Lost Urban Bush

While looking through some photos the other day I was once again reminded of one of the things Auckland lost – a bush clad Grafton Gully. How fantastic would it be to still have a patch of urban native bush like this so close to the city. Instead we ploughed a motorway junction through here.

12 Dec 1947 – Grafton Bridge, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-11630-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22732188

12 Dec 1947 – Grafton Bridge, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-11627-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23009732

~1930 – Grafton Bridge, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-62682-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22576984

11 Mar 1963 – Grafton Bridge, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59383-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22681630

Grafton Bridge - 1940 to 2010

Grafton Gully in 1940 and 2010

How the CMJ was originally sold.

Grafton Gully and Symonds St Tunnel Plan 1950s

Grafton Gully and Symonds St Tunnel Plan 1950s

Onehunga Foreshore Changes

Work on restoring the Onehunga Foreshore has been going on since December 2012 and is nearing completion with the area expected to be open in November. When complete there will be

  • 6.8ha of new parkland
  • a pedestrian and cycle bridge over SH20 linking the new foreshore to Onehunga Bay Reserve
  • sandy and gravel/shell beaches
  • a boat ramp
  • pedestrian and cycle paths
  • park facilities such as a toilet block, park furniture and carpark.

To show just how much the area has changed the two images below highlight what the area looked like before work started and as it was just a few months ago in July.

Onehunga Foreshore October 2012

October 2012

Onehunga Foreshore July 2015

July 2015

What a difference three years, more than 334,000 cubic metres of fill, 11,000 cubic metres of sand and 30,000 native plants make. There is also a timelapse and some aerial shots of the work below


I’m looking forward to this opening

Amsterdam is “bad ass”

Greetings from Amsterdam. As some of you may know, I’ve recently moved here from Brisbane to begin a PhD in Economics. Fun times.

In this post I want to briefly touch on some reasons why Amsterdam is such a “bad ass” city and possibly glean some information that may be relevant to Auckland. As discussed in this TED talk which Matt linked to recently, Amsterdam’s city flag is relatively “bad ass” insofar as it follows principles of good flag design, as illustrated below.


Before we begin please ponder a question: What do you think of when you hear the word “Amsterdam”?

In my experience, for many New Zealanders the word Amsterdam evokes images of a psychedelic mash-up of bicycles, tulips, joints, and red lights. As is often the case, however, impressions formed from afar tend to reveal more about the place from which the observation is made than the place that is being observed.

As any one of the many kiwis I have met here will attest, Amsterdam’s “spirit” is not found in the red light district nor in its liberal approach to managing psychedelic substances. Nor even cycling. Why are foreigners so fascinated by bicycles? Indeed, for the locals, the usefulness of a bicycle is a given. It simply is the best way to get around, and the most efficient form of urban transport. Hands down.

These things are simply consequences of much more profound socio-economic factors.

In my view, the spirit of Amsterdam is encapsulated in an attitude of “practical and engaged tolerance”. It’s an attitude which says “I don’t mind what you do, so long as it doesn’t negatively impact me.” And if something you’re doing does negatively impact me, then I’ll simply let you know and we’ll sit down and have a rational and informed conversation about what to do about it. Or I’ll find a way to avoid the problem.

Like cycling. Many people are of the view that the Netherlands has always been a cycling nirvana. That perception is incorrect. From a policy perspective, the Dutch only really started to consciously embrace cycling from the 1960s onwards. This was a deliberate policy decision made in response to two main factors:

  1. Peaceful but widespread protests by residents in response to the growing number of cyclists who were being killed by private vehicles; and
  2. The oil shocks of the 1970s, which the Netherland’s government decided was a good reason to develop a more sustainable transport system.

Both factors are discussed in this fantastic video, which is titled “How the Dutch got their cycle paths“.

Basically, it was felt that there was 1) a moral need for safe cycling facilities and 2) an economic rational for doing so. The result? Elected representatives and policy-makers put their heads together and made sustained investment in cycle facilities over many years. Has Amsterdam failed as a consequence of what was, at the time, a rather significant shift in transport policy?

No, if anything it has prospered. PwC’s recently released Global Cities Study scored Amsterdam as follows:


By this measure, Amsterdam was ranked fourth in the world and second in Europe. Amsterdam scores first on both “health, safety, and security” and “sustainability and natural environment”. In short, Amsterdam is a socio-economic powerhouse. This is the view that I try and give to people when they ask me “what is Amsterdam like?”. Yes, Amsterdam is business time.

Sure, as well as having great jobs it’s also a great place to live. Why? Well, residents tend to identify strongly with and celebrate being in Amsterdam. For example, a few weeks ago Amsterdam celebrated “Sail”, which is an event held every five years that brings together tall sailing ships from around the world. I understand the event is the largest of its kind in the world and requires the Port of Amsterdam (which is a major sponsor) to be shut for several days.

It’s big bikkies and the time lapse video below gives you a feel for the scale of the celebrations.

There’s many other similarly amazing events. “Museumnacht”, for example, is an annual event where the museums are turned into nightclubs with top DJs from around Europe. People buy a ticket to the whole event which gains entry to all museums and dance their way around top artworks.

So I hope that gives you a feel for Amsterdam.

But how is Amsterdam doing on the land use and transport front in more modern times? Well, I’ve only been here 4 weeks so I need to do more research. However, I can briefly outline two reasons I’ve already found for why Amsterdam is doing fairly well in a few areas where Auckland might still be able to learn a few tricks.

The first thing is that minimum parking requirements simply don’t exist. That’s right: Developers can choose how much parking to provide to meet the needs of their customers. While parking management policies (e.g. parking prices and/or travel demand management measures) may be something the developer will discuss with the municipality during processing of their application, there does not seem to be any stipulated requirement to provide a certain amount of parking with certain types of developments. Instead, there is simply an expectation that the developer will “think about it”. How bizarre. And effective.

The second thing is that Amsterdam has, for more than 5 years, focused on one public transport project: The North-South metro line. While Amsterdam scored relatively well in the aforementioned PwC survey, one area where it did not score so highly was in the “transportation and infrastructure” category. On the surface this seems strange. I mean, Amsterdam achieves ~35% cycle mode share while another 20% use public transport. The City also benefits from an extensive national heavy rail network which carries 1.1 million passengers per day across the Netherlands. As an Aucklander it’s sometimes hard to think how the transport system could get any “better”.

However, when it comes to transport there are two things to remember about Amsterdam.

The first thing is that because Amsterdam is successful, Amsterdam is congested. There’s a lot of things going on pretty much all the time. Special events such as Sail are a regular feature of the calendar. Hence, if you are not cycling, then the roads and public transport are quite congested. No shame there, but I think it’s interesting that policy-makers in New Zealand still don’t understand that a successful city will likely be congested. In other words, places that aren’t congested aren’t successful. It’s important to note that this is not equivalent to saying “we shouldn’t worry about congestion”, but simply noting that no congestion is not the end goal. Instead, the end goal is a city where many people can avoid congestion altogether, when and where it eventuates, by using alternatives.

The second thing to note is that public transport in Amsterdam’s is not that great by European standards. The LRT has good coverage but is relatively slow and somewhat infrequent while the metro has limited coverage and is relatively indirect for many journeys. As you can see from the network map below (NB: The northern terminus of the Green metro line looks strange until you realise that it connects with a frequent heavy rail connection that exists between Slöterdijk and Centraal).


So how do policy-makers in Amsterdam propose to “fix” their transport problems? Well, the “North-South” metro line includes six new stations and an extension to the north shore, as illustrated in blue below. Boom. It’s as if Auckland looked to combine the CRL and a metro rail to the North Shore into one project.


The contrast between the North-South metro line and what NZTA are planning for the next harbour crossing in Auckland could not be more stark. Whereas NZTA is planning to spend billions to achieve a relatively marginal increase in capacity within an existing highway corridor that by world standards is only moderately congested, Amsterdam is already spending similar amounts of money on a project that massively expands the coverage and directness of their rapid public transport network.

In a nutshell: There seems to be widespread acceptance among policy makers in Amsterdam that if peak urban travel demand is the problem, then investment in road capacity is not the solution. Instead, the preferred solution here is to invest in strengthening the rapid transit network first, and then investing in frequent local PT that connects to this RTN network. While Auckland gets the latter part of this equation, it has not yet realised that this investment needs to happen *instead of* investment in highways.

There’s many other reasons why Amsterdam is a great place to live, and I’ll no doubt explore some of them in future posts, assuming that I manage to survive my courses. In the meantime, rest assured that notwithstanding the weather and the pain of having to study graduate microeconomics, life “ist goed.” Tot ziens!

Herald’s World Class Auckland – My view on Transport

The Herald have been running a series since the middle of last week titled ‘World Class Auckland‘. It is looking at how Auckland can improve across a range of topics.

Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world’s best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city?

The Herald’s World-Class Auckland series examines some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland’s success matters to the rest of the country.

So far they’ve covered

  • Housing – where they effectively said said we need to sprawl more
  • The Environment – where they said sprawl was bad
  • Education
  • Recreation

Today they’re covering Transport. They asked me to contribute with a piece around 300 words however at this stage it doesn’t appear to be published – they said it may go online only but as it’s not there in assuming they aren’t running it. As I’m sure you can imagine it’s incredibly hard trying to condense a reasoned and evidenced based argument into that kind of limit – in fact it’s would’ve still been hard doing do so with five times that limit. As such there’s lots of topics and angles I didn’t get a chance to include but here’s what I sent them.

It’s said that Aucklander’s have a love affair with cars. For many it’s more of an unwelcome arranged marriage – the by-product of decades focused on improving only one aspect of our transport system.

Yet we’re at an interesting crossroads. Despite a rapidly growing population and over $8 billion of investment in Auckland’s roads over the last decade, the stats show Aucklander’s are driving less than they used to.

What has been growing quickly on the back of comparatively modest investment has been the use of public transport, walking and cycling. Investments like the Northern Busway and upgrading the rail network have shown that when offered frequent and reliable services that are free of congestion that people will flock to use them. In the morning peak 40% of the people crossing the harbour bridge now do so on a bus, more than double the pre-busway figure while traffic volumes have actually fallen. On the trains at Britomart passenger volumes are already 66% ahead of what they were predicted to be in 2021.

Auckland Transport’s new electric trains, new bus network and integrated fares will bring the city’s PT system up to a more modern standard. To keep up with demand the next wave of projects already needs to be getting underway. This includes the City Rail Link, extending the Northern Busway, a North-western Busway, the AMETI busway and potentially light rail. Combined these would give Auckland a PT network on par or better than many of our comparator cities and all are possible within the next decade if we prioritise properly.

Decades of decisions made by looking out the front windscreen hasn’t worked in reducing congestion. By investing in our missing modes we can give people realistic choices in how they get around. That will benefit everyone, taking those who don’t want to drive off the road leaving more space for others.

As I said there’s lot’s more I could add to it such as other reasons why investment in PT is justified, why we need to invest in walking and cycling, why it matters what don’t build e.g. AWHC. What are the key things you would have covered and what’s your view on what they’ve covered on transport today?

The Dominant Species

If aliens were to visit earth, what would they see as the dominant species of the planet. That’s the narrative in this old film from 1985 at NZ On Screen looking at our car culture in an offbeat way.

The Dominant Species is a loopy look at the relationship between people and cars in 1975 Aotearoa … from an alien’s eye view. Nifty animations and FX intersperse the alien automotive anthropological survey of Mark IIs, VWs, anti-car activism and driveway car-washing. There’s a ladykilling Jesus Christ atop-a-motorcar dream sequence; and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries scores a rugby match traffic jam (predating Apocalypse Now’s choppers).

The Dominant Species film

I like my house

I like my house.

My house consists of a 50sqm, one-bedroom apartment located in the “Brooklyn Building” on Emily Place in Auckland’s city centre. The Brooklyn Building is almost 100 years old and I understand it was designed by an American architect who originated from Chicago. My building has no balconies and no car-parks. Shock, horror, destined for squalor?



What a terrible investment, you might think? Well, in the 8 years since I’ve owned my house the value has approximately doubled and it currently rents for more than if I sold up and put the money in the bank. The economic side of me is at a happy equilibrium.

And, after 12 months of renovations (and a fair whack of dosh) my house now looks like this. The aesthetic side of me is pleased.






“Kiwis” don’t like apartments, you might opine. Well, my house was recently listed to rent on TradeMe and in 2 weeks it had been viewed by 2,000 people. Some might say all of these people were Chinese and we should restrict immigration, but TradeMe doesn’t tell me surnames so the issue is unsubstantiated at this point.

My house was ultimately rented to a doctor of 30-ish years who recently emigrated to New Zealand from the U.K. He arrived in NZ with a backpack and a guitar. Despite his relaxed nature, he works night shifts at Auckland City Hospital where he cares for sick children. I think my tenant deserves a house. He seems to like having a house that is warm and dry all year round, and which is 10 minutes walk to his work (if he has to work at Middlemore he’ll use the train). He doesn’t have a car, has no need for parking, and enjoys cycling/walking.

I don’t understand why some people try to stop intensification in Auckland.

Why do people think it’s beneficial to prevent levels of intensification which were perfectly normal in Auckland 100 years ago, when my building (and others nearby) were developed? Levels of intensification which are perfectly normal in cities overseas, like Sydney?

Why do politicians like Denise Krum feel it’s appropriate to describe the draft Unitary Plan as “perverse” and intensification as something which will “break-up and disperse communities”?

Why does Denise and others think it’s acceptable to imply, essentially, that people like me (and my tenants) are socio-economic pathogens who, by inhabiting houses like that shown above, will bring a wave of plague and pestilence to the communities in which we live?

Am I being a tad hyperbolic? Perhaps. Although it’s worth remembering that NZ’s Finance Minister recently used the word “ebola” to describe the strength of views held by people who oppose intensification. While restricting intensification may not be fatal biologically, everything I’ve read suggests it’s fatal to urban socio-economic performance. I don’t think I’m guilty of hubris to say that people like me bring skills, ideas, and money into a city. And maybe some slightly strange clothes and habits. Like coffee habits. Every morning I would stumble 200m to Espresso Workshop down by Britomart to get an excellent coffee served to me by people like me. Only younger and better dressed. Thank you Espresso Workshop.

I’d like to think that if opponents of intensification knew me and my tenants, then they might stop trying to prevent houses like mine from being built. They might even start to accept that it would be a good idea to let people like me to live in the types of houses that *we* prefer. Rather than force us to live in houses that *they* prefer. Houses like the ones which they live in, which have balconies, car-parks, and all manner of expensive bells and whistles.

I hope that by the time I return to Auckland the debate on intensification will have progressed. To be perfectly honest here’s what the debate looks like right now: A bunch of relatively old, wealthy, and scared people have successfully pressured Auckland Council into implementing restrictions on the development of houses designed to accommodate people who have different preferences. What the debate looks like is the opponents of intensification trying to decide how other people should live, with no evidence supporting their positions.

Some might suggest this is “modus operandi” for Auckland, and New Zealand. That we have for many decades allowed the short-term preferences of select suburbs to steamroll the long-term needs of the city. If true, then this might be one explanation for why NZ has developed a systematic “demographic deficit“. As the researchers as the excellent NIDEA (University of Waikato) commented recently (emphasis added):

As elsewhere, New Zealand’s population is ageing. As elsewhere, this ageing has two main drivers: increasing longevity, and declining birth rates, both outcomes of the Demographic Transition. In New Zealand’s case, however, the population is also ageing ‘prematurely’ from another cause, the legacy of net migration loss at young adult ages (typically 20-24 years) which New Zealand experiences in most years, and at 15-19 and 25-29 years in many other years as well. The loss, compounded by the falling birth rates at the time each cohort was born, has created a deep bite in today’s age structure across ages 25-39 years. This bite is not only driving up the median age faster than would otherwise be the case, given that New Zealand has the highest birth rate in the developed world, but has enormous implications for the country as it faces the retirement of its baby boomer generation.

I’m soon moving overseas, where excessive rents from my apartment in Auckland will help fund my lifestyle. Ironic? Yes. Sad? A bit. Unusual? Apparently not.

I can’t help shake the nagging feeling that New Zealand’s most valuable export is not dairy or tourism, but young people. Problem is we don’t get paid for exporting young people. In fact, we invest in them – only for them to live, love, and pay taxes somewhere else. Some come back of course, but what of those who don’t? I know of many people my age who fall into the latter category – indeed I may end up being one. Sorry Mum.

Notwithstanding all this I do like my house, and I actually quite like Auckland. If Auckland is able to move beyond the naysayers and allow intensification in a big way, then in a few years it might be enough to bring me home. If it doesn’t, well in the words of the His Royal Highness, the Prince of Bel Air, “smell ya’ later”.

P.s. Love you Mum.



Auckland Conversations: Jeff Tumlin Live Stream

Tonight is the next in the series of Auckland Conversations and the speaker is Jeff Tumlin. He’s an expert in complete streets and is also the author of the book Sustainable Transportation Planning: Tools for Creating Vibrant, Healthy, and Resilient Communities. Here’s a bit more about him.

Jeff Tumlin is an expert in helping communities move from discord to agreement about the future.

For more than twenty years, Jeff has led award-winning plans in cities from Seattle and Vancouver to Moscow and Abu Dhabi. He helps balance all modes of transportation in complex places to achieve a community’s wider goals and best utilize their limited resources. He has developed transformative plans throughout the world that accommodate millions of square feet of growth with no net increase in motor vehicle traffic.

Jeff is renowned for helping people define what they value and building consensus on complex and controversial projects. He provides residents and stakeholders the tools they need to evaluate their transportation investments in the context of achieving their long-term goals. He understands that managing parking and transportation demand is a critical tool for revitalizing city centers and creating sustainable places.

If you were wondering why we hadn’t posted about this earlier it’s because the event is already full. However that doesn’t mean you have to miss out as the events are now live-streamed which is fantastic. Even better the council have just launched a new website for the Auckland Conversations talks and even better they’re now using youtube – including for all their old videos – so we can now embed them in posts.

Did you go to the talk or watch it, what were the highlights for you?

Settling for Suburbia

We get frustrated today at the amount of auto-dependant development that continues to happen in Auckland (and other places around NZ). This is especially as we know the impacts this form if development has on communities and individuals. Many might think that we’re only now realising the impacts however that’s not the case. This video (two parts) from 1978 sounds like the sort of thing we still say today.
NZ On Screen - Johnstones Journey - Settling for Suburbia

How Manhattan’s density changed over 210 years

A neat video showing how population density in Manhattan has changed over 210 years. It was created by NYU urban scholars Solly Angel and Patrick Lamson-Hall and shows neighborhood population densities on the island from 1800 to 2010 using historical maps, aerial photographs, and census ward statistics. One of the creators notes:

The lessons, in short? Densities in Manhattan as a whole rose in the 19th century, peaked in 1910, fell for 70 years, and have been rising slowly since 1980.

Helping Our Heritage Come Alive – Parnell Rise

This is an image from Mark Bishop. Here are the previous posts: Queen and Wellesley, Newton Rd, Kingsland, Mt Eden Rd, Dominion Rd, Karangahape Rd, Mt Eden South

These images were developed by merging together various historic black and white photographs (all from the “Sir George Grey Special Collection” – Auckland Library) with contemporary colour photographs taken at the same location.

The black and white photographs were taken between the years 1900 to 1940, and cover a number of areas of the city and the outlying suburbs. The colour photographs were all taken in early 2015.

The intention of these images is to use photography to help show how much has changed – or not changed – over almost one hundred years by focusing on locations that are familiar to Aucklanders.

It is interesting to think that the people, horses and trams seen in these images passed by around a century ago where we walk and drive today.

View looking east up Parnell Rise and shows Beach Road in foreground.  Black and white photograph (Mar 1904) from “Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries 1-W942.”

History Alive - Parnell Rise

This is the last of the series so many thanks to Mark for providing them.