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?

Maybe.

8

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.

7a

2

5

7b

6a

“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.

Thanks Campbell Live

Last week sadly saw the end of Campbell Live. Much has already been said elsewhere about the great work the Campbell Live team produced over the decade the show was on air across topics such as the Christchurch earthquake and child poverty and many others. I’m not going to attempt to talk about those topics but I would like to say thanks to the team for the work they did on the urban issues that are of interest here at the blog – in particular transport and housing.

Over the years that I’ve been involved with the blog it’s been clear that in general the media don’t do a very good job at explaining urban issues. Far too often they try to boil arguments to dichotomies such as roads vs public transport, buses vs trains, bikes vs cars, high rise apartments vs sprawl. Often that reporting includes an editorial slant that reflects the personal preferences of individuals or that is aimed at attacking individuals. One of the clearest examples of this was the Herald’s coverage of the Unitary Plan where tried to stoke fear that the entire city was about to be turned into some version of Hong Kong when many areas of the city would see no change. Another example is the repeated linking of the City Rail Link to Len Brown when the project existed and was being worked on before he became mayor.

The Campbell Live team were one of the few who would take the time to understand and explain the more nuanced aspects of issues. They’d explain why more PT and cycling is also good for roads, that multiple options exist, that intensification doesn’t have to mean high rise and what good intensification should include. They’d talk to leading international experts such as Janette Sadik-Kahn and examine what similar cities internationally are doing about the same problems we face. Of course they’d also question the government and ministers on these topics too.

Of course I can’t go past the fact they even covered our Congestion Free Network including creating a fantastic animation of it.

Campbell Live 31 July 3

So thank you John Campbell and the Campbell Live team. It’s a huge disappointment that you will no longer be on air to tell a more balanced story than we get from most other media sources.

Helping Our Heritage Come Alive – Karangahape Rd

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

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 on corner of Karangahape Road and Pitt Street .  Black and white photograph (1919) from  “Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1682″.

History Alive - Karangahape Rd

Helping Our Heritage Come Alive – Dominion Rd

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

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 south down Dominion Road near corners of Walters Road and Valley Road.  Black and white photograph (1910) from “Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 255A- 93.”

History Alive - Dominion Rd