A great ad from the Spanish Transport department highlighting the growing frustration of constant traffic jams and the fight to find parking – urging people to re-think how they travel to and from work.
A great ad from the Spanish Transport department highlighting the growing frustration of constant traffic jams and the fight to find parking – urging people to re-think how they travel to and from work.
Last week Statistics NZ released their provisional population estimates as of 30 June 2015 and there were some interesting results.
All regions in NZ with the exception of the West Coast saw their population increase with the largest increase both in total number and in percentage occurring in Auckland. In total Auckland’s population grew by 2.9% or 43,600 people. That’s not the largest percentage increase Auckland has seen but in terms of the number of people, it the largest increase the region has experienced since 1996 and probably the largest ever. In total growth in Auckland accounted for at least half of all growth in New Zealand (1.9% or 87,000 people) with the next fastest growing regions being Canterbury with 2.1% and Waikato with 1.9% with Bay of Plenty and Otago at 1.7%.
The chart below shows the percentage growth in each region and as you can see Auckland is clearly an outlier compared to other regions.
The regional growth doesn’t mean there isn’t some strong localised growth occurring. Stats NZ point out that at a Territorial Authority level there are a few areas growing faster than Auckland, they are Selwyn up 6.5%, Queenstown-Lakes up 4.9%, Waimakariri up 3.6%. None of those can hold a candle to the Waitemata local board though, more on that soon.
Having both the largest population and it’s also being the growing the fastest region means Auckland now contains more than 34% of all of New Zealand’s population, that’s up from around 30% in 1996. Below is the change in Auckland’s population since then.
Within that growth Stats NZ say that migration has played a big role in recent years. Of the extra 43,600 people in Auckland they say 14,500 came from natural increase while 29,100 were from people migrating either domestically or internationally. By comparison last year had 14,200 from natural increase with 19,600 from migration.
While Auckland is definitely growing strongly that growth isn’t occurring evenly with some notable differences at a local board level. The stand out in this area is the Waitemata Local board which grew a whopping 9.7% or 8,400 people in a year after growing by 6% the year before. Other than Waitemata the other local board areas to see a high level of new residents includes Howick, Hibiscus and Bays and Albert Eden.
It’s amazing just how much the Waitemata Local Board area was able to grow in one year but where did all of those people go? Looking further we can find that more than half of it (5,460 out of 8,400) went to the CBD area – as defined by the Ministry of Transport for their CRL Targets – which is shown below. In fact combined the two area units in the middle – Auckland Central East and West – had a larger increase in population than any of the local boards (4,100 combined).
The best suggestion I’ve heard for such a strong increase is the result of a large number of overseas students after a number of years of lower numbers coming here. Considering that over the last year there hasn’t been a huge number of apartments completed it perhaps suggests there has probably been a number of empty apartments tenanted and an increase in the occupancy of some apartments. The increase saw the city centre population reach over 41,000 people, over 8 times what it was just under 20 years ago. The impact of all of these extra people has been enormous in making the city centre more vibrant and liveable, I’d suggest there’s a positive feedback loop at play.
(Warning: this is a bit meta.)
As an economist, my job often boils down to helping people think clearly about issues. For example, the essence of good cost benefit analysis is being able to categorise stuff correctly – i.e. separating costs from benefits – and making sure that things aren’t being counted twice.
It’s surprising how often people get these things wrong. For example, it’s common to see politicians argue that megaprojects are a good idea because the government will employ people to build them. But if you think about it, government spending isn’t a benefit – it’s actually a cost that we bear in order to obtain other benefits! Unless the economy’s in a recession, those people probably would have been doing something else useful instead, like building houses.
As a result of stuff like this, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about cognitive biases, which can make it difficult for people to clearly think through issues. (Economists aren’t really any better or worse than any other group of people when it comes to cognitive bias. Training in statistical methods is a bit better, which helps in some areas but not others.) I encounter several cognitive biases on a regular basis: framing bias often affects (afflicts?) project scope; confirmation bias influences many literature reviews and data analyses; and fundamental attribution error is probably one of the largest causes of interpersonal conflict.
A project I was recently working on got me thinking about another type of cognitive bias: anchoring bias. Here’s Wikipedia’s summary:
As this example suggests, anchoring plays an important role in negotiations. The initial proposal becomes the benchmark for subsequent suggestions. As a result, it makes sense for people to spend time and energy trying to “anchor” a discussion at a point that’s beneficial to them.
But what happens when two people are “anchored” at different points?
Rather than talk about my project – my policy is not to blog about things that I’m working directly on – I’ll use an example from Transportblog. Last month, I wrote a couple posts on publicly owned golf courses (1, 2, 3). In them, I made an argument that would be convincing to an economist: that the benefit of converting some golf courses to a mix of housing and public parks would exceed the benefit of retaining them in their current use, and hence we should consider doing so.
The posts led to a pretty lively and engaging discussion. Of course, not everyone was convinced and some people were angry about the idea. Fair enough. The interesting thing, in a way, was that different people’s “anchors” were so far apart.
As an economist looking at the topic, my “anchor” was the principle that resources are scarce and should therefore be used efficiently, taking externalities into account. (In this respect, being an economist is very congruent with being an environmentalist.) When an analysis showed that the golf course land could be used much more efficiently if it were used for something else, I was comfortable with the result.
However, others had a different anchor point: a feeling that the status quo is basically good and shouldn’t change (too much). Several people expressed the view that open space in cities was valuable and, where it exists, should be preserved in perpetuity. Here’s a representative comment from one of the posts:
These commenters were willing to contemplate some changes to publicly owned golf courses. A number of people suggested that Auckland’s golf courses could be converted into public parks or spaces for other outdoor activities, either now or in the future. Ben Ross, for example, wrote up a proposal for converting Chamberlain Park to an “urban forest”. However, actually developing some of the golf course land seemed to be too far away from the anchor point.
So what can we make of this?
First and foremost, anchors are important – people are attached to them and don’t like to be dragged too far away from them. Once anchored, it’s really easy to reject ideas that seem too far out – even if they would objectively be better.
I suspect that anchoring goes a long way towards explaining the shape of urban policies in general. For example, revisions to urban planning rules seem to happen incrementally, even in cases where very strong and comprehensive evidence for changing rules has emerged. Slow changes to bad policies can’t be explained by analysis – surely more rapid change would be better! But it starts to make sense once you account for the fact that people are anchored on the current plans and the current places.
Second, sometimes it’s really important to cut loose from the anchor of the status quo. If you’re an urbanist in a city like Auckland, you can’t be too attached to the way things currently are. That’s because you’re constantly going to be looking at places like this:
And wondering whether this is really the best we could do, or whether we could live somewhere a bit more like this:
Which leads to a third point, which is that debates between people “anchored” to the status quo and people suggesting changes are always hard. The starting points are just so very different. But these debates are necessary. They’re a key part of building a case and a constituency for change.
People tell me that one way of overcoming such divides is to give people a picture – or better yet, an experience – of an alternative anchoring point. That’s essentially what Janette Sadik-Khan did as New York City’s transportation commissioner – put down cones, paint, planter boxes, and chairs to give people a chance to play with a different vision of the city:
I’m not a very visual person, so I tend to make quantitative rather than visual appeals for change. But despite that, I suspect that our ability to change in a better direction depends upon our ability to visualise, depict, and trial a better alternative. A pretty picture is a more appealing anchor than a large number!
A good interview from Streetfilms with Gabe Klein who is a former transport commissioner from Washington DC and Chicago about his new book “Start Up City”. The content will be familiar to those that heard Gabe talk at an Auckland Conversations event earlier this year alongside Jeff Tumlin.
One of the things that strikes me from the video and that we’ve been hearing from numerous speakers over numerous years is the need for transport agencies to try things and not be afraid to fail. This includes things such as trialling new street designs using temporary materials and trying out technology to see what works best. It is something that we are yet to see AT do much of and I wonder what it will take to get them thinking this way.
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.
How the CMJ was originally sold.
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
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.
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
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:
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!
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.
So far they’ve covered
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.
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?
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.
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):
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.