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CBD Growth: What Counts?

Pronouncements on Auckland by Unitec’s Dushko Bogunovich’s are consistently curious to say the least, not many urban designers seem so anti urbanist. Generally they are best puzzled over then ignored, but his latest effort, dutifully reported by Anne Gibson in the Herald, deserves a brief response. The baffling outburst is here. Basically he is trying to claim that by repurposing an office block into apartments in Vincent St nothing is being gained. Because there won’t, he argues, be a net gain of humans in the inner city. Here is his math:

“Does he not realise that the conversion leaves the physical density the same as before and keeps roughly the same number of bodies in the CBD as before, only the bodies were there eight hours during day?

Where to start? Well there clearly will be an increase in residents in the inner city through this move, and they may or may not also all work in in the CBD, this can’t be known, although it is not a long stretch to assume that some or even most will, as it would be probably be a little odd to decide to live right in town but commute to, say, Takanini. Odd but not impossible, and just fine if that’s what occurs. This is of no consequence. What really matters is that a whole block of commercial space will be withdrawn from that market and because of this will help to encourage demand for new construction elsewhere in town. And at the same time a bunch of new grocery-buying, theatre-going, who-knows-what doing people will be moving in. Now as we are told in the original article that BECA, the current tenants of this block, are moving up the road to the old ARC building and not out to the suburbs, we can safely conclude that this will indeed increase net amount of ‘bodies’ in the city.

Beca staff will soon leave the block which is still their international headquarters even though only a handful of staff remain, after divisions gradually shifted to the former Auckland Regional Council headquarters on Pitt St.

So the complete reverse of Bogunovich’s next claim:

“Now they will be there eight hours at night. And that this is yet another sign significant businesses are decentralising rather than compacting in the city?”

This development is clearly putting a small squeeze on the availability of commercial space in the CBD, removing an older lower value block from the market and giving it a new use. Bringing construction and new residents into town which will support new and existing businesses there. Put it this way: If every current office block in the CBD was converted to apartments then demand for new office space would clearly grow, stimulating construction as well as increasing the economic life of the CBD as the needs and desires of these new residents are met.

So of course this is an encouraging move and exactly the kind of thing the Council wants to see. Churn in existing buildings is a sign of economic activity and dynamism in a market. And this sort of repurposing is exactly what we’ed expect to see as a start of vitality returning to the CBD residential market. Is this what so angers the anti-intensivist Bogunovich? Roger Blakeley in the earlier Anne Gibson article here:

“This is music to our ears as we look to quality residential development in the city centre and other centres as part of the quality compact city in the Auckland Plan.”

Quite. But also this but also from the developer:

“Three Malaysian and Singaporean investors have bought apartments.

“They are very impressed with the growth in Auckland City amenities, for example the Auckland Art Gallery, Wynyard Quarter, Britomart and the strategic plan for Auckland City.”

Vincent St is a great location for apartments, so handy to all those amenities. They could also have mentioned just how close these new apartments will be to not only the new Aotea station but especially to the K’rd one on the City Rail Link…. especially useful for when these new city residents wish to visit the rest of the isthmus, including Takanini.

Vincent St and Greys Ave

Public housing on Greys Ave and other residential on the Myers Park side. The sheds at the lower end currently used for that most valuable of resources; parking, are surely due development. The building in question ‘A’. Just out of shot on the left is the building that BECA are moving to; bit of a stretch to call this decentralisation. Both streets ennobled by London Planes, arguably the greatest of street trees. It would be lovely to see the gaps on these streets planted.

12 comments to CBD Growth: What Counts?

  • conan

    So is Dushko Bogunovich seriously suggesting that there should be some form of intervention to stop this sort of activity? I doubt the developer is doing this because they believe it would be a nice thing to do. They would have calculated that the best return will come from residential conversion.

    There really is no shortage of building plots in the city and immediate surrounds for some very large buildings. The conversion of one 6 story building isn’t going to start some flight to the suburbs, or even to far flung Pitt St.

    Someone may know better but I believe the space in the old ARC building was made available by the council who have partly moved to the old Telecom building. Telecom has of course moved to its new headquarters in Victoria St. Kind of how these things go. At the end of these moves is usually a vacant building needing quite a bit of work to bring it up to spec. The council is looking to move to the current ASB tower when ASB move to Wyndham Quater- maybe the old Telecom tower could be next for conversion? Amazing views from up there.

  • Thing is re-purposing an existing building costs less than building a new one so it is always the first thing that happens in an emerging market. That apartment building across Victoria St from the Sky Tower was once BNZ offices and data centre, in fact they built it. I think of this as a friend of of one of my daughters lives there now and my father’s practice designed the original building… things change: The BNZ moved first to their penis-shaped tower with the awful facadism on Queen St, and then again across the road to the Deloitte building [twice in fact, as they were in the building that was demolished to build the new one] each time the preceding building gets a new use. A ‘Metro’ supermarket has just opened in the ground floor of the old, old, old BNZ on Queen and no doubt the owners will look for what ever tenants they can get for the tower itself. If it wasn’t such a shitty piece of work and so hard to adapt I bet they would be happy to convert it to residential…. So it goes; not sure Dushko understands the life cycles of buildings…or more likely he does really; just doesn’t suit his world view to be seen to.

  • Who gives a rats arse about the so called ‘physical density’, what sort of measure is that?

    To be frank a residential block inhabited by people who will presumably work, shop, eat and recreate in town is going to do much more for the city than a bunch of Beca’s engineers commuting in on the motorway and commuting back out again at 5pm.

  • bbc

    I think these apartments also demonstrate that the market has started to mature and move on from the days of 20-30m2 apartments (in part because of changes to council regulations) as these ones are sized between 60-130 m2, large enough for a family to live in. It’s a market segment that’s been pretty underserved to date.

    http://www.vincentst.co.nz/index.html

    • Publius

      Definitely a new era — No 1 bedroom apartments at all! Only 2 or 3 bedroom. Nice to see. Obviously not with students in mind.

    • Geoff Houtman

      This could be the sort of thing that turns the tide of public opinion on apartments- big ones- done well.

      And yes Patrick- more plane trees! (although they are apparently un-PC. “Fuck PC” I say!

  • Cam

    This is a nothing article. He claims there will not net gain and this is a sign of “decentralisation” yet the office workers are moving 200 metres up the road to Pitt street. Not sure why they go to this guy, he is either badly uninformed or likes to deliberatley mislead with what he says.

    Most of the previous articles from him show he’s just an old fashioned pro sprawl advocate with little to really add to the debate.

  • Amy

    Ok, so I may be totally misrepresenting here (maybe you could ask the man himself) but I think Dushko’s position is more complicated than that. He is actually a deep green (like really concerned about the environment, peak oil etc) and he is known for being quite a progressive thinker.

    The thing is he has decided (and I think he is mistaken) that it is unsustainable trying to create big, mega-cities like Auckland and so we instead we shoudl be aiming to have lots of small, village type developments. This is why he is opposed to trying to intensify development in the CBD – he doesn’t wnat Auckland to get any bigger population wise.

    Where I disagree with him is that I don’t think it’s possible to stop Auckland growing because I think the history of human development shows, pretty conclusively actually, that people like to live in big cities with lots of other people. Whether they’re right about that actually being the choice that makes them healthiest/happiest is immaterial – it seems to be what most people like to do, even when they don’t have economic imperatives to do so.

    So, aaaanyway, I think that Dushko is more kind of a naive idealist, who gets quoted in the media etc for putting forward these views that sound like he is advocating for sprawl, unsustainable growh etc. But, actually, his ideal is more that we would have lots of very sustainable little mini=cities connected to Auckland around the periphery by, say, rail lines. The problem is that this is never actually going to happen in real life (at least, not in the next 30 years), and in the real world it’s probably more realistic (and thus ultimately better for the environment) to push for a compact mega-city and more growth in the CBD.

    Hence why I think he’s a naive idealist, who happens to know a great deal about architecture/urban design, but very little about real politik.

  • morecityplease

    @Amy. Much of the empirical data on cities shows the larger they get the more efficient they get. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/

  • Amy, yes I know, and you’re right, especially when you says he is a naive idealist. I just want to highlight how that naïveté gets used to support sprawl. I dont disagree with his entire programme but by attacking new urbanism instead of the business as usual sprawlers he really is on the wrong side of the fight. And the zeitgeist. As morecityplease says it is in denial of just how green cities can be, or can become.

    I think we would agree on the role of better peri urban development except I would emphasise the need for these communities to have really good connection to the heart of our growing metropolis, especially utilising the existing rail corridors. All the evidence globally is that this is a time of urbanisation not the reverse. Sometimes I wonder if the stage of life of some commentators and decision makers can be too much of an influence; back to land may appeal to retirees but certainly not to many younger people who crave the excitement that only the city offers….?

    I do not believe in a lower tech and more isolated future, but a more sophisticated, more electric and but less diesel one. I agree with the move towards micro generation etc too, but there will still be a grid, industrial scale generation, the power of agglomeration: The city.

    Also you have to be concerned with any commentator who has to deny basic facts, as in this case, to support their vision. I mean, repurposing an existing building; how is that not good, not Green?

  • Amy

    Yes, I generally agree that large cities are more efficient (although I do wonder if you can reach a point (e.g., Mexico City or sya more than 5 million) where that kind of maxes out, and it becomes inefficient again? But anyway, I wasn’t saying I agree with Duskho – just explaining where I think he is coming from. The risk is we will win end up with fringe development, as he wants, but a) it won’t be compact villages, it will be sprawling, car-dominated, mainly residential suburbs and b) they wont’ be connected at all by public transport to the CBD.

    • Yes, again Amy i think you are right. And on the issue of the limits to urbanism that is a scary question but not for Auckland, which is still so small by any real measure. But a very issue for those grand metropolii like Shanghai and Mexico City, because when these places hit real limits and fail it is going to be very very ugly. We really are so lucky here, which makes our failure to make the best of our situation so frustrating.

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