A look back at Auckland as it was in 1967. I many ways it presents the city as an overblown country town – the same view that I think many still hold to this day.
A look back at Auckland as it was in 1967. I many ways it presents the city as an overblown country town – the same view that I think many still hold to this day.
This is a Guest Post by David Shearer MP.
NB we welcome guest posts from anyone, all are judged on their individual merits and relevance. It is always good to hear what politicians of all flavours would like to see happen in our cities, especially when they are neither campaigning nor just complaining.
Western Springs through new eyes
Recent talk of a stadium on Auckland’s waterfront costing hundreds of millions is all very well, but how about seeing an old treasure through new eyes and planning for the future of Western Springs. With the amount of use the area gets, I can’t think of better bang for the ratepayer buck.
At the moment Western Springs is a collection of disparate elements – but it could be a beautifully-designed whole. It’s crying out for it. Think about what’s currently there:
The Auckland Zoo is in the middle of a $120million overhaul, projected to attract a million visitors per year within the decade – and it’s already pulling in 700,000.
MOTAT has new leadership, great ideas, 250,000 visitors a year and an abundance of prime land. It also has a bold architectural plan, conceived by the late Ian Athfield, awaiting funding and action.
There’s the speedway, the Western Springs soccer club, the Ponsonby Rugby Club, and the Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC) – each one a drawcard in its own right.
Add to that Pasifika, Auckland City Limits and other concerts, not to mention the thousands of families of all ethnicities who stroll around Western Springs Park on weekends, enjoying the special ecological features and Meola Creek.
Taken together, it’s a huge chunk of urban land, possibly the most-used in Auckland. Eden Park gets much more attention and has far fewer people using it.
As Auckland’s population increases, our open spaces will become increasingly more precious. Preparing for that means seeing and treating Western Springs as a destination.
Part of that is understanding the area as an ecological whole. To the west of Meola reef is a volcanic lava flow that extends right out into the harbour. In the other direction it extends across Meola Rd into Western Springs. Its waterways flow through to Chamberlain Park and beyond. Together, it’s a wide greenbelt, an environmental treasure that could do with the kind of design that will help Aucklanders really use and enjoy it from one end to the other.
I’m a fan of living bridges linking our green spaces. A cycle and pedestrian bridge across Meola Road could link these two parts. Another to cross the multiple road lanes of Great North Road and the North-western Motorway into Chamberlain Park would enable an uninterrupted ‘green ride’ through these landscapes.
At the moment, every big event within Western Springs needs a special transport plan. The place buzzes – yet it can be inconvenient and inefficient to get to resulting in congestion and parking chaos.
Surely it qualifies for smart modern infrastructure and transport. In the short term, at the very least, the Great North Rd bus route should be upgraded, with expanded timetables servicing Western Springs, the zoo and MOTAT.
The area is actually handy to trains, though at the moment you wouldn’t know it. Baldwin Ave Station is close and an improved pedestrian/bike route between Western Springs and the golf course would connect people to it and go a long way to addressing the access problems that now exist.
Meanwhile, the Zoo, MOTAT, TAPAC and other parts are currently atomised, focusing on their own individual development, simply because there’s no big-picture plan for them to work within. Could light rail help? What about a pedestrian/cycleway underpass at St Lukes? Could the vintage tram route be expanded to make the trams truly functional and useful?
Our waterways – like Meola Creek – have been taken for granted over decades, parts of them neglected and built-over, but they’re still there, waiting to be rediscovered and cherished by a new generation of Aucklanders.
The waterways are the living link between all these areas: Chamberlain Park, Western Springs and the Harbour. The water runs down from one of our precious maunga, Mt Owairaka to the sea.
I’d like to see urban designers grappling with these issues: pulling the disparate parts together into a modern, user-friendly precinct.
The natural environment is unique and should be preserved and enhanced: cycle ways, pedestrian paths, water flows and thoughtful, effective public transport.
The local communities, and the many using this space are passionate about it and should have a big say in the form of the design. That enthusiasm was able to save the Pohutukawa grove on Great North Road opposite MOTAT last year. It was a lesson in how well-loved the area is, and how invested locals rightly are in it. They are best insurance against lazy design.
With the City Rail Link on its way and a safe network of cycle lanes slowly taking shape, it feels like Auckland is growing up.
But perhaps – in reaching for more big, expensive projects – we’re at risk of overlooking some of the beauty that’s already here.
I think it’s time for Auckland’s planners to look at Western Springs with fresh eyes and deliver us a precinct that will be another jewel in Auckland’s crown.
Postscript: The purple routes above are consistent with the masterplan the Albert Eden Local Board published recently, below, among other things these would improve the walk/ride potential for Western Springs College and Pasadena Intermediate enormously. The red route, which needs upgrading, is the obvious way to connect the train network to both the permanent attractions of MOTAT and events at the Park, although then the problem that AT/NZTA designed the new supersized St Lukes bridge with only half a thought for any user not in a vehicle then does come even more glaring than ever:
A map of Auckland likely from the early 1940’s (based on the level of development in places like Glen Innes and Mt Roskill). One thing that you can notice is how closely the majority of street network is to the old tram routes (in yellow)
What is also interesting is the level of intensity of streets with what is now the Central Motorway Junction. On this map at least it looks like the densest cluster of streets outside of the core of the CBD
And here’s what that little cluster looked like from the sky in 1940
This is a guest post from a reader who’s currently based in Germany. She takes a look at the evolution of Germany’s Ruhr region – a case study in the role of natural resources, technology, and disruptive economic change in shaping urban form.
In a recent New Zealand Herald article, Dushko Bogunovich and Matthew Bradbury suggest an alternative approach in how Auckland urban form should be developed, a theory that they are calling the “linear city”, as discussed in this previous post. To support their theory, they use the example of three German metropolitan areas including Munich, Frankfurt and Ruhr:
“Other famous models of successful, decentralised and polycentric development are metropolitan Munich and the urban region of the Ruhr. Both cover large areas, include plentiful open spaces, and have managed to contain urban sprawl in the form of a coherent polycentric pattern.”
They seem to suggest that what makes these case studies “successful” is that they have been able to contain urban sprawl. So lets look more closely at the success of one of their case studies, the Ruhr metropolis.
Ruhr Urban Metropolis
The Ruhr metropolis today has 5.30 million inhabitants, over 3 administrative districts and 11 cities (Hamm, Dortmund, Hagen, Bochum, Herne, Gelsenkirchen, Essen, Bottrop, Oberhausen, Mülheim, Duisburg). The area is geographically defined by being set between three rivers (Ruhr, Emscher and Lippe), and along a coal seam. Because of its history, the Ruhr is structured differently from monocentric urban regions such as Berlin and London, which developed through the rapid merger of smaller towns and villages with a growing central city. Instead, the individual city boroughs and urban districts of the Ruhr grew independently of one another during the Industrial Revolution.
The development of independent cities of Ruhr can be seen in the series of maps below from 1840, 1930 and 1970.
In the Middle Ages, the trading cities of Dortmund and Duisburg already existed and were part of the German Hanseatic League. The area began to transform in the late 18th Century with early industrialisation, and by 1820 there were hundreds of water-powered mills and workshops, and by 1850-1860 there were almost 300 coal mines in operation around the central cities of Duisberg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund. Workers lived in close proximity to the place of work, often directly around the workshops, mills and mines.
The population climbed rapidly and small towns with only 2000-5000 people grew in the following years to contain over 100,000. By 1870, over 3 million people lived in the wider regional area, which had become the largest industrial region of Europe. During World War 1 the area functioned as Germany’s central weapon factory, and at the Essen company, employees rose from 40,000 to 120,000. The area was much disputed during the two World Wars and Cold War period due to its industrial importance. During the 1950’s and 1960’s during the rebuilding of Germany, a phase of very rapid economic growth created a high demand for coal and steel.
However, after 1973 a worldwide economic crisis hit the Ruhr region very hard, as the easily reachable coal mines had become exhausted and German coal and steel prices were no longer competitive globally. The region went through phases of structural crisis and industrial diversification, first through heavy industry, and then moving into service industries and high technology. Since the 1970’s, as mines closed, unemployment has been rising and population has been decreasing.
Beschäftigte in 1000 = Employed per 1000;
The transformation of former industrial sites into smaller modern commercial centres has been difficult, perhaps partly due to their poly-centric nature. As an attempt to encourage new forms of economic activity, projects such as the Phoenix urban development project in Dortmund are currently being implemented, to try and encourage more higher-income people into the area. Phoenix is not a market-led project, and instead has received considerable funding from both the local administration Nordrhein-Westfalen and also by the European Union in an attempt to regenerate the region.
The images below are from the Ruhr area in 2015.
What does this mean for Auckland?
The development of Ruhr has therefore had a very different history to Auckland, which has instead grown around one main central city. The development of the Ruhr into poly-centric hubs was therefore not an urban planning vision, but a direct result of workers living close to the spread-out mining sites, and highlights the strong relationship between the location of employment and of housing. The poly-centric urban form does not help to create successful economic outcomes for the region today.
In his Auckland Conversation presentation in September 2015, John Daley from the Grattan Institute explains his research “City Limits”, concluding that the Australian economy is increasingly dominated by services produced in cities and that more jobs are being concentrated at the centre of big cities. However new housing is being supplied at the outskirts, which is creating long commutes, geographic divides and putting the social fabric under strain. These Australasian patterns are also clearly evident in Auckland’s urban issues.
It is therefore difficult to see how in 2016, with falling population, rising unemployment, and subsidised urban regeneration projects, how the Ruhr metropolis is a “successful model of a linear city” as Bogunovich and Bradbury claim. What we can learn from the Ruhr case study is the relationship between the type of economy and job location; and how transportation, job location and housing are critically linked. We therefore need to ensure that the urban plan for a growing Auckland, in determining the location and density of new housing, enables efficient public transportation networks between this new housing and the central city.
Debate about a new stadium in the city has once again reared it’s head
I think most people would agree that the stadium situation in Auckland is absurd. Eden Park is wrong in so many ways but the alternatives aren’t any better either.
Instantly talk has also returned to the idea of a waterfront stadium – something proposed by former Labour government a decade ago to be built for the 2011 Rugby World Cup but which was opposed by the regional council and others.
Back in 2006 I thought a waterfront stadium was a good idea and I was disappointed it didn’t happen. However I’ve since changed my views on the matter and I’m glad it didn’t happen.
The reality is that like other often cited city developments such as convention centres and casinos, stadiums are incredibly space hungry inward looking structures. Yes they absolutely can attract people to the city when games or concerts are on but the issues is that for the rest of the week they sit idle, large and lifeless. That is perhaps the worst thing to put on the most prime real estate in the region – the waterfront.
Take as a comparison somewhere like Wynyard Quarter. The development currently under way is about the same size as a stadium would need and across the week would generate far more activity than a stadium with a weekly rugby or league game would.
And of course this doesn’t take into account the costs to the city/government of building a stadium. The 2006 proposal was estimated to cost around $500 million. What projects would Auckland or the government need to defer to enable it to fund that and what would the opportunity cost of that be. Stadiums all over the world also have a history of not being sound investments for cities. Perhaps if the owners of the sports teams who would use these facilities were prepared to stump up the construction costs it might make me think differently but they don’t seem to be suggesting that.
But if we were to think seriously about building a new stadium near the city where would it go?
Looking at a number of stadiums designed specifically for sports codes like Rugby or League and with similar capacity to Eden Park it seems they generally need around 200m x 180-200m. As I mentioned, quite space hungry. There are not too many places in or near the city we could put something that large. The images below show how much space would approximately be needed at the locations suggested.
The waterfront is one option but as mentioned, in my view not ideal. That might change if the port was moved but still I suspect there is better development that could happen there if occurred. In any case I think it would have to be further down the waterfront than what was proposed in 2006.
The City Works Depot site seems to be the only relatively clear site that exists. The distance between Wellesley St and Cook St is about 200m but to get the width need it would require taking out buildings and realigning Sale St. The sites needed are also in private ownership and suffer the same problem, would be more valuable to their owners as a mix of office and residential development.
The only other place with that much space that is not already a public park would be over the top of the parts of the CMJ but imagine it would be quite an engineering challenge and therefore quite expensive
What do you think, should there be a new stadium eventually and where do you think it should be – of course other suggestions are welcome.
This post will now consider some emerging transport technologies in more detail. These technologies seem likely to make us much better off in the next couple of years, and are worth getting cautiously excited about.
1. Information technologies – The brain in the palm of your hand
Hypothesis #1: Improvements in IT technology will make it easier for people to access the information they need to make good choices. When presented with this information, people will travel by the best transport mode for that particular journey, rather than the one that is easiest. This will reduce the dominant role played by private vehicles in our current transport system, especially in denser cities where a variety of transport options are available. By reducing the complexity and cost of getting around, these IT technologies will also increase the attractiveness of dense cities as places to live.
Some of you may be reading this post on your phone. On the same phone you may also have access to apps such as Google Maps, Uber, AirBnB, and Tinder. With these apps you can check bus/train timetables, book a (cheap) taxi, find a cool place to stay, and arrange a hot date. They help you access the goods and services you want in an efficient manner.
The long-run impact of these kinds of technologies cannot be overstated. In barely 20 years, for example, online dating has completely transformed how we meet the people we love, as illustrated in the figure below (source). Of course, more traditional forms of romantic encounters remain important, but they are *less* important than they were previously. In this way IT has expanded our options and enabled us to do something we were already doing, just more effectively. They function at their best in areas of high density.
NB: 1) This data only goes up to 2009, i.e. it excludes the more recent advent of Tinder and 2) the % of same-sex couples who meet via online dating is higher still.
Google Maps, Tinder, and Uber are old (albeit good) news. What’s the next big transport IT to emerge?
I think it has to be ride-sharing. Uber themselves are operating a shared version of their service in some cities. And they’re not the only ones: The graph below, for example, shows the growth of “Bla bla car” in Europe from 2009 to 2014. Year-on-year growth of 100-200% has enabled Bla bla car to raise hundreds of millions in venture capital to fund their ongoing expansion.
Bla Bla car works as follows: 1) Go to a website; 2) Enter where you are travelling to/from, and 3) you get a list of people who are driving that journey, their time of departure, and the cost. It costs about 5 Euro to get from my house in Amsterdam to Rotterdam, which is a 75km journey at 6 Euro *cents* per km, i.e. cheap as chips. Many drivers are happy to carry pets, and some are commuting regularly, so you can negotiate arrangements for a more regular journey.
Now there’s been lots of (failed) attempts at building ride-share platforms in the past, so why am I so confident that something like Uber’s shared service or Bla bla car will take off soon? Two main factors make me think things are different now. The first is psychological: In the last decade or so, a proliferation in online platforms, such as TradeMe/EBay, Uber, Tinder, and AirBnb, has helped people become accustomed to procuring goods and services in this way. The second is market size: Most people in countries like NZ now have smart phones, providing economies of density in supply/demand (as discussed in last week’s post).
It is not just ride-share: All manner of transport services stand to benefit from turbo-charged IT.
For example, some may think that using different apps for different transport modes is confusing/complicated, and you’d be right. That’s why some clever folks at a Melbourne-based start-up have created Rome2Rio, which is a (gorgeous) ***multi-modal*** transport planner. Rome2Rio searches (mono-modal) transport engines to find the best options for getting you from A to B, whether it be short and long distance by car, plane, boat, or train. For example, below is a possible itinerary to get from my street in Amsterdam to Crete, including details on connections, prices, and schedules.
It is making it easy to travel anywhere, anytime, by any transport mode. On the demand side, by simplifying things people will be able to choose the journey that is best for them, e.g. train from A to B and ride-share from B to C, rather than simply doing what’s easiest, e.g. driving from A to C. On the supply-side, such things are likely to result in increased competition and ultimately see more mileage coming from fewer cars, trains, buses and airplanes.
Of course if/when driverless cars become available then they will seamlessly plug into these kinds of IT platforms.
However, as was discussed in a previous post, if driverless cars are going to be a cost-effective way for everyday people to travel, rather than just a cheaper form of taxi services used for occasional trips, then they will need to carry multiple passengers, just like a bus does currently. And to carry multiple passengers efficiently, then driverless vehicles are subject to the same laws of geometry as public transport: They will tend to travel most frequently along the busiest corridors of demand. Of course they could divert to serve just you, but that’s going to cost you a lot more.
Which brings me nicely onto the next topic …
2. The driverless revolution – How it will turbo-charge PT
Hypothesis #2: The revolution in driverless technology will be applied first and foremost to PT. Cost-efficiencies associated with driverless technology will slash OPEX costs and increase PT’s relative cost-effectiveness compared to all other modes of transport, with the exception of taxis. The latter, however, will tend to complement use of PT in denser areas.
First some background: Drivers are expensive. They account for approximately half the cost of operating a taxi and about 30-40% of the cost of operating PT. So if you remove the need for a driver, then the costs of delivering taxi and mass transit services reduce significantly. In contrast, when you’re talking about private cars the impact of driverless technology on costs is smaller, because the passenger (who was the driver) still has to travel regardless, i.e. the driver’s time is (usually) not “saved”.
Driverless technology may reduce the costs of providing PT services to the point they no longer need OPEX subsidies.
Compared to private vehicles, implementing driverless techology in mass transit systems is relatively easy. PT operates along fixed routes and to fixed schedules. Driverless technology is particularly easy to implement in separated rail systems, which is why so many new metro rail systems are now using it. But it’s not just rail that will benefit from driverless technology, Perth, for example, is currently trialing driverless buses, such as that illustrated below (source).
Meanwhile, slightly further a field one are the runaway success stories of driverless metro systems, which have been constructed in places such as Copenhagen and Vancouver. The success of these systems, which achieve farebox recovery rates around 150%, has encouraged many other cities to follow suit. Milan, for example, has recently opened a driverless metro as illustrated below (source).
Driverless PT, when combined with other initiatives such as congestion charging and accurate parking pricing, raises the prospect that PT services could operate profitably and thereby generate funds to reinvest in more services or infrastructure.
Could driverless PT technologies be deployed in the Auckland context in the near future?
I think the answer is yes. Aside from the rail network perhaps the first candidate for the deployment of driverless technology is the Northern Busway. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Northern Busway – it’s a great service and it was cost-effective to build and operate. The Northern Busway is a key part of Auckland’s successful PT story. And it has scope to grow, with things like double-deckers and more efficient ticketing systems. However, if AC and AT are to achieve their transport objectives, i.e. patronage keeps growing for several decades, then at some point a higher capacity PT technology may be needed.
Driverless rail is one possible solution.
Driverless PT will also put an end to strikes and frequency/span issues that have periodically plagued PT network for decades. I suspect driverless technology may be the circuit-breaker than enables high-quality PT to operate profitably all-day, every-day. No more Sunday service levels, no more leaving the party early to run for the last bus or train.
At this point some may protest that PT still suffers from the “last leg” problem. Thankfully, this is another area where technology looks set to make out lives better …
3. Sweet mobility – The electric explosion
Hypothesis #3: Rapid developments in electric technologies will not only transform the transport technologies we already have, such as cars, buses, and trains, but it will see the emergence of a range of smaller devices tailored to different needs and peoples. These devices will gradually solve the “last leg” problem and complement high-quality PT services.
Unbeknownst to many, the world is undergoing an explosion in electric transport technologies. This explosion is not, however, confined to cars, even though Tesla garners a lot of publicity.
Ineed, the primary impacts of the electric explosion is on devices that are much smaller in size. For example, here’s the “Folkvänlig”, which for those of you who don’t speak Swedish means “People friendly”. This is an electric bicycle developed and sold by IKEA, which can achieve a top speed of around 30-40km/hr and has a range of 50-100km.
Some of you may be thinking that e-bikes are a niche technology. If so, then you’d be incorrect.
In 2014 global e-bike sales totaled 32 million (source). By way of comparison, in the same year global cars sales were 85 million (source). That’s right: sales of e-bikes alone represented more than one-third of *total* cars sales. Another statistic that worth considering: Global electric car registrations hit only 320,000 in 2015 (source). So on a global basis, annual e-bike sales exceed electric car sales by a factor of approximately 100 to 1. Think of that the next time you see a glib news story about Tesla (NB: I love the concept of electric cars, I just feel that they’re significantly less important than e-bikes).
There’s any number of other wonderful electric mobility devices that are already on the market. Some are even small enough to be picked up and carried with you, thereby complementing the use of PT. We have electric scooters …
And the solo wheel … (“reinventing the wheel”).
Electric technologies also have implications for PT. Buses could soon be electric, while batteries may enable electric rail that is powered by overhead wires to operate “off-grid” for some distances. Such technologies could be applicable in Auckland, for example by enabling us to extend the reach of the EMUs to places like Pukekohe without incurring the costs of electrification.
Conclusion: Reinventing the wheel?
Just to sum up:
In short, emerging transport technologies may mean the future is characterised by far fewer cars and greater uptake of non-car transport modes. I’m not saying this is a given, but it does seem possible – and even likely.
I want to finish by considering a recent report by NZIER. This report evaluated changes in car technology and concluded they were awesome and going to destroy PT, i.e. a different conclusion from what I have reached here. While I disagreed with the authors of the NZIER report on almost every point, I found myself agreeing with some of their recommendations.
That is, given the uncertainty inherent to discussions of future transport technologies perhaps the best thing we can do is ensure that our current policy settings are 1) non-distortionary and 2) durable. Such policy settings are often referred to as “no regrets” policies. So when the NZIER report calls for shifting to a road-user based system, especially one that allowed for time-of-use road pricing, I agree. This would encourage more efficient transport and land use choices today, while also preparing ourselves for the uptake of electric cars in the future, if that comes to pass.
I think this is all kind of cool. There’s lot of exciting transport technologies on the horizon, and regardless of what we do they will result in a more efficient and effective transport system. And even if people disagree on how technologies will impact our future, we can still agree on some changes we should make.
What would you do if you were NZ’s grand transport pumbah? Let’s hear it.
This post was meant to be a sequel to Auckland’s migration boom (part 1), but it’s worked out slightly differently, hence the different title. International education is a major factor in our immigration numbers, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
International students vs migration
Firstly, “migration” is a slightly vague concept. Is someone who wants to study or work here a migrant, if they’re only planning to stay here for 18 months? How about five years? What’s an OE, or a working holiday, and are your other intentions important besides just how long you’re planning to stay?
The standard definition New Zealand uses, like most other countries, is to call people “visitors” if they’re planning to stay less than a year, or “permanent and long-term arrivals” if they’ll be staying longer. Those are the main ‘migration’ statistics we use.
International students can be classified as either visitors or ‘migrants’, depending on their course and what they plan to do once they finish studying. As per the graph below, there have been big increases in both types of students since 2013.
If you look at the “migrants” line, which is really just students who think they’ll be here for at least a year, there were 28,000 arrivals in 2015, vs a more stable 15,000 in 2008-2013. The number of short-term student “visitors” has also grown, but to a lesser extent.
The graph above is based on people arriving with a student visa. However, it doesn’t show when they depart again (or when they change to a work visa once they finish studying, for example). The main point here is that if our tertiary institutes reach capacity, students will stop contributing to ‘net’ migration. The departures each year will balance out the arrivals, and NZ’s migration boom could appear to taper off, even if student numbers remain at high levels.
In practise, many students do want to remain in New Zealand after they finish studying, so there will still be some ‘net’ migration – student numbers could level out, but those who stay on after study would still be ‘net’ migrants. But the net figure would still drop back from where it is now.
The overall sector
No more on migration – from here on, I’ll just look at the overall international student sector. I’ve used data from a few different sources, which don’t quite align perfectly, but I think they show the overall picture pretty well.
At the nationwide level, NZ’s international education sector grew strongly in the late 90s/ early 2000s, and has had various ups and downs since. Most recently, we’ve had two years of strong growth, coming close to the early 2000s peak (source: MBIE).
Where in NZ are international students studying?
I’ll turn now to some slightly different data, which I’ve compiled from educationcounts.govt.nz.
Auckland is getting a much higher share of international students than it ever used to – and it always had a large share anyway.
The educationcounts.govt.nz graph probably doesn’t quite capture the full increase in the last few years since it only goes to calendar 2014. MBIE’s graph, below, has more recent data, for 2014/15:
Two points from all this:
Looking at the source countries of international students, India and China are by far the largest. In the late 90’s, we received very few students from either country. That changed rapidly: by the early 2000’s almost half of all the international students here were from China (MBIE). When those student numbers dropped away again, it was a big factor in Auckland’s CBD apartment boom drying up. Although Chinese student numbers have been recovering again in the last few years, they’re still well below the peak.
By contrast, India wasn’t a major source of international students until quite recently, but it has rocketed up in the last couple of years. In 2012/13, 8,365 Indians were granted student visas, and in 2014/15, 19,305 were. That increase of more than 10,000 students from India is larger than the increase from every other country combined.
The number of people granted student visas to attend schools has been pretty constant over the last decade, at 15,000-18,000 a year (MBIE).
Tertiary is where the real action is, with 62,000 people granted visas in 2014/15. The numbers at universities have been quite flat, and the growth in the last two years has almost all been through Private Training Establishments (and Polytechnics to a lesser extent).
Private Training Establishments teach a range of different qualifications – management and commerce, hospitality, IT and English. These might not be glamorous, but they do provide vocational training and skills (except for English, which I guess is a good first step to other study). There have been concerns that (some) PTEs are lower quality than other education providers in NZ. All providers are monitored by NZQA, but hopefully the monitoring programme has been able to cope with the growth in the PTE sector over the last couple of years.
The good and the bad
New Zealand, and Auckland in particular, does well out of international students. Education is a major export: NZ earns money not just from the fees charged, but from the money students spend on other things. International students strengthen our overseas networks. Some may stay on and, in time, become proud Kiwis. As Education New Zealand notes:
However, there are some issues that go with this. International students are sometimes exploited – paid well below minimum wage to work in dodgy restaurants, or forced to live in substandard accommodation.
The boom-bust nature of the industry – especially for private providers – creates real risks, and a number of providers went out of business when the early 2000’s boom ended. That wasn’t good for New Zealand’s reputation, and hopefully the industry is better prepared for a downturn this time around.
It’s the last day of 2025 so it is a good time to run through the events of the last ten years in Auckland. A decade of profound transformation for New Zealand’s largest city. A coming of age.
This is Part 1 of a 2 Part scenario.
Global megatrends mean local megachange, and Auckland is fortunate to have been well placed and nimble enough to largely come out on the positive side of these forces. We have seen the global trends of the first decade and a half of the 21C accelerate over the last decade, particularly:
The strong population growth in Auckland seen just before this period has continued consistently. Auckland grew at around 2.5% per year from 1.5 million in 2015 to approach 2m this year [cf 2015 pop growth was 2.9%]. This has of course not been without difficulty, requiring the government and the council to work much better together with the private sector to deliver the required new dwellings; hence the huge building ramp-up we are seeing, especially of apartments and terrace houses, but also the demand side controls finally enacted by government to reduce the more egregious forms of speculation. The adoption of the first Unitary Plan which reduced density restrictions in some areas helped enormously; and especially led to the new vibrancy around Rapid Transit stations such as Albany, Papatoetoe, and Glen Innes. Who’d have thought Glen Eden, among other places, would become as cool as it has with all those car yards and panel beaters shops around the station now sprouting apartments?
And although we are along way from the various crisis points we are still at the end of the global movement of peoples we’ve seen over the last decade as another one of history’s great ages of migration picks up strength, New Zealand remains an attractive place to live and Auckland in particular an increasingly attractive place to work. Not to mention all those returning New Zealanders and [smarter] Australians fleeing those seemingly endless destructive weather events across the Tasman. It has been much more difficult in other places, especially Europe, although there too these changes have helped offset natural declines and ageing populations, and are proving quite stimulatory as well as disruptive.
The ageing population is a huge issue here too; every year from 2011 another year of that demographic bubble from the post-war baby boom turned 65, the nominal age of retirement. The changes of this politically active and property rich cohort have had a big impact on the city and nation. Two main trends have been observable over the decade; one group have taken advantage of the secular price shift in Auckland property over their lifetime and sold up and headed for smaller centres around the country [providing population offsets there, but also en-greying these communities], the second group have downsized within Auckland; stimulating significant demand for rest homes but also smaller well placed dwellings, particularly apartments, in great locations near amenities. Thus we have seen the apartment boom driven by two very different ends of the market; older cashed up people and younger first home buyers and renters starting out. More on our new urban form below.
Next year of course, 2026, this group will enter a new phase as the first of them turns 80, we can expect further shifts in the retirement sector as well of increased hospital and care costs for the nation as a whole. The aged care sector is booming and the apartment market is diversifying as a result. And thankfully in Auckland the service and tourism sectors are growing strongly to contribute to these nationwide costs. We will need the regulatory changes that saw in the start of this period, the Unitary Plan, to continue to evolve in response.
The ‘Super Diversity’ trend has continued and strengthened, making Auckland a much more dynamic and vibrant place [eg Pakuranga Town Centre now in an intense rivalry with Balmoral for the bragging rights as the leading centre of Asian street style eating]. And a much more internationally connected and economically competitive one too; migrants always bring better and deeper connections back to their home nations for expanded trade and social interaction. Also the creative sector has witness a great outburst of productivity as people bridging more than one culture so often are stimulated to respond to the tensions of that situation creatively.
Urbanisation- and the rise of the Suburban Centres
Called the Metropolitan Revolution and the Great Inversion even before our period began, the stunning re-emgengence of cities as the economic, cultural, and environmental force of our age has continued strongly. The strength with which Auckland has risen to take its clear place as the Primary City of the South Pacific region has caused rumblings in the rest of the country, but happily successive governments have come understand the value of the city’s rise for the whole nation [and new urban policies have benefited our other urban centres too; for they too are having their own Metropolitan Revolutions]. Auckland is competing strongly with the equally resurgent cities of the Australian seaboard; Australian cities helping to soften the blow of the structural decline in the hard commodity extractive industries there, despite the climate impacts all through that continent.
Auckland City Centre population doubled from 20k in 2005 to 41k in 2015, and doubled again to over 80k now. These new apartment buildings substantially changing the skyline, and their new occupants substantially changing the street life below. Wynyard Quarter, the whole of the western side down from the Hobson St ridge, and elsewhere are now covered in new residential buildings and streets buzzing with new retail, hospo, offices, and above all that great resource; people. Architecturally the full range is on show, we all have our favourites [and otherwise]. I particularly like the new 50 story block with the grand atrium linking Fort St through to the new shared space on lower Shortland St, and of course the development of the parking stump [at last!] out the back of high street with new apartments above in the daring light-weight structure. Just a couple of examples.
But of course this growth of the centre is nowhere near the whole story, the strong boom in long dormant subcenters has been as a big if not bigger story this decade. New Lynn has its sixth apartment tower now, and looks unstoppable after the huge boost it received with the opening of the CRL [more on that in Part 2] and the conversion of industrial land to housing. Manukau City, is at last gaining a true identity on the back of its intensification, and even Pakuranga Town Centre is thriving, after that big fight over the now canned flyover; the Busway there is booming inevitably leading to talk of converting it to Light Rail in the future. Albany is now an actual place with residents in quantity giving even that maddeningly planed environment life and character, it has been extraordinary watching it really take off with the Busway extension and those new mixed-use apartments.
Every Metro Centre has benefited from the removal of Parking Minimums and the rise of ride-share [more on that tomorrow too], the range of small and affordable living spaces all across the city made possible by unbundling them from parking and the improvements in Transit quality has been great for everyone, especially students and the many singles and couples not wishing to share. It has also led to many new entrants in the development business as the cost barriers to entry are lower. Smaller building firms are now building multi-unit dwellings instead of only detached houses, creating a much more varied market.
Local quality and identity is the new groove; made possible by new high volumes of dwellings clustered around Transit Stations. All sorts of places are transforming on this model from Papatoetoe, Onehunga, and Albany and of course all along the Western line, where the transformed access to employment, education, and entertainment made possible by the CRL has led to explosions of activity.
The rapid re-greening of the whole city secured through the somewhat controversial Urban Canopy rules in the Heat Island Regulation of the second Super City Mayoralty is now accepted as universally successful. This by-law requires every public parking space to covered by a solid canopy of tree cover or face a sharp penalty was of course resisted by carpark owners, but is well loved by the public and has generated measurable heat island effect reductions and rapidly improved the city’s tree cover with all the additional ongoing positive outcomes urban trees bring. While also making many previously dreary places instantly glorious. Not to mention creating a whole industry for arborists and landscapers, that newly sexy profession. The many passionate debates about tree varieties often pitting the urban food growing movement up against the botanically correct: It is interesting to see how by choosing a consistent kind of tree a community can almost brand their neighbourhood.
But it is the Centre City that has seen the most transformation; Albert St now is giddily vertiginous with so many new tall buildings, the rebuilt leafy and peopled streetscape, and of course the sleek movement of trains below. Everywhere within the broader Queen St valley from the University ridge to the east across to the western slope down to Victoria Park is thrumming with people and largely absent of cars and fumes. And the whole roiling scene now tips effortlessly down to the newly opened waterfront which offers such an irresistable pull: This is so obviously an extraordinarily positive and productive revolution that it beggars the mind what took us so long to achieve it. Perhaps it really did need the right Zeitgeist, or simply enough people of vision in positions of power?
Part 2 up next: Transport.
NB: This ‘History of the Next Ten Years’ is a scenario, not a prediction, a possible future, perhaps even a probable one, but that depends on decisions made now and in the near future…discuss…
Unless you’ve avoided either the city or the news for the last day you’ll know that yesterday thousands of people descended on the CBD to protest the signing of the TPP. This post isn’t about the TPP – there are plenty of other places for you to discuss it – but rather about the impact the protests had on the city which I think highlighted a number of key issues we frequently advocate for. I wasn’t there so these are based on observations from others and images on social media.
Protesters walking down Queen St are nothing new but what was very interesting this time is that a number of groups went and blocked major intersections all around the city. This included blocking roads such as Albert St, Fanshawe St, Hobson St, Nelson St and Wellesley St. Given that Hobson and Nelson in particular are one way, it leaves them completely empty downstream of where they were blocked off. This had the effect in instantly turning many roads within the city over to people.
From these and many other comments I saw it made many parts of the city that are often quite hostile to those on foot actually very pleasant, pedestrian paradises if you will. There is obviously a lot going on in the city right now with the CRL getting under way and a number of large commercial building projects on the go but at the same time plans like the City Centre Master Plan call for making the city centre more people friendly – among other things. For example, it lists this as one of its outcomes and targets
Over the last few years we’ve had numerous international guest speakers visit Auckland talking about how we can do many of these things, do them quickly and do them cheaply. This includes people such as Janette Sadik-Kahn and Mike Lydon and many others.
It all begs the question of whether we’re moving fast enough to reach the city’s goals. Now obviously there’s a need for cars to be in some parts of the city but we do need to get the balance right. What the protests showed us yesterday is that almost completely shutting many roads in the city didn’t cause the sky to suddenly fall in. Perhaps the lesson we can take from it all is for the council and Auckland Transport to be bolder about making changes, throw some cones or planter boxes out on the street and block off a lane or two. It would allow quick changes to be made in response to the impacts generated and would probably end up with a faster, cheaper and superior result to the current process of modelling every change to the nth degree first.
To me the protest also helped highlight just how valuable the CRL is going to be once complete. Protests might not be that regular an event but disruption caused by traffic certainly is. Trains using the CRL are able to completely bypass any issues on the surface. Of course this doesn’t guarantee that in a protest situation that those protesting don’t try to shut the rail network too. Further, as it stands right now, for many of projects to make the CBD more people friendly the CRL happens to be a key lynch pin. For example, key parts of the proposed Victoria St Linear Park can’t happen till the CRL is built as two of the entrances sit within that future linear park.
I also thought of this in the terms of the impact to light rail should we have protests in the future. Obviously a line down Queen St would have been blocked by the protesters so in a situation like yesterday. One advantage it has is that it’s relatively easy to turn them around needing only a crossover track rather than circling a block. Designing light rail to ensure this is a possibility will be important for Auckland.
Lastly a little bouquet to Auckland Transport. Not only were the TPP protests going on but NZ Bus drivers were having a union meeting disrupting or cancelling services. Given they only had one day’s notice about the bus drivers I thought they did well to get some services on some key routes covered by buses and drivers from other bus companies. In hindsight having both the TPP and bus drivers meeting on the same day might have been a good situation as the buses would have been equally held up by the protesters. At least it meant only one day of disruption.
This previous post considered wider socio-economic factors which might shape the development/deployment of transport technologies, namely 1) denser cities, 2) policy settings, and 3) demographics. In this post I now discuss some more specific issues that are relevant to transport technologies, specifically:
The takeaway message from this post is that the future is complex and uncertain. D’uh … read on for enlightenment!
1. Economies of density
The Prime Minister’s recent speech, in which he announced funding for the City Rail Link and the East-West Link, is an example of how policy settings can respond to wider socio-economic factors, such as population growth. Auckland’s rapid growth means that public investment in underground passenger rail stacks up more now than it perhaps has done in the past. As a result changed, Auckland’s transport network is set to change in a rather profound way.
Why has Auckland’s growth helped make the case for the CRL? Well, passenger rail has relatively high fixed costs. This in turn means that passenger rail experiences so-called economies of scale (or more accurately density). The phrase “economies of density” is used to describe situations where marginal costs are below average costs. This means that average costs fall as demand increases. Fixed costs like rolling stock and train stations all contribute economies of density in passenger rail.
Last week saw another example of “economies of density” in the context of New Zealand’s transport system, although this time the investment originates with the private sector. Emirates announced that – from this March – they will begin direct flights between Auckland and Dubai (NB: Apparently Qatar Airways is considering similar moves). Direct flights to Dubai will shave approximately 3 hours off travel-times between New Zealand and a number of destinations in the Middle East and Africa.
Economies of density lead to virtuous/vicious cycles: Higher demand begets lower costs, which begets higher demand etc (and vice versa). That’s why they are sometimes called “positive feedback loops”. Domestic air travel in New Zealand provides a nice example of virtuous cycles at work. Here, a combination of falling fuel costs, higher visitor numbers, larger and more efficient planes, and competition has seen airfares fall (NB: I’m waiting on updated inflation data before making a more definitive statement). Many transport technologies, especially those where passengers share vehicles and/or facilities, tend to experience economies of density.
Private vehicles also experience economies of density to some degree. High levels of car ownership, for example, makes it easier to find a petrol station when you need one. The key difference between private vehicles and other transport technologies, however, is the degree to which road networks experience congestion. Beyond critical levels of demand, traffic congestion increases rapidly, i.e. congestion is a convex (upwards sloping) function. Congestion externalities are an example of dis-economies of density, and it’s one that is apparent in most cities of Auckland’s size and larger.
Congestion externalities are also an issue that things like driverless and/or electric vehicles do not resolve. Road pricing does solve congestion, although this is achieved by suppressing demand. So when people argue that electric and/or driverless cars will reduce demand for PT I’m somewhat sceptical, because these technologies don’t seem to change the fundamental dis-economies of scale that afflict urban road networks.
And when one thinks of the growth that Auckland will experience over the next 20 years, then economies of density are actually rather important. Perhaps more important than new technologies themselves …
2. Costs: Fixed versus variable costs
Our previous discussion noted that economies of density/scale arise in the presence of fixed costs. In this section I want to distinguish more carefully between fixed and variable costs. One useful way to think about transport costs is using a matrix which has “fixed/variable” versus “private/public” dimensions (NB: The latter is not relevant to this discussion, but can be for discussions of transport pricing more generally).
Of course, such distinctions involve some arbitrary judgements. Parking for example, is both a private and a public cost. I’ve categorised it as “public” simply because a proportion of parking costs are subsidised by society. Despite the need for such judgements, I think this type of cost matrix is quite useful for classifying costs and subsequently analysing how changes in transport technologies (or policy settings for that matter) might impact on demand.
Using this framework (and a bunch of heroic assumptions) I have constructed the following graph to illustrate how the costs of cars compares to taxis and public transport, and how costs vary with distance measured in kilometres travelled per annum. PT fares are capped at the price of 12 monthly passes at $220 per month).
Here we see that cars become cheaper than taxis for people who are travelling more than 2,500 kilometres per year. Of course, the orange line is just one possible instance of the cost curve for cars. Depending on their preferences and circumstances, some people may opt to buy a cheaper car with higher operating costs, which would reduce the intercept but bump up the slope of the orange line. Nevertheless, the general point remains: For people who travel a lot, owning your own car makes more sense than using taxis.
Now consider a future scenario where electric driverless vehicles (“robot cars” for short) are available. How might they impact on these cost curves? Well, let’s assume robot cars cost 50% more than conventional cars; are 50% cheaper to park; and cost 25% less per kilometre to operate/maintain than conventional cars. When robot cars are used for taxis, they remove the need for a driver and increase higher utilisation. For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that the cost of using taxis drops by 50% with the advent of robot cars.
Under these assumptions, the cost curves presented above can be re-calculated as follows.
In this scenario taxis suddenly become cheaper than private cars for people who travel less than 10,000 kilometres per annum. By way of comparison, that’s slightly more than the average New Zealander travels per year. By pushing up fixed costs but reducing variable costs, robot cars seem to dramatically increase the scope for cheap taxi services to meet the demand for car travel for a wider range of households.
So consider this “what if” scenario: What if the primary impact of robot cars was to reduce the cost of taxis? In such a scenario would we need more or less PT? This leads me nicely onto the next topic …
3. Complements versus substitutes: A or B versus A & B?
When a new transport technology hits the market, one of the key questions we should seek to answer is whether it will complement or substitute existing technologies. The answer is not always obvious, but it is always important.
To provide an example, consider whether taxis increase or decrease demand for public transport. Many people think taxi’s compete with public transport, i.e. the two are substitutes. Rodney Hide, for example, had this to say on the matter (source; emphasis added):
According to U.S. researchers, however, taxis are complements for public transport. This article provides a nice synopsis of relevant issues, while more detailed analysis is available here. The last report identifies “primary factors” for taxi demands, including 1) the number of workers commuting by subway and 2) the number of households that don’t own vehicles. Of course, places like New York have some attributes which are – for better or worse – not relevant to the New Zealand context …
Given that Auckland doesn’t have the density or subway system which exists in NYC, could Rodney be correct with his crystal ball-gazing? The answer, I think, is both “yes and no”. More specifically, taxis will compete with public transport in some places, while complementing it in others.
I think this article puts the distinction rather nicely when it says:
The complements versus substitutes issue is relevant to many debates about new transport technologies. Some people seem convinced not only that driverless cars are imminent, but that they will drag people away from PT. I’m personally not so sure.
Conclusions: “The Spruce Moose”?
One of my favourite Simpsons episodes starts with Mr Burns opening a casino. At the end of the episode, when the whole sordid venture is crashing down, an increasingly erratic Mr Burns pulls a gun on his ol’ mate Smithers and orders him to get into the model bi-plane affectionately known as the “Spruce Moose”.
While hilarious, the behaviour of Mr Burns is not something we should emulate when it comes to transport policy. History is littered with unfortunate examples of politicians picking winners well in advance of demand. Indeed, such attitudes gave us 50 years of motorway building in Auckland, replete with well-documented examples of optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation. My point? Let’s not hold a proverbial gun to our own heads and over-commit to any particular kind of transport technology. Instead, let’s embrace the transport technologies we have, and be passionate about using them more efficiently, while keeping tabs on new transport technologies as they evolve.
There is no doubt that we live in exciting times: New Zealand is growing and seems to be experiencing economies of density, at least in the transport sector. Costs of air travel are falling, while other technologies, such as passenger rail, are more viable than they have perhaps been in the past. Robot cars and trucks seem likely to emerge onto the scene at some point, helping our car fleet to become smaller, quieter, cleaner, and generally more efficient than it is currently.
Meanwhile, rapid developments in telecommunications (which I intend to discuss in a later post) are changing the way that goods and services are delivered. This change is occurring at astounding speeds and in amazing ways. In a few years Uber has grown to become one of the world’s most valuable transport companies. In Europe, a start-up called “Blah blah car” has raised hundreds of millions in venture capital to expand its business, one which is already moving millions of people around the continent at very affordable prices. I can book any one of 5 trips from Amsterdam to Brussels tomorrow for about 10 Euro.
In such a dynamic and rapidly changing environment it’s hard to know what to do. And that’s kind of the point: There’s a risk that we over-adjust to new technologies, just like the motorway builders did in Auckland 50 years ago. What I would do, however, is ask some hard questions “around the edges” of what we are currently doing. And perhaps consider delaying some projects slightly in light of the uncertainty.
Indeed, when it comes to the CRL, my main criticism of the National Government’s requirements for accelerating funding was that similar conditions were not also attached to other large transport projects. Appropriately specified triggers would seem to be useful adjunct to existing benefit-cost analysis and provide a more precise understanding of when work on a particular project should go ahead (NB: Of course there are other factors to consider, such as interest rates).
In an upcoming post I will talk more about emerging technologies for non-car transport modes; that stuff is so exciting it deserves its own post.