Petrol station shakeup

Last year, Z Energy announced its plans to buy Caltex’s New Zealand operations. The merger was approved in April 2016, and took effect last week on 1st June.

This is quite a shakeup in the fuel retailing market – we’re going from four major companies to three – but in a way, the consolidation was inevitable, and reflects the way the market has been heading for a number of years.

A 2008 report identified 1,265 petrol stations, with 20.2% branded as BP, 18.5% as Shell (now Z Energy), 17.0% as Mobil and 16.9% as Caltex. The remaining 27% were independently branded. It’s all a bit more complicated than that, though, since many of the ‘corporate’ branded stations were actually run by franchisees (who may or not have the ability to set their own prices), and most of the ‘independents’ are, at least, supplied by the big corporates.

Fuel retailing (aka petrol stations) has changed a lot over the years. 50 years ago, every small town had one, and they were often “garages” as well, servicing and fixing cars, changing tyres and providing all sorts of other services.

That’s changed, and most of the small stations are now gone. Instead, modern petrol stations tend to be large, selling much higher volumes than they used to. They don’t service your car anymore, but they have a heavy focus on food/ convenience items sold in store.

As a result of this, the number of stations has dropped from around 3,800 in 1976 to 1,265 in 2008:

Petrol station numbers historical

Numbers have levelled out over the last few years, but we’re now sitting a little below 1,200.

On the topic of “food/ convenience”, the 2008 report mentions that for Australia, non-fuel sales actually make up about 70% of the gross profits. The report also makes a rough calculation which suggests similar figures for New Zealand. As surprising as it sounds, petrol stations actually make most of their money from what they sell in the store, rather than petrol.

Since 2008, many of the big oil companies (i.e. Shell, Caltex, Mobil, BP) have been selling their fuel retailing businesses, not just in New Zealand but in a number of other countries. Mobil were looking to sell in 2009, but nothing came of it. Shell sold their business to what is now Z Energy in 2010. And effective from 1 June 2016, Caltex has also sold their business to Z Energy, which brings us up to the present day.

In cases like this, the Commerce Commission looks very hard at whether the merger will “substantially lessen competition”, both at the national level and for smaller markets (e.g. a town or city). They’ve decided that, provided Z Energy sells 19 petrol stations to other operators, the merger can proceed. For example, Z Energy and Caltex are the only operators in Kaikohe, so the Commission will probably require one of the stations to be sold to BP, Mobil or another company to keep the market competitive.

Z plan to keep the Caltex chain under separate branding – they currently have two years’ rights to retain the Caltex branding, and presumably have the choice of either creating a new brand (Y Energy: you heard it here first) or paying to extend their rights over the Caltex brand.

Z Energy will now have a much higher market share, so it’s unlikely to go through any other major mergers. However, it’s quite possible that some of the smaller companies that compete with Z could merge. Even a merger of BP and Mobil isn’t out of the question – this would be similar to what happened in the supermarket industry a decade ago.

Foodstuffs (operating New World and Pak ‘N Save) had a commanding market share, but the two smaller companies (Woolworths, Countdown and Foodtown) were allowed to merge. Supermarkets are now essentially a duopoly, with Foodstuffs on the one side and Progressive (who have rebranded all their supermarkets as Countdown) on the other.

Even if something like this happened with BP and Mobil, there would still be more competition in the fuel retailing market than there is for supermarkets.* There are more outlets in total, and independents also have quite substantial market share.

* Probably. I’m oversimplifying things, and there are also other markets which would get considered besides just petrol stations: wholesaling, refining, bitumen and so on.

“The train that saved Denver”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about “the end of Auckland’s old growth model“. In that post, I argued that the old pattern – build roads and pipes into some paddocks and orchards, and subdivide away – is now kaput. It isn’t the 1960s anymore:

Auckland North Shore before AHB

A land-constrained city with pinch-points on all its key transport corridors cannot afford to provide sufficient road capacity to serve all new demand. More space-efficient transport – which means rapid transit for long-distance trips and walking and cycling for local trips – is a prerequisite for ongoing growth.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at what’s happening to the cost to add road capacity in Auckland. A decade ago, we could build urban motorway extensions for less than $10 million per lane-kilometre. Over the next decade, we’ll be lucky if we can keep costs to $50 million per lane-km.

Cost per added lane-km chart

Rising costs to add new road capacity reflect fundamental spatial challenges. Due to geographical constraints and the existing built environment, new roads must go in tunnels (VPT, Waterview), on viaducts (Reeves Road), or reclaimed land (East-West). All three options are expensive.

Space for rapid transit is also expensive… but the difference is that rapid transit systems allow many more people to move on busy corridors. Consequently, the space required per user can be significantly lower.

But: can rapid transit also play its role in supporting land use and development?

Evidence from the US suggests that it can. A recent article by Colin Woodard (in Politico Magazine) reviews Denver, Colorado’s successful development of a new rapid transit system:

Denver has done something no other major metro area has accomplished in the past decade, though a number of cities have tried. At a moment when aging mass transit systems in several major cities are capturing headlines for mismanagement, chronic delays and even deaths, Denver is unveiling a shiny new and widely praised network: 68 stations along 10 different spurs, covering 98 miles, with another 15 miles still to come. Even before the new lines opened, 77,000 people were riding light rail each day, making it the eighth-largest system in the country even though Denver is not in the top 20 cities for population. The effects on the region’s quality of life have been measurable and also surprising, even to the project’s most committed advocates. Originally intended to unclog congested highways and defeat a stubborn brown smog that was as unhealthy as it was ugly, the new rail system has proven that its greatest value is the remarkable changes in land use its stations have prompted, from revitalizing moribund neighborhoods, like the area around Union Station, to creating new communities where once there was only sprawl or buffalo grass.

In other words it’s taken Denver only two decades to build a successful rapid transit system from scratch. Further expansions are underway. To be fair, Auckland’s accomplished something similar. The city’s rail network had a near-death experience in the early 1990s but its fortunes have turned around due to some far-sighted decisions – purchasing surplus railcars from Perth; building Britomart; rail electrification; and the Northern Busway.

Daily Britomart Passengers - Actual vs Projected 2016

However, Denver has arguably done better than Auckland at using rapid transit investments to enable urban development. This has included a mix of urban redevelopment and more intensive greenfield development:

Denver’s leaders had, by accident, built something extremely valuable, but because they had misunderstood its real purpose at the outset, some potential had been squandered. “They were really asking the wrong question: How do you reduce congestion on highways?” says Wesley Marshall, a transport engineer at the University of Colorado Denver. “The obvious answer is to put transit adjacent to highways and to surround the stations with park-and-ride lots.”

Problem is, while transit really does mitigate congestion in the long term, it does so by facilitating better, often denser land use, rather than by offering an alternative to getting from point A to point B on the interstate…

One of the best examples of this is the area around the 10th and Osage Station just south of the city center. The Denver Housing Authority wanted to replace the South Lincoln Homes, a distressed, low-slung 270-unit public housing project on 15 acres with mixed-income housing. The two key criteria critical to attracting middle- and market-rate tenants, DHA Director Ismael Guerrero says, were proximity to downtown and a light rail station, but they also wanted to ensure nobody was unwillingly displaced.

“This is a close-knit community and a lot of history, where people live for generations and have family close by,” Guerrero notes. “Residents told us they wanted to make sure that we weren’t just replacing housing but improving the quality of life.”

The result is Mariposa, a 900-unit development of energy-efficient three- to nine-story buildings with shops and office spaces mixed into a network of parks, bike paths and community gardens, some of them on land transferred by RTD to the city. Osage Café, a breakfast and lunch place, is actually a culinary academy training local teens. Arts Street, a non-profit providing arts-oriented “learn and earn” sessions for at-risk youth, moved into the complex from temporary digs at DHA’s invitation.

Denver Mariposa apartments

Mariposa Phase II apartments (Source: Politico Magazine)

[…] Mariposa, now nearly complete, has retained more than 40 percent of South Lincoln Homes’ residents, Crangle notes, about four times the national average for similar projects. The net result has been diversification, not just gentrification, according to Todd Clough, executive director of the nearby Denver Inner City Parish, which helps the poor. “I was anticipating eight or 10 years ago that we would be gone by now, but because of light rail and Mariposa, we’re still relevant,” he says. “I’m a cynic; I serve poor people, that’s what I do. But, you know, this project is about as good as you can do it in a city that’s on fire.”

Basically, if it’s done well, rapid transit works. If you put in a system that is useful to people – i.e. one that connects them to places they want to be, in reasonable comfort – it will in turn shape urban development. If it goes into an existing urban fabric, it will be a lever for getting better outcomes from future redevelopment. If it goes into greenfield areas, it will shape its development form for decades to come.

I’m actually going to be in Denver at the end of this week – one of my brothers has moved there. Will be interesting to see how the place works, if only as a tourist.

Transport system more like Vancouver, Vienna or Zurich, Yes Please

One of the aspects I thought odd about the NZCID report released the other day was the revival of the 1965 De Leuw Cather motorway network plan and a comparison of Auckland’s motorway network to the motorway networks of “other liveable cities”. Here’s what they say:

The comparative decline of Auckland’s once ambitious motorway system, which for half a century has enabled the city to function in spite of deferred investment and poor public transport, can be seen in comparison to other liveable cities. Figure 31 superimposes to scale the motorway networks of various comparable metropolitan areas with populations between Auckland’s existing 1.5 million and its 2045 future of up to 2.5 million (Brisbane, Portland, Vienna and Vancouver each have urban populations of around 2.3 million, Zurich around 1.8 million). In all cases, the motorway networks today are more comprehensive than Auckland’s is projected to be in 2045

The limited reach of Auckland’s strategic road network in comparison to the city’s international competitors is not the only problem. Disproportionate dependency upon several key parts of the network where capacity is constrained has ripple effects across the entire transport system. Pinch points around the CBD, Mt Wellington and Greville Rd compress traffic, stymieing movement many kilometres away throughout busier periods. Although Greville Rd is now being addressed, there are no plans in the next thirty years to address capacity issues at either Mt Wellington or around the CBD.

Similar efficiency improvements to capacity-constrained parts of the strategic network appear less problematic in most liveable cities. While Vancouver has enforced a moratorium on motorway improvements near its congested urban core (but has expanded the network elsewhere), other cities address bottlenecks. Vienna’s Prater Interchange, for example, is currently undergoing a major renewal and capacity improvement to meet demand.

NZCID - ATAP response - cities motorways

Superimposing other cities motorway networks over Auckland in is just plain silly, for a few reasons.

  1. it ignores the unique geographical conditions of each city which severely affect how their transport system has developed.
  2. it ignores the urban of these cities. Some such as Vancouver, Vienna and Zurich have quite dense cores and no motorways running through them
  3. it ignores the other transport networks that help to complement the motorway networks

So let’s have a look at some of the factors for these other cities (maps not to scale)

Vancouver

Vancouver was one of the few Anglophone new world cities to not build motorways in its city centre – which came about as locals rejected the plans to do so. To mimic Vancouver for motorways we’d be pulling out the central motorway junction and motorways would just be in outer suburbs.

Vancouver Map with motorways

In the 1980’s Vancouver decided to start building their fantastic Skytrain system. Now over 30 years later and with a number of additions and extensions the network has over 117 million boardings as of 2013. That’s out of a total of over 350 million boardings for the entire PT system. The city has also been improving its cycling facilities and seeing good growth. As of 2015 for trips to work it is estimated that 10% of people cycle, 24% walk, 24% catch PT and only 41% drive. Below is Vancouver’s rapid transit network and that is also supported by a large number frequent bus routes – much like Auckland Transport are starting to introduce later this year.

Vancouver Rapid Transit Network

To be more like Vancouver is we’d need to invest in our PT and active networks and not new motorways to and through the city.

Vienna

Vienna is a great city with a lot of history and no motorways through the middle of it. Like Vancouver the motorways stop short of the city centre with one passing to the side of it.

Vienna Map with motorways

Of course within Vienna there is also a fantastic PT network consisting of extensive U-Bahn, S-Bahntram and bus networks. The U-Bahn was opened in the mid 70’s and that alone carries over 1.3 million trips a day. The map below shows just the U and S Bahn

Vienna U + S Bahn map

Zurich

With Zurich, again there are no motorways blasted through town with them stopping short or going around the city and most of them through the countryside rather than through an urban area like the NZCID propose.

Zurich Map with motorways

Despite the motorways, it is estimated that about half of all trips within Zurich take place on their extensive train, tram and bus networks. The map below is just a small sample of their tram network

Zurich tram-map

 

Of course as I mentioned yesterday, at the time of the De Leuw Cather road network that the NZCID lament was never fully implemented, they also produced a rapid transit plan even saying it was needed first to avoid many of the issues we’re now facing.

 

If the NZCID want us to have transport more like some of the cities they mention then we’ll fully support that, but that would mean focusing on getting PT and active modes sorted first so their Eastern Ring Route would have to stay on ice for a while.

Devonport population growth and stagnation, 1891-2013

Following on from a previous post, this is a quick review of population growth in Devonport over the last 125 years. These figures are for the former Devonport Borough, which was created in the 19th century and persisted until 1989 when it was merged into North Shore City. The borough only really covered the southern half of the Devonport peninsula – the northern half, including Seacliffe, Hauraki and Bayswater, was part of the Takapuna Borough.

The map below shows the Devonport Borough as it looked in 1899:

Source: http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aucklandcity.govt.nz%2Fdbtw-wpd%2FHeritageImages%2Findex.htm&AC=QBE_QUERY&TN=heritageimages&QF0=ID&NP=2&RF=HIORecordSearch&MR=5&QI0=%3D%22NZ%20Map%203404%22

Source: http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aucklandcity.govt.nz%2Fdbtw-wpd%2FHeritageImages%2Findex.htm&AC=QBE_QUERY&TN=heritageimages&QF0=ID&NP=2&RF=HIORecordSearch&MR=5&QI0=%3D%22NZ%20Map%203404%22

And here’s how the population has changed (or not) since 1891:

Devonport's Population

I’m surprised that Devonport’s population has been completely flat for the last 70 years. The population on census night 1945, of 11,662, was still 318 people higher than the population on census night 2013, of 11,346.

Zoning controls, have certainly played their part in limiting the number of people who can live in a very desirable coastal area. There are probably a few more houses in Devonport today than there were 70 years ago, but any growth in household numbers has been cancelled out by there being fewer people per household.

Unfortunately, I don’t have long-term data for the northern half of the peninsula. It was part of the Takapuna Borough, and as the name suggests that included a number of other suburbs as well. Since 1986, though, the northern half’s population has risen from 9,251 to 11,862.

Given that the population has (at best) increased modestly in the last 30 years, Devonport is quite lucky to have such a high quality ferry service today. Tourists and other Aucklanders visiting Devonport help to support this service, and of course they also contribute to traffic on Lake Rd, especially on weekends.

A bit of intensification around the ferry terminal and the wider peninsula would support further transport upgrades, such as more frequent ferry sailings and upgrades (or widening) to Lake Rd. Under the Proposed Unitary Plan, though, the opportunity to add more homes and people close to the ferry looks very limited.

Again, the northern half of the Devonport peninsula does have some growth on the way. As per the RCG Development Tracker, Ryman are building a retirement village and Ngati Whatua O Orakei will be redeveloping ex-Navy land for apartments. There’s also a proposal to build apartments at the Bayswater Marina, which seems like a perfect location – right next to the (less frequent) Bayswater ferry, coastal amenity, and few immediate neighbours meaning very little downside for existing residents.

K Rd Open Streets a success

Who are you and what have you done with Auckland Transport?

For the third time in a week I find myself praising Auckland Transport for something related to walking and cycling. This time following the fantastic Open Streets on K Rd.

Image from Tina Plunkett

Image from Tina Plunkett

AT fixed the biggest issue from the last few years on Quay St when there simply wasn’t enough space for the tens of thousands of people out enjoying the day due to them leaving half of the road open to traffic. This time they closed off the entire street from Newton/Ponsonby Rd all the way through to Upper Queen St. The day also went longer than in the past with this year it opening to people from 12-7pm. The extra space and time were definitely needed with the event proving hugely popular and thousands flocking to the street. Given K Rd’s colourful history I suspect for many it might have been the first time in a long time – and what a way to see it.

AT worked with the K Rd business association to put on the day and I love that the organisers didn’t try to sanitise what makes K Rd unique, instead the event felt like a celebration of what K Rd is so wasn’t something else that was awkwardly shoehorned into it. From the music to street performers to the drag queens commenting on street football/limbo, the street’s culture and colour were vital in helping to make the event both interesting and also not feel manufactured.

The very nature of the street also played a big role, the subtle twists and turns as K Rd makes its way along the ridge helped too in breaking up the street and creating some mystery. As you come around a corner and the street opens up ahead of you, you found something new to check out and a heap more people.

I think the day would have also been great for businesses along the street, some of which don’t normally even open on a Sunday. All of the cafe’s and bars I saw were humming with people and their presence meant there wasn’t a need for things like food trucks which also helped in allowing for more space for people.

Everyone that I talked to, both on the street and online afterwards was extremely positive about the event with many also saying:

  • It should happen every Sunday
  • It needs to happen in many other town centres around the region.

If the K Rd event did become a regular event and even if only half as many people turned up it would still be hugely successful and see a far greater number of people use the road than had it been open to cars.

Following the previous events on Quay St, it feels like Auckland is now starting to tap into the right vein of what is needed to make events like this successful in the future. This includes

  • Closing the whole street to give people enough the space to move about
  • Tapping into the local community and letting them put their own flavour on things.
  • Not over manufacturing things

And as successful as the day was, I also couldn’t help imagine what it would be like once the CRL is open and thousands of people an hour are pouring out of the K Rd station.

There are a heap of photos from the event on twitter and I’m sure other social media too.

As part of the event Auckland Transport were also talking about the options for upgrading the streetscape of K Rd which includes adding cycleways. The project covers the area from the Newton/Ponsonby Rd intersection through to Symonds St. AT are still working on the design for it but were asking for feedback on which kind of cycleway design people liked best.

For most of the street where there’s enough space they asked for people’s preferences between three different cycleway options.

K Rd open street consultation - 3 cycleway options

While for the central section between Pitt St and Upper Queen St there were two options suggested. For these AT also had the ideas shown in virtual reality which gave a different perspective and definitely influenced my preference.

K Rd open street consultation - central cycleway options

And as of about 5:15pm, here’s how the voting AT had set up was looking. As you can see they were hugely in favour of physical separation in both cases. In the central section, after looking at the VR version I actually preferred the kerbside option as the extra width was noticeable and there’s less likely to be people walking over the cycleway.

K Rd open street consultation - voting

 

Overall an excellent day that was enjoyed by tens of thousands. Well done to all involved in organising this.

Did you go to the event, if so what did you think?

 

Residents Associations and the Communities they serve

The herald today has pulled the veil back on some of the key opponents battling Skypath in the Environment court and how they’re not at all representative of the views of the communities they claim to serve.

But three associations were not cheering – two based in the northern landing at Northcote Point and a third at the southern landing at Herne Bay – and appealed against the consent in the Environment Court.

With two groups from one neighbourhood opposing the project, as an outsider you would be forgiven for believing the Northcote Residents Association (NRA) and the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society represented the views of a community with genuine concerns about the project.

However, of the 382 submissions from Northcote, 29.8 per cent were opposed.

From what I’ve seen over the years, resident associations tend to be best understood the hobby horses for one or two individuals to pretend they have legitimacy to force their views on the wider community. They’re usually run as the personal fiefdoms with those in charge and are often very protective of who can join so they can retain control of the narrative. Take the Northcote Residents Association (NRA) as an example. The association say they cover the following area which is home to about 10,000 people.

Northcote Residents Association Ma

And their rules state that anyone from within that area can join

4.1 The number of members of the Association is unlimited and any person who is a resident or ratepayer of Northcote is eligible for membership and shall be admitted as a full member on

(i) payment of the subscription specified by the Executive;
(ii) completion of a membership 2 form; and
(iii) agreeing to abide by the Rules of the Association;
(iv) approval of the Executive in accordance with Rule 4.3 below.

But rule 4.3 is the kicker

4.3 A majority of two thirds or more of the members of the Executive, by resolution, may determine that any person’s application for membership be declined. The Executive shall not be obliged to provide any reasons for its decision.

So effectively the executive can kick out anyone who doesn’t agree with them, or in the case most rational people, they’ll leave once they realise they aren’t being represented and those in charge are using the association to further their own personal aims, not those of the wider community. And that’s exactly what has happened.

 

NRA chairman Kevin Clarke said there were no longer any members in the association who supported the SkyPath because they had all left.

“Thank God for that. They provided nothing. They did nothing. They were there to destroy and they damn near achieved it. They didn’t do anything positive. They didn’t do anything constructive.

“They didn’t do anything useful and they didn’t do anything to engage their mind in any of the problems that were blatantly presented by SkyPath’s hopelessly ill-resolved proposal.”

A quick search shows almost all of the ten executive members live on Northcote Point itself, living south of Stafford Rd/Rodney Rd.

The herald article highlights two former executive members who tried to have the NRA find out the actual views of the community but were shut down. This is something I first heard about at the time the Skypath submissions were under way. I also understand the executive had taken an official position of not supporting or opposing the project but then at the very last minute a core group submitted one anyway.

It’s also worth highlighting another issue raised

Mr Barfoot said having multiple societies set up made “it seem like there’s a grassroots movement against the SkyPath which is simply not the case”.

He’s referring to the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society which was set up in December 2014 during the submission period for Skypath. Many of the founding members are also on the NRA executive.

Of course these Northcote groups aren’t unique and there are plenty of others in various areas that will be similar. And there’s nothing wrong with associations supporting or opposing any project or plan. The issue comes when they claim to represent a community who most within that community probably don’t even know they even exist. Particularly on big discussions and especially RMA processes, perhaps these associations should be required to show the demographics of their members, the demographics of who within the community they’ve consulted and as a comparison to the demographics of the community they claim to represent.

To be fair, addressing the consultation problem is something we’ve talked about before and it extends much further than just residents associations. It applies equally to council’s and the government.

Auckland in 1967

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.

 

Western Springs Precinct

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
MP David Shearer

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.

Western Springs and environs showing potential locations for new cycle and walking links

Western Springs and environs showing potential locations for new cycle and walking links

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 Creekhave 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.

BALWIN AVE new routes

Possible cycle and walking connections to Baldwin Ave Station. Existing NW cycleway in blue, Potential links across the golf course and bridge across SH16 and Gt Nth Rd, purple, and Linwood Ave and St Lukes Rd in red.

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:

Chamberlain Golf Course scenario 4

 

Auckland 1940s Street Map

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)

Auckland Map 1940s

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

Auckland Map 1940s CMJ

 

And here’s what that little cluster looked like from the sky in 1940

Auckland Map 1940s CMJ actual

The Linear City versus the Modern Service Industry

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.

Ruhr - Map 1840

Ruhr - Map 1930

Ruhr - Map 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.

Ruhr - Housing and Factories

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.

Ruhr - Number of mines

Number of mines in the Ruhr 1850- 1986

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;
Beschäftigte im Bergbau = Employed in Mining;
Beschäftigte in der Eisen- und Stahlindustrie = Employed in the Iron and Steel Industries;
Arbeitslose = Unemployed

Ruhr - Unemployment

Source: Regionalverband Ruhrgebiet

Population

Ruhr - Population

Source: Regionalverband Ruhr 2012

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.

Ruhr - Pheonix Housing

Pheonix Housing

Ruhr - Skyline

A Ruhr Skyline

Ruhr - Old Factory

An old Ruhr Factory

Ruhr - Current Factory

A current Ruhr Factory

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.