The importance of housing choices in cities

Good cities should provide choices to their inhabitants. Any big (or small!) city is composed of a variety of people with various preferences, needs, and budgets. Look around you: Aucklanders are a bloody diverse bunch, and we’re getting more so as I type these words.

The Aucklanders of the future will want to get around in different ways, live in different places, and entertain themselves in different ways. In fact, this is already happening. It’s the reason for the success of the innovative mixed-use developments on the waterfront, the runaway success of Britomart and other rail upgrades, and, on the flip side, declines in vehicle kilometres travelled per capita.

At Transportblog, we recognise the importance of choice in cities, which is why we’re so enthusiastic about opportunities to invest in a better public transport network and better walking and cycling options. We believe that offering Aucklanders more travel choices at an affordable price will improve our living standards. Full stop.

What’s true in the transport market is also true in the housing market. Offering a greater range of housing choices will raise the living standards of Aucklanders, because we want to live in different types of homes. Enabling higher-density development in more areas will make some people much better off, because they want to live in dense environments, without making anyone else worse off.

Critics of intensification often fail to understand this argument. They say: “Oh, you just want to make everyone live in a tiny shoebox apartment!” In fact, the exact opposite is true. Enabling some people to choose to live in apartments or terraced houses will ensure that there is more land available for others who would prefer a lifestyle block in Dairy Flat or a quarter acre in Flat Bush.

Essentially, urban planning that enables housing choice allows for both high-density and medium-density living options and more low-density suburban living. This isn’t idle conjecture – it’s a well-established finding in urban economic theory and the empirical literature.

A few years ago a team of economists from the Reserve Bank of Australia put this idea to the test using economic modelling techniques. Their paper, entitled “Urban Structure and Housing Prices: Some Evidence from Australian Cities” (pdf), tested the impact of different urban policies. (NZIER economist Kirdan Lees has also done some similar work for New Zealand, but his initial paper (pdf) did not look at building height limits. In any case, the results are similar.)

The RBA economists model a relatively simple, monocentric city with employment and amenities concentrated in the centre and the residential population radiating out in a circle – the basic workhorse model in urban economics. While this is a simplification, it can easily be generalised to a polycentric city – just imagine multiple centres rather than a single centre. Their “unconstrained equilibrium” looks like this:

Kulish et al (2011) unconstrained

In short, densities – and building heights – are highest in the areas that are most accessible to employment and amenities. Land prices are also highest in these areas. This doesn’t occur as a result of a planner’s fiat – it happens because lots of people want to live close to the action. Others, of course, would prefer to be a bit further away with more space – and that is what they get in the unconstrained urban equilibrium.

Next, the RBA economists simulated the effects of imposing a building height limit. In effect, limiting building heights would prevent people from choosing to live at high densities near employment and amenities. Here are the results – the magenta lines show the effects of the constraint:

Kulish et al (2011) building height limit

Pay close attention to the middle two panels. They show that a building height limit does not just restrict high-density development in the centre – it also raises densities in the outskirts of the city. In short, a city that constrains medium to high density development doesn’t just fail to provide options for people who want to live in apartments. It also fails to provide options for people who want quarter acre sections or lifestyle blocks.

Has this happened in Auckland? It’s difficult to say for certain, but my research on population densities in NZ and Australian cities found that Auckland was missing out on both medium-density suburbs and low-density exurbs.

Finally, as the first panel shows, these restrictions are expected to raise the cost of housing for everybody, regardless of location or housing preference. As I said at the start, good cities provide choices for their inhabitants. Failing to provide for choice in the housing market just means that we all pay too much for homes that don’t suit our preferences.

So, what’s your dream Auckland home? Subject to budget constraints, of course…

Stuart’s 100 #34 Best of Both Worlds

34: Best of Both Worlds

day 34

What if the New Auckland can combine the best of both worlds?

One of the defining characteristics of the 21st century is that cities everywhere are having a global conversation and a global competition with each other. Many have old rivalries and have always contrasted their way of life against that of their neighbours; others are getting to know each other and are constantly comparing and competing as up and coming cities on the world stage.

One aspect of this that is clear is that the old divides between cities increasingly do not apply. Auckland (along with say Los Angeles and Sydney) has historically belonged in a grouping of cities usually characterised as having the world’s most beautiful urban settings but characterised by high levels of sprawl, auto-dependency and low levels lacking in public life and vitality . Each often gets compared with their neighbours the vibrant liveable cities (San Francisco, Melbourne and Wellington). Increasingly these comparisons are outdated.

Here in NZ this is important for Auckland (and Wellington) to recognise in a number of ways.

For one we should stop dissing LA and saying we don’t want to be like them. It isn’t the 1960s anymore and the old LA stereotypes increasingly don’t apply. They have been building metro system and light rail for quite some time now and Downtown LA is regenerating and gentrifying at a pace that it seems they are really embracing the urban century.

Likewise Sydney is quite blatantly and unashamedly copying the tactics and successful strategies of Melbourne (light rail, laneways, small bars, arts and culture) to bring a new energy and feel-good pride to the city.

And here in our little corner of the world Auckland is increasingly not defined by the old ways, and is staking its own claim as one of the most vibrant and liveable cities around.

Who said cities can’t be beautiful and vibrant? Why can’t we have amazing beaches, harbours and natural settings and amazing culture, life and energy? LA, Sydney and Auckland are all working to prove this wrong. Increasingly, it does feel like these cities can combine the best of both worlds.

Stuart Houghton 2014

Auckland can’t afford to price out the young

It’s no secret that Auckland has a problem with high-cost housing. House prices have risen significantly faster than average incomes in recent years. As a recent Treasury working paper (Skidmore, 2014) documented, Auckland’s house prices have quadrupled in the last generation, and rents have more than doubled.

Skidmore (2014) house price indexSkidmore (2014) rental price index

This is widely acknowledged as a problem, but it’s important to understand that it’s not necessarily a problem for all Aucklanders. Another Treasury working paper (Law and Meehan, 2013) shows that young New Zealanders – singles and couples between 25 and 34 – are significantly less likely to own their own homes.

Most middle-aged and retired people are on the property ladder and thus able to benefit from capital gains from Auckland’s housing market. Rising prices are often positive for older people. But they’re not very good for the young, who don’t own property and, increasingly, find themselves shut out by rising prices.

Law and Meehan (2013) home ownership rate

To make matters worse for young Aucklanders, rising house prices are coupled with falling real incomes. We aren’t merely standing still – we’re rapidly falling behind.

The chart below shows real income growth for employed people by age group from Statistics NZ’s LEED data on median earnings of full quarter jobs, deflated by the consumer price index. Since the global financial crisis, real median wages for people under 35 have fallen. But people over 35 have done pretty well over the same time period:

Generational divergence in incomes

Generational divergence in incomes

In short, Auckland seems to be developing a dangerous “two-speed” economy. Most middle-aged people can expect their wages to rise and the value of their houses to boom. Most young people are experiencing wages that are stagnating or falling while being shut out of the housing market by high prices.

This is the point at which older Aucklanders sometimes seem to shrug their shoulders and say, “so what – I’ve got it good.” But they shouldn’t be so complacent, because we don’t have to be here. If it becomes too hard to live in Auckland, young Aucklanders will leave. If we can get a better deal elsewhere – higher wages or cheaper housing – we can go there instead. And for many of us, this will mean leaving New Zealand.

Young New Zealanders are mobile. We’ve seen our friends and family abscond to Melbourne or Sydney, or go to London on OE and choose not to come back. We may have moved here from other places. While we want to be able to live in Auckland and participate in the city’s revitalisation, we’re keenly aware that we have options.

I’ve written before about how New Zealand has the opportunity to raise its living standards by investing in better cities. Well, the reverse is also true. Expensive housing and lower wages for the young is a recipe for long-term economic failure. If you’re middle-aged, this should worry you: We might not be around to pay your pensions and buy your expensive houses when you want to downsize. We’d like to stay and pay for your retirement – we really would! – but we need a pay rise and affordable housing options.

So what’s your plan to make Auckland affordable for young people?

Why are we still building roads like this?

Auckland is suffering hugely from decades of building new infrastructure or changing old infrastructure to be dedicated to the efficient movement of just one mode at the expense of all others. Getting good walking, cycling or public transport infrastructure and priority retrofitted to existing roads has proved to be a massive uphill battle and one that shows no sign of being over any time soon. Positively we are starting to see some small progress with the likes of the Beach Rd cycleway or the Fanshawe St bus lane but those victories are small and far between. In many cases we’re told the only way to add walking, cycling or PT infrastructure is for the road to be widened at great cost (which is often so the engineers can preserve the existing level of vehicle priority and dominance).

To me that makes it even more important that when we build new infrastructure we get it right however unfortunately it seems our engineers still leave a lot to be desired. The design released for the Kirkbride Rd grade separation yesterday was a good example and here are a few more – with the focus on cycle infrastructure.

Below is an image tweeted out the other day by our friends at Cycle Action Auckland showing the new AMETI Link road which is due to open any day now. The road runs from Mt Wellington Highway at Van Damm’s Lagoon alongside the rail line and through a tunnel next to the Panmure Train Station and linking back in with the existing road network at Morrin Rd. The intention is that this road will help take a large number of vehicles out of Panmure and allow for the roundabout to be removed.

The road is about 1.5km long and fairly straight with no intersections or driveways. In short it’s going to be like a motorway and I would bet that there will be huge numbers of people speeding along here. This road seems to take the idea of cycling by the motorway a step further and making it cycling on the motorway because that’s how it’s likely to feel for anyone brave enough to try. With such conditions it’s imperative that Auckland Transport provide protected cycle lanes yet as the photo shows that clearly hasn’t happened. This is completely unacceptable.

Now I understand that the road was designed about 4 years ago when our engineers and road planners were even more hostile to cycling infrastructure than they are now (most are still not great). With the project under construction the relevant staff at AT likely think their job is done however I feel AT need to be far more dynamic in how they deal with infrastructure under construction like this.

AMETI Rd Cycle Lanes

The next example comes from Westgate on a road that hasn’t even start started construction yet. Just north of the new town centre being constructed AT will build a new road to be known as Northside Dr. Around the road is expected to eventually be a large industrial area.

Northside Dr

To get across the motorway the NZTA were even kind enough to build the central columns for the bridge that will be needed to avoid disruption later on (who said they can’t future proof when they want too).

Northside Dr Motorway columns

So what about the road design itself?

It appears from the documents that we’ll be getting on road cycle lanes although like above it does seem like they will be protected. Probably the worst part though is the bridge itself. If I’ve read the plan below right there will be cycle lanes on most of road except for one critical area – the bridge over the motorway. This means for a short period any cyclists will be forced into general traffic which due to the nature of the area could mean mixing with large trucks. That’s far less than ideal especially when there’s is/was the opportunity to do it right and have the cycle lanes carry on over the bridge. (click to enlarge the image below)

Northside Dr Design

As mentioned, Auckland has a lot of work to do to retrofit the city for better walking, cycling and PT provision. It’s going to take some time for us to even look at most work that’s needed and the last thing we need is AT’s engineers putting on their 1960’s hats on when it comes to other modes.

Alain Bertaud in Auckland

Back in July former World Bank urban planner Alain Bertaud and his wife Marie-Agnes, a fellow professional in the field, came down to New Zealand at the invitation of the NZ Initiative and the Minister of Finance’s office to deliver a series of talks on urban economics. He had a number of thought-provoking things to say to urbanists of all stripes – a message that was very much in line with Transportblog’s core principles and big ideas.

He looks much happier in person

While Bertaud is sometimes cited as a proponent of low-density urban sprawl and motorway development, his arguments about urban development were nuanced and thoughtful. The Bertauds are, after all, urbanists themselves. They have chosen to live in vibrant, dense, and diverse cities – Paris, Washington, D.C., and lately New York. (That’s a revealed preference if I’ve ever seen one – they certainly don’t live in Houston!)

In addition to seeing Bertaud’s talk , which is available online here (pdf), I was lucky enough to sit in on a smaller discussion section with other professionals in the field. I took three key messages away from the talk and the conversation.

First, cities are labour markets. We often forget this fact, even though it’s the reason we have cities at all. Cities are the physical expression of agglomeration economies, or the productivity advantages of locating near other people and businesses. In Bertaud’s view, ensuring the efficiency of urban labour markets means ensuring that people can access a large number of jobs from their homes.

As a result, he argued that urban and transport planning should aim to keep down commute times. He recommended looking at two key measures – first, the number of jobs available within a 30 minute drive, and second, the number of jobs available within a 45 to 60 minute public transport journey. Here, for example, is his analysis of commute times in Singapore and the US.

Bertaud travel time graph

Bertaud didn’t recommend any specific policies to reduce travel times, although he spoke positively about Singapore’s use of demand-responsive road pricing and development of an expansive metro network to reduce average travel times. As a transport economist there are a couple of key observations I’d make on the topic:

  1. Building more roads is not a good way to reduce travel times. Induced demand – people driving more or moving further out of town in response to new road capacity – usually eats up the forecast travel time savings. In short, people travel more but they don’t travel any faster. If you want to actually reduce driving times, the only way to do it is to introduce road pricing.
  2. Cities with reasonable densities and an underdeveloped public transport network – like Auckland! – are in a good position to improve employment accessibility through investments in rapid transit networks and better bus networks. Fortunately, Auckland’s pursuing this approach.
  3. In light of induced demand, the best way to improve the accessibility of jobs may be to simply make things closer together. The efficiency of dense urban environments is often underrated. For example, although the roads in downtown Manhattan are far more congested than Houston’s, Manhattan’s effective labour market is much bigger simply because everything is so close.

Second, we must plan for the cities that actually exist, not the cities that we wish could exist. Bertaud presented an excellent graphic to illustrate this point. It showed four kinds of cities – three that exist and one that does not (and can not):

Bertaud urban structure graph

Most cities that exist today are what Bertaud calls “composite cities”, meaning that a significant share of jobs are located in the CBD or in major centres, while other jobs are scattered around in industrial parks, neighbourhood shops, etc. In this city, people have a range of different travel needs. Many people need to get to large-scale, high-density employment hubs, which are efficiently served by rail lines and busways, while others are better off driving to more dispersed employment locations.

In short, real-world cities require a range of transport solutions, and they will not function well if one mode is unreasonably neglected. We don’t have to go far for an example of the perils of mode bias: the remarkable renaissance of the Auckland city centre, and its increasing contribution to New Zealand’s economy, would not have been possible without reinvestment in the rail system and the development of Britomart.

citycentre-pt-patronage-screenline

City centre screenline survey results show public transport accounts for all growth in inbound trips over the last two decades

However, Bertaud criticised what he described as the “urban village” model, which hypothesises that if employment is dispersed evenly throughout neighbourhood centres then people will travel only to the nearest centre. This is a seductive idea – it promises to reduce travel distances by distributing employment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist in the real world because people have complex travel needs. Even if one member of a family chooses to live near where they work, their partner will often have to commute to a job further away.

We see this flawed idea pop up from time to time in New Zealand from advocates for suburbanisation. For example, people sometimes argue that we could reduce congestion by stopping growth in the city centre and relocating it to Manukau central instead. Aside from the fact that we tried this before and it failed, decentralising employment would only increase congestion from all the cross-town trips and reduce the efficiency of Auckland’s labour market.

We don’t have to go far for an example of the failures of the urban village model. Christchurch lost its city centre in the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, and employment dispersed throughout the city. Although the jobs have decentralised, the city now suffers from higher congestion as it can’t run efficient bus services or provide enough road capacity.

Third, it’s important to ask whether planning regulations are restricting development in areas that are accessible to employment and amenities. Economists in New Zealand have spent a lot of time talking about Auckland’s metropolitan urban limits while paying little attention to regulations in the rest of the city. Bertaud argues that limits on density, such as building height limits or minimum lot sizes, can price out the poor from accessible areas. Incidentally, this may be happening in Auckland – my research found that poorer people tend to live further from employment hubs and commute longer distances as a result.

Bertaud said that when he was advising developing-world cities on planning policies, he’d often start by creating a map of the minimum lot size required by existing rules and estimating what share of the city’s population could afford that amount of land. Here, for example, is his map of floor-to-area ratios in Mumbai, India, which shows that in most parts of the city people are required to buy 1 square metre of land for every 1 square metre of dwelling they want to build. As land is quite expensive in Mumbai, this is basically a policy that requires the poor to get out or build illegally:

It would be fascinating to see a similar map for Auckland if anyone wants to have a go…

If you went to Bertaud’s talk, what did you think of his ideas?

Economics and the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry

The final decision from the Board of Inquiry confirming the Puhoi to Warkworth toll road was published on 12th September but, what with one thing and another, I’m only now getting round to writing about it. The final report is largely unchanged from the draft version.

Here’s a reminder of the route, which runs from Puhoi to a point 2km north of Warkworth:

Puhoi to Warkworth toll road

Puhoi to Warkworth toll road

The toll road will be just 700m shorter than the existing SH1 and reduce travel time to the north of Warkworth by just three minutes compared to the current journey time.  Most Warkworth residents will find the new toll road won’t be quicker (and in some cases slower) than the existing SH1.

Probably the most perplexing thing about the BOI Report is the complete absence of any consideration of the economic impacts on the community.

Section 8.5 of the report is headed “Economics” and starts off promisingly, but it is only three paragraphs and really just sets the scene for the Board’s consideration of economic impacts:

[200] It is necessary to consider the economic impacts of the Project in the context of the Act. These impacts are particularly relevant to the Part 2 assessment that the Board conducts later in this Report.

[201] The purpose of the Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in a manner which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing (s 5). Under s 7 of the Act it is necessary to have particular regard to certain matters
including the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources.

[202] A number of representations and submissions questioned the adequacy of NZTA’s consideration of alternatives. Also questioned were the wisdom of the use of public monies on the motorway Project and whether or not there had been an adequate cost-benefit analysis. These issues are dealt with in another section of this Report.

Regular readers will recall that the toll road hasn’t been subject to any economic analysis (even the standard Economic Evaluation Manual), however the Board discusses this in section 10.5, para 374:

[374] One of the difficulties with which these submissions posed the Board is that no expert evidence was called to challenge the economic and cost benefit assumptions on which NZTA’s applications were based. Nonetheless, the submissions generally, and the statutory status of “alternatives” in particular, require the Board to deal briefly with these issues.

In comments to the Board, CBT responded by pointing out that “no economic evidence in chief was supplied by the applicant in support of the project, so there was no evidence to challenge.”  CBT sought an amendment to the report, asking for some commentary from the Board as to why it considers an economic analysis of the Project’s impact on the community is not necessary, but none was forthcoming in the final version of the report.

Further on, the Board states in paragraph 379:

…Section 7 “alternatives” in the AEE sets out in detail the process whereby NZTA considered the various options and alternatives open to it.The Board is satisfied that the consideration of alternatives to the proposed route and designations by NZTA was conscientious and comprehensive. Many evaluation criteria were deployed, including a “value for money” criterion.

Again, in comments to the Board, the CBT pointed out the “value for money” criterion on p.144 of the AEE refers to the “ability of the option to be tolled”.  In this context, “value for money” refers to value for money for the applicant, and not to the value to the community.  Value to the community, alongside possible negative economic impacts to the community should be the primary consideration of the Board.

Neither of these and other comments resulted in any changes to the draft report. Instead, in a separate document, the Board notes the following with regard to the CBT and Generation Zero’s comments on the draft report in section 1.6

[18] There may, in respect of any proposal, be positive or adverse economic effects. These positive or negative economic effects may impact on entire communities or on individuals. It is also clear law that the financial viability of a proposal is not an appropriate matter for a consent authority to consider.

[19] It was against that background that the Board’s Draft Decision contained the various passages which the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero seek to be further justified. But it is not for the Board to scrutinise the economic viability of the Project (regardless of whether the proposed highway is a toll highway or not).

[20] There were many representations from territorial authorities in Northland and transport groups that the Project would bring significant regional economic benefits and cost savings.

[21] Consent authorities and Boards established under the Act are required to make planning judgments which inevitably (as is the case with all decision makers) engage the common sense and life-experience of Board members. The effects of a heavy truck and trailer unit moving slowly up a steep hill, with other traffic stretching out behind it, on fuel consumption and journey times is self evident and need not be a matter for direct evidence.

[22] Whether or not improved highways designed for vehicular transport of goods and private motorists, with the resulting consumption of fuel, is desirable (economically, socially, or otherwise), or whether motor vehicle use should be discouraged and public transport enhanced, are indeed “high policy” matters and cannot properly be dictated or influenced by this Board.

[23] The Board accepts that Mr Pitches’ cross-examination of NZTA’s Traffic Report as it related to traffic flows in and around Warkworth5 indeed challenged some of the information provided by NZTA. But it was not, in the circumstances, necessary for the Board to make further factual findings beyond those which it did relating to Warkworth traffic generally and the Hill Street intersection in particular.

[24] As stated, the Board has noted the comments of the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero. It is unnecessary, however, for the Board to do anything further. The economic concerns of both organisations were, to the extent that they can be, carefully considered. Those concerns certainly cannot be described as minor or technical.

And that’s it. So the Board hasn’t considered any evidence about the economic impacts on the community at all, as they set out to do in section 8.5.  Instead they conflate the economic viability of the project (which they don’t have to consider) with the economic impact on the community (which they do). It is also worth pointing out that the representations referred to in para 20 didn’t contain any economic evidence either. The Northland territorial authorities simply asserted that the toll road would be good for Northland’s economy.

So, all in all, a disappointing decision that doesn’t really address economic impacts on the community, other than accepting the assertions of the applicant which aren’t based on any hard economic studies.  I’m not an RMA lawyer, but potentially I see this as setting a precedent for all future infrastructure projects whereby economic benefit cost studies need not be supplied at all.

The decision is also in stark contrast to the Basin Bridge decision, which declined the Basin Reserve flyover. In that decision, the Board carefully discusses economic effects in the context of a cost benefit framework.  In the consideration of alternatives, the Board appointed its own peer reviewer and found that consideration had been inadequate.

NB: Any appeal would need to be lodged by the 3rd October, however the CBT decided at its last Committee meeting that we will not be pursing this option. The cost and effort would be prohibitive and the result of an appeal would simply direct the Board to reconsider their decision.

Three Kings Quarry Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarry Now and Location

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

A clear view ahead

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

One of a family

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

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

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

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

Three Kings Plan 1

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

Fresh air living

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

Human scale

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

A natural fit

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

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

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

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

Three Kings Concept 1

Three Kings Concept 2

Viva variety

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

A vibrant heart

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

Home for all

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

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

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

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

Three Kings Concept 3

Three Kings Concept 4

Multiple connections

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

Out and about

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

A sense of flow

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

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

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

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

Three Kings Concept 5

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

The difference between Traffic Engineers and Planners

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

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

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

Washington Freeway replacement Option 2

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

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

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

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

Washington Freeway replacement Planner options

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

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

 

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

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

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

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

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

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

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

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

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

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

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

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

CPO 1920s

CPO 1920s

Then just general traffic:

CPO Lower Queen

CPO Lower Queen

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

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

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

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

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

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

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

So the plan is a good one:

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

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

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

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

All at the cost of the current QEII Square.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France

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

 

4th batch of Special Housing Areas Announced

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

Tranche 4 Map

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

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

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

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

Bellfield Rd SHA

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

Redhills Stage 1 SHA

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

West Hoe Heights SHA

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

Special Housing Areas 1 2 3 4