Sunday reading 27 March 2016

Size, size, size. Many people are concerned about it. But Australian urban policy commentator Alan Davies observes that we shouldn’t fear it (in Crikey):

There’s a popular doomsday scenario where Sydney and Melbourne collapse from the intolerable burden of their populations doubling to 8 million by circa 2050. Traffic grinds to a halt and commuters take forever to get to work according to this dismal prognosis, resulting in an epidemic of social problems like increasing rates of mental illness, family breakdown, obesity and disabetes (e.g. see here, here and here).

The fear of size has lead various commentators to argue strongly for growth to be redirected to regional centres. Indeed, in the absence of a convincing environmental or equity rationale, it’s one of the fallback arguments trotted out in support of huge public subsidies for High Speed Rail.

Yet some of the world’s most productive metropolitan areas are already much bigger. London’s population is 14 million, Paris is 12 million, New York is 20 million, Chicago is 10 million, Dusseldorf is 11 million. These are also some of the most desirable places in the world to live so it’s possible their size might actually be an advantage.

As Davies observes, there are both economies and diseconomies of scale… but it’s totally possible to overcome the diseconomies:

While it’s harder to do a lot about constraints like geography or incomes, cities can take steps to aid the adjustment process. For example, as they grow they could:

  • Improve mobility, by improving the efficiency of the transport system. That covers investment in new public and private transport infrastructure, as well as making better use of existing infrastructure e.g. via pricing.
  • Increase accessibility, by encouraging the redevelopment of established urban areas at higher employment and residential densities.
  • Facilitate adaptation, by reducing obstacles to households and firms relocating to new addresses e.g. by eliminating stamp duty liability on housing purchases (the stamp duty on a $1 million dwelling in Victoria is $55,000).

Accommodating population growth within cities makes at least as much sense as spending big on infrastructure like HSR to create sprawling dormitory suburbs in the regions. Growth is better viewed as an opportunity for our larger cities than as a problem.

One diseconomy associated with city size is increased traffic congestion. This is one of the major things that people cite as a reason to oppose development. But as Gene Maddaus writes in LA Weekly, “we know how to fix traffic, we just don’t want to“:

It’s tempting to think that traffic is one of those insoluble dilemmas of Los Angeles — just the price you pay to live in a thriving megalopolis that a lot of other people also want to live in. But the fact is that transit experts do have a pretty good idea of how to fix traffic.

There is a catch, however. The situation is sort of like that Citizen Kane quote about making a lot of money — it’s not so difficult, if that’s all you want to do. Similarly, it’s not that hard to solve traffic, if all you want to do is solve traffic.

The solution is congestion pricing. The MTA does this, on a pilot basis, on the 110 freeway south of downtown and on the 10 freeway in the San Gabriel Valley…

The tolls on the 110 and 10 “Express Lanes” range from 25 cents to $1.40 per mile.  As traffic slows, the tolls go up. The goal is to maintain a minimum speed of 45 mph. (Many more details can be found here.) The idea is that putting a price on use of the freeway internalizes the external costs of driving, and forces people to make more efficient use of the freeways.

“If you don’t use price to allocate resources, other mechanisms emerge, such as queueing,” Moore says.

A traffic jam is thus little different from a Soviet-era bread line.

So now, on those segments of the 110 and the 10, drivers finally have a choice. They can pay a toll and zip along in the fast lanes, or pay with their time to use the congested, non-toll lanes.

It would be nice to have those choices in many more locations. I’ve always wondered why NZTA doesn’t have a policy of operating new motorway lanes as toll lanes – that seems like the best way to get value out of them.

And hey, this is quite interesting. A Philadelphia resident put together a comprehensive visual guide to on-street parking rules throughout the city (via Tanvi Misra at CityLab):

Lauren Ancona’s dive into cartography started with what she calls her “weird obsession” with parking—specifically, the lack of information about parking regulations in Philadelphia…

Now, after 17 months of gathering public data and manually verifying bits and pieces of information, Ancona has finally released her new and improved ‘Parkadelphia’ map. This one doesn’t just show residential parking zones, but also metered spots for cars, motorcycles and scooters, city parking lots, locations where valet parking is offered, and the emergency routes in the city.

On the map below, you can select any or all of these layers of data from the sidebar on the left, and click on a street you’re curious about. The map will then pull up the parking rules:


You can find the full interactive map here.

Speaking of maps, New Zealand just had a referendum on a new flag. Someone on Wikipedia has already put together a map showing which electorates voted for the current flag versus the alternative option:


I guess that’s the last we’ll hear of that idea for a while. If the referendum has taught me anything, it’s that New Zealanders are not really that enthusiastic about flags.

One thing that (some) people are enthusiastic about is opposing safe cycling facilities. For example, Bike Auckland reports on some rumblings of discontent on Ponsonby Road: “The future is coming – can Ponsonby Road catch up in time?

But even knowing that their street has successfully evolved with the times, some businesses are worried about the changes posed by making the street safer and friendlier for bikes and pedestrians.

Presumably the greatest fear is around loss of car parking and of car priority. And sure, construction is never fun, and can steer some shoppers away until things settle down again. If car parks or traffic lanes are lost and nothing else replaces them but dead air or another lane of traffic, then there might well be a decline in custom. But what if you’re adding a whole new source of custom?

How many customers can fit in one parking space? (Image courtesy Bike Te Atatu. )
How many customers does it take to change a parking space? (Image by Bike Te Atatu. )

As merchants and shoppers discovered during a similar recent refit of a major shopping street in Salt Lake City, ‘bike lanes are typically best for business when they’re part of a general rethinking of the street to make it a more pleasant place to linger.’

Broadway, Salt Lake City.
Broadway, Salt Lake City. (Pic via SLC Division of Transportation)

In other words, bike lanes aren’t just good for cyclists – they’re part of a transformation that makes a street feel like a better place to be. They add vitality to downtrodden shopping strips currently coughing in the fumes of car traffic. They help buffer pedestrians from the constant stream of vehicles. And in conjunction with slowing traffic down, they give pedestrians better access to both sides of a street that can sometimes feel like a canyon. Double your business – now, that’s a proposition.

Frankly, I don’t really enjoy being on Ponsonby Road. While there are things to do there, I just don’t enjoy the environment. Being on the footpath stresses me out. Trying to cross the road is a pain in the neck. Even if I’ve driven there, I never want to linger for long. It’s an easy choice to head over to K Road or the downtown shared spaces instead.

Speaking of good and bad places, Jill Suttie reviews some research on the impact that being in nature has on our mood and behaviour:

Gregory Bratman, of Stanford University, has found evidence that nature may impact our mood in other ways, too.

In one 2015 study, he and his colleagues randomly assigned 60 participants to a 50-minute walk in either a natural setting (oak woodlands) or an urban setting (along a four-lane road). Before and after the walk, the participants were assessed on their emotional state and on cognitive measures, such as how well they could perform tasks requiring short-term memory. Results showed that those who walked in nature experienced less anxiety, rumination (focused attention on negative aspects of oneself), and negative affect, as well as more positive emotions, in comparison to the urban walkers. They also improved their performance on the memory tasks.

This is, in a sense, a fundamental challenge for city design. The entire point of cities is that they bring people together to allow them to collaborate and create. But if some urban environments stress us out and inhibit our creativity, they can undermine the agglomeration benefits that cities provide.

The obvious answer to this is to build street trees, public parks, etc into the city fabric as a public good… and to maintain good, accessible regional parks like the Waitakeres and Hunuas close to the city.

On a separate note, architect Henri Sayes and architectural writer Nicole Stock write (on The Spinoff) about the relationship between the zoning rules proposed in the Unitary Plan and the buildings that are already on the ground. It’s an interesting perspective. They highlight the convoluted nature of the rules, and also the complex nature of the existing built environment:

What has been described as unzoning is not a significant change from the current plan that was enacted in the early ’90s. The height in relation to boundary controls are more sympathetic to a well located building, but still limit over-shadowing and provide space between buildings. It’s more likely that one of the large leafy trees in these suburbs will block your sun than a neighbouring building built within the planning controls.

Housing in Orakei, in Auckland's Eastern Suburbs.

Housing in Orakei, in Auckland’s Eastern Suburbs.

The vast majority of the Eastern Suburbs has not been developed with consistent, overarching controls. While you can identify stylistic themes (’60s brick and tile or ’90s plaster homes, for instance) that are consistent with the social constructs and controls of the time, when the suburb is viewed as a whole it is utterly inconstant. When people talk about the character of the Eastern Suburbs, then, they are acknowledging the success of this varied development. Start to analyse the fabric of the area and you soon realise that – despite nostalgic rhetoric implying a large house on a quarter acre section – these suburbs already have a surprising number of units, terrace houses and apartments. You also quickly realise that already a significant number of houses don’t comply with the current planning controls – but as they already exist, no one seems to mind. The unseen threat is scarier than the visible reality.

Or, as I’ve been saying for a while, status quo bias is the most powerful force in policymaking.

Lastly, the most interesting thing I’ve read all week has little to do with transport or urban policy, but statistical methods. On MedPage Today, F. Perry Wilson writes about errors in reporting hypothesis tests: “The p-value is a hoax, but here’s how to fix it“. It’s a wonderfully cogent explanation of how to apply Bayesian methods to statistical hypothesis testing:

If you think of medical research as an expression of the scientific method (a stretch, I know), you’ll see that every study has exactly four possible outcomes. I’m using drug studies as a prototypical example:

1. True Positive — the novel drug being studied was found to be efficacious and truly works. Practice changes. The world advances.

2. True Negative — the novel drug being studied was found not to be efficacious and it truly doesn’t work. Nothing changes.

3. False Negative — the novel drug being studied was found not to be efficacious but it truly works. The study was done wrong, or was underpowered or something. Nothing changes. The hope of future generations is lost.

4. False Positive — the novel drug being studied was found to be efficacious but it truly doesn’t work. The study was done wrong, or was only positive by chance. Practice changes. People get drugs that don’t work.

For me, number 4 is the most concerning. I don’t mind too much if we miss out on a potential therapy here and there, but, man, do I hate the idea of treating patients with drugs that don’t work.

But how often does #4 really happen?

The answer will shock and depress you…

Wilson explains some of the reasons why researchers commonly underestimate false positive rates, and then recommends an elegant solution:

All you have to do is assign a value to how likely you think the hypothesis is before the study was done. This corresponds to the “proportion of true hypotheses in the literature” factor above. Then, simply look at the results, combine them with your prior probability, and come out with an after-the-fact, or posterior probability.

How do you combine these things? A bit of simple math called Bayes Theorem, which I will not share with you here (thank me later). But I will give you a table of results. The following table assumes the study was “significant” at a level of P=0.05, and had 80% power.

tableTable 1: A positive study (ignoring fraud and bias), should always raise your estimate of the likelihood of the hypothesis being true, but you only get to that magic 5% false positive rate when your prior probability is greater than 50%.

If you look at the above table, you can see something sort of magical happens around 50% prior probability. That’s the point where a positive study moves you into a posterior probability that suggests an “acceptable” 5% false positive rate.

But think about that. When you are reading a study, if you’re less than 50/50 on whether the thing will work or not, accepting positive findings will lead to a false-positive rate that is unacceptably high.

Now, there is some hope. For one thing, sequentially positive studies can ratchet you up that ladder pretty quickly. Let’s say the hypothesis has a 10% chance of being true, but the first nice study is positive at P=0.05. Now you’re up to a 64% chance of the hypothesis being true — probably not enough to roll it out to patients unless the risk is very small, but much better. But if another study comes in that is positive at P=0.05, you’re up to a 96% chance that the hypothesis is true. See? Replication works.

That’s all for this week. Go and enjoy the rest of the long weekend – or, better yet, go find some scientific studies to replicate.

47 comments to Sunday reading 27 March 2016

  • “A traffic jam is thus little different from a Soviet-era bread line.”

    I’m going to remember that one for later 😀

    • Yes! The traffic jam is the bread queue of modern capitalism, each are signs of each systems failures. Ironically the traffic jam as a failure of modern market capitalism is proven to be solved by adding more market mechanisms not fewer, ie price that good! However, this answer has also only worked well in places (Singapore, Stockholm, London) that have planned and subsidised alternative (Transit and Active) systems supplied alongside the priced road option, to prevent inefficient regression (pricing people out of movement).

      So more market to correct distortion of the provision of the socialised underpriced good (roads), plus transfers to correct unpriced externalities caused by driving (pollution, death & injury, space waste).

      • Harriet

        In argument to your point has any city without good PT/Cycling introduced a congestion charging system?

        • Well there have been cities that restricted access to cars, but not without probable cost to their economies (hard to separate out from other issues) what is important about the three above us that show that road pricing doesn’t result in a drop in productivity or access (fairness) because of the quality and reach of the alternatives. One of which is also proximity.

          So the question is how or when to use this lever in a city with improving but poor quality alts? Wait, or start low are probably the only options, especially given the political hurdles.

        • GlenK

          Singapore didn’t have mass rapid transport when it introduced congestion charging, and its cycling provision has always been pretty rubbish. And while London certainly has good PT, its cycling was nonexistent at the time of introducing charging and is only partially better now.

          • True. Outside of Copenhagen (extending its Metro now; is unusual in the order it has taken) and the Netherlands, everywhere is just coming round to cycling provision. But Singapore now has pretty formidable Transit. So in your view do you think we could price roads now while building alts? For Auckland I am thinking that opening of CRL may be the earliest practical timing…? By then the New Network will be well embedded with integrated fares, and stronger RTN core, plus two more cycles of UCF (hopefully); so a pretty good core bike network too…? Thoughts?

          • KLK

            Funny you should mention Singapore cycling. I was there for work just recently and while sitting out having a coffee, I watched some pretty brave cyclists battling the morning peak traffic and wondered why the lack of cycle lanes.

            Singapore does most things so well, but cycling (and bus lanes) aren’t one (two) of them.

          • Politically speaking, Patrick, you may be right about an appropriate time to introduce charging. I could make a valid case that we already have reasonable PT and cycling in Auckland (in terms of coverage, actual safety, etc) but for a lot of people that is not their perception. The other approach to introduce charging now is to have either alternate roads or alternate times of the day that are not charged. That way, even if people stick to their cars, they do have an alternative option in terms of driving.

          • Well I do not think cordon nor network charging is right for AKL. I think it must be all roads but time and place variable via GPS. If just network then drivers are incentivised off mway and onto local roads which is an undesirable outcome. We sort of already do have city centre pricing, at the margins at least, with parking cost. So rather than expensively add a new system to this just crack supply and price of parking for the same result.

            In terms of alts. No there are major capacity issues for PT already, which clearly would be increased with road pricing and incompleteness of network for cycling. Anyway it will take years to achieve even a trial so I think it best to work on it all in parallel.

      • john smith

        ‘However, this answer has also only worked well….’
        I’d be interested to tease out a little more what you mean by ‘work’. In the Soviet bread line, you would expect floating the price of bread to improve efficiency of resource allocation [1] regardless of whether the state does anything to provide alternatives to bread. Tough for the pensioners who had the time to queue but now can’t afford bread, of course. [2]
        In a culture that has got used to having roads funded by general taxation and free at the point of use, the better PT etc is needed to make road pricing politically acceptable, not to make it economically rational. (??)
        note 1. providing the market is allowed to supply bread without constraint too, of course.
        note 2. The answer to that is to provide adequate pensions, not to control the price of bread.

  • Greg N

    On the perennial topic of House price affordability ratios.

    I just saw an updated ranking of UK houses by the “multiple” of prices to incomes from the Independent – which is showing how the printed media is changing, and has just ceased printed publication of the paper, going online only.

    As noted in previous blog posts on TB about Demographia’s shock horror surveys results (this one by Matt):

    “Demographia’s aim, in publishing this data, is to argue that “if housing exceeds 3.0 times annual household incomes, that there is institutional failure at the local level. The political and regulatory impediments with respect to land supply and infrastructure provision must be dealt with.” By this, they mean building car-dependent suburbs on the urban fringe – and nothing else.”

    So, the recently publish league table of UK cities by affordability ratios (see this link for the details).

    It shows, shock! horror! that none of cities in the UK and Northern Ireland have a affordability ratio of 3 or lower. And only 1 is has a ratio lower than 4.

    The lowest ranked city [most affordable] is Londonderry at 3.81.
    The highest rank (least affordable) is not London, thats only number 3. Number 2 and number 1 in the rankings are Winchester and Oxford respectively, Oxford’s ratio is over 11.

    Note It seems that Oxford has been over 11 since at least 2014.

    Anyway, you’d think that while London and such would be quite rightly over the top with regards affordability, you would not expect places like Londonderry to be described as unaffordable.
    No offense to the bottom ranked Londonderry (or Stirling, or Bradford), all fine places to live in I am sure.

    So perhaps, just picking on the “statisical hypothesis testing methods” article, maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong with Demographia’s definition of unaffordable – if all the UK cities surveyed have housing that is now technically unaffordable.
    Either that or every UK city is simultaneously undergoing a massive country wide property boom/renaissance, which is making all their houses unaffordable.

    Or is it more likely, that maybe Demographia’s ratio is not based on any formal statistical methodology, and is just some guy’s hunch where the affordability line should be and he has it wrong?

    • Peter Nunns

      Yes, exactly. Demographia’s analysis suffers from omitted variable bias – i.e. they fail to account for the full range of supply- and demand-side factors that influence house prices.

      The relevant question to ask, from an economic perspective, is not “are prices high?” but “are prices distorted?” I.E. is there specific evidence that home prices would be lower in the absence of regulatory constraints? You can’t infer that from a single ratio.

      That being said, the UK does have some serious issues with its planning system. That’s another issue entirely…

      • I was talking with my dad about this the other day, and my argument would be that rents are a much better indicator of market failure (not just pure speculation).

        He was saying that Auckland’s problems come from speculative investors (which he is one of), I was saying it came from undersupply. Surely, if AKL’s problems came from investors then rents would be quite low?

        If there were lots of investors then prices would be high. But rents would not be. Rents are not speculative (renting the house now has no effect on the future). Surely, if anything, a overload of investors would drive down rents – as they build more units/improve houses to increase the CV, they’d also inadvertently increase supply of rental units.

        So I’d say while speculation does exist, Auckland’s high rents indicate there’s also a more fundamental problem: undersupply.

    • Angus Robertson

      The UK resident can score a mortgage for about 2.0%.

  • Great work by Henri Sayes and Nicole Stock. That is exactly how cities are made; incrementally, inconsistently, and with luck.

    Over regulation (and auto-domination) is the bad luck of our age.

  • Matt P

    Nice work, Peter!
    Some rambling thoughts in no particular order:

    Yes, many so called ‘low density’ suburbs in Auckland / NZ often have quite a mix of densities.
    It’s very interesting to look at some of the old pre-RMA District Schemes. They often had quite flexible regulatory settings with regards to density. For example they regulated density by bedspaces (so, for example you could build 2 bigger houses, or 5-6 small units)

    I find it quite ironic that between 1980 and the 2000s, many plans in many places got a lot more restrictive with density, rather than the other way. Yet, the need for density had arguably increased!

    Why is that? I propose a few possible reasons….

  • Matt P

    – Communities / vested interests got more vocal opposing density. Some of the ugly flat developments may have contributed to that (but they aren’t all bad)

    – The RMA made density harder. Although ostensibly ‘effects based’, it really wasn’t / isn’t.
    Section 7(c) – amenity values, has made achieving density challenging. At least the old Town and Country Planning Act had more explicit social and economic objectives to
    counter balance amenity considerations. The s32 changes to the RMA have helped redress the balance, somewhat.

    – As a society, we have generally become more self interested: maximise one’s own gain / preferences at the expense of the greater good. I personally think this is quite a big factor.
    I am quite schizophrenic on my views of neo-liberal notions of planing. On the one hand, I think they can be oversimplistic and somewhat flawed in terms of macro urban planning. On the other had, quite powerful at the micro level!
    For example, I am particularly attracted to the neo-liberal, ‘performance zoning’ notion that a small number of key controls can adequately control externalities.
    So in the lower density areas of Auckland, you have a 2 storey height limit, site coverage of say 45%, and recession planes. And not much more! Closer to centres, you go higher and harder. Of course, there are some ‘character’ areas, or parts of character areas, where you should stay quite restrictive.

    • Nice observations Matt. Just have a query on the ‘character’ lockdown that you’re sympathetic to. In the artical above Sayes and Stock are clearly right that appealing places often have developed over time; I am not at all certain that we should decide to stop that process anywhere much in this young country. Where is perfect and done? Many celebrated ‘character’ streets are actually comprised of a mishmash of styles and eras, which themselves are the results of mishmashes of architectural ideas anyway (see my books Villa and Bungalow if you doubt this). Great architectural heritage is formed by people building well in the present, do our regs enable great contemporary buildings to be added to the patchwork of existing great and not so great buildings?

      • Matt P

        Patrick, in my view the areas that we want to keep ‘as is’are very small in number indeed – a lot smaller than the PAUP proposed. A very high bar should be set for such areas.
        I agree, there are plenty of more generalised ‘character areas’ where the key is sympathetic modern development. Not slavish sympathy, but sympathy nonetheless.

      • Matt P

        Patrick – superb books, by the way

      • Early Commuter

        My 2c is that for the most part we shouldn’t worry about adding something “unfitting” as long as we haven’t knocked something that was “fitting” down to build the new thing

        • Nik

          How do we determine what fits and what doesn’t?

          The NIMBYism displayed during the PAUP process makes me think we should reduce the planning limits and let the market decide, otherwise vested interest groups will co-opt the process and we’ll never have enough affordable housing.

          • Early Commuter

            And if “affordable housing” was the only thing we needed to maximise it would be fine. We have to balance heritage.

            Let me tell you a little story. The Middle East is littered with beautiful, wondrous, amazing castles. Dozens if not hundreds of them have been crippled over the years by locals raiding them for stones to build hovels. Something that has immense historical value, that might have lasted ten thousand years, destroyed because of a desire for “affordable housing.”

          • Peter Nunns

            Good point, EC. I definitely think we should have a rule banning the demolition of castles (step pyramids, obelisks, etc) in Auckland. We need to take a precautionary approach.

    • Peter Nunns

      Yes, great observations in this and other comments, Matt!

      A while back I read a really great PhD thesis on the “great downzoning” of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s that illuminated the underlying drivers. Increasing homeowner activism, especially in wealthy/white areas, collided with an expansion of legislative tools to control growth (CEQA in particular). It would be really, really interesting to do a similar analysis for Auckland.

      As a step en route to doing that, it would be interesting to see a map of where submitters on the Unitary Plan are actually located, and cross-check that against zoning changes in those neighbourhoods.

      In terms of reforms to the details of plans, I think your proposed approach has a lot to be said for it. One insight from the economics literature is that restrictions on use/intensity of development are likely to be more deleterious than rules that require specific building/site attributes. (Or impact fees to internalise externalities.)

      There are two problems with moving towards such a system:
      1. We often have poor information on development-related externalities – what they are, how harmful they are, and how we can manage them through design – so it’s difficult to regulate well (or charge people for the “bads” they impose).
      2. People want – or claim to want – low building heights, not attractive building exteriors and trees. So it may be difficult to forestall opposition by proposing taller buildings with attractive surrounds…

      • Matt P

        Thanks Pete.
        I think there’s a real place for 3 storey development – but as you note it’s like Manhattan stuff for some NIMBYs. However, I also think there should be lots of areas with 2 storey townhouse development.
        You can go surprisingly dense with 2 storeys, and say 45% site coverage. I’ve done a few scenarios, and you can comfortably get say 6 two storey townhouses on say a 800 sq m site, with some room for small tree planting, hedging etc.
        Given we’ve been talking about historic medium density interventions in our suburbs, I’ve also long thought that those two storey ‘6 pack’ brick and tile things from the 60s / 70s could be reinvented. I lived in those a couple of times back in the late 1990s in Mt Eden and they worked pretty well. I think we could take the same concept but ‘sexy up’ the design and they could be a quite a cool, relatively affordable typology. Most Urban Designers I’ve met seem to dislike the typology.

        • Peter Nunns

          Yeah, I never understood the hate for sausage flats. But even granting that they’re not always aesthetically pleasing, their flaws seem to arise from two things:

          1. Auckland’s cadastral pattern, which is based on long, relatively narrow sections perpendicular to the streets. (A 19th-century innovation to save on infrastructure costs – individual households could dig their own cesspits and drill wells rather than relying upon reticulated water/wastewater.) This largely explains why sausage flats are perpendicular to streets.

          2. Compliance with planning rules – e.g. setbacks from property boundaries and parking minimums – which seem to explain why they tend to be set on the middle of the site with a lot of wasted space around the edges. Ironically, nobody complains about older (1920s-30s) vintage apartment blocks that get much closer to site boundaries and (on average) sit much closer forward to the street.

          We can’t do much about (1), but (2) seems to be entirely discretionary…

      • Matt P

        Nick: ‘How do we determine what fits and what doesn’t’
        A good perennial planning question! My view is we shouldn’t get too hung up about it.
        Someone (to give him credit, Ian Munro) made a good suggestion to me recently. Rather than needing a consent for multi unit developments for like an RD activity with a scrutinisation of design, allow people to lodge as permitted provided a registered Architect or qualified Urban Designer ( I think Ian thought they should be ‘award winning’) endorses the design.
        There could be some sort of check sheet / scoring sheet, with criteria such as context etc.
        Maybe you need to get like at least 7 out of 10 or something
        If you don’t get the assessment done and the necessary ‘score’ then you need consent.
        Sure, some people will say that avoids independent assessment. I say – don’t sweat the detail – we don’t live in a perfect world (we live in a messy urban world), and even independent council urban design assessments won’t always get it right.

  • Matt P

    The piece on nature in the city was nice.I watched an excellent Japanese film ‘An’ the other night. I lived in Japan for 2 years in the mid 90s.
    Many parts of Japanese cities are really quite ugly. BUT, they are often filled with nature, and that gives something back.
    Individual properties often have little vegetation, but often streets are well planted with trees. The film ‘An’ really reminded me of this, especially it’s scenes of riotous cherry blossom blooming in Spring. It shows that even the most grim urban setting can benefit hugely from parks and public trees.

  • Matt P

    I once had a notion that maybe a NZ approach could be for medium density zoned areas to have to do something funky, like plant a certain number of trees within the site (species that can get height within a small footprint area), and /or incorporate ‘living walls’ into developments. I thought this could:
    1. Provide amenity, soften built form, 2. Help ‘naturalise’ intensive redevelopment, 3. Help respond to NIMBYism ( I think a justified concern with higher density development is how stark it can potentially look – not nice for inhabitants, not nice for neighbours)

    • I am in favour of a radical policy of re-greening the urban public realm. Streets, plazas, car parks, everything should be aggressively planted and that planting season maintained lavishly. The budget needs to be found for this, am confident the economic payoff would be at least positive. This is one act that we can be confident would be valued by our future selves and ancestors.

      • Early Commuter

        Amen, but we shouldn’t stop there. if we need intensification, let’s ban the “cram two full-sized houses onto a single sized lot” because a) it’s ugly b) it destroys the lawn, trees, site greenspace and c) i’m sure it breaches permeable surface restrictions. Let’s say you can intensify but you need to build up so you keep the trees/hedges/shrubs

        It’s not just about natives either. Swan plants stimulate monarch flows. Citrus trees and jasmine produce wonderful cents. And so on

  • What size a city can be in the future is dependant on food supplies, historically only cities at the centre of empires were up to 1.2 million before we had mechanisation driven by cheap fuel, expectations and reality in a depleted world may will be miles apart.

    • Peter Nunns

      I don’t think that we should plan everything around apocalyptic doomsday scenarios. (And yes, any scenario in which cities become uneconomic is a doomsday scenario!) That would be like saying that all transport planning needs to refer to the Mad Max films.

      • Early Commuter

        I know you’re an economist not a historian Peter, but at the height of the Roman Empire I have no doubt there were people saying exactly what you said
        It might not happen in 10 years or 50 years or even 100
        But even Rome fell

        • Peter Nunns

          Yes, I too have large confidence intervals around my long-term forecasts.

          But here’s the thing: Let’s grant the premise that there’s a non-negligible (e.g. 1%) chance that Civilisation As We Know It collapses sometime in the next two centuries. Can you (or anyone else) explain to me what *specific* implications that would have for urban planning?

          It seems kind of mad to say “there’s a chance that we’ll all have to revert to subsistence agriculture in the future, so let’s all disperse to subsistence farms *now*”. And it seems equally mad to say “things are going to collapse, so let’s pin our hopes on science fiction technology”. But those are the sorts of argument that crop up.

        • Nick R

          Rome didn’t fall, it declined and reconfigured over a period of about 400 years. The “fall” if Rome took about three times as long as Auckland has ever existed. And you know what, the city of Rome today still uses infrastructure built two thousand years ago.

      • “all transport planning needs to refer to the Mad Max films”
        Please run for mayor on this policy platform.

  • Frank McRae

    “Own property. Do not care about poor people. This is awesome.”

    That should be Cityvision’s campaign slogan

    • Matt P

      Classic Frank!
      Thankfully, I think the horrible types who yelled out ‘poor young thing’ at that toxic public meeting are in the minority. Nothing scientific in that view. Just from the wide spectrum of people I encounter I meet more people than not who 1. Know we need change or 2. Don’t care. So despite the presence of horrible self interest and small mindedness, I hold some hope still!

  • Mr Plod

    Love the idea of tolling roads but not the way NZTA does it. I drove the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road on Saturday and it was near empty of course. The width of the right of way astounded me. You could easily fit three more lanes both sides in most places. The cost of mowing all the grass must be horrendous. There was a nice cycle and walking track alongside in places, which mitigates it a little.
    The misallocation of land resources is not my main beef. My problem is a $2 toll for a 15km road; that’s 13.3c per km. in whose mind what exactly is extracting 13.3c per km from me supposed to do for whom? Now that view is because for me $2 is less than half a coffee or a third of my $6 Swanson to Brito trainfare so it will have an infintesimal impact on my behaviour. Rather than the cost, it’s the actual hassle of having to go on-the-line to pay the damn thing that will keep me off the road.
    So from a revenue perspective how does it compare to current fuel taxes; My little car does 5.7lt/100km and at $1.70per lt of which ~21% is taxes etc (thanks AA) I pay around 2c per Km in road, ETS & GST taxes. So this toll at 13.3c per km is just under seven times that, which from one prespective sounds OK. Use a brand new road and pay seven times what you pay to use the existing. In reality, it’s the existing roads that are underpriced rather than the new ones that are about right. So unless, as Patrick suggests above, we price ALL roads we end up with the sort of rediculousness that is this $2 toll. It’s time for fuel based, and crude mileage based charges to go and for GPS based charges to come in, on ALL roads.

    • Sailor Boy

      “You could easily fit three more lanes both sides in most places.”

      Yes, if you were willing to have ten times the rate of injury.

      “in whose mind what exactly is extracting 13.3c per km from me supposed to do for whom”

      Same as the Northern Gateway toll road. The toll is was used to fund the interest on the loans required to advance the project.

      The NZTA currently uses tolls to fund the building of more roads, rather than using them to manage demand on existing road. The reason that the tolling doesn’t make sense is that they are trying to achieve the direct opposite of what would be sensible policy.

  • mfwic

    Apparently all you have to do to improve business in this city is replace parking spaces with cycle parking. For each parking space you remove 17 new customers turn up on bikes. Gosh those silly business owners just don’t know what is good for them.

    • Sailor Boy

      Because we all know that business has collapsed in Fort Street since the carparking was removed.

    • Peter Nunns

      For what it’s worth, I’m somewhat skeptical that putting in bike facilities will actually *increase* retail spending in nearby areas. Some evidence points in that direction, but the empirical literature simply isn’t large enough to make firm judgments. (See here for a summary.)

      However, the converse is also true: there is little or no evidence that bike facilities *reduce* retail spending. In other words, there’s no reason to oppose them on the grounds that they will doom local businesses. The overall effect is likely to be neutral, meaning that if the bike facilities stack up in transport appraisal terms, they should be built regardless of objections.

      But given the short-sighted knee-jerk reactions that some people have to the prospect of any change, I can see why BikeAKL is focusing on the potential upside for businesses.

    • Early Commuter

      Well mfwic by appealing to active people you are also incentivising people to get off their chuffs as well

      I just “Quaxxed” (well, kind of) by walking to the local supermarket (30mins each way) for a nice shop. I am always astounded at how unfriendly for pedestrians this is. Whether it’s cocks parked on footpaths (I always take my keys, just in case) or pulling into driveways as I pass (I HAVE THE EFFING RIGHT OF WAY) it’s one thing or another.

      Sometimes I think the problem isn’t auto-dependency, it’s the sheer laziness of people. Like the Shire in the Hobbit, it needs a good dragon… perhaps draconian anti-driving rules will actually force them to work

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