New Zealand can’t put the urban genie back in its bottle

Although the majority of New Zealanders have lived in towns and cities for almost a century, it sometimes seems like we’re in denial that we live in an urban nation. This unease came to the fore during the debate over the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan. As it turns out, some people are uneasy about Auckland’s emergence as a large and increasingly sophisticated city.

At that time, the NZ Herald published several articles calling for a “national population strategy” to forestall further growth in Auckland. Here’s one example from May 2013:

Redirecting people away from settling or living in Auckland would be a positive step. A good example is in Invercargill where students pay no fees. The fees at Auckland learning institutes should be increased and those elsewhere removed or reduced significantly.

[...]

As so much of the population increase is likely to come from an increase in births, a decrease is urgent. Incentives need to be provided such as free contraception, especially to those under 20 years of age. The provision of family benefits regardless of whether you have two or 10 children should be looked at.

Here’s another one from June 2013:

Short of putting contraceptives in the water supply we are unlikely to do much about our rate of natural increase – so realistically any policy needs to focus on migration patterns, particularly within New Zealand – the so-called “northward drift”.

Realistically we cannot talk about Auckland in isolation from the rest of New Zealand. We have no national population strategy – though some useful work has been done in the past. Neither do we have a regional development strategy, an essential mechanism for achieving a more equitable sharing of economic and population growth.

This is a seductive idea, but it won’t work. Developing policy to redistribute growth is bloody hard without spending massive amounts of money and tightly controlling economic activity. If we seriously tried to subsidise or regulate growth away from Auckland, we’d probably just end up misallocating resources and reduce our wellbeing. As urban economist Edward Glaeser is fond of pointing out, good policy should aim to help poor people rather than poor places.

Fortunately, we don’t have to speculate about the consequences of regional growth policies, as we have a real-world historical example to draw upon. From the 1930s to the 1980s, NZ tried a massive policy experiment – it invested heavily in regional development and used regulatory controls to spread investment and employment around the country.

Looking back on it, the reach of these regulations and investments is extraordinary. So, for example, you had:

  • Economically costly production and export subsidies for farmers were propping up uneconomic farms. By 1984, subsidies accounted for almost 40% of the average sheep and beef farmer’s income.
  • The Transport Licensing Act 1931, which banned trucks from moving goods more than 150 kilometres before its repeal in 1982. This imposed high costs to distance, encouraging small-scale local production rather than centralising plants.
  • Regulations that virtually prohibited the opening or closing of meatworks and other rural processing plants between the 1930s and 1980s. When the Patea meatworks closed in 1982, they were the first meatworks to close in half a century – which is bizarre when you realise how much cheaper refrigerated shipping got over this period.
  • A policy of distributing major industrial facilities around the country – an aluminium smelter for Bluff, a steelworks for Glenbrook, a pulp and paper mill for Kawerau, etc.
  • The use of the Railways Department and Forest Service as rural employment schemes.

So it’s worth asking whether these policies worked. We know that they were economically costly – but did they actually succeed in redistributing growth from Auckland to the regions?

The data suggests that the answer is no. Here’s a graph of population growth in New Zealand’s major cities from 1926 to 2006 from Grimes and Tarrant (2013). As it shows, Auckland’s population growth began diverging from Wellington and Christchurch early on – probably after World War II.

NZ city population growth 1926-2006

Furthermore, the almost total removal of rural subsidies during the 1980s doesn’t seem to have accelerated Auckland’s divergence. In fact, Auckland’s annual per capita growth rate seems to have fallen after deregulation, although growth slowed more in other places.

In short, we should accept the reality of urban growth: People want to live in Auckland and start businesses here for good reasons, and we can’t (and shouldn’t) try to stop them. The idea that we can put the urban genie back in its bottle is sheer fantasy. If we try, we’ll only make ourselves worse off.

Our only choice is whether we will have a good city – an interesting and prosperous place – or a crippled, unsuccessful city. Given that, our focus should be on making the best urban places we can. We need Auckland to be a dynamic and liveable city rather than an overgrown small town. And that means investing and planning in a city-like way: getting ambitious about rapid transit, celebrating our mixed-use public spaces, and accepting that density and amenity aren’t mutually exclusive.

Is this Auckland 2040?

Is this Auckland 2040?

 

Deferring Transport Projects

So what do you do when you’re told you have to cut some of your $826 million budget for capital projects and that in choosing what to cut it can’t apply to public transport projects?

Well it seems if you’re Auckland Transport you start by cutting PT and active mode projects.

Back in May when the council was discussing their budget for this year it was decided that Auckland Transport should reduce capital expenditure spend. At the time Chris Darby managed to get this amendment passed saying that the cuts won’t impact on PT.

MOVED by Cr C Darby, seconded by Cr PA Hulse:
Cr Darby moved by way of amendment, seconded Cr Hulse.
That the Budget Committee:
i) agree that the $5.1 million transport opex increase is dedicated to public transport and the $50 million reduction in transport capex will not be applied to public transport.

But it seems the $50 million isn’t enough if the council wants to keep to Len Brown’s goal of having rate rises next year average 2.5%.

  • On 26 March, staff provided the results of financial modelling in response to the mayoral direction for the LTP 2015-2025. One conclusion from this analysis was that it is not possible to reduce the average rates increase for 2015/2016 down to 2.5 per cent solely by reducing or deferring capex in that particular year.
  • The lagged impact of changes in the capital programme on operating budgets means that reducing or deferring capex in 2014/2015 will have a greater impact on rates for 2015/2016. The Budget Committee therefore agreed on 8 May 2014 to request the Chief Executive undertake an immediate review of 2014/2015 capex programme with a target of reducing or deferring $300 million of capex.

The cuts mean Auckland Transport has to find $100 million (which goes up to $150 million once NZTA subsidies are included). They don’t say all the items they’ll cut but the ones named are all PT projects.

The targeted reduction can be achieved via the reduction of budget across all transport activities. Projects such as Parnell Station, the Pukekohe Station upgrade and bus and transit lane improvements may have to be deferred to the LTP period. The Auckland Transport Board will consider the current capital programme to confirm which projects may be stopped, reduced or deferred to the LTP in order to minimise negative impacts on Auckland Plan outcomes. An updated 2014/2015 capital programme will be provided to the CCO Governance and Monitoring Committee in November.

It seems the only projects specifically named as being deferred are those that PT projects which goes against what the council asked for in the first place. Further projects like bus and transit lane improvements are often some of the cheapest and highest benefit projects. An example of this is the recent extension of the Fanshawe St bus lanes resulted in lots of full buses being sped up in the evening for what I understand was a fairly minor cost. In saying that I can live with the Silverdale Park and Ride (which is having issues of it’s own to sort out first) and can also live with Parnell to a degree.

Here’s the total list of capital projects in the current annual plan.

AT Funding - 14-15 - PT

AT Funding - 14-15 - Parking

AT Funding - 14-15 - Roads 1

AT Funding - 14-15 - Roads 2

It seems to me there are a lot of other projects on the list that should be being cut before $2.5 million bus lane improvements, for example Lincoln Rd or Penlink.

For their part the council passed a (much weaker) resolution saying that AT should take into account the councils priorities around PT and active mode outcomes however based on past performance I wouldn’t hold up hope of AT actually listening to that.

Postcard from Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg

This is a Guest Post by regular reader Warren Sanderson

Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg

What do these three cities have in common?

  1. In my view a real “sense of place”.
  2. Very efficient public transport systems
  3. They all had my wife and me as visitors in the month of July. We spent roughly a week reacquainting ourselves with each of these cities during our recent journey to the Baltic countries and northern Germany. For the record, not once in the six weeks we were away and touching eight northern European countries, did we travel in a private motor car. This was independent travel and our modes were bus, train, boat, river ferry boat, light rail, taxi (twice) and lots of walking.

Let’s have a look at transit in each of these cities in turn.

Gothenburg

Gotenburg_winter

This city on Sweden’s west coast is smaller than Auckland with a metropolitan population of around one million. It was a pleasing city to visit without the hordes of tourists that plague some European destinations. It has an apartment culture in the inner city of mostly four or five storey buildings, but is still possible to see the church spires which I always find aesthetically most satisfying.

One of the advantages of having been born too long ago – and there aren’t many of them – is that it is easy to remember everything about Auckland’s trams because I travelled on every route at some stage.

Göteborg-Tram-Map

Well – wow! Gothenburg still has a tramway system just like we had in Auckland until the 1950’s. And they all go through the centre of town and out to a suburb destination on the other side of town just like Auckland’s did. A point of difference though is that at the terminus end of the tracks Gothenburg has a large round turning circle so that the driver remains in the same cab, whereas in Auckland the driver switched poles, took his driving handle to the cab at the other end of the tram and commenced driving in the opposite direction from there.

Each Gothenburg route had a number prominently displayed plus the actual destination and it was very easy to ensure that one had boarded the correct tram.

Gothenburg tram

I noted that both on week-days and at the week-end the two main streets were full of people, the remarkably quiet trams always appeared to enjoy excellent patronage and car traffic by comparison with Auckland was very light. It is also worth recording that in general the streets are quite wide and have room for a wide footpath each side, a bike lane each side, a single car lane each side and double tram tracks – sometimes these tracks are in the middle and sometimes on the side of the arterial route. When we caught a bus to Marstrand some 50 kilometres away, I noted that the tram tracks in the middle of a section of the road a little further out of town also served as a bus lane.

Goteborg Nil Ericson Station

Like most European cities the Central Railway Station is a prominent feature. As well as the usual inter-city departure platforms, there a couple of substantial retail wings and a long covered bus station wing known as the Nils Ericson Terminal.

Intending pre-ticketed passengers queue at the appropriate gate number in the air-conditioned building and when the bus arrives, board it directly from the terminal rather like a modern airport. Seats are few within the Terminal.

Goteborg Station Interior

Just across the street from the Central Station is the Nordstan Shopping Centre a very large shopping mall and beyond that the delightful city centre, pedestrian squares, covered market and parks.

It is evident that Gothenburg has a highly efficient transport hub, which not only serves commuters, but is integral to a vibrant retail, business and entertainment area. In addition there are time-tabled Gota River ferries serving a university precinct and other riverside locations.

Out of town I did not see a motorway with more than two lanes except on one occasion when the third lane was a bus only lane. They may have them but I didn’t see any. But I did see plenty of bikes – they are a very popular mode of transport.

 Hanover

Hanover Square and Regent Street aerial view, London

As an important rail and road junction Hanover was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and this is reflected in the architecture which is obviously of post-war construction and in the main rather bland. As usual the Hauptbahnhof is prominent with a large and daytime busy Ernst August Platz in front of the main entrance. The façade of the Station is a post-war reconstruction of the old, but the interior is modern, busy and user-friendly with many shops.

Hannover_-_Hauptbahnhof_Eingangsportal_1

They also have what they call trams but I would refer to as light rail. At some point they have dug up some of their now pedestrianized city streets to install the system, so to visit the Herrengarten we descended to a station under the main street, boarded the ‘tram’ and after a couple of stops at underground stations emerged on the surface and proceeded along the side of the arterial road to our destination, alighting at a raised safety zone complete with shelter. Apparently two out every three people in Hanover use these ‘trams’ every day.

Toshiba Exif JPEG

If Hanover can build a tramway of 120 kilometres both underground and on the surface with a population of under 600,000 surely Auckland can build a three and a half kilometre City Rail – Come on National Government – get your priorities properly sorted!!

I must say that railed transit systems of any sort are very visitor user-friendly, even if you don’t speak the language. I never worry about mistakes – even if you go in the wrong direction or to the wrong destination, it is always easy to recover, just cross over and take next one back to where you came from. Bus routeing is less reassuring.

Hamburg

Hamburg Hafen City

I really enjoyed revisiting The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, to give it its full title. With reunification it has recovered that part of its natural hinterland within the former East Germany. Its port has relocated and is massive. Brownfield sites mostly in central locations such as HafenCity (Harbour City) are being re-developed. The CBD was busy and vibrant on both week days and the week-end.

Trains to charming suburbs such as Blankenese [underlined in red below] worked well for us and ferries plying the Elbe are available. After a few years of stall the population is again growing and is officially recorded as 1,741,000 inhabitants.

hamburg-ubahn-sbahn-map_big

What I really wanted to convey to readers is that I had the opportunity to pick up, from the splendid Rathaus, a booklet entitled:

‘GREEN, INCLUSIVE, GROWING CITY BY THE WATER – PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN HAMBURG’.

It has a foreword by Jutta Blankau, Senator for Urban Development.  This is really the approved vision for Hamburg. It is well illustrated and surprisingly was available in both German and English. Overview here.

What follows are some bullet points I have selected and uplifted from various sections of the document;

  • More City in the City
  • Internal Development Before Expansion
  • Good Quality Open Space Even As The City Becomes More Compact
  • People Are Already Increasing Their Use Of Street Space And Public Squares
  • Hamburg Will Not Become A City Of High Rises – The Ideal Height For Urban Density Is Six To Seven Floors
  • When The Port Operations Were Moved To Their New Location Hamburg Is Accepting The Challenge To Create New Residential Areas, Work Places And Attractive Places
  • Improving Urban Quality Including – Constructing a new S4 Train Line to the East of Hamburg.                      
  • Roofing Over A7 Motorway Cuttings to Reconnect Severed Parts of the City in the West.

A7-cover-Hamburg

Now some points uplifted from the section entitled: Mobility – From Owning To Using:

  • The car is losing its importance as a status symbol
  • Various modes of transport are to converge and link up at mobility service points in order to make private travel superfluous
  • Hamburg must not be allowed to lag behind comparable big cities which are considerably expending their Metro systems

And the most interesting of all the statements under this heading of Mobility –

“ The core conflict in the town planning debate of the last century – the battle between car friendliness and urban life in the city – is now drawing to a close. The city of the future will be liveable and allow mobility also.”

This is a significant (and not necessarily recent) attitudinal change for a major city in a country in which the export of motor vehicles plays such an important role in foreign exchange earnings. Regretfully and on this basis, our current National government’s thinking hasn’t moved into the 21st century and in New Zealand we are stuck with poorly targeted and excessive spending on the single mode of of roading and particularly duplicate roading, and motorway expansion. The direction being taken by other civic jurisdictions is clear and well elucidated in the document from Hamburg.

Far and away, Auckland will be New Zealand’s only international city. The trends and evidence in support of more balanced urban mobility options for a city like Auckland are abundantly clear.

The Transport Blog has been carefully analysing and presenting researched factual data in support of changed transport policies for some years now.

For the sake of those who live in Auckland now, and who will live in Auckland in the future, it is time to demand that the Government accept the necessary mindset change and as a first step, provide their share of the finance for the early construction of the City Rail Link.

“Concerned residents” want to destroy Auckland’s economy

Edit: Just to be clear, the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek. But the point of the post – that poorly thought out policies can have unintended consequences – is very serious.

The Auckland City Harbour News reports that a new cafe in Grey Lynn has drawn stiff opposition from the locals:

Concerned residents are saying a big “no” to a proposed cafe at The Little Grocer site.

The fate of the Grey Lynn property at 311 Richmond Rd will be decided by a panel of independent commissioners after Auckland Council received 62 submissions opposing the application.

[...]

Christchurch-based Hummingbird Coffee is proposing to convert the current retail property on the corner of Richmond Rd and Peel St into a 60-seat licensed cafe which will operate from 6.30am to 6pm, seven days a week.

[...]

Surrounding residents fear an increase in traffic, parking shortage and the noise and unpleasant smells from coffee roasting.

Let’s put aside, for a moment, the whole debate over whether or not homeowners should be able to impose on their neighbours’ property rights. Let’s consider what would happen to the economy if we all exhibited such reflexive opposition to any changes to our neighbourhoods.

First of all, it would probably stifle the competitiveness of Auckland’s retail sector. Banning one new cafe from opening might seem like a minor thing – but if people organised in opposition to every new coffeeshop it would give existing businesses a monopoly. Queues for morning flat whites would run out the doors, and prices would skyrocket.

If we did the same thing with, say, supermarkets or DIY shops, we’d all end up paying higher prices for lower-quality goods. Of course, deep-pocketed companies would be able to foot the bill to fight the court battles, but they’d have to pass on those costs to consumers. And, ultimately, it would result in a retail environment where McDonalds and Countdown could squeeze out their independent competition.

Second of all, if it’s this hard to get a cafe started, imagine how difficult it would be to open a new factory or warehouse. Auckland’s blue-collar economy would slowly gurgle down the tubes as the red tape imposed by residents associations forced businesses out to China or the Waikato instead. And when the blue-collar jobs went, there’d be increasing pressure for the white-collar jobs that go alongside them – from R&D to design to logistics t0 head offices – to follow.

Third, supply of new housing would slow to a trickle as existing residents would picket every attempt to build a new block of flats or subdivide a residential lot. New Aucklanders looking for housing would be forced out to the fringes, raising their housing and transport costs while offering them less amenity and fewer job opportunities. To add insult to injury, residential opposition to every new bus lane, rail line, bike path, or road widening would result in steadily increasing congestion and no opportunities to avoid it.

However, there is a bright spot in the nightmare scenario created by an effective ban on changing anything in Auckland. House prices would eventually fall to a more sensible level, as the crippled Auckland economy failed to attract new migrants and retain young Aucklanders. But that wouldn’t exactly be in the best interests of the residents associations either…

Questions about Helensville SHA

We have had concerns about a number of the Special Housing Areas that have been announced. A month ago I looked in depth into the locations and types of SHA’s. I found nearly 10,000 dwellings have been announced outside the urban limits, which will put huge pressure on infrastructure and council budgets. This is in addition to another 10,000 greenfield dwellings inside the existing limits. The total lack of public transport in many of these areas is probably the biggest worry, and projects such as the North-Western busway will need to be brought forward soon to avoid some areas becoming very car dependent. However these areas will also need substantial infrastructure investment in trunk water and sewer mains, as well as social infrastructure.

The individual development that concerned us most was at Helensville, which was part of Tranche 3 and announced in May. While this was only 60 dwellings, it seemed totally opposed to Auckland Council strategy. In the Auckland Plan it was not identified as a satellite town, but a rural/coastal town and therefore only limited development was expected.

Helensville also lacks jobs, with a 30km commute even to the closest major shopping centre at Westgate. The 2013 Census says there were 1077 jobs in Helensville, with a resident population of 2643. It is hard to foresee the number of jobs rising by over 100 to meet the needs of the new residents. To add to this public transport is rather hopeless with only 10 buses a day on weekdays, which take 1.5 hours to get to the city. While people may not wish to travel to the CBD, would still take over an 1 hour to get the nearest job centers in Henderson. On Saturdays it takes 2 hours to the city, and on Sundays their is no service at all!

1 Helensville bus

Therefore we thought some questions needed to be asked about why the SHA was approved, so we decided to send a LGOIMA request asking for information presented on the SHA, and minutes of the meetings where it was discussed.

The information we received was both fascinating and concerning. First there were a number of slides about the development that we presented to council members. SHA’s were first considered by a workshop on March 5. Then they went to the Auckland Development Committee (whole of council) on April 2 and April 14.

2 issues

So we have a large number of issues outlined. The area lacked potable water and wastewater connections (note WSL is Watercare), flooding, and their would be little demand.

3 issues

It is now wonder that when the development was presented to the council workshop on April 14, Helensville was not recommended to be an SHA.

The minutes of the April 14 meeting show that the councillors agreed with the recommendation and the SHA was included on the list to be declined. The minutes do show that local councillor Penny Webster was noted as a dissenting voice.

After the initial council vote, the SHA’s then go to the Governing Body for final signoff, which was on May 1. The initial motion moved was that same as that passed by the Development Committee several weeks earlier. However an amendment was put up by Cr Penny Webster to reintroduce a portion of the Helensville SHA.

4 Helensville votes

The motion passed 15 votes to 6. The division is quite interesting, with the mayor and an interesting mix of councillors voting against. The minutes of the meeting do not show any evidence that any extra material was presented to the meeting that suggested the Housing Office has changed their mind. Note the development was smaller, going down from 300 houses to 60. However it will still need council services extending and cause 100’s of extra trips along SH 16.

This is rather concerning as it looks like the Helensville SHA was approved despite official advice that is should be denied. Unfortunately we do not have the minutes of the earlier meetings to see if any other SHA’s were agreed to against official advice, however these minutes show that it just requires a simple majority vote.

The potential for more of this can be seen in the same May Governing Body minutes where Dick Quax tried to add in a development along Point View Drive, which is a rural area adjacent to Botany. This had also been denied at earlier stages of the process.

5 Point View Dr votes

Interestingly the minutes include the full list of potential Trance 3 developments that were rejected by the Housing Project Office and turned down by the committees. This does show that there is some rigour in the process, however would be interested to know how many were turned down because of infrastructure and planning issues, and how many encountered local board or councillor NIMBY issues.

6 denied SHAs 7 denied SHAs

The fourth Tranche of SHA’s will be considered in the private session of the Auckland Development Committee on Thursday. With some light now shed on the process, I’m hoping councillors will be extra careful when passing further housing areas outside the urban area. Would be great to see no more SHA’s outside the urban limits, given the investment already required by council to deal with the 10,000 already passed. While the session is private, you can still email your local councillor general thoughts about SHA’s beforehand, their contact details are on the council website here. 

*Update: Interestingly the part owners of the Helensville SHA (the Kidds, Directors and Shareholders of Hounslow Holdings) have long been lobbying for more growth in Helensville. See these 2013 articles “Fighting to Grow (Rodney Times)” and “Plan lacks up vs out costings (NZ Herald)”. However the articles also show the wastewater treatment plans is a serious issue in terms of growth. The herald article includes this quote:

The main handicap has been the capacity of the existing water and wastewater system. Watercare is spending $5 million upgrading the wastewater treatment plant but has no plans to upgrade it for growth until 2020.

This is further evidence that the SHA should have not been allowed to go ahead.

Attracting families to the city centre

The 2013 Census results showed very strong population growth in Auckland’s city centre. The four census area units of Auckland Harbourside, Auckland Central West, Auckland Central East and Newton grew from 19,116 usual residents in 2006 to just under 28,000 in the 2013 census. However, the number of people under 15 years of age living in these four census area units is still pretty low – with only 1,068 being recorded in the 2013 census – just 3.8% of the population. This is far below the proportion of under 15s across the whole of Auckland, which sits at 21%.

young-population-cbd

This situation is not unusual internationally, with many cities struggling to attract families with children to live in their downtown cores. The reasons for this are – to some extent – fair obvious: a lack of schools, a lack of space for outdoors play (at least private space) and I imagine a bit of remaining stigma around downtown as an appropriate place to raise children.

Yet there are good reasons why we should want families with children to live in the city centre. Strong communities need a wide variety of residents, people downtown have a huge active transport modeshare to work and therefore take pressure off the transport network, people and families living in the city centre give it a liveliness that continues 7 days a week, not just in business hours. But how can families with kids be attracted to living in a part of the city which seems so unusual and (to some) seeming unnatural?

Vancouver is an excellent model here, as over 5,000 kids now live in their downtown and the proportion of the downtown population that is under 15 is on the up:

7eea5f6e9

The CityLab article linked to above explores some of the deliberate steps Vancouver has taken to increase the downtown area’s attractiveness for families with kids:

Units: For starters, Vancouver required developers to set aside of share of high-density housing units for families—typically 25 percent, according to Langston. That means at least two bedrooms, one of which should have play space for toddlers designed into it. (Oh, and thick, thick walls.) Since families might not want to live on the 16th floor, the city suggested grouping family units closer to street level, often in multilevel townhouse-type structures that form the base of more traditional residential towers. This ground-level clustering makes coming and going easier and gives children peers in neighboring units.

Buildings: Family-friendly buildings need a few architectural quirks that towers for singles might not: bulk storage space for things like strollers or toys, better nighttime lighting in common areas, corridors that can fit a tricycle. They also need secure, safe play spaces—ideally ones that can be seen from inside the units or from a designated supervision area. The spaces should maximize sunlight and be made to withstand “the rough and tumble of children’s play,” according to Vancouver’s guidelines. You have to love a government document with lines like this: “Opportunities for water and sand play are especially important.”

Surrounding areas: Vancouver also realized that not all parts of the city were as family-friendly as others. It instructed developers to choose sites within half a mile of elementary schools, daycare centers, and grocery stores, and within a quarter mile of transit stops. Safe walking routes—ideally separated from high-traffic arterials—were also important. Langston writes that the city went a step further and actually required some developers to build or fund community facilities (such as daycare centers or parks) if none already existed, and even to designate sites for schools.

It seems like creating a more family-friendly city centre requires a number of pretty active interventions on behalf of the Council. Partly through its investments in public realm improvements, safe walking routes and community facilities but perhaps more so through clever regulations and incentives for developers to provide housing typologies and facilities themselves which attract a wider range of households to the area.

Streets safer for kids to play – Photo by oh.yes.melbourne

The city centre part of the Unitary Plan contains some provision for bonus floor area provisions – based around heritage protection, encouraging residential dwellings, public open space, artworks and through-site links. Perhaps, to truly encourage families with children into the city centre these rules over time need to be further expanded to deal with issues such as the provision of childcare or other family-focused facilities.

The Ministry of Education also need to raise their game by providing a Primary School within the city centre, which along with the City Centre Master Plan‘s vision of a people-focused city centre would go a long way towards increasing the diversity of the population and really bringing families and kids into the heart of Auckland.

Kid Playing

Wynyard is one of the few places designed to let kids play in the city – Photo by oh.yes.melbourne

Wynyard - Kids Playing

Wynyard includes lots of family friendly features – Photo by Patrick Reynolds

The World’s Most Liveable Cities

Auckland has the goal of becoming the World’s Most Liveable City – a goal that is highly achievable given many of our current advantages (natural setting, low crime rates, mild climate etc.) But what makes a truly liveable city? This is something various agencies like Mercer, the Economist and Monocle try to figure out in their annual surveys. Monocle magazine has explained, in the video below, key features that it considers when determining its liveability rankings (their 2014 survey placed Auckland 12th):

Some key matters that stand out for me are:

  • The importance of reliable public transport (the very first thing mentioned)
  • The mix of both “soft” and “hard” measurements
  • The importance of a vibrant heart to a city, and for that heart to be a place where people live
  • The ease of undertaking entrepreneurial activity
  • Access to quality public spaces

It’s also very interesting to see Tokyo – the world’s largest city – excel and reach number two on the list. It seems that cities which embrace their urban-ness, rather than hide from it, are increasingly being seen as particularly liveable locations.

Maybe once CRL is built, the new bus network implemented, the city centre revitalisation advanced further, mass cycle lanes built across Auckland and the numerous other things in the plans made a reality, Auckland will be number one.

Greens announce full transport policy

On Tuesday the Greens announced a policy to give tertiary students free off peak public transport. While the policy wasn’t terrible I didn’t think it was great either however the same can’t be said for the rest of their transport policy which was announced today.

There are 5 key areas the Greens are focusing on

  1. A $10.4 billion investment in new public transport projects and rail over 10 years delivering buses and trains every few minutes at peak hour, decongesting our cities’ roads, and reversing the neglect of our rail network
  2. A $2.2 billion dollar government investment in seven key public transport projects in Auckland, including $1.3 billion in funding for the Auckland City Rail Link to start immediately.
  3. A 300% increase in walking and cycling infrastructure including separated walking and cycling infrastructure in New Zealand’s small towns and big cities.
  4. A $423 million increase in funding to regions to contest for projects that will best serve their transport needs.
  5. A Student Green Card to provide free off-peak travel to all tertiary students and apprentices. We will investigate options to lower fares for everyone, and implement smart, integrated options for monthly and annual passes.

The student fares was announced on Tuesday and the walking and cycling policy was announced back in March so there’s little point in going over them again other than to say I improving both walking and cycling as well as PT can often go hand in hand i.e. making it easier to get to buses, trains and ferries by walking and cycling will also help increase use of PT.

That leaves the PT and regional parts of the policy to think about.

I basically read point one as being about creating  proper integrated networks in our major cities. While it isn’t specified I would expect it would involve a combination of improved network planning like what’s happening in Auckland with the New Network, integrated ticketing/fares and higher levels of service provision. The latter in particular is something likely to require additional funding, an issue which I’ll come to shortly.

On the Auckland specific parts of the policy it’s fantastic to see them supporting the Congestion Free Network

CFN 2030A

There are a couple of key points about their support for the CFN though that it’s worth mentioning and that’s related to funding as shown in the table below.

Green CFN Funding

With the exception of the CRL at 60% the rest of the projects are funded to the tune of 50%. In some cases that’s better than what we have now where some of the projects might not get much government funding at all but I do wonder if strategic Rapid Transit Networks should get more funding. This is because RTN networks are the PT equivalent of a motorway and under the current system motorways get funded 100% from the government through the NZTA.

Putting that aside, the CFN combined with the Greens planned spend of $34 million a year on walking and cycling – around three times the current budget – would really see transport in Auckland transformed in a positive way which has the benefit of providing people with much greater choice in how they get around.

The other key part to their policy is around increasing funding for regional transport projects. I’m not sure if this funding is based on the governments recently announced regional roading package (some of which aren’t bad) or off some other figure but it’s clearly about tapping into the complaints from regions about funding being sucked away for the RoNS projects. I do like that as part of this they will move rail and port projects under the same funding criteria so that hopefully the best transport solution for a given problem obtained regardless of what mode it is. Personally I would go further and shift the network planning and management parts of Kiwirail in with the NZTA to hopefully further enhance chances of getting the best outcome and to gain the benefits of planning and project management experience that the NZTA seem to have.

The biggest thing with this policy is how to fund it. To address this the Greens have actually come up with their own version of a Government Policy statement which is really great to see and shows  they’re actually thinking though some of these issues. The graph below is a summary of the spending but the policy contains a yearly break down for each activity class too which is shows how much thought has been put in to this.

Green GPS Funding graph

While I think that it’s pretty good my biggest concern is just how much they could implement as the government seems to be going hell-for-leather trying to get RoNS projects underway and once that happens it will likely be hideously expensive to cancel projects but also if they’re not cancelled they’ll be hugely costly with the construction trying up transport funding for years.

Overall at first glance the policy is fairly good and to me at least is a big improvement on what’s currently happening or is planned to happen.

Note: I’m not sure when the Governemnt or the Labour plan to formally release their transport policies – although for a large part we can expect the Governments policy to match the formal Government Policy statement

Photo Of the Day: What Affordable Housing Looks Like

This is the just completed Merchant Quarter in New Lynn, designed by Jasmax, it offers one bedroom freehold apartments from around 250k, as well as larger ones. I believe the new owners are about to move in.

MERCHANT QUARTER_5732

Merchant Quarter is step along the way of the planned revitalisation of New Lynn metropolitan centre begun by Waitakere City Council and continued by Auckland Council. A process to transform a declining and depressed area into a vibrant and more successful contributor to the city as a whole. The apartment tower itself is a privately funded development, the Council, with AT, NZTA, and the [previous] government through Project Dart have invested in the massive transport changes at New Lynn and now it is up to the private sector to develop the built environment. The Council have also invested in the public realm with both streetscape upgrades and open space. Below is a small urban park with works by Peter Lange referencing the area’s long history of brick making.

The plan aims to enable the addition of 20,000 new residents to the wider area by 2031. And right now, apart from the train and bus station, it is pretty empty; it’s not hard to see how ready New Lynn is for thousands more people and what a powerful economic transformation they will bring.

NEW LYNN_2989

The new apartment building sits directly above a multi level carpark and is connected to a large medical centre by air bridge. It is also, of course, directly adjacent to the New Lynn Train and Bus Interchange Station:

MERCHANT QUARTER_6038

Above is a view of the apartment building from the Train Station. On the other side is the New Lynn Library and of course all the retail glories of LynnMall. Below shows the Medical Centre. At the ground floor spaces are all activated and open to the street with retail.

So not only are the dwellings affordable here but clearly so are their occupants’ likely transport needs. And importantly, this comes with a rich abundance of movement options. The people who choose to live here can buy or rent car parks in their building, and for any experience or service not within an easy walk, they have a huge range of increasingly higher quality movement options. This type of living choice will score very highly not only for walkability but also by any Housing/Transport affordability metric.

MERCHANT QUARTER_6059

This is a very good and important addition to the mix of dwelling options for Auckland. It will not suit everyone just as detached houses at the end of a long drive does not suit everyone, and nor does it need to. It is great at last to see the market  being able to diversify beyond the monotony of  ever more distant new greenfields developments.

Just as important are the considerable efforts by all parties here to provide as high quality features as possible for the lower end of the market. In recent decades this has been a segment that no one has properly addressed; we have either built luxurious but expensive apartments or cheap and nasty ones. Both types are clearly visible in the central city. It is really important that the both the Council and the private sector close the door on that regrettable chapter, and find way to insist on and enable higher quality at all market segments.

MERCHANT QUARTER_5766

The next stage is for duplex terrace-house style dwellings directly on top of the corten steel clad carpark building. These seem to me a rather strange conflation of the suburban and the urban, rather curiously suspended in space, but I guess that’s one way to deal with such an enormous carpark? They will however provide yet more dwelling variety and with all of the locational advantages of the adjacent apartments.

Merchant Quarter Stage II

Update. It seems the internal layout has not worked that well for some. One buyer (only) has apparently objected to a column placement, claiming they didn’t know about it. Gleefully reported in the Herald. We’re sure to hear more on this, I hope it gets resolved.

 

Stuart’s 100 #3: Plane Tree Avenues

Stuart Houghton’s 100 ideas for Auckland continues

3: Plane Tree Avenues

Day 3

Franklin Road, with its historic plane trees, is one of the most loved streets in Auckland. What if plane tree avenues defined all the major city fringe streets?

This could be interpreted more broadly, that a programme of street tree planting could be part of a wider programme of works to enhance these streets that play a key role for walking and cycling between the city centre and city fringe.

The post touched a nerve with some around natives versus exotic trees. This taps into some deep-rooted parts of the New Zealand psyche at this point in history. It would be great if we could find a way to have a mature and broad-based discussion about what all this might mean for planting trees in the highly modified urban environments of our cities.

Franklin_Road_Credit_Craig_Flickr_stream_10240761194_c0e14a455e_o

Franklin Rd, Freemans Bay: photo credit Craig Flickr photostream (https://www.flickr.com/photos/craigsyd

Jervois-Tram-and-Trees

Jervois Rd before the removal of both the trams and the London Planes in 1949. Photo: Graham Stewart