Something strange seems to be happening at the Herald. Recently we have started to see an increasing number of stories that talk about the positives of apartments and higher density living which is completely opposite to the scaremongering we saw during the draft Unitary Plan debate last year. This one was in the herald yesterday – yes it’s the Herald on Sunday which is technically a different publication but we have seen it in the normal herald recently too.
Welcome to your new home. Step inside the flexible living space, which converts into an extra bedroom for guests and a home office during the week.
The two bedrooms also morph into multi-use spaces as needed – an office, a TV room, a studio or workroom. The walls are double insulated against the sound of the high-speed trains passing nearby, and the big, north-facing windows provide passive solar heating.
There’s no garage but you can hire a car just down the street and park your bike in the lock-up.
That aroma? Your neighbours are firing up a welcome barbecue down in the communal courtyard. Grab a lettuce from the rooftop garden for a salad and tuck in.
That’s one vision for how we could be living in 20 years. As demand grows for scarce city land, the population grows and property prices soar, it could well be a reality.
It’s not just a vision of our children’s future, either. It’s already the urban way of life in some parts of the world and has been for generations.
For some the idea of this won’t be appealing but for many others – like many in our younger generations – it’s an idea that doesn’t concern them and for many may even be desirable. in 2012 Patrick put together this wonderful post highlighting people who choose to live in an apartment.
Not everyone wants to live in apartments – and not everyone wants them next door, either. Submissions are open on Auckland Council’s proposed Unitary Plan, the planning document that replaces the region’s 13 existing district and regional plans. Much of the public reaction has been opposition to medium and high-density residential developments in the suburbs.
Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation focused on climate change, found itself aligned with the Property Council and developers in their support for more intensive housing. “The current housing stock doesn’t reflect the changing attitudes of young people in terms of what housing they want,” says spokesman Carlos Chambers.
“There’s certainly a willingness to take hits on things like having your own private garden or section.”
He says new housing models have benefits like healthier lifestyles, less traffic congestion, people walking more and feeling more connected to their communities.
One of the comments we frequently make when discussing density is that it is important not just to put lots of dwellings in but that access to amenities is key; otherwise it’s just amplifying the really negative aspects of the lower density development that is so common in the suburbs – especially those built after 1950. It’s a point picked up well in the next section.
Ingrained ideas may not be easy to shift. Auckland University professor of urban design Errol Haarhoff and lecturer in urban planning Lee Beattie studied developments in New Lynn, Onehunga and Albany. Residents felt they were a good place to live and raise children but half still aimed to one day live in a stand-alone house on a full section.
Haarhoff is sceptical of this aspiration, which he says would be unrealistic for many. “If you then went on to explain that if you had a house in Botany Downs or Orewa or one of those urban fringe subdivisions, your kids would no longer be able to walk to school, there would be no amenities, there wouldn’t even be a dairy within 5km, I imagine the response would be more considered.”
He says the key to creating quality apartment developments is thinking outside the home as much as in it: Where are the shops, parks, schools and cafes? Can you walk there?
“You’ve got to design viable neighbourhoods and communities,” he says. “You can go out there and build 3000 houses but you have to deliver the schools, shops, cafes and connections.”
Good examples of medium density housing exist, often in inner-city suburbs like Freemans Bay, Kingsland, Ponsonby and Mt Eden. The amenities in those neighbourhoods – cafes, shops and parks – help negate the need for more space at home. “The cafe downstairs in the apartment block is the extension of the living room,” he says.
“You go to my local park (in Grey Lynn) and it’s full of mums and dads playing with their kids, meeting each other. Those spaces are there to be used to create a sense of community instead of coming inside and closing the drawbridge. We’re going to reach a point where those big 200sq m houses on the edge of the city are going to start not finding a market.”
One part that did catch my attention was about the change in the size of dwellings over time.
Why, then, are Kiwis still so firmly attached to living big?
If you’re building a new house today, it is probably at least 50 per cent bigger than what your grandparents would have built.
On an international scale, New Zealand’s houses are huge, and keep getting bigger. The average floor area for a new build last year was 197sqm -in crowded Auckland it was 203sq m. Nationally, that’s up from 135sq min 1990 – equivalent to a couple of extra bedrooms.
The size of new-builds was steadily climbing until 2010, when a stutter in the property market saw a drop. In Auckland, it peaked at 217sq min 2010, then dipped to 209sqmin 2011 and to 203sqm last year.
That’s perhaps because the number of apartments built in the region took a steep upturn last year-from 616 in 2012 to 1059 in the year to November.
But even the apartments are roomy – the average size last year was 113sq m. Compare that to the 45sqm average dwelling size in Hong Kong, 76sqmin the UK, or 95sqmin Japan.
Bigger dwellings have been a trend in not just NZ but other countries too. Seeing how much I like charts, I thought I would show just how much the average dwelling size has changed the result is below.
The big dip in 02-08 period ties in with when larger numbers of apartments were being built. The graph below shows the size of Auckland houses and apartments compared to the rest of New Zealand. Due to some apartments averaging well above 100m² I assume the figures must be including the likes of terraced houses.
What I find most interesting is the average house size in Auckland was roughly identical compared to the rest of NZ from about 1999 through to mid-2004 before getting substantially larger just before the GFC. I’m guessing there are multiple reasons behind the trend and that one of those is due to a desire to get more out of the land which is generally more valuable in Auckland than other parts of New Zealand.
The data also includes information about subsections of Auckland based on the old council boundaries providing some very interesting information at a sub-regional level. The next graph shows the average dwelling size consented for the different areas of Auckland (I’m not sure why the North Shore is so spiky at times).
As would be expected, Auckland City saw the lowest sizes for some time which was primarily due to it being where the majority of apartments were built. As apartment construction dried up, the average size of houses increased.
The next graph shows the average house size. What I find interesting is how house sizes in the old Waitakere City Council area have been consistently lower than in the rest of Auckland while in the last 5 or so years the area with the largest homes being built has been on the North Shore.
Unfortunately while the data is available, it isn’t really possible to show apartments at this granularity clearly and the graph just looks like an even bigger mess of colours
It will be interesting to see where average house sizes go in the future.