Stuart’s 100 #55: Broadening the place-making dialogue

55: Broadening the place-making dialogue

Day_55

What if the place-making could take care of itself?

Place-making as a term has become not only a ubiquitous mots du jour amongst those responsible for planning, designing and managing our cities but also an increasingly sophisticated and highly organised, controlled and managed city activity. It is increasingly being enacted by a broad collective of paid professionals that may include planners, designers, artists and other creatives, event and project managers, publicists, risk advisors, traffic management,  planners and various local government officials amongst many, many others.

Here in Auckland efforts have been led largely by the efforts of Council-controlled organisation Waterfront Auckland at the Wynyard Quarter and elsewhere across the waterfront, by Cooper and Co (private developers and long term landlords of the Britomart Precinct), as well as the Heart of the City business association through their Big Little City campaign and wider events portfolio. The physical infrastructure of place-making is being supported by significant resources and outreach to Aucklanders through both mainstream and social media. Those Aucklanders who work, live or regularly visit the city centre will have noticed the difference, and have become accustomed to an ever growing range of events and offerings that seek to activate the public spaces of the waterfront and city.

These efforts are without doubt commendable and have been instrumental in forging new connections between Aucklanders and their city centre and waterfront, highlighting the transformational change and new dynamic that is occurring in public life and urban renewal more generally. Aucklanders are learning to love their central city; to want to be there, even though they may have no reason to.

This approach to the development and management of the public realm has become so successful that place making and, more generally, the need for ‘activation’, are starting to become not only the leading catch cries but the major driving force in public space development in this city.

Where is all this leading us?

Already within the design professions it often seems we are heading towards a dumbed-down understanding and dialogue around the role of public space that appears to regard it as merely a blank canvas or empty stage that must be activated. The consensus view is that if a space isn’t activated, it cannot be successful. And, increasingly, if you don’t have a comprehensive place-making programme in place, how can you be sure that this activation will occur? Even people themselves start to be regarded as something to be managed, programmed and activated to ensure a successful public place.

We need to be comfortable with the idea that a healthy city is a diverse, dynamic, messy and unpredictable place. It should be capable of supporting public life that is organic and unscripted, spontaneous, inclusive and fundamentally democratic. The city must be a place for all; a place that allows for difference, tolerates messiness and imperfection and encompasses the widest range of possible uses and users.

Whatever happened to designing spaces that can simply become just great places to be? Places to just inhabit, to dwell and spend time not money; that provide respite from activity even. What about public spaces that are unprogrammed places of encounter, exploration, wander and wonderment? Surely we should be interested in providing public places that can support spontaneity, unscripted and unstructured play and activity as much as that of the organised kind?

Our understanding of what makes successful public places can’t be limited to cappuccino urbanism or the city as a recreational playground. The real place-making project for Auckland needs to go further than keeping people occupied of a sunny Sunday afternoon. It needs to be about transforming our public spaces of all kinds and right across this city into lived-in places that are loved and cared for by Aucklanders of all persuasions as they go about their everyday lives in this increasingly diverse big little city.

City life is fundamentally a shared collective existence. Provide public places that take care of this, and the place making takes care of itself.

This post is an abridged version of an essay  I wrote in 2013 for X-Section Magazine, published by the Unitec School of Landscape Architecture (http://x-sectionmagazine.blogspot.co.nz/p/2013-placemaking.html). The 2014 edition of X-Section is forthcoming.

 

Stuart Houghton 2014

Is road funding a case of “survival of the un-fittest”?

In several recent posts I’ve taken a look at people’s revealed preferences for roads (nobody’s willing to pay directly for them) and public transport, walking, and cycling (people are queuing up to get on the train). In those posts, I’ve argued that observing how people vote with their feet (or their wallets) can teach us a lot about demand for different travel modes.

BRITOMART_4116

Rail is now growing too fast to be un-fit for survival.

But as any economist knows, markets have two sides to them: demand and supply. As transport infrastructure has a lot of “public good” characteristics, it tends to be provided by government agencies such as Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency. (These agencies wouldn’t say no if a private company turned up and offered to build a new motorway at no cost to them… but that’s not going to happen any time soon due to the fact that most recent private toll roads have failed financially.)

As a result, we have to consider how transport agencies make decisions about what to supply to the market. I’ve written a few posts on the basics of cost-benefit analysis, which is one of the tools that they use to decide which projects to build.

But is cost-benefit analysis robust, or are the results systematically biased in a certain direction? Thinking about this question led me to re-read one of my favourite papers on infrastructure costings (don’t laugh!): Bent Flyvbjerg’s “Survival of the Un-fittest: Why the Worst Infrastructure Gets Built – and What We Can do About It” (fulltext pdf). Flyvbjerg takes an empirical look at hundreds of major infrastructure projects around the world, finding that cost overruns are all-pervasive:

  • 9 out of 10 projects have cost overrun.
  • Overrun is found across the 20 nations and 5 continents covered by the study.
  • Overrun is constant for the 70-year period covered by the study, cost estimates have not improved over time.

In addition, benefits are systematically overestimated in ex-ante evaluations. The result is that a number of bad projects get built on the back of over-optimistic business cases. Flyvbjerg attributes this to “cognitive and political biases such as optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation”. (This is a polite way of saying “lying about the project to ensure that it gets built.”)

So how do New Zealand’s transport agencies stack up against Flyvbjerg’s analysis? Fortunately, we’ve got some empirical data to investigate this question with. Between 2009 and 2012, NZTA conducted and published a number of post-implementation reviews of (mainly) road projects that it funded in part or fully. Matt did an excellent job summarising the data in a post last year.

While the projects aren’t necessarily representative of all road projects, they do run the gamut from small pavement upgrades to multimillion state highway expansions. NZTA provided data comparing ex-ante and ex-post evaluations of costs and benefits for 69 projects in total. I subjected the data to some basic statistical analysis, finding that:

  • The average project had a cost overrun of 34% – a difference that was found to be highly statistically significant, meaning that there is a less than 1% probability that the observed difference happened by chance.
  • The average project had actual benefits that were 28% lower than expected – although as this difference was not statistically significant we can’t determine whether it simply reflects random chance.

In other words, NZTA and regional transport agencies seem to have had some issues accurately costing road projects. And the errors they are making are not random – they have systematically underestimated costs. This can be seen really clearly if we graph the data in histogram format.

Here’s the data on construction cost overruns, in percentage terms. The size of the bars represents the number of projects. Bars to the right of the black line indicate projects where costs were higher than expected. As you can see, costs were higher than expected for the vast majority of projects – sometimes to a quite significant degree (i.e. over 100% more expensive than planned).

Road cost overrun chart

And here’s a similar chart for benefit overruns/underruns. This shows that although estimates of benefits have in some cases been wrong by a quite large amount, most of the errors are clustered closer to the zero line. This shows that while NZTA or transport agencies often miss the mark on their estimates of benefits, the errors are sometimes positive and sometimes negative. In other words, optimism bias seems to be less pervasive when estimating benefits than when estimating costs.

Road benefit overruns chart

This data has (or should have) important implications for the way we plan and fund transport projects. It suggests that it’s necessary to be much more conservative when estimating the costs and benefits of road projects. This is especially important in light of the fact that NZTA’s funding is being devoted in large part to major motorway projects – the kind of “megaprojects” that Flybjerg identifies as posing the greatest risks for good project evaluation.

Unfortunately, NZTA stopped publishing post-implementation reviews in 2012, so it’s impossible to say whether agencies have used this data to refine their cost estimates. I hope they have, but there are indications that optimism bias is still running rampant. Take, for example, NZTA’s long-term forecasts of road traffic and public transport patronage, which blithely disregard the market realities. Or, more concretely, there’s the strange case of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing traffic forecasts, which Matt picked up on a few years ago.

A 2010 business case for the AWHC, which would be New Zealand’s most expensive infrastructure project of all time, found that the project’s benefit-cost ratio was a mere 0.4 to 0.6. (Indicating that it costs about twice as much as it returns in benefits.) But, as it turns out, this figure was based on traffic modelling that overestimated actual traffic across the bridge in 2008 by almost 10% – in spite of the fact that the actual data was available at that point. That’s some serious optimism bias right there…

Ak Harbour Bridge Traffic volumes

Auckland Harbour Bridge Traffic volumes (actual and forecast)

Finally, it’s also worth noting that Flyvbjerg finds that cost overruns (and benefit underruns) tend to be a more serious issue for rail projects than for road projects, especially in the United States. Unfortunately, we simply haven’t completed enough rail projects to robustly evaluate whether the same holds true in New Zealand. However, there are some signs that recent public transport infrastructure projects have outperformed their business cases – as seen in NZTA’s post-implementation review of the Northern Busway and booming ridership at Britomart.

The macroeconomics of transport – and should it influence NZ’s investment priorities?

In this recent post John explored some of the links between transport and economic growth.

In this post I wanted to expand on some interesting macroeconomic issues related to transport investment. These issues have been rolling around in my head for some time and John’s post prompted me to stay up late writing a blog post. But before I begin I want to openly acknowledge that 1) these issues are complex and 2) like always, I pretend to have all the answers.

Nevertheless I think the issues are worth raising and debating.

First, let’s carefully define some terms so we can create a shared sense of understanding, rather than having to slash and stumble our way through a jungle of jargon and prejudice.

When I say “economics” I am referring to the social science which concerns itself with understanding people’s values based on how they allocate their scarce means, such as time. Some people simply refer to economics as “the science of scarcity”. Others prefer the “dismal science”, either way I think you get it. If you don’t, then the cartoon below should help (source).

Features-SMH

Now, what is the difference between micro and macro economics?

Wikipedia describes microeconomics thusly (source):

“Microeconomics … is a branch of economics that studies the behavior of individuals and small impacting organizations in making decisions on the allocation of limited resources (see scarcity).[1] Typically, it applies to markets where goods or services are bought and sold. Microeconomics examines how these decisions and behaviors affect the supply and demand for goods and services, which determines prices, and how prices, in turn, determine the quantity supplied and quantity demanded of goods and services.

Generally, we evaluate transport projects on a microeconomic basis.

That is, we analyse the impacts of transport investment by considering how it affects individuals, or in some instances firms. The only “trick” is that in many cases the impacts of transport investment are “non-monetary”, in the sense that we are analysing things that are not openly traded in a market in response to supply/demand. Travel-time is an example of a non-monetary good. When faced with non-monetary goods, transport economists must impute values from other data, e.g. wage rates and/or surveys. Where the microeconomic benefits of a transport investment exceeds its costs, then we typically consider it to be economically worthwhile (source).

MicroEconomics

In contrast, Wikipedia defines macroeconomics in the following terms (source):

Macroeconomics … is a branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of an economy as a whole, rather than individual markets. This includes national, regional, and global economies. With microeconomics, macroeconomics is one of the two most general fields in economics. Macroeconomists study aggregated indicators such as GDP, unemployment rates, and price indexes to understand how the whole economy functions. Macroeconomists develop models that explain the relationship between such factors as national income, output, consumption, unemployment, inflation, savings, investment, international trade and international finance.

Personally, I’m an avid microeconomist. As regular commentator mwfic astutely  noted in John’s post:

One of the weaknesses of GDP is that it misses out any measure of quality of the items we buy or the utility we get from those items. I could sell two cars and walk everywhere and even at a pinch ride on a bus and it might lift GDP ever so slightly. But GDP wouldn’t include how annoyed I would be walking in the rain and standing wondering if the bus will actually turn up and then having to stand up and get thrown around, or sit squashed against a stranger while the driver does his best to give me motion sickness. Yes cars cost me money and so does the petrol but I spend that money happily because I get back a benefit that outweighs the cost.

Notwithstanding my personal preference for analysing people rather than arbitrary aggregations of people (“economies”), I do consider that macroeconomics makes an important and useful contribution to public policy decisions. Indeed, “it’s the economy stupid”.

More specifically, macroeconomic indicators can tell us a lot of useful things about microeconomic decisions. High inflation, for example, will tend to cause interest rates to be higher than they would be otherwise. This in turn will tend to skew individual decisions to those investments that deliver short-term returns. As an aside, this is one reason why I believe that people who are “Green” should strongly support monetary policy settings that are likely to contribute to lower long-run inflation (and lower interest rates). Environmentalists and monetarists unite!

The links between macro and micro economics don’t end with interest rates and inflation; there are a number of other aggregate economic indicators, such as exchange rates, unemployment rates, and tax levels which impact on the decisions that individuals make on a day-to-day basis.

So microeconomics and macroeconomics are ultimately linked; they differ primarily in the level of aggregation. My theory of aggregation is illustrated below (source).

explicit

But how is all this relevant to transport investment?

The reason it matters is because there seems to be two (inter-related) macroeconomic channels that are plausibly affected by transport investment: 1) the size of the domestic economy and 2) the demand for labour.

First, in terms of the size domestic economy, John’s post shows that all other (microeconomic) factors being equal, New Zealand would be better off with greater uptake of non-car transport modes, because this would reduce the need to import fuel and vehicles. In turn our GDP per capita would likely be higher, simply because more of what we spent on the latter is likely to be spent locally.

Second, in terms of the demand for labour, different types of transport investment have different levels of labour input. Generally most studies I have read (such as this one) find that investment in local roads, walking/cycling, and public transport requires greater labour input than the same investment in highways. It’s fairly easy to understand why: The former require more workers, whereas the latter require more machinery. Hence, shifts in our transport investment towards local roads, walking/cycling, and public transport is likely to increase the demand for labour, reduce under-employment, and ultimately strengthen the government’s fiscal position.

The key caveat on all this is “all other factors being equal”, especially in this case the microeconomic value of transport investment. That is, we are not arbitrarily interested in a so-called “make work” scheme. What we are observing, however, is that different transport investments do have different impacts on the labour market and indeed the size of the domestic economy.

So where does this leave us? Well in my mind, we should continue to evaluate the merits of transport investment primarily within a microeconomic framework. However, where two different transport investments have the same microeconomic value, i.e. they have identical benefit-cost ratios, then why would we not consider their macroeconomic effects as a way of breaking the tie?

This would likely mean that investment in local roads, walking/cycling, and public transport was prioritised ahead of investment in highways, especially during times of underemployment. At times of low underemployment and/or high inflation, we could similarly favour transport investments that don’t employ many people and thereby don’t divert our human resources away from more productive endeavours. Or we could spend less on transport overall, and instead bank the money for times when interest rates are lower. This is less about “stimulus spending” and more about saving money when prices are high (e.g. cost of capital, wage inflation), and spending it when prices are low. In some ways this is simply matching investment levels to prices, in much the same way as anyone in the private sector would.

But these are all just half-baked ideas; I’d be keen to hear other people’s ideas. Assuming someone read past the first few sentences? Time is, after all, the scarcest resource of them all … ;).

 

 

Help Defend the Flyover Decision

From the Architectural Centre in Wellington:

The NZTA flyover and recent appeal

The NZTA have proposed building a flyover adjacent to New Zealand’s historic Basin Reserve.  There are several complex aspects to the issue, but the basic chronology is:

  1. The Minister for the Environment established a Board of Inquiry in mid-2013 to decide if a flyover should be built by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) adjacent to the Basin Reserve cricket ground.  The flyover is part of the government’s planned country-wide Roads of National Significance.
  2. The Board decided that the flyover should not be built.  This was the result of a 72 day long hearing.  The Final Decision is at: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Final_Report_and_Decision/Pages/default.aspx(and there is a brief summary of issues attached).  There were a number of non-profit community groups who opposed the flyover, and we worked together collaboratively to ensure alternative views were presented at the hearing.
  3. NZTA have appealed to the High Court asking for the decision to be overturned.  The agency has also questioned a number of matters of law including issues to do with the evalution of urban design, heritage, and alternative options to the flyover.

Wellington is not a city of flyovers, and this proposal would place a flyover within a sensitive heritage site in our city, which includes an area of small nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses which would be dwarfed by the size of the 320m long concrete flyover, and become the dominant view for people living in Ellice St.  The flyover would also block the view down the Kent/Cambridge Terrace boulevard, as well as obscuring views of the historic Basin Reserve cricket ground.  We believe that a concrete structure of this large size, in this position, is not appropriate for this part of the city, which includes Government House, and the National War Memorial Park.

In addition to opposing the flyover, we believe that it is important that the alternative view to that of the NZTA is properly represented at the appeal hearing.

This means that we are off to the High Court.

It is no secret that the parties opposing the flyover have limited financial resources, and that the lack of an opposing voice in these proceedings will mean that not all of the relevant arguments will be put before the High Court.  We consider it to be important for this to be a properly democratic process, which means that views from both sides of the argument need to be heard.  It is for all of these reasons that the Architectural Centre will be a party to the appeal, and for these reasons we are asking for your support.

If you are supportive and would like to help there are a number of things that you can do.

  1. Spread the word.  Circulate this email to anyone who you think would be keen to help.
  2. We’re holding a charity auction at 5.30-7.30pm Wed 3 December at Regional Wines and Spirits (15 Ellice St, by the Basin Reserve, Wellington)and are asking architects/artists/authors/designers/film-makers/poets etc. to donate drawings/paintings/designs/sculpture/poems/manuscripts/autographed books/film/anything – so if you can donate something that would be fabulous, and if you can encourage others to donate something that would be grand too. An auction poster is attached.

If you can donate something to be auctioned, please email us at arch@architecture.org and/or post it to the Architectural Centre, P.O. Box 24-178, Manners St, Wellington, or deliver it to Cranko Architects, 81 Harbour View Rd (M-F 8am-6pm), and include your name, email etc.  Additional information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/2014/11/01/architects-draw-charity-auction/

  1. Join the Architectural Centre.  Information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/.  More information about us is at: http://architecture.org.nz/
  2. Donate any amount you can.  Our bank account details for internet banking are included on the membership form at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/
  3. Come to the charity auction… it would be lovely to see you there.

We really appreciate that there are many, many worthy causes that are likely to be taking up your time, energy and money, so we completely understand if you are too stretched to support this one with your time and/or money too.  But if this is the case, your moral support and circulating this email to others, will be hugely appreciated by us.

nga mihi nui

Christine McCarthy, Victoria Willocks and Duncan Harding

on behalf of the Architectural Centre

The Architectural Centre is the most venerable advocacy group for better urban form in New Zealand. Formed in Wellington in 1946 by idealistic young architects and planners [including my parents] with aims of improving our built environment. The Manifesto includes clauses such as “Architecture must facilitate better living” and “Good architecture is elegant environmentalism.”  A very good history of the Centre, Vertical Living, has just been published by AUP. Here is the full manifesto:

Architectural-Centre-Manifesto

Stuart’s 100 #53: Concentrating on Corridors

53: Concentrating on Corridors

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What if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does?

One of the things we hear all the time in Auckland is ‘Unlike – insert City X – we can’t do that here because – insert excuse Y’. Now, sometimes these differences are real and we need to work harder to translate good ideas into a New Zealand context. But more often than not we exaggerate the differences between city life in this small corner of the world and that elsewhere. Fundamentally we have much in common with cities elsewhere, especially the New World cities of Australia and North America, even when they are much bigger than ours.

So what if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does? We tried this once before; the former Auckland Regional Council’s growth strategy put a lot of emphasis on intensifying centres and corridors. But not a lot of development happened. We often hear that the problem is our original grain of subdivision and street patterns that doesn’t lend itself well to this type of development. Is that the case, or do we just need to go about it differently or work a little harder to change that?

To really go to town on corridors, we would need to accept greater change in character of the say 7.5% of land area that fronts these arterial corridors, to offset less intensive change elsewhere across most suburban streets. This seems to be the basic premise of recent strategic planning in Melbourne. We can debate how successfully that strategy is being realised over there, but it is hard to argue against the fact that Melbourne already has far more examples of good mid-rise mixed use development on its major roads than Auckland. Why is that?

Here in Auckland, have we forgone such an opportunity with the Proposed Unitary Plan? Imagine if the Council had put more effort into zoning for these outcomes along corridors like Dominion, Mt Eden and Remuera Roads on the isthmus, the former highways of Great North and Great South Roads or the likes of Onewa Road or Lake Road over on the Shore. Such an approach could have adopted a strategy of greater protection of historic commercial buildings balanced with more aggressive up-zoning across the balance of sites including much deeper back from the main street to create viable sites for more intensive mid-rise development.

In acknowledging this as a great planning and urban design outcome, we would also need to acknowledge that it is pretty tough for developers to assemble sites and make it work. Council would need to look to use as many carrots as it can muster across its regulatory, revenue-gathering and investment toolboxes to provide far greater incentives for this to happen.

An Auckland where more people could afford to live amongst the great amenities and character of the long-established suburbs we already have? Wouldn’t that be a better Auckland?

Stuart Houghton 2014

Stuart’s 100 #52: Devonport Dining District

52: Devonport Dining District

Day_52_Devonport

What if there was an easy way to breathe new life into Devonport?

Most Aucklanders and visitors to this city would agree Devonport is one of those special places with many natural advantages when it comes to its setting sandwiched between the harbour and two volcanic cones with spectacular city and sea views in almost all directions.

As a place to live, it is certainly one of the special and most desirable parts of Auckland. But as a town centre, it is looking pretty tired and seems to have stagnated over the past ten years or more while other locations have really surged ahead in terms of destination activities like food and drink offerings and boutique or specialist retail that you might expect from a town centre in such a beautiful setting.

Interestingly, the Auckland Plan and City Centre Masterplan identified Devonport as an integral part of the city fringe making it akin to the likes of Ponsonby and Parnell as one of the heritage urban fringe villages that overlooks and feeds off the city centre. This sort of thinking could really change the future prospects for Devonport as a destination town centre should there be interest in pursuing those opportunities.

Wouldn’t it be great if Devonport could develop as a dining district? Attracting night time visitors from the city side with top quality dining options with unbeatable harbour views and village character, combined with summer’s evening promenading around the harbour’s edge seems like a real winner. So why isn’t it like that already?

Stuart Houghton 2014

 

Northern Motorway consultation

The NZTA are holding open days this week to show their initial designs for their Northern Motorway projects.

People will have their first opportunity to look at the initial concepts and provide feedback for the Northern Corridor Improvements in Auckland at open days being organised by the NZ Transport Agency from next week.

The initial concepts for the important upgrades along Upper Harbour Highway (SH18) and the Northern Motorway (State Highway 1) have been identified and public feedback will help shape the next stage in the design, says the Transport Agency’s Highway Manager Brett Gliddon.

The project is one of a number of key works included in the Government’s accelerated programme to improve transport infrastructure in Auckland.

“We’re quite excited about these open days as we’re presenting concepts to the community and getting their input before we start the detailed investigation process. It’s important we get feedback when developing these significant projects so we can incorporate ideas, where possible, from the people who use these connections on a regular basis. We would really encourage the local community to come along and provide input to the Northern Corridor Improvements project,” says Mr Gliddon.

Open day information (feel free to drop-in at any time during these session times):

Wednesday 12 November, 5pm – 7pm: Northern Corridor Information Hub, 33A Apollo Drive, Rosedale

Thursday 13 November, 6.30am-8.30am & 4.30pm-6.30pm: Constellation Bus Station, Parkway Drive, Rosedale

Saturday 15 November, 10am-4pm: Westfield Albany, next to New World, Don Mckinnon Drive, Albany

Mr Gliddon says the Northern Corridor Improvements will help address the connection issues and pressures the Northern motorway is currently facing and also support the growth of businesses and population in the area and beyond.

“Most people who travel this route on a regular basis know that there are several bottlenecks getting between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway. This can cause significant delays for motorists and commercial vehicles. By upgrading this section of the network, we hope to help create an efficient network and provide more reliable travel times,” Mr Gliddon says.

Key components of the Northern Corridor programme focus on creating a seamless motorway to motorway connection along the Western Ring Route – the Hobsonville, Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (SHs18, 16 and 20) – between Albany and Manukau to the south, upgrading the Upper Harbour Highway to a motorway, and investigation and consenting to extend the successful Northern Busway from Constellation to the Albany park and ride station. The Transport Agency is also investigating walking and cycling connections as part of the project

The northern motorway projects include these components however crucially the extension of the busway is only being consented after the government pulled funding for it’s construction (supposedly against the NZTA’s advice). It also ignores the massive success the busway has been.

Northern Corridor Improvements

 

In the governments budget announcement last year they said the Northern Corridor improvements would cost $450 million.

Budget-2014-Auckland-Transport-package

A new graphic on the NZTA’s page for the project includes the claim that traffic heading northbound (presumably from SH18) will save 11 minutes in 12 years-time.

NZTA Northern Corridor map

Of all the projects the SH1 to SH18 motorway to motorway link is going to have a huge impact on the area as it will require large ramps to connect the motorways, like what is currently going in at Waterview. The image below was from an earlier strategic study into the project and highlights one of the potential options

package3-sh18

And as a reminder this is an image from August showing the motorway ramps under construction.

Waterview Ramps Aug 14

Stuart’s 100 #51: La Rambla Reina?

51: La Rambla Reina?

Day_51

What if Queen Street could feel like Auckland’s answer to La Rambla?

Despite its tatty $2 shop reputation, Queen Street has been quietly undergoing a significant urban renaissance over the last seven or eight years. This dates back to the $40million plus streetscape upgrade which saw much of the on-street parking removed, all bus services except the Inner Link and Airbus relocated out, widening and decluttering of footpaths, new high quality flagstone paving, street furniture, lighting, the now signature nikau palms and not the least, the double-phasing of the much-loved Barne’s Dance crossings. Importantly, allowance was also made by the former Auckland City Council for additional opex expenditure to maintain this significant investment including much higher spec street cleaners operating on a daily cleaning and maintenance schedule.

Good things take time and in the seven or eight years since this major disruption and change it is easy to forget how far we have come. Queen Street retail is currently experiencing very dynamic and wide-ranging change as leases end, landlords upgrade spaces and new and established retailers locate and relocate and try new things.

Meanwhile, pedestrian numbers have increased hugely, reflecting the big growth in employment numbers, city centre residents and visitors over this time. As well as this big influx in pedestrian numbers, general traffic in Queen Street is far lower than before the upgrade. This means, at present that in any given block of Queen Street between Customs Street and Aotea Square, there is an average of around 45,000 – 60,000 pedestrians per day and just 7500 vehicles per day in any one block.

These changes all add up to a street that is not only far more pleasant than it was before but with pedestrian foot traffic that ensures it truly functions as the principal pedestrian backbone and main thoroughfare of the city. It is by far both the fastest and most pleasant way to get anywhere around the city by foot before branching off to the east or west to one’s destination.

On the back of this there seems to be a growing appetite for more far-reaching change. Opinions seem mixed on this. Priorities may be better placed elsewhere and the time for this might not be just yet – perhaps lets allow Queen Street to continue to evolve and flourish off the back of the investment – but in the future it seems there is good scope to make further changes to Queen Street to become a more people-centric place and pedestrian spine at the heart of the city.

Queen Street could become Auckland’s very own answer to Barcelona’s La Rambla – a river of heaving humanity that builds in energy as it flows from the Karangahape Road ridgeline down to the sea. On the best sunny summer days, or the (irregular) occasions where we get to close it off to traffic, it often feels a little like this already. But it could be like this all the time. A truly memorable city street we could be all proud of. Wouldn’t that make for a better Auckland?

Queen St during Diwali October 2014

Queen St during Diwali October 2014

Stuart Houghton 2014

The Geography of Joblessness

Two articles on employment and its relationship to urban form and transport investment turned up, rather fittingly, on Labour Day. They offer interesting international perspectives, but before we get to them here is a fascinating chart derived from Ministry of Transport Household Travel Survey data that puts the focus on journeys to work into an valuable perspective. Remember the New Zealand census question that generates the gross mode share data much loved by government ministers only asks the very narrow question about travel for work. In Australia at least they ask about travel ‘for work or education’. So here is Auckland’s travel for all purposes:

AK trips by purpose and time 2013 census

In particular look at that am rush hour [and, quaintly, it is pretty much just an hour] 8-9am. Journeys to work only make up just 22% of the trips that cause that morning congestion.Trips to education is the big one then. The afternoon is very different with a full three hours of workers and learners all coming home. A great shame that trips for education are not counted in the gross mode share question as that would help the real role of PT and Active modes in keeping this city moving from being so easily downplayed by politicians and others. I have seen elsewhere that Auckland University, for example, has a private car modeshare for its students somewhere in the rounding: 1-3% [if anyone has a data source for this please add it in the comments]. *Correction 8% is the best info we have, thanks to Thomas S; source.

I can’t top the title used by The Economist so have repeated it above, here’s the link. The article simply asks the question what role might geography have in unemployment? As it is concerned with cities the geography in question is urban form. So has 60 years of subsidising the dispersal and segregation of living and working in cities in the west made it harder to provide, find, keep, or change jobs? It surveys the research and concludes that western cities suffer from ‘spatial mismatch’ and ‘poor accessibility’ and that these conditions do indeed inversely affect employment effectiveness of these places. Basically the more dispersed, the greater the degree of separation of zones, and the less effective its Transit system the less efficiency there is in its employment market.

What’s to be done? Here is the concluding paragraph:

All this has big policy implications. Some suggest that governments should encourage companies to set up shop in areas with high unemployment. That is a tall order: firms that hire unskilled workers often need to be near customers or suppliers. A better approach would be to help workers either to move to areas with lots of jobs, or at least to commute to them. That would involve scrapping zoning laws that discourage cheaper housing, and improving public transport. The typical American city dweller can reach just 30% of jobs in their city within 90 minutes on public transport. That is a recipe for unemployment.

The second article is from the Brookings Institution and is called: Cars Remain King and barrier to Economic Opportunity

This uses a study based on commute data from the US 2013 census to focus on ‘zero-vehicle workers':

The most recent 2013 Census numbers shed additional light on their commuting habits, showing how more than 6.3 million workers don’t have a private vehicle at their home. That’s equal to about 4.5 percent of all workers, compared to 4.2 percent in 2007.

Unsurprisingly decades of building and subsidising car amenity in the US has led to widespread structural auto-dependency for employment. This study also concludes that a shift in both urban form and transport infrastructure investment would deliver positive economic outcomes. And in particular that the focus by professionals, institutions, and policy makers needs to be on accessibility and not predominantly on vehicle speed:

To address this inequity, we need to shift how we plan transportation investments and urban development. Planners and engineers need to think less about mobility—how fast we move—and more about access—how many destinations we can reach. Grounded in the daily experience of commuters, this perspective can help meet the needs of workers and employers, better tying together regional economies.

One thing that would help is broadening the specialists in this field away from a focus on the LOS metric, as advocated by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute here.

Clearly a move away from monotonal places of only work [like how the City Centre used to be], or the pure dormitory suburbs of south east Auckland, are part of the solution here. The move to a greater spread of  Mixed-Use suburbs with working and dwelling within easy and pleasant reach, especially by the Active modes or short Transit trips, is desirable. This is after all, along with proximity, one of the features of the inner pre-autodependent sprawl era suburbs that make them so successful and desirable: They were formed pre zoning rules, and can be lived in with minimal travel for work and indeed other needs for most.

Of course committed sprawlists will immediately claim that if only we flatted the centre city and spread all employment out across the city then people would all live right next to their workplace and joy! travel times, congestion, and all human misery would end. Well I’m sorry but the following chart firmly puts paid to that:

Trip Length residential 2013

Above is that chart from 2013 census showing how those in newer further out suburbs have, on average, longer commutes, regardless of their place of work. It is important to underline that these commute lengths are not about just trips to the centre but to the actual real work trips taken by everyone as recorded in the 2013 census. There is just no way around it; the further out you live the longer, on average, your work journey will be. And if we keep extending the city out the worse this will get for these edge-city dwellers and everyone on aggregate. With the concomitant disbenefits that long commutes bring; higher cost, individually and collectively; plus all the negative health, pollution, and happiness outcomes.

And below the same data flipped to show it by destination. Look how inaccessible the employment around the airport is, despite all that road building. The $140m about to be spent on the Kirkbride Rd intersection will do nothing at all to improve this. Look too at Howick on the two charts, the small number of people that work there are mostly local, which is good, but most locals work much further away. Both charts also show the lack of local employment for people in West Auckland.

Trip Length workplace 2013

 

Which all goes to show that Auckland conforms to Bertaud’s ‘Composite’ urban form model below, which is of course the most common city type on the planet, and not the dispersalists’ largely imaginary centre-less model of the ‘Urban Village’ with everyone working adjacent to where they live and none working across town.

After all, even as Auckland gets longer [it can't get wider!] the area most closely placed to everywhere is still the centre. This helps explain why the centre will only continue to grow and thrive despite increasing rents and other barriers, as it remains the most connected and accessible place to be, on average.

Bertaud urban structure graph

Trust you had a relaxing Labour Day.

 

Stuart’s 100 #47: The Forgotten Triangle

48: The Forgotten Triangle

Day_48

What if the forgotten triangle behind Shortland Street was more than a parking lot?

Continuing the series on forgotten or underutilised spaces within the city, the steeply rising wedge of land between Shortland Street, Albert Park and Princes Street is certainly a stand out example of well-located land that should be valued and utilised for much more than just parking. Certainly, when one looks at historic photos of this part of the city, it is obvious that this area used to packed quite densely with a much more diverse array of buildings and activities than can be found there now.

Looking west over the Chancery Street area from the former Grand Hotel in Princes Street, 1902. (Auckland Council Heritage Images Online).

Looking west over the Chancery Street area from the former Grand Hotel in Princes Street, 1902. (Auckland Council Heritage Images Online).

It is actually quite crazy that this forgotten corner of the city has not been developed for more intensive and higher value uses, if you think about the location, just one block from both the A-grade office space of the corporate towers on Shortland Street and the high value retail of High Street, and bounded by what is a beautiful historic central city park.

The following is a simple four-point plan that is just a start to indicate how the potential of this part of the city could be reconsidered:

  • Improve the legibility, crossing opportunities and attractiveness of walking links through the area to Albert Park and the universities on the hill;
  • Develop high rise residential towers fronting Kitchener Street similar to the Metropolis tower and Precinct Apartments between Lorne and Kitchener Streets that capitalise on the outlook over the park and up high gain light, air and relative serenity above this quiet part of the city;
  • Rediscover and develop the forgotten laneways of Fields and Bacon Lanes, Chancery Lane, Bankside Street and Cruise Lane as back street extensions to the High Street District with opportunities to open out and activate the backs of Shortland Street towers into a gritty but interesting neighbourhood;
  • Make more use of the Bowen Park extension of Albert Park as a great public open space in its own right, reflecting its north-facing qualities and great views back to this part of the city skyline.

Stuart Houghton 2014

*For a bit more on this area there is this previous post -PR