Tweet of the Day: 21st Century City

21st Century City

Not sufficient, but essential: The provision of a high quality spatially efficient Rapid Transit Network in a city may not guarantee city quality and a flourishing urban economy, but neither are likely without one. In this century.

Transport Spending in NZ in 2016

More was spent on transport in Auckland during the last financial year (to end of June 2016) than any time in the past, at least in nominal values. Based on the NZTA’s funding data, $1.435 billion was spent in the region in the year to June-2016, up slightly from $1.414 billion spent in the 2015 financial year. Although it’s quite likely that these figures only include spending associated with the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and not council direct spending, such as has been happening with the City Rail link where the council funded 100% of the early works (which the government will share the costs of in the future).

The graph below shows how much the council and the NZTA say they spent and it’s risen substantially from a comparatively paltry $400 million in 2002. Also on the graph you can see Auckland’s share compared to the entire country which has been hovering around the 35% mark. This is slightly more than Auckland’s share of the national population (over 34%) but below Auckland’s share of GDP (36.6%). Of the over $1.4 billion spent, 51% of it went on various state highway projects and maintenance.


Below is the same data but at a national level, although I only have it back to 2005. It shows that at $3.94 billion, we spent slightly less than the previous year. At a national level, an even greater share went on state highways with 55% of all spending going on them.


So how did other regions fare? Here’s how the 2016 figures broke down by region.


Because regions vary so much, I’ve also broken this down per capita to get a better picture of where the spending occurred. Like last year, the West Coast seems to dominate but this will be mainly due to the maintenance needed on a large road network covering a very low population base. Also like last year, the Waikato comes in second on the per capita stakes but this is more due to the large amount of construction going on with projects like the Waikato Expressway.


I’ve also looked at the results based on spending per vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), as a proxy for spend per travel. This method is probably a little unfair primarily to Auckland and Wellington which have larger uses of public transport than other parts of NZ.


Next, I’ve taken a look at what the money is being spent on however I’ve excluded the small ones such as transport planning as it’s difficult to see them on the same scale as road spending. You can see that spending on new and improved roads increased in the last year while the opposite was true for road maintenance. Combined both road spending was slightly less than last year which is in line with the overall results above. But PT spending was also down too and down substantially. I’m not sure of their reason for this but as you’ll see shortly, it wasn’t the result of changes in Auckland. You can also see spending on walking and cycling becoming more visible.


Here is just the cycling info showing how dramatic a change it has seen in the last few years.


Finally, here is the same break-down by activity for Auckland. The thing you notice compared to the whole of NZ one is the difference in the levels of new road spending vs maintenance. Of course, public transport is also more of a factor in Auckland, as you would expect.



Overall some interesting data on what we spend our transport money on.

Light Rail Dominion Road – Land Use Low Hanging Fruit

Light rail on Dominion Rd is one of the big projects being discussed right now and is being actively investigated.


An impression of what Light Rail on Dominion Rd would look like

During the Unitary Plan debate I saw many people raise concerns that Dominion Road does not have the zoning to support Light Rail. While the zoning was been increased following the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) Recommendations which the council ultimately agreed with (subject to appeal), I believe there is still some low hanging fruit to increase zoning without affecting the Heritage Areas zoned Single House Zone (SHZ) in the Final Plan. Here’s a comparison of the two versions, the operative plan having a bit more:

  • Terraced House and Apartment Buildings (THAB) – orange – up to four storey apartments
  • Mixed Housing Urban (MHU) – peach – up to 3 storey terraces
  • Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS) – yellow – up to 2 storey terrace



I have come up with 4 low hanging fruit suggestions, with 1 potential opportunity for Land Use for Dominion Road Light Rail, there is also a map with the options areas highlighted below.

  1. The MHU around Mt Roskill close to Dominion Road could be rezoned THAB
  2. Some of the MHS could be be rezoned MHU
  3. The MHS could be rezoned to MHU & some of the MHU be rezoned as THAB.
  4. For the Mixed Use Zone & Town Centre Zoned Areas along Dominion Road, remove Height Variation Controls that reduce the standard height limits, and consider implementing height variation controls that increase the height limit slightly. This would allow store frontage to be redeveloped/renovated keeping the Character of  Heritage Shops while allowing Apartments to be built on top.
  5. The last potential opportunity is areas close by Dominion Road who would prefer to catch the Light Rail & with good cycle links, or using Crosstown services would do so. This is due to potential time savings due to the priority the Light Rail has, as well as access to both Downtown/Uptown/Midtown, current Bus Routes do not give the same access to all three. As we’ve already seen in Auckland, many will often prefer to travel further for a service they perceive is of higher quality. One example of this could be seen during the roll out of electric trains where some people changed when they travelled so they caught an electric service rather than a diesel one. The two areas in question are Stoddard 5A on Map & Royal Oak 5B. These areas are already highly zoned, however Stoddard would likely not have Light Rail until after Dominion Road while the modelling in the Central Access Plan now says light rail on Mt Eden Rd is not needed until post 2040. By providing access to the Light Rail through good reliable Crosstown Buses (For Royal Oak this is Crosstown 7 & for Stoddard Crosstown 8) as well as cycling links these areas could have greater access to the Light Rail Network, while taking pressure of Sandringham Road, and Mt Eden Road bus services, admittedly due to the distance this may not be successful but is still possible.


Overall these options would allow the Heritage Areas to stay untouched, but would Upzone other areas close to the Light Rail route, this would align Land Use better with any potential Light Rail for Dominion Road. Of course any changes would have to go through at current the standard Resource Management Act process, and some of the Upzoning is potentially limited due to Heritage Protections of some of the Shops, as well a Viewshaft Overlay Controls which restrict height.

So what do you think, great, not bold enough, or the Decisions version will be fine?

Zoning reform: How California got into the mess it’s in

This is the latest in an ongoing series on the politics and economics of zoning reform. Previous posts have argued that the benefits of enabling urban development generally outweigh the costs, but that local government political dynamics may serve as a barrier to achieving those benefits. As a result, any plausible reform programme must account for political and institutional dynamics, which can either speed or stall change.

The state of California represents one extreme when it comes to reforming zoning laws. Simply put, there have been some minor steps forward, but since the 1970s the overall direction has been towards tighter restrictions on development. For instance, the ‘Great Downzoning’ of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s has never been substantially reversed:


The great down-zoning of LA (Morrow, 2013)

As Joe Bousquin lays out in a sharp article for Builder magazine, California’s restrictions on housing development are the unintended consequence of several important policy changes in the 1970s. These have combined to create a situation in which it is systematically difficult to build, leading to continually rising home prices:

According to a widely referenced 2015 report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal and policy analysis arm, since 1980, California has built half of the housing units it needed—about 100,000 per year—to keep up with demand. And that’s just in aggregate. In high-demand locales like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, the housing deficit is even greater. “Most of California’s coastal counties needed to build three times as much (or more) housing as they did,” the report claims.

Stated differently, during the past 36 years, California did not build the additional 3.6 million homes that it needed to keep its skyrocketing prices in check. To put that number in perspective, it would take the collective efforts of every home builder in the country, building nonstop at 2016’s projected pace of 1.26 million housing starts, three years to put a dent in the state’s problem.

The report concludes that NIMBYism, local communities’ lack of financial incentives to approve more housing, and anti-growth proponents who go to daunting lengths to block development have contributed to the problem, as well as more inveterate challenges such as a scarcity of suitable land along the coast and an ever-increasing population.

Two particular bits of legislation have had broad detrimental effects. First:

In 1970, the then–California Governor signed the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state’s broad development review mandate, into law. It’s been at the heart of California’s housing shortage ever since.

Modeled after the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, CEQA originally was cast as a progressive mandate that would protect the rolling hills, towering forests, and jagged coastlines that make California so unique. It obliged local municipal bodies to consider environmental impacts before approving new housing projects, and if any were found, to require developers to come up with a plan to mitigate those impacts.

But what CEQA has become, housing advocates say, is a bludgeoning club used by anti-growth and NIMBY interests, as well as labor groups, to either block development outright or hold developers hostage to their concessions.

There’s nothing wrong with regulating to protect environmental quality. I’m all for it. But the particular approach used by CEQA – ie case-by-case reviews for a large share of new developments – seems to be a particularly inefficient way of achieving this end. The ‘friction’ added by the review process kills off both good and bad projects. By comparison, a more certain process that guaranteed development proposals a quick yes or quick no is likely to work better for both development and the environment.

Second, a tax reduction referendum passed in 1978 significantly shifted the financial incentives facing local governments, who choose which developments to approve:

While CEQA and environmental reviews add millions in costs to housing projects, the localities that have the power to approve or block them don’t get any of that money. They also get a much smaller slice of the property taxes that often incentivize communities in other states to approve new development.

“Cities will tell you that from a property tax perspective, housing is a loser,” says David Cogdill, president of the CBIA. “You’ve created a situation where property values are going up, but the localities don’t benefit financially.”

The reason for that is Proposition 13. Voters passed the law in 1978 to cap the rate at which local property taxes can increase, and effectively put the state in charge of dolling out the money once it was collected…

That process also explains, in a way that’s as convoluted as California’s revenue structure, why the impact fees Burns and other builders pay in the state are so high. Basically, cities can either block housing with CEQA and not incur the extra costs of services housing creates, or approve that housing, but raise impact fees, which are the last best option that remains for them to increase funding.

Proposition 13 created incentives to tax new housing development heavily – or refuse it outright. It did so in an environment in which CEQA expanded scope for local governments and neighbours to object to development. This proved to be a boon for people who already owned homes in California, but it’s been a catastrophe for younger generations.

Bousquin’s article focuses on several broad institutional and policy factors as a driver of California’s zoning shambles, but I think it’s also worth highlighting a third cultural / political factor: the role of bad analysis and wishful thinking in perpetuating bad policy.

If you pay close attention to San Francisco debates over housing affordability and zoning, you notice a steady stream of weird arguments about supply and demand. Some of these are actively self-serving, while others are just confused. For instance, Leigha Beckman at SF BAMO compiles an edifying list of the “Top 10 Bay Area NIMBY moments of 2016“. Here were a couple:

2) Mission Resident Lucy Admits We Need Affordable Housing But Protests 100% Affordable Housing Complex for Seniors

1296 Shotwell St. rendering

Last year, Supervisor David Campos asked San Francisco to pass Prop I, which would temporarily ban all new housing in the Mission District unless the units are 100% affordable. An extreme proposal, and it didn’t pass. But apparently even when housing is 100% affordable, and explicitly set aside for an economically vulnerable segment of the population, residents of the Mission and Bernal Heights still find reason to oppose it.

A proposal at 1296 Shotwell for 94 units of permanently affordable senior housing failed to meet the standards of its future neighbor, Lucy, who insisted the project be reduced in size, despite the fact that this concession would eliminate affordable units. Lucy acknowledged that “every unit counts”, but with the usual NIMBY caveat that one more affordable housing project “would not solve the problems of the city.” In a rare moment of self-awareness, Lucy declined to provide her last name to Mission Local.

5) Peter Cohen, Director of an Affordable Housing Organization, Opposes Affordable Housing Initiative

In one of the most head-scratching policy oppositions in San Francisco this year, a measure put forward to increase the amount of affordable housing through a density bonus program ended up getting challenged by members of the affordable housing community itself. Yes, we were also shocked. The proposal would allow developers to add three stories to a building irrespective of zoned height limits, but under the condition that all the extra units are affordable. More density, more affordability, and at no cost to taxpayers.

Sounds like an awesome deal (it is), but Peter Cohen, Director of the affordable housing nonprofit Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO), came out as one of the loudest opponents of the bill. Cohen said it was too much of a giveaway to private developers, which seems to completely miss the fact that it is actually a giveaway to middle-income families. We admit this one doesn’t technically qualify as NIMBYism in the literal sense, but Mr. Cohen doesn’t technically qualify as an affordable housing advocate, either.

Affordable housing advocates opposing affordable housing? It’s really difficult to reform policies when even the people who would benefit from changes can’t agree that they will be beneficial.

In summary, there are a few lessons from the California experience:

  • While there are good reasons to regulate to manage negative spillovers or environmental impacts from development, we need to think carefully about the potential unintended consequences of case-by-case approval processes.
  • Local governments need to have some financial incentives to approve developments, or they will stop issuing approvals.
  • The public conversation on housing affordability and zoning has to be based in facts and evidence, rather than nonsense and self-interest. Otherwise it will be very difficult to gain consensus on what the issues are and how to address them.

Next week, I’ll look at what happened to the most recent attempt to modestly reform California’s zoning rules. Hint: It didn’t go well.

Voting for Transit

While much of the world is in a state of disbelief over the result of the US election, there was some positive news to come out of it too. In many areas a range of transit projects/initiatives were also ballot. In total, there were 48 local or statewide measures and 33 (69%) passed, even though many required increases in taxes to pay for them and some required 2/3rds of voter support. The Transport Politic has a list of many of them and their outcomes while CityLab highlights three of the biggest.

Los Angeles 

With nearly 70 percent voting yes on Measure M, Los Angeles County is set to see a dramatic transit transformation over the coming decades with a permanent half-cent sales tax hike. The plan will rake in some $121 billion for proposed and ongoing projects such as a rail connection to LAX and a subway tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass. Long-disconnected neighborhoods in the region’s southeastern reaches are also slated for rail and bus-rapid transit connections. The tax increase will also pay for badly needed sidewalk upkeep, pothole repairs, new bike lanes, and bike-share stations, as well as a clutch of greenways.


Image from LA Curbed


Also clearing the ballot box was Sound Transit 3, an ambitious light-rail jump-start that promises to become one of the largest transit projects in American history. The plan is to more than double the Seattle region’s light rail system, with 62 miles of new track and 37 stations built over 25 years. It will also install three BRT lines and a chain of park-and-ride stations across urban Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties by 2041. The plan, which would be paid for by sustained increases in sales, motor vehicle, and property taxes (to the estimated tune of $169 per adult per year), is slated put the area’s rail system in the same weight class as San Francisco’s and Washington, D.C.’s, as the Ringer recently reported.


Seattle ST3 plan


Atlanta voters overwhelmingly passed a .4 percent sales tax increase that would raise $300 million over five years for transportation improvements, with projects including the completion of the city’s BeltLine loop of green trails, 15 “complete streets” projects, a bike-share scale-up, and significant sidewalk improvements. Meanwhile, a separate half-penny sales tax increase will generate $2.5 billion over the next 40 years, allowing the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority to make “major investments in transit infrastructure, including introducing high-capacity rail improvements, building new infill rail stations within the city, purchasing new buses, adding more frequent service, and introducing new bus routes,” according to the city.

The high capacity rail improvements includes extensions their existing heavy rail network and 7 light rail routes.


The downside for many of the measures is they are also dependent on federal funding and with the Republicans hostile towards transit investment, they ultimately may not ever happen.

All of this got me thinking about what the outcome would be if Aucklanders got to vote directly on transport plans. It could be argued that we already vote on transport but we only do so indirectly. In central government elections transport is normally considered just a minor issue behind the likes of health, education, the economy and welfare, even though transport can influence outcomes from each of those areas. Transport is much more of a local issue and while it usually garners a much larger mindshare than at a national level, it is also competing against other topics too, such as rates and housing.

In the end, voting at both central and local level is very indirect. For example, Phil Goff stood on a platform of light rail down Dominion Rd but just because he’s been elected it doesn’t mean it will ever actually happen as the project is captive to a plethora of political and technical hurdles. How would voters in Auckland respond if they had a more direct say on transport plans in Auckland.

The recent Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) is a big step in getting the government and council in alignment on transport in Auckland but it takes very much a “the experts know best” approach that relies heavily on transport modelling. It was the antithesis of the public having a say. The ATAP modelling relies heavily on assumptions, value judgements and historical trends, and it has been frequently made clear that the outputs are incredibly flawed. That ATAP ended up proposing some substantial transit investment, albeit it not soon enough in my view, is more a reflection of how out of balance our transport system already is than the process working.


Perhaps one of the issues with ATAP, and many other transport plans, is that they start from the wrong place. They are treated as a technical solution to a technical problem rather than first working out and agreeing what the vision is for how we want our city to look and feel and then working back from there. This can include deliberately ignoring plans that have already done the work of deciding the vision element. In ATAP the word vision isn’t mentioned once and the only mention of the council’s 30-year vision, the ‘Auckland Plan’, is that the council will need to update it with the outcome of ATAP. I think this happens as vision is a harder thing to define and measure than technical aspects. Added to that I suspect many of the bureaucrats either don’t have a vision or are too scared to be seen as imposing one

This is something that happens at many levels and is the same kind of thinking that leads to stupid ideas such as trying to squeeze up footpaths and the CRL entrance on Victoria St that will be used by 10’s of thousands of people every day, just so that an extra traffic lane can be added. This of course completely ignores the agreed vision for the city centre.

I’m not quite sure how you’d do it but what outcome would ATAP have delivered if the wider public had a greater say in the vision they want for Auckland or even just on some of the value judgement made by officials.

As we know from ATAP, Auckland has a transport funding shortfall of around $400 million annually. While some of that might disappear if the value judgements were different, a lot of it would still be needed, even if for a different set of projects. The public having a say on whether they agree with the proposed plan and how to pay for it might be a good idea if nothing else than to build confidence that the plan is right. The only thing though is it would need to be about the entire transport plan, not just raising money just to pay for transit while road spending goes unquestioned – like in many of those ballots in the US.

New Amsterdam

The current cycleway revolution in Auckland has a serendipitous feature for one of Auckland’s most cherished but badly treated areas: All routes lead to Karangahape Rd. Both the recent city by-passes: Grafton Gully and the Pink Path, have one end in the K Rd precinct, our only current cycling ‘superhighway’, the NorthWestern, is about to get its city termination moved forward from Newton Rd to the K, and the coming real on-road separated cycle lanes on Great North Rd also lead straight to the K. Oh and the cycle friendly ridge level link of our very own Pont Neuf, Grafton Bridge, leads bike riders there from the other end.

Yes Karangahape Rd is the ground zero of Auckland’s bike riding revival which surely offers a real opportunity for the area to at last both thrive and remain true to its very specific identity. It would be a shame for K Rd to either slide back into decline or to try to keep up with its glossier rivals by seeking to become something its not. And as Ponsonby Rd becomes ever more upmarket and seemingly determined to drown itself in more and more parking and therefore driving, this offers K Rd a great opportunity to brand itself as a street and people place and not a car place. This happy confluence of street culture and improving bike infrastructure is already having an effect on the numbers that access businesses on the street by bike, as can be seen below:


And in the data:


But this is despite the lack of any safe cycle routes on K Rd itself, nor clearly enough parking places. But happily our Transport Agency is on it:


The plan is to add cycle lanes each side with temporary barriers, or at least without expensive excavations of the existing curb line and stormwater systems. And improved bus priority which is already clearly vital to the area. It is wise to start with a changeable pattern as there is a longer term opportunity to further tune down through traffic once the CRL station opens way off in 2023. Then this important section, between Pitt and Queen Sts should become one lane each way for buses (and emergency) and otherwise be for people on foot and bikes only. For more on the plan and links to make a submission go here.

To this end I think the K Rd business association should push for a regular traffic closure of this short section between Pitt and Queen every Sunday. This won’t be particularly disruptive, except to through traffic, and that should be the desired outcome; an assertion over place through movement. And of course a way to brand the area as street not arterial, and uniquely street.

So the whole upgrade is clearly a great opportunity for the businesses in the area to market themselves as being at the leading edge of the new city with the bike as the symbol of all the current new urban changes underway: The rise in city centre living, the ongoing revolution in Rapid Transit ridership, in short the return of the City.

The wider point is that the driving era destroyed this place and the walking/biking/transit age we are now in is its best chance at redemption. Go the K.

Skypath and East-West; good, bad and ugly

To borrow a sports analogy, yesterday was a bit of a “game of two halves”. There was good, bad and ugly all thrown in from different sources. I thought I’d highlight them both in this post.

The good fantastic

After decades pushing the vision and years of hard work by some amazingly dedicated people, yesterday it was confirmed that Skypath will be granted consent.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

Consent was initially issued in July last year however as expected, some of the groups who have long opposed Skypath appealed to the Environment Court. Earlier this year two of those groups dropped out, the Herne Bay Residents Association claiming it would never happen anyway, and the Northcote Point Residents Association (NRA) who saying they couldn’t afford the costs that would sought against them if they lost. That left just the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society (NPHPS), a group set up only a few years ago and run by many of the same people as the NRA, to challenge the project in court.

In their appeal, the NPHPS sought some absurdly strict conditions placed on the project, likely in a bid to make it not viable. Our friends at Bike Auckland have more details, including the council’s response but below are the conditions the NPHPS wanted.

  • limiting entry to between 6am – 7pm (with exit permitted until 10pm), and
  • imposing a daily maximum limit of 1440 movements in and out of the Northern landing (NB this number has been revised upwards from earlier proposals, which were in the low hundreds), with trips to be booked online.

Insane, imagine trying to suggest someone impose those kinds of conditions on a road project, or perhaps even the Harbour Bridge.

Thankfully today Judge Newhook verbally confirmed that the consent would be issued. There may be a refinement of the conditions, such as allowing for the impacts on the point to be reviewed after construction but not the crazy demands the NPHPS tried for. Anyone out there who doesn’t think that if costs are awarded against the NPHPS that they’ll fold, not paying their debts?

All up awesome news and well done to everyone who’s been involved in getting this over the line, especially Bevan Woodward who has been pushing the project from the start.

The bad and the ugly

Yesterday evening I attended a community workshop/discussion about the East-West Link (while Auckland Transport tried to change the name to East-West Connections, the NZTA are using East-West Link). The purpose of the event was to discuss the project and issues in advance of the NZTA notifying it to the Environmental Protection Authority, something they intend to do in early December – just a month away. The EPA process was also used for Waterview, Puhoi to Warkworth and the Basin Reserve and means that a binding decision will be made within nine months of notification.

Given how much work goes into preparing for an EPA process, it means there’s unlikely to be a lot, if any change from what they showed. This suggests that the event was more of a box ticking exercise while also making sure they’re prepared in advance for the main issues that people will criticise them on. They did claim the design will evolve as the over the course of the process, like it did with Waterview but it’s unlikely to change all that much.

A key feature of the evening was the NZTA showing some of their latest designs for the project and there appear to have been some changes since we last saw them. For now we’re stuck with some phone photos but I’m sure they’ll release higher quality versions online in time.

The first and most obvious thing you may notice in the images below are the connections around Onehunga. I’ll come back to that in more detail later. Next you may notice the large areas of reclamation that are now proposed, this is quite different to the stark straight lines we saw in some earlier designs. These serve both to deal with stormwater and serve as mitigation to plonking a giant road down over what is currently a bit of a hidden gem. Through these areas are meant to be walking and cycling connections, including a boardwalk over the water between those two areas that jut out.

One of the big changes not really evident from these images is that the road had been pushed back and is now almost all on the existing land along the waterfront (where the cycleway is). This is mainly due to the difficulty they would otherwise have had in getting consent to reclaim land. There will still be some reclamation though, mainly for a bund to help stop stuff leaching into the harbour like it currently does.


Further east you can see the connections to SH1 which includes upgrades through to past Princess St. The section over the port car storage area through to Gt South Rd is about a 1.4km long viaduct – one of the reasons the project is so expensive. One aspect they did confirm is that it has apparent the design allows for grade separation of the rail junction.


Here are a couple of cross sections. The cycleway on the foreshore side but next to the road was described as a ‘high speed cycleway’



As mentioned, here’s a closer look at the design at the Onehunga end, perhaps best described as a sea of roads. One thing that I did learn was that the area past the port will actually be in a bit of a trench so will be partially hidden from the port area. The graphics are shown over the motorway bridge for clarity but they will be under it in real life.


and here’s a more artistic view of it.


Unfortunately, the photos I took of the design elements (highlighted by the pins) didn’t really come out well. It’s also not clear just how rail of any kind will get through this area if it’s getting to the airport.

The East-West Link is clearly a project that is going to be something that sees a lot of discussion over the next year so.

Population Growth in 2016

Last week Statistics NZ released their latest detailed population estimates for the country and they show that Auckland is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. Population increased by an estimated 44,400 people, an annual increase of 2.8% making it the fastest growing region in NZ and of course Auckland already started with the largest base. That growth has pushed population in the region above 1.6 million people having only passed 1.5 million about three years ago and at current rates, would see Auckland hit 2 million people in less than a decade. Auckland accounted for 46% of all the growth in NZ.


In 1996 Auckland’s population was 1.1 million so in 20 years has grown by the size of the entire Wellington region after taking 51% of NZs total growth. Auckland is now home to 34.4% of New Zealand’s population.

The graph below shows the change in Auckland’s population over the last 20 years and as you can see, as a total the growth this year is the highest ever seen although as a percentage increase, it was topped by 2002 and 2003. At 2.8%, growth is running ahead of even the high growth predictions released by Stats NZ in early 2015 which if it continues will have serious implications for the timing of many projects.


An even more staggering increase can be seen in the Auckland City Centre – as defined as in the map below. This is slightly different from the traditional definition as it includes the area units of Newton (south of Karangahape Rd) and Grafton West (east of Symonds St) and is what was used by the Ministry of Transport when they were monitoring targets for the City Rail Link.

Auckland CBD Area Units

As you can see below, the population of the city centre substantially increased to just shy of 47,000, up from just 5,000 20 years ago, a staggering 924% increase. The increase of 5,770 accounts for a full 13% of Auckland’s growth and 6% of all the growth in NZ over the last year. And of course, more people in the city centre has continued to help in making the place more vibrant and liveable. It also is another reason why it’s important agencies like Auckland Transport need to drastically change how they think about transport in the city. Moving to make it easier for pedestrians (and bikes) will be a key factor in improving the lives of the people living in the area, not to mention the other 100k+ that spend much of their time there every day.


Even if you used the more traditional definition of the CBD – the three northernmost areas in the map above, the population is sitting just under 40,000, up 5,000 on last year. As a comparison, the 2012 City Centre Masterplan suggested the CBD would reach not reach a population of 45,000 till 2032.

Looking at population at a slightly higher altitude we can see the changes by local board. The biggest increase comes from Waitemata driven by the growth mentioned above. Following that there has been strong growth in a number of local board areas. Many are areas where there is also a lot of greenfield growth has been occurring, such as Upper Harbour so in that regard one that also sticks as having a strong level of growth is Orakei.


Given the recent elections, the population figures also got me thinking about the levels of political representation we have and whether the ward boundaries need to be changed before the next election.

Auckland has 20 Councillors spread across 13 wards. In 2010 when the city was amalgamated there was a population of 1.44 million meaning for each Councillor there are an average of 72,000 residents. With the population now up to 1.61 million people we’re approaching one Councillor for every 81,000 people, more than twice the number of people per member of parliament. Furthermore, with so much growth in some areas, it’s leading to even more disproportionate representation and this is especially the case in the Waitemata and Gulf area which includes the CBD area.

This graph showing the population per Councillor can look a little busy but does show clearly how much things have changed in Watemata. The area is now home to around 112,000 people and they’re all covered by just one Councillor, Mike Lee. I don’t think that’s fair to either the residents in the Waitemata area or to Mike Lee



The same issue, although to a lesser extent, exists at the local board level with some local boards having vastly different levels of representation. Each local board has differing numbers of members on them. Again, Waitemata is a clear mover although it is still behind the Howick Local Board and Henderson-Massey Local Board on a per population basis. which has the highest population compared. Howick has just over 16,000 people per local board member while Papakura is the lowest of the urban area Local Boards with almost half that at just 8,800 people per member.

One of the challenges is that the amalgamation legislation prevents the number of Councillors being increased like can happen in the rest of NZ. It also requires that Council Wards align with the local board areas so any change isn’t straightforward.

What do you think should happen, change the ward and local board boundaries, allow for extra Councillors and local board members to be elected, a combination of both or leave things unchanged?

Guest post: A right to reciprocal intensification

This is a guest post from Brendon Harre in Christchurch. It addresses an issue that’s near and dear to Transportblog: How do we better enable positive change in the built environment?

Solving the housing crisis in New Zealand will require many reforms and much effort. Some of the needed reforms will face opposition and will be difficult to implement. There will be tension between the national concern about improving housing supply versus some local interests in retaining the status quo.

I want to focus on one particular easy to implement policy option, which I think could successfully navigate this political dynamic. The essence of the proposed reform is to establish a nationwide intensification right for situations where neighbours agree. A right to reciprocal intensification will create a new urbanist tool for New Zealand, allowing a better housing intensification supply response, so that people can build in parts of our towns and cities where people want to live.

The first step would be to agree as a country on a height limit that all property owners could construct up to as a right. I would suggest three stories would be reasonable, as this is a similar scale to natural features like trees.


The ‘Six Sisters’, John Street, Ponsonby

Local areas through zoning provisions would still retain existing setback and shade planes rules that determine how far buildings must be constructed from site boundaries. For instance, a shade plane is an angle going inwards, which building height and bulk cannot exceed. It is taken from a certain height directly above the section boundary -2.5 metres in the below diagram. These rules also limit the size of buildings – and hence reduce the number of dwellings that can be built on a given site.


The second step, which is the main thrust of my proposal, is that New Zealand should adopt a system where neighbours can reciprocally agree to drop the shade plane and set back restrictions along their common border. This reciprocal intensification right could be implemented as a national policy statement under the RMA, which local authorities would then be obligated to implement. So in the above diagrams, if there was a section to the north or south and if the two property owners agree, then they would both have the right to build up to their adjoining boundary – utilising the appropriate building code for firewalls etc. If other adjoining neighbours disagreed, then on those boundaries the standard setback and shade plane rules would apply.

Of course there would be many property owners who wouldn’t want their neighbour to build right up to their boundary. But some would see the advantage in co-operating, so they have the option of adding a granny flat or redeveloping their entire site. Making this reciprocal intensification right a choice eliminates the major criticism of up-zoning. Being, up-zoning dictates an exchange of a neighbour’s access to sun, views and privacy for the opportunity to intensify. Some property owners believe they will be worse off if this exchange is codified into the zoning map.

If reciprocal intensification rights were spread across a large enough area, then this would give the opportunity for a lot of intensification – in the form of duplexes if two neighbours agree and European style terrace housing if many neighbours agree. There are 1.8M private dwellings in New Zealand – if just 1% of those properties were intensified from one dwelling to three per site over, say, ten years, that would net an additional 36,000 new homes. I am not sure if 1% and one house intensifying into three are reasonable expectations, but it shows that even with modest assumptions this proposed policy reform could have an impact on the housing market.

The main benefits of a right to reciprocal intensification are:

  • It decreases transaction costs for site assembly. The national policy statement would mean no resource consent or property purchase would be required to develop sites more comprehensively. Currently to achieve site assembly, either neighbours would have to go through a complex and uncertain RMA process or a property developer would need to buy up the neighbouring sections.
  • It encourages a more desirable urban form as it gives property owners the ability to build across their property frontage so that new housing faces the street. Currently our zoning rules encourage infill housing that goes down the length of the property.
  • It gives greater housing supply options for building types with construction costs per square metre comparable to standalone housing.  Small apartment buildings tend to be cheaper to build compared to high rise apartments because they can be built as 3-story walk-up units. There is no need for an expensive concrete elevator core, mechanical ventilation, sprinkler systems, underground parking and expensive structural engineering.
  • It allows housing supply to respond to locational demand.
  • It allows housing supply to respond to housing size demand.  There is evidence of an under supply of 1–2 bedroom homes in the property market: The largest increase in household groups are singles and couples, yet very few one or two bedroom homes are being built.


I believe reciprocal intensification will be driven by both supply – in terms of its ability to lower the cost of infill and redevelopment – and demand. Demand will come from urban areas with high amenities – like proximity to employment, easy public and private transport access, markets/shops, entertainment and desirable natural environments like beaches, parks and forest.

In Auckland not all high amenity areas have been up-zoned by the new Unitary Plan. So for the city most suffering from New Zealand’s housing crisis there is an opportunity for reciprocal property right supply to increase housing supply in places where there is a demand for it. Density maps of Auckland indicate that outside of the city centre there is a sudden drop-off to a flat density gradient, unlike similar sized and geographically constrained cities –such as Stockholm. Economic theory indicates density should gradually decline with what is labelled the ‘missing middle’ housing.

Missing Middle

Reciprocal intensification rights will not by itself be enough to enable all of the development we need. Other intensification restrictions such as minimum section sizes, minimum car parking requirements, site coverage rules, viewing shaft restrictions, heritage restrictions, secondary kitchens, etc may be as or more significant in the way they restrict the supply of housing intensification options and should also be reviewed by affordable housing policy makers.

However, I think reciprocal intensification rights would be a less controversial first step to intensification compared to widespread up-zoning, which results in some property owners who oppose intensification to fight such measures. These local interest groups which may only represent a minority of locals obstruct reasonable efforts to address restrictions on housing supply.

I believe New Zealand should give greater weighting to the national concern about affordable housing supply compared to the minority local interest in retaining the status quo. It has been my goal with this reciprocal intensification proposal to create a fair and appropriate first step to address this imbalance.


  1. This article was based on an article for titled Brendon Harre and David Lupton set out the case for more, and more variety of intensive housing options in New Zealand’s urban areas and a longer version of the article which also discussed the possibility of larger co-operative neighbourhood schemes.
  2. There are some architectural slides from a US city that transformed traditional standalone housing suburbs into suburbs of duplexes and terraces by reducing allowable section sizes to a little over 100sqm and by not having side yard setback and shade plane restrictions. The end result is quite pleasing.
  3. There is an article and podcast of an academic economic discussion of the wider costs to the economy that unaffordable housing imposes, how the various restrictions on house building contribute to this and some possible remedies, H/T Facebook group Market Urbanism.

Should Auckland still want to be “the world’s most liveable city”?

Indications are that new mayor Phil Goff wants a change to the current vision outlined in the Auckland Plan of becoming the “world’s most liveable city”.

Goff has also indicated that Brown’s slogan “the world’s most liveable city” will be phased out.

“People laugh when they are stuck in hours of traffic congestion about being the most liveable city. They laugh when they see that might be our slogan; but we are the fourth most unaffordable city to live in,” Goff said.

Goff, whose slogan is “a city where talent and enterprise can thrive, said like Brown and mayors who might follow him, he wants to stamp his own mark on the city.

This “slogan” was very strongly linked to previous mayor, Len Brown, so in some ways it’s not surprising that Goff wants to change it. But it’s a hard vision to move away from – do we no longer want Auckland to be the best place in the world to live? Or is it that we essentially want to continue down this path, just under a different name? To explore this question I’m going to take a look at the up-side and down-side of liveability – hopefully leading to a few suggestions for a vision for Auckland going forwards.

At its core, the concept of “liveability” is fairly self-explaining:


By wanting to be the “world’s most liveable city”, we are wanting to become the best place in the world to live, or the place with the best quality of life. Where it becomes tricky though, is that this concept of “liveability” has been captured by a variety of different organisations to try and compare how liveable different cities around the world are – usually with a fairly narrow target audience in mind. Wikipedia explains this pretty well:

The world‘s most liveable cities is an informal name given to any list of cities as they rank on an annual survey of living conditions. Regions with cities commonly ranked in the top 50 include Australasia, North America, North Asia, Northern Europe, and Western Europe.[1] Three examples of such surveys are Monocle‘s “Most Liveable Cities Index”, the Economist Intelligence Unit‘s “Global Liveability Ranking”, and “Mercer Quality of Living Survey”. Numbeo has the largest statistics and survey data based on cities and countries.[2] Liveability rankings are designed for use by employers assigning hardship allowances as part of job relocation, however the usefulness of using such a ranking to determine salary packaging remains unclear.

The final sentence from the paragraph above highlights the key issue – that these rankings are designed for internationally mobile high-wage employees. Not to give an indication of the quality of life for people doing the “daily grind”. Especially not for those struggling on lower incomes. For example, the methodology of the Mercer survey (which is the one most frequently referred to by politicians, perhaps because it’s the one that ranks Auckland highest?) is briefly outlined below:

Living conditions are analyzed according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories:

  1. Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc.).
  2. Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services).
  3. Socio-cultural environment (media availability and censorship, limitations on personal freedom).
  4. Medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.).
  5. Schools and education (standards and availability of international schools).
  6. Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.).
  7. Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc.).
  8. Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.).
  9. Housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services).
  10. Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters).

The scores attributed to each factor, which are weighted to reflect their importance to expatriates, permit objective city-to-city comparisons. The result is a quality of living index that compares relative differences between any two locations evaluated. For the indices to be used effectively, Mercer has created a grid that enables users to link the resulting index to a quality of living or hardship allowance amount by recommending a percentage value in relation to the index.

Auckland does pretty well, almost by default, on a lot of the factors that actually have relatively little to do with the Council – like climate, political stability, crime, education, personal freedom, healthcare facilities and availability of goods. Where we struggle, transport and housing being the obvious “big two”, seems to get a little bit swamped by these other factors in the overall scoring. Understandably, it’s difficult to fathom how we can be one of the most liveable cities in the world when people are living in cars.

Because the word “liveability” is potentially tarnished by both its association with the Len Brown and misleading rankings, but the concept of Auckland being a great place to live, work, play or visit seems pretty hard to argue against, I wonder whether Phil Goff’s stated vision (which is by law required to be articulated in the Auckland Plan) will pick up on these more generic words and perhaps highlight the need for Auckland to be a great place for everyone (not just those well off). At its core though the vision will probably be similar, just presented differently.