Three Kings Quarry Development

Fletcher Residential have lodged two plan changes with the council to develop the Three Kings Quarry.

Fletcher Residential has lodged two private plan change applications with Auckland Council for the redevelopment of Three Kings Quarry. These applications outline two ways to transform the area into a new urban precinct.

The quarry is located at the southern end of Mt Eden Road, eight kilometres from Auckland’s central business district. New links will be created to connect the development’s housing precincts with Three Kings town centre and the volcanic cone
Te Tatua a Riukiuta Maunga (Big King).

The Three Kings development promotes housing diversity with a range of high quality dwellings including two-to-three storey terrace homes, three-to-four storey apartments and 10-storey cascading apartments set against the quarry slope.

Fletcher Residential’s preferred plan change application involves exchanging land to better utilise surrounding Crown land. This will create significant recreational space with two sports fields, a Town Square connecting the precinct to the Three Kings town centre, a convention centre and the historic Three Kings Oval.

The second plan change appears to be a backup should they not be able to exchange land and contains the same residential development however they say it has less extensive community spaces and sports fields than the preferred proposal.

Below is the location of the Quarry along Mt Eden Rd and what it looks like at the moment. At its deepest it is over 3o below the level of Mt Eden Rd.

Quarry Now and Location

Fletcher’s estimate their plans will deliver 1,200-1,500 dwellings which would equate to 2,500 to 3,500 extra residents. They’ve also launched a site for the development showing some concept images of what it would be look like. Below are some of those along with how they describe the development (so warning marketing speak).

A clear view ahead

Urban design has been carefully considered to incorporate multiple vistas of Te Tatua-a-Riukiuta / Big King. Street level views and improved access will restore Te Tatua-a-Riukiuta / Big King’s position as a key feature of Auckland, and by doing so give the site a strong sense of location and connection with the wider city.

One of a family

Designated viewing areas will let residents greet the morning or usher out the evening with views to Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) to the east and Maungawhau (Mt Eden) to the north.

1. Regenerated native bush will extend Big King’s footprint for greater connection between neighbourhood and nature.

2. Enhanced pathways will be created to open up Big King for recreational access.

3. Key sightlines to Big King as well as to neighbouring volcanic cones will be preserved.

Three Kings Plan 1

Around the edge of the quarry are meant to be a series of cascading apartments up to 10 storeys high against the Quarry wall. I would certainly hope there’s publicly accessible lifts to help provide good connectivity between the development and the road. It also seems odd to me that the housing would go in the northern part which would likely to be the most shaded part while the sports fields would be in the south which is also the area closes to the town centre.

Fresh air living

Interconnected open spaces encourage outdoor activities – both relaxed and active. Two new sand-carpeted sports fields connected to the Big King Reserve will be created for year-round activity, and significant areas of passive open space will be provided for relaxation and reflection.

Human scale

Pedestrian trails, boardwalks, ramps, stairways and a proposed elevated walkway to Te Tatua-a-Riukiuta / Big King enable exploration by foot and reduce the need for motorised transport throughout the area.

A natural fit

Stepped apartments will cascade down the quarry slopes to both transform and complement the existing landscape. Living spaces are to the front, with car parking hidden behind, preserving front door access to parkland and walkways.

1. 7.5 hectares of high-quality open spaces enable a wide variety of recreational activities.

2. Key pedestrian linkages will be provided to and through the site.

3. Contemporary urban design provides for an active interface between residences and park spaces.

Three Kings Concept 1

Three Kings Concept 2

Viva variety

A diverse mix of people and cultures will come together to create an integrated urban community. With residences on the doorstep of a thriving town centre, meeting and mingling will be a part of daily life.

A vibrant heart

Residents and visitors alike will find plenty to see and do in the town square – a vibrant gathering place that puts people at the centre, and draws on the energy of the surrounding retail, recreational and residential areas.

Home for all

A blend of retirees, young families, solo dwellers and working professionals living side-by-side. With a balanced mix of terrace houses and apartments, the new area will cater to a wide range of lifestyles and life stages.

1. When completed, 1200—1500 dwellings will become home to 2500—3500 people.

2. Located just 6.5 km from the heart of Auckland, the area will attract a diverse mix of cultures and lifestyles.

3. An activated town square will foster a lively retail scene.

Three Kings Concept 3

Three Kings Concept 4

Multiple connections

Situated in the heart of an already thriving suburb, the proposed development offers access to nearby amenities that make life easy: Three Kings School, a major supermarket, shops and services, and public transport.

Out and about

Shows, live music, book readings, community classes and more are just a short walk away at the Fickling Centre and the Mount Roskill Library. Special care will be taken to ensure the new site is closely linked to these popular civic facilities.

A sense of flow

Movement of people is a key element of community. With a series of walkways, stairs and potentially a public lift, the town square is designed to connect the existing suburb to amenities and open spaces within the development.

1. Opening up space for shared and public use is a key component of the overall design.

2. A ‘village within a city’ will be created by integrating retail, recreational and residential spaces.

3. Residents will be able to make use of existing amenities in the surrounding area.

Three Kings Concept 5

I know some in the community aren’t happy about the proposal as they were keen to see the giant hole filled in before being developed while I also understand the local board are keen for the local community to have more say on the shape of the development so I’m sure there will be a lot more discussion from them over the coming weeks and months.

The difference between Traffic Engineers and Planners

We often deride traffic engineers for the road dominant nature of Auckland. Sometimes this can be a bit unfair as we know not all engineers are bad and the term is often be a bit of a catch all phrase for those involved in the road design process. So when I refer to traffic engineers I’m referring perhaps more to the people and processes that sees the focus on movement and storage of vehicles over a public realm that focuses on people, the type that an urban planner might try to deliver. This post from Greater Greater Washington highlights these opposing ideas perfectly. A freeway was closed along a section of the Anacostia River in Washington DC after a new and updated freeway bridge was built over the river and the old freeway bridge turned into a local road.

DDOT then conducted a 2014 study of options to replace the freeway segment. The study devised xis options, but all of them basically looked like near-freeways. While pedestrians and cyclists could cross to access the waterfront, and cars could turn on and off to nearby streets in some options, all of the options turned a huge expanse of pavement and empty grass into other huge expanses of pavement and empty grass, sometimes also with tour bus parking.

DDOT’s options still primarily focused around moving cars fast, and would all have created big empty spaces that would not create any actual sense of place and would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.

Washington Freeway replacement Option 2

So basically a road and a few cycle lanes surrounded by likely a lot of not very useful green space (the option above even included underground parking under the road for almost the entire length). The other options were all variations of the same theme and this is exactly the same type of thing we would see here in Auckland – and are seeing with proposals to upgrade local roads e.g. Lincoln Rd.

Residents, led by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven, were not happy with the narrowness of DDOT’s analysis. Instead, at Councilmember Tommy Wells’ urging, the Office of Planning stepped in to do a more open-minded study of how to use the space.

OP’s options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road:

These are just some of the options they came up with and include various versions of parks, and development options.

Washington Freeway replacement Planner options

What’s worth noting is that the planners options contained just as many traffic lanes as the traffic engineers options did due to the transport engineers making it a requirement. The post questions the need for it to be four lanes but what is clear is that there are some quite different thinking going on between those just responsible for the movement of vehicles and those who also consider people and the city as a whole.

In Auckland if we could get more of the latter and less of the former then we could end up with a fantastic city that still allows for a wide range of movement even for those that want to drive.

 

Where is the Heart? Critical Public Space in the City Centre

Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there.  No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.

Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canalis still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without  building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.

These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.

And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.

The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:

CPO 1920s

CPO 1920s

Then just general traffic:

CPO Lower Queen

CPO Lower Queen

Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.

Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.

Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.

It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.

This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.

So the plan is a good one:

1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances

2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]

3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square

4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces

All at the cost of the current QEII Square.

However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.

Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.

This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.

Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:

Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre

Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could  ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space wit modern Light Rail, Angers, France

Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France

This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.

 

4th batch of Special Housing Areas Announced

Yesterday the council and government announced the next batch of Special Housing Areas. These are the areas that are able to use a fast tracked consenting processes and for which the Unitary Plan rules (with a few conditions) come in to effect immediately. The intention is that by the faster consents will lead to developers building more dwellings and therefore helping address housing affordability however it also seems like some developers are just pushing for their land to be an SHA so they can sell it for an easier profit. All up there are 17 new SHAs bringing the total to 80 across the region. The Council say the new SHAs represent capacity for 8,000 new dwellings and that all SHAs combined have a potential of 41,500 dwellings. Below is a map of the new SHAs.

Tranche 4 Map

The first thing I noticed is that a decent proportion seem to be brownfield sites which is good however on closer inspection the greenfield sites while fewer in number still represent the majority of dwellings proposed. For example the massive Redhills SHA in the Northwest represents about 3500 dwellings which is almost half of all the new dwellings these SHAs cover. The council’s site has the details and maps of each of the specific SHAs but here’s a quick summary

  • Akoranga Drive, Northcote – 107 dwellings however it appears this is a retirement village.
  • Barrack Road, Mt Wellington – 40 dwellings – These are within walking distance of the Panmure Station which is good.
  • Bellfield Road, Papakura – 350 dwellings, this is the former Papakura Golf Course
  • Bunnythorpe Road, Papakura – 10 dwellings
  • Coates Avenue, Orakei – 14 dwellings
  • East Coast Road, Pine Hill – 39 apartments
  • Enfield Street, Mt Eden – 64 apartments over two buildings however interestingly these seem to fall outside the SHA rules by being 5 storeys.
  • Corner Great North Road and Walsall Street, Avondale – 36 dwellings
  • Harbourside Drive, Hingaia – 200 to 300 new dwellings
  • Mokoia Road, Birkenhead – 31 apartments
  • Morrin Street, Ellerslie – 138 units in a retirement village
  • Racecourse Parade, Avondale – 15 dwellings, this land is owned by the council under Auckland Council Properties Limited who will be looking for a developer to come up with ideas for the site.
  • Redhills (Fred Taylor Drive) – Stage 1, Whenuapai – 3,500 dwellings over 10 years.
  • St Lukes Road, Mt Albert – 107 apartments
  • Takapuna Strategic SHA – this is a Strategic SHA where the rules apply to a large area in the hope that it will encourage land owners to develop. It is thought it could deliver 350 dwellings.
  • Tamaki Regeneration Area – 1,200 to 1,500 dwellings
  • West Hoe Heights, Orewa – 400 to 800 dwellings

Of the SHAs above three in particular are very large greenfield developments that are likely to be the same type of sprawl we’ve seen so many times already. For the calculations below I’ve assumed about 20% of the land will be used for road access or public space.

Bellfield Road, Papakura – at almost 27ha the 350 dwellings would mean section sizes in excess of 600m². It’s currently zoned as Future Urban.

Bellfield Rd SHA

Redhills (Fred Taylor Drive) – Stage 1, Whenuapai - this is just the first 200ha of a 600ha development and the 3,500 dwellings equate to sections of approx 450m² each. It’s currently zoned Future Urban

Redhills Stage 1 SHA

West Hoe Heights, Orewa - even larger at over 37ha, the 400-800 new dwellings would be on sites somewhere between 375m² and 750m². It’s currently zoned single house which means sections of a minimum of 500m².

West Hoe Heights SHA

Lastly as here’s a map showing all of the announced SHAs

Special Housing Areas 1 2 3 4

Stuart’s 100 #26: A Great Urban Beach

26: A Great Urban Beach

Day_26_Great_Urban_Beach

What if Auckland could grow a truly great urban beach?  What would the ingredients for a great urban beach be?

Auckland has many great beaches and an outstandingly beautiful coastline. These are strong contributors to its high liveability ranking. But most of them are either suburban in setting or completely outside the city.

That is all well and good. But as Auckland grows and intensifies, there is a need, and will be even more so in the future, increased demand for beach life from a growing city populace. Remember the reports last summer of terrible car congestion to get in to the carpark at Long Bay?

Most big coastal cities cater to this demand with an urban beach, which I would define as one close in to the city and inner suburbs, with ideally great access by walking, cycling and public transport. That is to say, somewhere not too far away and which maximises access by means which gets the most people there with the least impact on the beach they are going to!

This provides a great basis for a people-dominated rather than a car-dominated beachfront, with generous space for walking and cycling. Such places in the world’s best beach cities also draw a dress circle of apartment living that reflects their great attractiveness becoming a part of the spectacle of promenade and public life on show.

We have the beaches. Do we want the city life to go with it?

Could this be the future for Takapuna?

Stuart Houghton 2014

Auckland’s city centre is getting more diverse

This post is the first part of what will be a three-part series on Auckland’s city centre and the 2013 census stats on it. Today, I’m looking at the changing demographics of the city centre.

Age Groups

The graph below shows the changing age structure of city centre residents, from 1996 through to 2013:

Age Groups

As shown here, we’re seeing a broader mix of age groups starting to live in the city centre. That includes more kids under 5. The percentage of school-age children is still very low, reflecting the lack of schools in the area. Matt has blogged about the ways in which the city centre could be made more child-friendly, taking lessons from Vancouver.

We’re also seeing a smaller proportion of people in the 15-19 and 20-24 age groups – and the drops are fairly substantial (42% to 35%). In their place, there are more people in the 25-29 and 30-34 age groups (29% to 35%). The DINKS (double income, no kids) are moving in.

Again, these changes in proportions are somewhat overshadowed by the overall population increase, so there are still more 15-24 year olds living in town overall.

Students vs. Non-Students

The number of students living in the city centre has risen quite substantially since 2006 – from 5,535 to 8,052 – but students now make up a smaller proportion of the population (39.5% vs 43.1%). That means a more diverse population, which is a good thing (it also means residents with more spending power, which is good news for CBD retailers).

Incomes

Incomes are still low for many city centre households – 25% are in the lowest “$20,000 or less” bracket, no doubt reflecting a large number of students. Looking at the rest of the income distribution, there are relatively few (21%) households in the top bracket, although reasonable representation in the $50K to $100K range. The graph below compares 2013 incomes for the city centre, “inner city suburbs” (as defined in this paper), Auckland and New Zealand:

Incomes

Lower incomes will reflect, in part, a younger and more ethnically diverse population. On a positive note, the number of city centre households in the top bracket increased by 86% between 2006 and 2013, and the number in the $70K-$100K bracket increased by 126%, compared with much smaller increases in the number of low-income households (48%, 33% and 57% respectively for the first three brackets). There’s more than just bracket creep going on there.

Commuting and Vehicle Access

More than 50% of city centre residents who commuted to work on census day did so by walking or jogging, with around 25% travelling in private vehicles and a number making use of buses or trains. Those are impressive stats, and it’s positive to see that car use has been steadily falling from 2001-2013.

Commuting

Incidentally, living in the city centre can be pretty convenient even if you don’t work there – commuting against the traffic is a breeze. My partner used to get from our apartment to Orewa in 35 minutes in the morning (it still left us with fairly high petrol bills, but them’s the breaks).

The census also measures whether households have “access” to motor vehicles (motorbikes are excluded from the definition). As shown in the graph below, the proportion of carless households in the city centre has been growing quite substantially since 2001 – with minimum parking ratios now a thing of the past in the CBD at least, I’d expect this trend to continue.

Cars

“Household Sizes”

Not much to write home about here, but there’s now a higher proportion of 3-person households in the city centre, and fewer 1-person households. The average “household size” has increased from 1.9 to 2.0 residents.

HH size

Wrapping Up

Overall, the census stats show a picture of a city centre which is maturing in many ways. It’s good to see, and it reflects the qualitative changes we see taking place there – the CBD is getting more vibrant, with more to do, a better quality of life and improving transport links. Long may it last!

The Downtown Framework

Yesterday the Auckland Development Committee approved the Downtown Framework which has been put together by the City Centre Integration Group (CCIG) which is a team comprised of members from all the relevant council agencies (e.g. Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Waterfront Auckland etc.). The framework should be available online sometime today.

To understand what the framework is for you first need to remember some of the history that has led to it. The Auckland Plan, the City Centre Master Plan, The Waterfront Plan and many others have all contributed towards what is hoped will happen in the city centre over the next 30 years. From them a huge number of projects have been born to make the city a better place. There are around 50 all up and are shown on the map below and are a mix of transport and place making projects.

CBD Projects

The projects over the decade can be grouped into five specific areas

CBD Projects - groups

For each of the five areas a framework is being developed which is meant to create a bridge between the strategy set out in the various plans and the actual delivering projects. It effectively deals with issues like working out the sequencing and interdependencies of the projects. After all we wouldn’t want to create a fantastic new public space only or it to be dug up again a few years later for something else like the City Rail Link.

The Downtown Framework is the first framework of the areas above to be released. It broadly covers the area north of (and including) Customs St and from the Viaduct Harbour in the west through to Britomart Pl in the East. Within the Downtown area it has further been divided into 8 areas of opportunity which are shown below.

Downtown Framework - Areas of Opportunity

With those 8 areas there are 12 projects that the council are looking at over the next decade and a further 4 projects that could happen in the future. The projects for the next decade are

  1. City Rail Link – Enabling works proposed to construct tunnel sections from Britomart to up Albert Street beyond Customs St allowing other projects to be completed without further disruption.
  2. Lower Queen Street – Proposed relocation of the buses from Lower Queen St provides opportunity for a new public square.
  3. Queens Wharf – The redevelopment of Queens Wharf will deliver significant new public space as well as accommodating ferry and cruise operations
  4. Quay Street – Quay Street is planned to be transformed into Auckland premier waterfront boulevard that will connect to various parts of the wider waterfront.
  5. Downtown Bus Interchange – The proposed new interchange will be divided between Lower Albert St and Britomart Transport Centre and enable the new public space on Lower Albert St.
  6. Fanshawe Street Urban Busway – The Fanshawe St upgrade will see an extension of the Northern Busway into the CBD.
  7. Customs Street Upgrade – The upgrade of Customs St will deliver reliability improvements for both buses and private vehicles.
  8. Ferry Basin Redevelopment – The redevelopment is to accommodate forecast growth in ferry services
  9. Downtown Shopping Centre Block Redevelopment – Precinct Properties are embarking on a comprehensive redevelopment of the block including a new retail offering and commercial tower.
  10. Beach Road Cycleway – This will become a key link with wider connections into the city including the Grafton Gully Cycleway.
  11. Seawall Upgrade – The seawall between Princes and Marsden Wharf is to be seismically upgraded
  12. Central Wharves Strategy – The strategy is to address competing demands on the water space and to make best use of the wharf space available to allow growth in cruise, ferry and port activities.

And the four future projects are:

  1. Hobson Street Flyover Removal – The future removal of the Hobson Street Flyover provides a significant opportunity for additional public space and further connection to the waterfront
  2. Downtown Carpark Redevelopment – The car park site is a significant opportunity for a potential commercial development and represents one of the last large development sites on the waterfront.
  3. Federal Laneway Extension – The CCMP identified an ambition to extend Federal Street between Customs and Quay St to provide a new link to the waterfront.
  4. Central Wharfs & Breastworks Opportunities – The Central Wharves and Breastworks represent an opportunity to work with POAL to maximise public space whilst allowing for port growth

The CCIG have then come up with a range of different implementation options and scenarios to deal with the different scenarios that might come up depending on what eventually gets the go ahead. These are all included in the document being released. One of these looks at what to do with QEII Square and the bus interchange on Lower Queen St. Options range from keeping the status quo through to moving the buses to Albert St and selling QEII Square like we reported on the other day (of note the councillors also agreed to sell the square at the meeting).

Downtown Framework - QEII Square and Bus Scenarios

So it already seems like we’re heading firmly towards option 3 and here’s an image of what the more people focused space in front of Britomart may look like..

Lower Queen St

One of the new spaces potentially funded by the sale of the square is at Admiralty basin which is between Queens Wharf and Captain Cook Wharf. Here’s an impression of that.

Admiralty Basin

There’s other interesting discussions to be had based on a briefing Patrick and I received the other day and we will aim to cover some of those in the coming days. For now we’ll just have to wait for the official document which should hopefully be online soon. Update: the document is available here.

Space is expensive in cities, so why don’t we use it more efficiently?

Land is a scarce and expensive resource in Auckland, as the city’s strong economy and natural amenities (sunlight! beaches! bush!) mean that a lot of people want to live in a relatively small area. But we often insist upon acting like urban space is worth nothing – why else would we have so many underutilised parking lots around the place?

To an economist, this is perplexing. Econ 101 predicts that when one factor of production becomes expensive, firms and households will respond by substituting other inputs instead. This is easy and intuitive to grasp in practice. For example:

  • If your local fish and chip shop puts up the price of snapper fillets, some people will choose to buy terakihi instead.
  • If wages for checkout operators increase, supermarkets will consider installing self-checkout counters to save on staff costs.

We should expect the exact same thing to happen in the housing market. Broadly speaking, developers produce housing (H) using a mix of land (L) and capital (K), which we can loosely think of as the size of the building constructed on a site. So, for example, a ten-story apartment building will tend to have a quite high K/L ratio, while a detached house constructed on a large lot will have a low K/L ratio.

retrofitting suburbia density gradient

Gradient of low to high K/L ratios (Source: Retrofitting Suburbia)

Warning: Arithmetic ahead. Come back after three paragraphs if you don’t like that sort of thing.

If we assume (as economists so often do) that housing production follows a standard Cobb-Douglas production function, then total dwelling supply can be modelled as a function of land and capital inputs, where a is the input share of land:

Housing equation 1

We can use this equation (plus a little bit of simple calculus) to estimate the marginal rate of substitution between L and K. Or, in other words, the degree to which rising land prices will encourage us to build up to save on land. If we assume that PL is the price of land and PK is the price of capital, then the ratio of K to L is given by the following equation:

Housing equation 2

We can immediately observe a couple of crucial relationships from this equation. First, if the price of land increases (and the cost to build up doesn’t), we’d expect the K/L ratio to rise – in other words, we expect people to build taller buildings on more expensive land. Second, if the cost to build up decreases – for example, through a technological innovation such as steel-framed buildings or elevators – the K/L ratio should also rise. This explains the emergence of high-rise Manhattan in the early 20th century. Third, the relationship between changes to prices and changes in the K/L ratio will hold true in both low-density and high-density areas, although changes will occur at different rates.

Armed with this economic framework, we can start to make sense of the way that various cities look.

Here’s New York. It doesn’t look like this because it’s full of people who, unlike Aucklanders or Texans, have a mysterious preference for tall buildings. It looks like this because land is expensive and people have responded in a rational way.

Manhattan

Here’s an aerial photograph of a suburb in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the world’s true hellholes. Once again, it doesn’t look like this because Georgians have some oddly-shaped utility function. It looks this way because land is cheap in Atlanta (and motorways are large).

atlanta suburbs

And here’s a picture of a typical Paris boulevard that somebody has photoshopped an enormous woman into for unknown reasons. While I’m sure many Parisians would claim that they have a unique cultural preference for seven-story apartment blocks with cafes underneath, Paris actually looks this way because land is expensive and developers have responded accordingly.

paris street with giant woman

With that in mind, how does Auckland stack up in terms of efficiently using its expensive land? Well, as it turns out we’re doing some smart things and some blitheringly idiotic things. Here’s a brief tour.

The Northern Busway: Really smart. Adding two lanes for buses has enabled the capacity-constrained Auckland Harbour Bridge to carry many more commuters than it otherwise would have been able to do. Today, 40-45% of the people crossing the bridge during rush hour are on buses. It’s the most revolutionary transport investment to hit the Shore since the Harbour Bridge’s completion.

Northern Busway efficiency

Manukau Centre’s sea of carparks: Mind-bogglingly irrational. As the map shows, Manukau actually devotes more land to parking lots than to commercial uses. Whoever laid it out obviously hadn’t paid any attention to Auckland’s real estate prices.

mcc-coloured

City centre shared spaces: Bloody clever idea. Turning service lanes and carparks into spaces for businesses to expand and people to enjoy allows us to make much better use of space in the city.

Fort Lane Before and After

Spaghetti Junction: A tortured trade-off. Demolishing a tenth of the city’s housing stock and abandoning much of the city centre to urban blight was undoubtedly an audacious gamble. The motorways move a lot of people, but we’re never going to reclaim the valuable, centrally located land that they occupy.

Newton then and now

Vancouver’s Skytrain – a future option for Auckland? Now this is about as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University. Vancouver built a space-efficient (and cost-effective) transport system that created an incentive to build more densely. A perfect example of the virtuous cycle in which better transport options encourage more efficient use of land.

Vancouver’s Skytrain also provides an impressive contrast to the effects of Spaghetti Junction on Auckland’s city centre, which raises the question – are we smart enough to start building like that, or are we going to carry on with the pretense that urban space is free?

Vancouver skytrain development

View the full video showing changes from 1985 to 2012.

The Alternative Mode Commute

Yesterday I decided I would complete what I call the Ultimate Alternative Mode Commute. In essence I managed to combine walking, cycling, a bus, a train and a ferry trip into my commute between Henderson and Takapuna.

Ultimate Alternative Mode Commute 2

 

I started by riding along Northwest cycleway in to town including down the newly opened Grafton Gully cycleway. It definitely made things quick for getting from upper Queen St to Quay St although I did manage to get held up for a long time at every single set of lights between Grafton Rd and Quay St. I’m not sure if that was just me being unlucky or if perhaps AT had the cycling phases permanently on during the weekend in anticipation of lots of people using it. I’ll probably ride my bike home tomorrow however I normally do that via Upper Harbour.

I managed to time my run to the Ferry perfectly and turned up just as it was unloading. I used the route that Peter outlined in this post. Of course while ferries do have some limitations, the views they offer on a nice day aren’t one of them. One big frustration I have though is the absurd situation that monthly passes doesn’t cover the use of ferries.

Ferry View to CBD

For my trip home it was a walk to the Akoranga to catch the Northern Express (NEX) back to town. I could have also just caught the bus from Takapuna which would have been faster but I’m trying to add a bit more walking into my daily routine so have been doing this walk more often recently. Catching the in both directions has also really highlighted to me that while it’s an awesome service, it does need some improvements to it’s counter peak frequency. Buses are only every 10 minutes on the runs back to the city in the afternoon. For most Auckland bus routes that would be fantastic however for the NEX it’s clearly not enough as the bus was at bursting point which is a fairly regular occurrence in the afternoons. It is probably time for AT to make use of some of the buses which provide extra peak capacity to bump up the counter peak frequency.

A short stroll from the corner of Customs St and Queen St provides a connection to the train which would take me my local station.

Lastly from my local station it’s only about an 800m walk along quiet back streets to my house and which completed my alternative mode commute.

I’m guessing I’m fairly unique in that I’m actually able to combine all of these modes in a semi logical way – albeit one that’s definitely not going to break any speed records. At the very least it’s a n idea I can cross off a bucket list hidden somewhere. It’s also a commute I’m not likely to do again as if I’m riding it’s quicker and cheaper (because it’s free) to us the Upper Harbour route.

The question for readers is what’s the most number of modes you have used as part of your commuting and if you had to, how many could

Better cities mean a wealthier New Zealand

Last week I took a look at whether government policy to support regional economies could divert growth away from Auckland. Based on the historical evidence, the answer seems to be no – people want to live in Auckland and start businesses here, and it’s senseless to try and stop that.

Today, I want to look at this issue from a different angle, and ask: If we somehow succeeded in stifling Auckland’s growth, would we be better off as a result? Would New Zealand be richer if it cancelled the City Rail Link, banned any new dwelling construction in Auckland, and told newcomers to bugger off to Timaru (or, more likely, Melbourne)?

Once again, we don’t have to speculate, as we can examine the results of previous “natural experiments”. Paul Krugman suggests that we could learn from recent population growth in the United States. (In between gaining academic renown for his work in new trade theory and public notoriety as a harsh critic of the second Bush administration, Krugman helped develop the new economic geography literature, which explains why cities form and grow.) He takes a look at the rapid growth of the “sunbelt” states, including Arizona and Texas, and finds that it has probably reduced economic growth in the US:

It turns out, however, that wages in the places within the United States attracting the most migrants are typically lower than in the places those migrants come from, suggesting that the places Americans are leaving actually have higher productivity and more job opportunities than the places they’re going. The average job in greater Houston pays 12 percent less than the average job in greater New York; the average job in greater Atlanta pays 22 percent less.

So why are people moving to these relatively low-wage areas? Because living there is cheaper, basically because of housing. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, rents (including the equivalent rent involved in buying a house) in metropolitan New York are about 60 percent higher than in Houston, 70 percent higher than in Atlanta.

In other words, what the facts really suggest is that Americans are being pushed out of the Northeast (and, more recently, California) by high housing costs rather than pulled out by superior economic performance in the Sunbelt.

But why are housing prices in New York or California so high? Population density and geography are part of the answer. For example, Los Angeles, which pioneered the kind of sprawl now epitomized by Atlanta, has run out of room and become a surprisingly dense metropolis. However, as Harvard’s Edward Glaeser and others have emphasized, high housing prices in slow-growing states also owe a lot to policies that sharply limit construction. Limits on building height in the cities, zoning that blocks denser development in the suburbs and other policies constrict housing on both coasts; meanwhile, looser regulation in the South has kept the supply of housing elastic and the cost of living low.

In short, restrictions on population growth in productive places – i.e. large, relatively dense cities – force people to move to less productive places, and earn less. A recent working paper by American economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti put a figure on the economic cost of these restrictions: housing supply restrictions in high-productivity cities like New York and San Francisco over the last three decades has lowered the US’s GDP by an estimated 10-14%. That’s absolutely huge.

This is agglomeration at work – or rather, “deglomeration”. The economic literature has identified a strong relationship between the scale and density of cities and the productivity of firms that locate within them. But rather than recognising and taking advantage of this phenomenon – for example, by allowing more office space to be built in San Francisco for the expanding tech industry and more apartments to be built in Silicon Valley for urbanophile tech workers – some American cities have chosen to reject it.

So could the same thing happen in New Zealand? In a word, yes. It’s definitely a risk and one that we should be careful to avoid.

First, the facts. Firms based in Auckland are more productive than firms elsewhere in New Zealand, after controlling for industry and firm characteristics. And firms in the Auckland city centre are even more productive. The table below, compiled from data in Dave Mare’s great 2008 paper on the topic (“Labour productivity in Auckland firms”), shows that there is a substantial “productivity premium” in Auckland:

Area Employment density (2006 jobs/sq km) Value added per worker (2006) Productivity relative to non-Auckland
New Zealand excl. Auckland 6.7 $45,550 -
Auckland urbanised area 518 $68,435 +51%
Auckland city centre 13,584 $106,873 +139%

I just want to say a brief word about the “productivity premium” of the city centre. A lot of people say that New Zealand’s an agricultural exporter, earning its way off the sheep’s back (or, more recently, the cow’s teats), and that downtown jobs are just an unproductive drain on farm revenues. However, service exports from urban businesses play an underappreciated role in NZ’s international trade picture. The two companies I’ve worked for in the Auckland city centre are both exporters of professional services. I’ve personally exported to Hong Kong, Australia, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea; my colleagues have also worked in Indonesia, Uganda, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and a whole host of other places. If we want to grow our exports in a smarter way, we need to encourage this sort of thing rather than deny that it’s happening.

As a result of the urban productivity premium, policies that stifle the growth of Auckland are likely to put a drag on New Zealand’s economy. In the US, a reluctance to let productive cities grow caused people to move to lower-wage cities like Phoenix, Houston, and Atlanta. Down here, the results are likely to be even worse, as New Zealanders are much more internationally mobile than Americans. If we put a lid on Auckland’s growth, some people will go to Hamilton or Tauranga instead, but many others will head to Australia or the UK.

Fortunately, we’ve got a much better option: Improve New Zealand’s cities rather than trying to smother them. Moreover, we’ve got some great opportunities to do just that. In Auckland, that means:

  • Making cost-effective investments in more transport choices, including better walking and cycling
  • Building the City Rail Link to unlock access to the city centre and allow firms to grow and benefit from the knowledge spillovers floating around
  • Preserving and improving our parks and public spaces – Waterfront Auckland is a truly world-class waterfront development agency and we should build on its success
  • And, as Krugman and Glaeser point out, it’s absolutely vital that we allow dwellings to be built in the places where people want to live – which increasingly means building more in places like Ponsonby and Mount Eden that are close to jobs and amenities.

We shouldn’t limit our vision to Auckland, either. While Auckland’s larger and faster-growing than Christchurch or Wellington, those cities also support agglomeration economies and interesting urban lifestyles. Investments in better cities will pay off there as well. Some of the same policies can also make small cities more liveable – although Hamilton will probably never need a CRL, look at the difference that NZTA’s Model Cycling Communities programme has made to Hastings and New Plymouth.

Why don’t we get on with it then?