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Intersections and Corners, Exploring Auckland’s Urban Structure

A heart is not a disembodied thing that you set down arbitrarily like choosing a shopping centre site. It has to have an anatomy that runs into the neighbourhood. – Jane Jacobs via Future Cape Town

W392

Looking north west from the vicinity of Jervois Road, showing the Ponsonby Post Office on corner of Saint Mary’s Bay Road and College Hill (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W392)

Increasingly network theory is being explored as a way to understand urban morphology. Measuring features such as intersection density or block size has been found to be highly correlated to walkability and potential to support transit. Portland Metro and the Transportation Research Board use intersection density as one measurement of the viability of transit oriented development (TOD), and Walk Score uses it as a factor in its “Street Smarts” version.

It doesn’t take computers to understand spatial theory. Jane Jacobs devoted an entire chapter of Death and Life to it- “The need for small blocks” in which she asserted that block size was central to movement choice, shop diversity, convenience and thus urban vitality. More recently, Bill Hillier at UCL through his research department and book called Space is the Machine identifies spatial integration – the heirarchical relationship between streets in a network as the key driver of urban outcomes. This relationship between street structure leads to a  “movement economy” where urban activities respond to take advantage of what is in a way elliptical, the same urban advantage of access, proximity and convenience.

Such locations will therefore tend to have higher densities of development to take advantage of this, and higher densities will in turn have a multiplier effect. This will in turn attract new buildings and uses, to take advantage of the multiplier effect. It is this positive feedback loop built on a foundation of the relation between the grid structure and movement this gives rise to the urban buzz, which we prefer to be romantic or mystical about, but which arises from the co-incidence in certain locations of large numbers of different activities involving people going about their business in different ways. -Space is the Machine

In an earlier post I identified the existing real estate premium of well-located, fine grain urbanism in the city centre. The highest value property has the advantage of a being from an era where access and proximity was not an option but the fundamental essence of urbanism. In this exercise I continue to explore local urban structure using a GIS tool called the Urban Network Analysis Toolbar.  This exercise is a way to test the local relationships between neighbourhood structure and on-the-ground conditions.

Below is a look at the Point Chevalier, Grey Lynn, and Ponsonby neighbourhoods. (Un)fortunately, this neighbourhood provides a good test case since it has been divided up un-naturally into an archipelago by the motorway system. The maps calculates “Reach” which determines how many places (dots) each house can reach within 1000 meters using the street network.  The red dots represents high levels of reach and the green dots represent low levels.

Calculating reach for one of Auckland's central suburbs.

Calculating reach for one of Auckland’s central suburbs.

Not surprisingly, much of Ponsonby Road has the highest levels of proximity due to its neighbourhood structure: short blocks, density, and streetcar genesis. In later posts I’ll return to Ponsonby Road but for now I would like to examine a few of the other places that jump out.

One cluster standing out in a field of moderate scores is the intersection of Richmond Road and Warnock Street in West Lynn. Here there is a concentration of intersections creating a condition of convergence. This is what it looks like on the ground – a seemingly successful place with local-serving stores like a grocery store and a butchery and more boutiquey ones like Nature Baby that serve a wider retail catchment.

harvest

West Lynn shops.

Another cluster is located at a complicated Y-intersection of Lincoln, Richmond, and John Streets. Here is what it looks like on the ground. Again, there is a local collection of neighbourhood-serving shops and some specialty stores (like a niche bookstore) and restaurants.

ripe

Richmond Road shops

Returning to Jane Jacobs, here is what she says (via hearthhealth.wordpress.com) about corners which are increased by the condition of short blocks and the benfactors of a connected neighbourhood structure.

Let’s think a minute about the natural community anatomy of community hearths.  Wherever they develop spontaneously, they are almost invariably consequences of two or more intersecting streets well used by pedestrians.  On the most meagre level, … we have the cliché of the corner store or the corner pub that is recognized as a local hangout.  In this cliche, corner is the significant adjective.  “Corner” implies two streets intersecting in the shape of an X or a Y.  In traditional towns, the spot recognized as the centre of things surprisingly often contains a triangular piece of ground.  This is because it is where three main routes converge in the shape of a Y.

Finally, for comparison, here is a very low-scoring site that retains a historic building that seems comparable to many places along Ponsonby Road and in the busy local centres documented above.

archhill

Great North Road

Why are these places so different today? What has happened to Great North Road that makes it so low scoring in this analysis and so seemingly low value on the ground? What relevance does this sort of analysis have on spatial planning, the potential to leverage the advantanges of urbanism, or the trade-offs between designing streets for local vs long-distance movement patterns?

35 comments to Intersections and Corners, Exploring Auckland’s Urban Structure

  • Mr Anderson

    The almost perfect matching of high pedestrian accessibility with retail locations is fascinating, though not really surprising when you consider the era this part of Auckland developed.

    It’d be interesting to look at a place like Albany as a comparison.

    • Albany would be a sea of green dots. This would be a good demonstration of the difficulty of providing transit is some places. Patrick Kennedy has been writing some great stuff on this recently- http://www.carfreeinbigd.com/2012/12/why-grids-matter-and-we-should-recreate.html
      “dendritic systems concentrate the bad and disperse the good. On the other hand, complex highly interconnected grids concentrate the good (the sociopetal) and disperse the bad (sociofugal)”

      My next step is to investigate and illustrate why there are places all over town that should look like West Lynn shops but instead through modern planning designs are now antique stores or other low rent retail places.

      • SteveC

        I’m not defending Albany, or East Coast Bays which is redolent of dead worm subdivisions, but there are a myriad of pedestrian linkages and parks in these areas which do enhance pedstrian (and cyclis) permiability to a considerable degree

        thast said, I did once measure the on road walk distance between two back to back properties in ECB at around 7.5 km!

        • SteveC

          of course, that should have been pedestrian and cyclist,

          mods, when to we get an edit after the fact option?

          • Bryce P

            I had the misfortune to have to pick a couple of things up from the Albany centre today and the thought came to my head, after watching the movie recently, is that Albany was designed by the same people who brought us the ‘Cars’ movies

  • Filde

    Minimum parking requirements! Town planning? Regulations? Socialists?

    Nice GIS analysis by the way. Pity it is only built for Arc but it would be easily ported to GRASS. I’ll have to have a play…

  • What happened to GNR is the hundreds of car lots.

  • Duncan

    Having lived in Grey Lynn / Westmere my entire life just down from those shops, apart from the irony of Nature Baby previously being Aladdins Bathhouse (brothel) the areas traffic has increased significantly since I grew up, but there is also A LOT more foot traffic and persons visiting the shops/bars etc are locals who have walked there. The cars are people passing through and not from the area usually.
    Lovely bunch of shops though. Wish they would make streets like that again.

  • Dan

    Clearly Great North Road suffers from an edge effect induced by the motorway — you can’t get 1000m to the south on the street network.

    Nice analysis, though I’d suggest that you extend it to include walking routes through parks. Grey Lynn park, for example, seems to induce very low accessibility (it does a bit for cars) but it is great for walking and cycling.

  • Patrick Reynolds

    Yes I’ve noticed that nice irony of gentrification in West Lynn too: Aladins-> Nature Baby

    It is a shame that the developers of the medium density (all leaky) terrace houses of the last decade or so missed the opportunity to build real mixed use buildings here. Shops below, residences above, I guess the planning regs don’t help but also these sites got developed a bit too early…. And the shame is they’ve all been built twice now so the capital locked up in these poor buildings all with car parking a ground level will be high.

    Really West Lynn is ready for a little more intensity but has used up all the brown fields old commercial sites now so the opportunity is over, especially as the villa lovers will prevent any expansion. I guess the best thing that could possibly happen is if that completely vile government building that turns its back to the street with nasty glass and metal cage inhumanity should be imaginatively repurposed into one that actually believes it is there and not floating in some auto-only non-place (once was a cinema).

    And big ups to Samson Corp for their sensitive guardianship and thoughtful modernisation of the Edwardian shops…. They pretty much own the whole place (except the obvious crappier buildings).

    Traffic needs more calming, good that the 020 is getting an improvement to its 20min freq.

    Can recommend the new bar on the corner of Hakanoa St in the old butchers shop; love the Thonet chairs hanging on the old meat rack (other details are a bit cheesy though) nice restricted but playful drinks selection.

    • Mr Anderson

      And from memory West Lynn has absolutely no off street parking. Yet it’s still successful. Yet “spillover parking” doesn’t seem to be a problem.

      Interesting…..

      • Spillover parking, aka efficiently utilising a sunk cost resource.

      • Dan

        West Lynn has quite a lot of parking — wide street allows dodgy angle parking to cram them in. Definitely needs more traffic calming. The richmond rd shop area (shown in the Lincoln, Richmond, and John Streets picture) also needs calming measures — there are some pretty dangerous car movements around that area.

        Interesting to constrast these areas with the more recently deveolped shopping area down at the bottom of Richmond road. While that area has some decent shops, it is a nightmare of carparks and a total eyesore.

        • The Richmond/Westmoreland bunch of buildings are an exercise in what not to do. Parking is duplicated around each building and is never fully utilised despite high volume shops like Mitre 10 and Farro Fresh now being there, no doubt Parking Minimums have a lot to do with this

      • Geoff Houtman

        Maybe the density level is exactly right?

  • Luke C

    I would really hate to see what a modern area of subdivisions would look like on that programme. I think almost all the areas shown on your programme have good levels of connectivty, and those that don’t are generally near a geographic barrier. Doing both this area and Albany at once would probably show this area all red, and Albany all green.
    Nothing wrong too with the connectivity of Great North Road, it is the awful urban environment, and scores lower than it should because of the motorway barrier.

    I think the programme breaks down at the high end where by areas with too many street connections get the best scores, but are not necessarily any better. In a lowish density residential area not as much of a need to have a very high score (ie red over orange). For example I don’t think there is much of an advantage is having very small blocks which would always give the highest scores on this programme.

    • Kent Lundberg

      GNR is an awful environment because of the lack of connectivity caused by the motorway. This of course is compounded by stroad design that favours long distance trips over local trips- in effect further compromising it’s local “movement economy” and helping to atomise the city across the landscape. I mostly agree with what you say except this part: “nothing wrong too with the connectivity of Great North Road”

      • Bryce P

        GNR itself is a right pain. Its so wide with the parking, traffic lanes and median. The only place to cross is at the traffic lights. Why not replace the flush median with a raised, grassed, or even a few nice deciduous trees. Drivers just need to get used to using side streets to turn around.

        • Geoff Houtman

          Ten bucks says a Tram would fit nicely all the way along…

          • It would, and did. But where would you send the tram to Geoff? Would it share the street with buses, would you replace all the bus routes with trams out to their terminii, or would you make bus passengers transfer to trams at Grey Lynn shops or Western Springs?

          • Geoff Houtman

            Nick- I guess Queen- K- GNR- existing line on GNR- Pt Chev Shops- Unitec would be the easy first route.

            Double tracked in the carriageway centre and let it double as a 24/7 bus lane for the Nor Westers. This would leave one lane each way for general traffic which should be plenty.

          • Luke C

            It would be perfect. Light rail/trams work much better than buslanes in these cases where you want to increase urban vitality.
            The buslanes just make the street even wider, so in some ways are worse than parking in this respect!
            However light rail along the centreline would make it more pedestrian friendly. Of course the complication is the North Western buses, however these could run along the motorway, or would also make a good argument for the NW rail line/driverless metro.

          • Bryce P

            Yes, I think it would work fine as part a an LRT line along the NW (instead of a buswsy). So it would leave a fast run along the NW on its own corridor and then tram style along GNR. Bus / LRT interchange would be needed at Rosebank and Pt Chev and Carrington Rd intersection. Anywhere else?

  • Luke C

    hmmm Maybe I meant nothing too wrong! Agree that motorway wrecks connectivity to the south, but still very well connected north, east and west so I think connectivity is reasonable. And I think main reason it is crap is because is treated as a motorway on-ramp, and street layout suggests/encourages this. This affects land-use as caryards and auto businesses gravitate to this sort of area.
    It would still look the same if the motorway was further south by a few hundred metres or the the motorway was covered over and all the streets linked up to the south, thus increasing the score to green.
    I still think is has great potential, and should be lined with 5ish storey mixed use buildings. Add light rail and it would be knocking on Dominion and Ponsonby road as a happening inner suburban street.

    Another interesting point is that these centres in wealthier suburbs often attract boutique stores, and people will travel from around the city to get to them. Hence the campervan in the West Lynn photo! This is interesting as this makes them more auto dependent as they become more specialised, unless have a high quality public transport system linking all the surrounding suburbs.

    • Kent Lundberg

      1. Interesting chicken and egg discussion. I think GNR would be red without the motorway, like Ponsonby. I might test it if I have time. In the meantime look at this historical image. It makes GNR seem central, almost boulevard-like.

      I was going along with you until “mixed-use”. As demonstrated in this post, the street I believe suffers from network deficiencies caused by the motorway as well as street design issues (one is fixable, the other not-so-much). Yes, hope for residential, make it 5 storeys, etc. But you can’t expect mixed uses to appear via zoning. In fact, I think it is already zoned mixed use. The best we can do here is recognise the physical changes that have compromised the street and work to improve spatial integration and connectivity (actually transforming conditions on the ground to create a “red dot” envrionment) This would include public realm improvements such as introducing intersections and pedestrian provisions to start. The beautification stuff is less important.

      2. There are so few people places in Auckland, that these little enclaves attract users from a wide area. I’m sure Nature Baby chose the spot so they could serve their clientele who would also like to stroll for a tea after they buy a stroller. Or perhaps after spending a grand on a stroller they could use a stiff drink! It’s places like this that illustrate the urbanism dividend that we should be trying to achieve- a walkable hood, efficient provision of parking, a place where people want to linger. Rents of course, are higher here. Council rates are likely 10x a typical car-oriented place. I’m sure nearby homes also recognise a premium for their proximity to this place.

      We need to create and protect places like this that have this muliplier-effect of urban value.

    • NCD

      Agree with your vision for a future Great North Road where car dealers are replaced with high quality mixed use. Surely the City end of GNR is under-rated by this analysis- you can reach less other houses, but you can reach a lot more services. The GNR / K Rd / Park Rd (and on to Newmarket) corridor has heaps of potential as it’s all relatively flat- would be great to see a cycle lane connecting them all- maybe reach should also be thought of as 2km if it’s easily bikeable? (It being quicker to bike 2km than walk 1km)

      • Luke C

        I’m not really sure of current zoning, maybe some changes like minimum parking would help but some residential buildings have gone up there.
        Totally agree zoning won’t magically fix it though. Sometimes the ‘mixed use’ term is over-used, but in urban settings should refer to mostly smaller format retail, residential, and offices, not larger format trade and caryards that predominate the area at the moment.
        Our best hope for the change is for it to start at the two ends that do have ‘old town centres’ which are Grey Lynn and Ponsonby, and for development to head inwards. However some redesign of the road could help kick things off too.
        For a start there are only 3 pedestrian crossings between Grey Lynn and Ponsonby, one at Bond St traffic lights, one at Crummer St and one between Waima and Kirk St, though this seems to serve the Bentley and Lamborghini dealership! Don’t even appear to be any pedestrian refuges, so pedestrians have to brave the median!
        Hopefully the council can rank this as a prime area for intensification, and amenity improvements will proceed, with more promised if more intensifcation happens. Fewer historic buildings and larger sites on this corridor should make it easier here than say Dominion or Ponsonby Roads.

  • Anthony

    And the Haslett St pedestrian and Mountain View Rd & other road connections across the motorways.
    Gt Nth Rd is more than 2 lanes in most places (bus and/or additional traffic) and has reduced car parking.

  • Harry 5-0

    Of course what Gt North Road will be getting is a Bunnings Warehouse at #300 – the old Summit factory, With significantly less on site parking than would be required by Council minimum standards. Better than another card yard, but not quite “high quality mixed use”….

  • A good example of walkability improvement as a driver of commercial growth from small [but growing] town california: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2013/01/case-walkability-economic-development-tool/4317/

  • Further evidence that density and driving are inversely co-related: http://www.planetizen.com/node/60168

  • Bryce P

    In addition to the proposed Te Atatu, Lincoln Rd and Westgate interchanges that is.

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