The Unitary Plan is definitely far from perfect but is a start in setting out how the city will develop in the future. I say a start as we will likely to need to be revisit the plan in a few years time to allow for more development as in the current version much of the city suffered the fate of elected representatives getting nervous and trying to appease the NIMBYs as the local body elections loomed (with the exception of the West Auckland local boards who thankfully went the opposite way). This was a point also made by Patrick Fontein at an event I attended a month ago at Construkt.
One of the biggest issues facing the plan is that it contains lots of technical details that most of the general public are simply not going to be interested enough to read about it. So for most the only experience of the plan has been the largely boiled down sound bites from the likes of Bernard Orsman which amounted to scaremongering that massive apartment buildings were about to sprout out of the ground like grass on berms after a few weeks of uncut spring growth.
So yesterday it was interesting to see Herald have run a poll about the unitary plan however in typical herald fashion they have completely misrepresented the results.
A sizeable section of Aucklanders appear to prefer more urban sprawl to higher buildings, despite Mayor Len Brown’s goal of a compact city.
A Herald-DigiPoll survey of 500 people has found more of them deeming the proposed Unitary Plan rule-book unnecessary than those prepared to give unqualified support to more multi-storey buildings and smaller average section sizes.
Only 18.3 per cent believe the plan is the best way to deal with population growth, and will make Auckland a better place to live.
That compares with 28 per cent who said the plan was unnecessary, and that the Auckland Council should let the city grow outwards instead of allowing more high-rises.
But 23.4 per cent supported the plan in principle while believing some proposed changes were going too far.
And 28.6 per cent were undecided, saying they didn’t know enough to comment
So what this is really telling us is that only 28% of people actually favour sprawl. The rest either support the plan as is, support the ideas behind the plan or are unsure. Also note that the figures given don’t add up to 100%, who knows where the missing 1.7% is. The issue of how the numbers are interpreted is picked up on David Gibbs from Construkt.
Urban designer David Gibbs, director of Auckland architecture and master-planning firm Construkt, said the combination of strong and conditional support for the plan, totalling 41.7 per cent, was “not too bad over a very complex issue” but called on the council to do a better job of explaining what was at stake.
“What people are struggling to understand is we are going through quite a societal shift in which almost 50 per cent of our households are one or two-person households,” he told the Weekend Herald.
“So we’ve got a need for 50 per cent of our housing to be for other than nuclear families.”
Mr Gibbs said the type of accommodation suitable for small households, either apartments or terraced housing, were unlikely to be built on city outskirts, where an Australian study calculated the environmental and economic costs of providing new infrastructure and transport links were two to eight times higher than building inside urban limits.
“I think the people of Auckland aren’t getting their minds out of their own suburban situation by thinking: where are our children going to live, or where in fact am I going to live if I become widowed or when the children move out.”
I think David makes some extremely good points. The plan is about setting Auckland up for the future and the big growth that is happening is in one or two person households and many of those may not want the mythical ¼ acre section and big house. Something Dick Quax seems to think we all want.
But councillor Dick Quax, who opposes the Unitary Plan, said the poll provided more evidence that Mr Brown’s claim that Aucklanders loved the idea of the compact city was “a great exaggeration”.
“As it becomes more clear to people what the compact city actually means, they are deciding that really, they don’t want that.”
I guess someone should tell the developers of all of the apartments and terraced houses coming onto the market that they are going to be building things that people don’t want, despite many apparently selling quite well.
It’s also interesting to compare the discussions about the unitary plan and the extremely restrictive zoning with what is happening in San Francisco as pointed out in this article by The Atlantic Cities.
My friends keep moving to Oakland. Gone from San Francisco for greener pastures and cheaper rents, because it’s just gotten too hard, by which I really mean too expensive. Their move signals that something has gone terribly wrong in this most progressive of American cities.
In some ways, we came by the problem innocently. San Francisco had the good fortune to be one of the very few 19th century industrial cities to successfully make the transition to a new, post-industrial economic base. It wasn’t just bohemians who set up shop here—all kinds of entrepreneurs and creative business people decided to call San Francisco home. As wave after wave of older industrial jobs moved out of town, new types of work were created to replace them.
At the same time, San Francisco was a great place to live. Partly from historical inheritance and partly from the work of activists who chose to make the city the focus of their activism, the city remained a walkable, urban paradise compared to most of America.
A great quality of life and a lot of high-paying professional jobs meant that a lot of people wanted to live here. And they still do.
But the city did not allow its housing supply to keep up with demand. San Francisco was down-zoned (that is, the density of housing or permitted expansion of construction was reduced) to protect the “character” that people loved. It created the most byzantine planning process of any major city in the country. Many outspoken citizens did—and continue to do—everything possible to fight new high-density development or, as they saw it, protecting the city from undesirable change.
Unfortunately, it worked: the city was largely “protected” from change. But in so doing, we put out fire with gasoline. Over the past two decades, San Francisco has produced an average of 1,500 new housing units per year. Compare this with Seattle (another 19th century industrial city that now has a tech economy), which has produced about 3,000 units per year over the same time period (and remember it’s starting from a smaller overall population base). While Seattle decided to embrace infill development as a way to save open space at the edge of its region and put more people in neighborhoods where they could walk, San Francisco decided to push regional population growth somewhere else.
Whatever the merits of this strategy might be in terms of preserving the historic fabric of the city, it very clearly accelerated the rise in housing prices. As more people move to the Bay Area, the demand for housing continues to increase far faster than supply.
This all sounds eerily similar to what is happening, particularly in the city fringe suburbs.