Urban intensification gets a lot of criticism for supposedly wanting to force “high rise” development onto everyone – whether they want it or not. This came through in a recent NZ Herald article which broke the news of the Auckland Plan backing down on wanting 75% of all urban development to occur through intensification:
Auckland Council has eased up on its vision of squeezing residents up closer by keeping 75 per cent of new housing on existing land and just 25 per cent outside the limits within the next three decades.
Instead, it is now discussing a 60/40 split, which the development sector is hailing as a victory after intense opposition and lobbying and independent reports which criticised the original scheme as unworkable.
The image of high-rise hell in heritage waterfront suburbs such as Birkenhead and Northcote caused an outcry…
Inevitably, such emotive language makes people think of previous developments which are seen as intensification failures – and unfortunately Auckland is quite full of them. Whether it be the chicken-coop apartments on Nelson Street or out of place towers in Herne Bay: The Herne Bay towers are an interesting example of an important distinction to make: high-rise and high density are not necessarily the same thing. Take the closest of the two towers in the image above – known as the “Shangri-La”. It’s comprised of a mere 16 apartments (one for each floor presumably) and sites on a site of 3070 square metres, most of which is garages and asphalt for cars to manoeuvre: At one unit per 192 square metres of land, the tower is actually not particularly high density at all. Sure, it’s denser than most typical standalone houses, but it’s extremely easy to build significantly higher densities than this without needing high-rise development at all. In fact, there’s a good example of this just a few minutes away on Sheehan Street, around the back of “Three Lamps” in Ponsonby:
Not more than three levels in height, tucked quite close to the street with parking around the back. So what kind of density do these terraced houses reach? Well we have 29 units on this site and a total area of 3552 square metres – so an average density of one unit per 122 square metres – a full 36% denser than Shangri-La!
While in some areas high-rise residential development will be an appropriate way to intensify, we need to break the connection that high-density automatically means high-rise apartments. Each Sheehan Street terraced house has a small courtyard, a deck, there’s a shared (admittedly quite small) green space in the internal area for residents to share. Each place has its own front door and a direct pedestrian link to the street – all at a density significantly higher than that of a 16 level tower block.