers relate to MED trying to get a better handle on what policy interventions in Auckland are likely to have the most impact on improving the city’s economic performance.
Reading McShane’s piece, I must say my eyes rolled a bit as it seemed as though the central government agencies had yet again outlined a policy position on Auckland that is straight out of the 1960s – much as they did on the Auckland Spatial Plan and their review of the City Rail Link:
The Auckland Policy Office, led by the Ministry of Economic Development, has released the nine reports generated by its three-year research programme on Auckland’s social and economic development.
These reports openly challenge many of the assumptions behind the discussion document “Auckland Unleashed” and provide substantial data in support of the Ministry of Transport’s skeptical response to the current proposal for a mono-centric, high-density, public transport dependent, Auckland Council…
…The reports also recognise the simultaneous decentralisation of work. “The availability of cars enabled people to live in locations far from the central city where land was cheap, life was less crowded, and where new firms were locating. The result is the decentralised, often sprawling and seemingly unplanned modern city, frequently characterised by a polycentric form featuring many subsidiary sub-centres far from the traditional city centre.
This sounds awfully similar to what the central government agencies have been saying about the spatial plan and the City Rail Link project, that they expect the trends of the past few decades to continue into the future. They expect more decentralisation, more sprawl, more auto-dependency and so forth.
Of course, this gets Owen McShane very excited indeed:
Surely, the best way to develop the Auckland brand is to exploit the green and blue arcadian spaces that penetrate and punctuate its existing and distinctive form. Future development should reflect the fractal nature of Auckland’s setting, its extensive rural hinterland, dramatic coastal and bush-clad edges and the desire of so many residents to live a “greener” lifestyle. The last thing our brand requires is more urban containment and its consequent congestion, pollution and over-crowding.
The council still seems convinced Auckland is a radial monocentric city in which future economic growth should be jammed into the circular central isthmus. In reality, Auckland’s natural destiny is to be a linear city, say 100km long, with a string of major and minor centres connected by fields of green overlooking seas of blue.
Auckland’s brand of Pacific green urbanism need not be beholden to a perverse Euro-envy. We don’t need to aspire to the splendid urban spaces of Sienna or Salzburg – or to the hideous concrete deserts and slabs of Halle-Neustadt, or Pyongyang, which would be our own more probable destiny.
Our brand should be about space, sea and sky; weather and vegetation; and openness. The “creative set” are leading the way.
It’s amusing how he equates a low density auto-dependent lifestyle with one that is ‘green’. I tend to think that his ‘anti-urbanism’ probably fitted quite well with the hopes and dreams of the baby-boomer generation – who seem to aspire to having a lifestyle block on the urban fringe, even if it means huge reliance on their cars. Whether anti-urbanism fits with younger generations is more dubious I think.
But anyway, getting back to the Ministry for Economic Development papers, I thought I’d go check them out just to see how bad they were in supporting a “what has happened in the past will continue to happen” approach to planning Auckland’s future. There are quite a number of papers, but helpfully there’s also a summary paper which puts together the major findings and then has some discussion of them. Here are some of the findings: On the transport issues, I am a bit surprised that Motu (who did most of the background research for MED) didn’t highlight their very own paper into the economic benefits of the Western Railway Line that I mentioned in this previous blog post. Perhaps the timing of the research papers was to blame? One thing that I do find interesting is the emphasis placed on the benefits of enhancing intra-regional, rather than inter-regional, transportation. This is explained further below: That doesn’t exactly match up with what Owen McShane was saying about transport in his opinion piece:
The northern “holiday highway” – with its splendid “portal to the sky” – will add to our other “holiday highways” with their own splendid views of our blue and green world, such as the Newmarket Viaduct, the Harbour Bridge, and the new Mangere Bridge. Let’s make all our highways “holiday highways” – they all add to our brand.
Hmmm… that must be the strangest justification for the “holiday highway” that I’ve come across yet. But how about what the MED study says about the built environment – does that match with what Mr McShane was saying the study had concluded – that Auckland continues to decentralise and that’s a good thing? Well, not really:
Enhancing the accessibility and attractiveness of downtown for mixed use development – well that sounds exactly like what the City Rail Link project intends to achieve. Connecting up subsidiary centres that service and provide local employment, well that potentially sounds a lot like what projects such as the southwest (Airport) railway line could achieve: connecting major employment hubs like Manukau City and the Airport with parts of the city that currently under-perform, such as Mangere and other parts of South Auckland.
Reading through the research papers in a bit more detail is something of a disappointment, in that what they most commonly seem to note is the absence of a logic or pattern to where people and businesses locate. This suggests that perhaps they are looking at the wrong issues – there seems to not be a particularly extensive analysis of planning controls other than the Metropolitan Urban Limit. Or alternatively, the absence of logic may be the result of the confused and contradictory planning and policy situation that Auckland currently has.
Either way, it seems that Owen McShane was either reading a completely different set of papers to what I have flicked through, or that he just cherry-picked a couple of small things and used them to try to pretend that the papers supported his utopian vision of Auckland as a completely decentralised auto-dependent city that stretches from Whangarei to Hamilton.