48: The Forgotten Triangle
What if the forgotten triangle behind Shortland Street was more than a parking lot?
Continuing the series on forgotten or underutilised spaces within the city, the steeply rising wedge of land between Shortland Street, Albert Park and Princes Street is certainly a stand out example of well-located land that should be valued and utilised for much more than just parking. Certainly, when one looks at historic photos of this part of the city, it is obvious that this area used to packed quite densely with a much more diverse array of buildings and activities than can be found there now.
Looking west over the Chancery Street area from the former Grand Hotel in Princes Street, 1902. (Auckland Council Heritage Images Online).
It is actually quite crazy that this forgotten corner of the city has not been developed for more intensive and higher value uses, if you think about the location, just one block from both the A-grade office space of the corporate towers on Shortland Street and the high value retail of High Street, and bounded by what is a beautiful historic central city park.
The following is a simple four-point plan that is just a start to indicate how the potential of this part of the city could be reconsidered:
- Improve the legibility, crossing opportunities and attractiveness of walking links through the area to Albert Park and the universities on the hill;
- Develop high rise residential towers fronting Kitchener Street similar to the Metropolis tower and Precinct Apartments between Lorne and Kitchener Streets that capitalise on the outlook over the park and up high gain light, air and relative serenity above this quiet part of the city;
- Rediscover and develop the forgotten laneways of Fields and Bacon Lanes, Chancery Lane, Bankside Street and Cruise Lane as back street extensions to the High Street District with opportunities to open out and activate the backs of Shortland Street towers into a gritty but interesting neighbourhood;
- Make more use of the Bowen Park extension of Albert Park as a great public open space in its own right, reflecting its north-facing qualities and great views back to this part of the city skyline.
Stuart Houghton 2014
*For a bit more on this area there is this previous post -PR
I thought a commenter on a recent post about a new apartment development on Great North Road had a really great point about the state of the debate:
…the fact is the intensifiers are not winning the argument, as was noted by someone else above. I wish they were but with the tin-ear people have here for this sort of argument, it doesn’t surprise me that it is being lost. Compare the nuanced arguments made here about transport (expansive, studied proposals like the CFN) to the “developers and freemarkets will sort it out” type arguments around intensification and you’ll see what I mean.
This rings true to me. Although I would argue that a lot of thought has gone into Transportblog’s analysis of policies like the Unitary Plan or the effects of limits on density, it’s often difficult to tell the good news stories about market-led intensification.
This is challenging in part because there appear to be trade-offs. Building an apartment building in Ponsonby is obviously a good thing for new residents, as they get to live in a nice area that they might not otherwise be able to afford. But it also has some disadvantages for existing residents, who may feel like they have to put up with more traffic, less sunlight on their porches, and so on and so forth.
In short, it’s easy to fall into an “us versus them” narrative – which is what I was arguing against in the earlier post. I don’t think this is necessary. There are many positive stories about rising residential densities and a lot of benefits for existing residents. We should start telling these stories.
Basically, it boils down to this:
If more people live in a neighbourhood, more services will be available locally for all residents.
Higher population densities make it more efficient for transport agencies to run high-frequency bus routes. They make it easier for supermarkets to open up in closer proximity, competing down prices for groceries. They make it easier for councils to justify improving local parks, improving streetlighting, and upgrading streets. Density allows there to be a cafe or two on every block, so residents can easily step out for a hot drink in the morning. This is all good stuff!
Essentially, having more people around you means that there’s a bigger local market for all sorts of useful things. As densities increase, neighbourhoods will become more convenient for the people who live in them. But if they don’t, there’s never going to be a reason to run a bus every ten minutes. There’s never going to be an incentive for Countdown to open a shop one kilometre down the road from New World. The cafes and drycleaners and florists will never set up across the street.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of environments that could be enabled by intensification. Importantly, these aren’t high-density neighbourhoods – they tend to be composed of terraced houses, row houses, and 4-6 storey apartment buildings rather than massive high-rise towers.
Here’s Greenwich Village, Jane Jacob’s old hood and one of Manhattan’s medium-density neighbourhoods. Look at how many retail and dining choices the residents have:
Here’s a typical cafe in Paris, another city that’s great due to its density and mix of uses. The city’s awash in local cafe and restaurant options because it is dense enough to support lots of them.
Here’s an example from San Francisco – the Castro district, which is one of the spiritual homes of gay and lesbian culture in North America. Medium densities in the area support fantastic (if a bit off-the-wall) nightlife.
And finally, one from Auckland: this is the Elliot Street shared space, which never would have happened without the apartment boom in the city centre. I bet a lot of people around Auckland are looking at how great this is and asking, “when will my neighbourhood get something like this?” The answer is: When your neighbourhood has enough people to support it!
So, what would you like to see happening in your area? Do you think that having a few more people around would help it happen?
Demographia is a pro-sprawl think tank in the USA that publishes density and house price data for cities across the world. They’re often seen using their statistics to argue that the only way to deliver affordable housing is with suburban fringe expansion into greenfields land.
Demographia’s data on housing affordability has come under fire in the past for slipperiness with definitions and misleading choice of measures. But their analysis of population density has gotten less attention – although it’s even more riddled with errors.
Demographia’s approach to calculating density is simple but misleading. They have simply calculated the total number of people in each city and divided it by the total land area covered by that city – including unpopulated areas like parks and reserves. This measure of average density is actually quite irrelevant. For example, Demographia uses it to claim that Los Angeles is more dense than New York.
As Peter outlined in this recent post, what is much more relevant is the density of the neighbourhood that the average person lives in, rather than the density of the average acre of land in the city.
For argument’s sake, consider a village of one hundred acres with one hundred residents. By the measure of area weighted density the density is simple, one person per acre. Does this represent the reality of how people live? Well it could, if everyone lived alone in a separate house on an acre of land. But what if they didn’t? What if everyone lived in a single apartment block in the middle of town that sat on one acre of land? Well then the density the people actually live at would be 100 people per acre. That’s a hundred times more dense… but the same density by Demographia’s measure!
And what if it were something more complex? What if a quarter of the town lived in the one apartment building, half lived in eighth-acre sections around it, and the remaining quarter were spread out over the rest of the land? Doesn’t that sound a bit closer to the reality of most cities? One person per acre means nothing for this theoretical town, half the people live at eight times that density and a quarter at fifty times the density.
Just in case you’re still unsure, in the image below the dots represent dwellings and each box has the same number of dots in it. Overall they have the same average density however in reality they would feel like two very different places.
In short population-weighted density is a much better indicator of the density of the neighbourhoods people chose to live in, and a much better way to describe cities and housing.
With that in mind, it was a simple task to take Peter’s data and throw it on a chart. In simple terms these show how many people live in neighbourhoods (Census meshblocks to be precise) grouped by density in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. I’ve also picked out the density level that Demographia says each city is.
It’s easy to see a few things here. First of all we can see that neighbourhood density can vary quite a lot within cities. One number just can’t describe how people live. Second, we can see there is something of a bell curve. Most people live within the middle range of densities, those living very low or very high are small in number, but that middle is actually quite broad. Third, we can see how far off Demographia is. Their supposed summary statistic isn’t anywhere near the middle of the curve, it’s actually near the bottom in each case.
For example it seems the Demographia figure describes the density at which roughly five percent of Aucklanders live. Nine percent live at lower densities, and 86% live at higher densities. Many people live in neighbourhoods that are two or three times more dense than Demographia’s misleading average. In short, Demographia’s figures are irrelevant for the vast majority of Aucklanders (and Wellingtonians, and Christchurchers). They don’t reflect how the majority of people choose to live.
Sorry Demographia, your data is plain useless.
Consultation for the West Auckland portion of the new network is now underway. This follows the consultations for Pukekohe/Waiuku, Warkworth, Hibiscus Coast and South Auckland. The consultation runs from today till Monday 1st December. It’s a consultation I’ll be following very closely seeing as I line in West Auckland.
Like much of Auckland the current bus network in West Auckland is an absolute mess. It consists of a myriad of routes, some as slight variations that focus on providing coverage at the expense of directness or frequency. As such many buses trundle around the suburbs largely empty. Some routes also mimic the rail network which is a hangover from the days when rail services were virtually non-existent. A map of the existing network is below and you almost need a degree to properly interpret it. In fact I believe this isn’t even all routes.
Like with the other consultations the new network shifts the thinking about how we could run our buses and instead focuses on transfers to increase mobility.
The map for the proposed new network is below.
There are a few thoughts I have about the network for West Auckland. I’ll list them below in no particular order.
The immediate thing I noticed was the lack of frequent services. There’s just two of them, the 4 which travels between the CBD and New Lynn and the W3 which travels between New Lynn SH16 via Henderson before branching (more on that service soon). This is less than was signed off in the RPTP just let year. The key frequent routes missing are from Te Atatu Peninsula to Henderson and a route on SH16 with interchanges at Lincoln/Triangle Rd and at Te Atatu interchange. I can only assume these interchange upgrades are held up NZTA and AT not being able to come to an agreement/location for them. The lack of a frequent on seems to being SH16 is also disappointing considering the growth that is about to occur there.
I’m a little surprised that they’ve branched the W3 frequent route as one of the outcomes from the South Auckland consultation was to keep the frequents as a single route. Again this is possibly to do with the fact there appears to be no bus interchanges at the Te Atatu Interchange or the Triangle Rd/Lincoln Rd interchange.
There are some notable areas both gaining and losing service. The most noticeable of these is the buses to more rural areas such as Oratia and Waiatarua (a service I used to use in my teenage years) as well as Henderson Valley.
In September an update to the Council’s development committee talked about the the future NW Busway and indicated that bus shoulder lanes would be built on the motorway between Lincoln and Westgate by 2018 however in this consultation AT are now saying it won’t be till 2021.
There will be these specific open days to discuss the proposal.
- Sunday 26 October, 8am – 12 noon, Avondale Markets.
- Tuesday 28 October, 2.30pm – 6pm, New Lynn Interchange.
- Thursday 30 October, 2.30pm – 6pm, Henderson Interchange, Council airbridge.
- Sunday 9 November, 7.30am – 12 noon, Te Atatu Peninsula Markets.
- Tuesday 18 November, 2.30pm – 6pm, Westgate Bus Interchange.
- Sunday 23 November, 9am – 1pm, Hobsonville Point Markets.
Details are starting to emerge from the Council’s review of its Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) to see if any changes need to be made to them. The CCOs were set up in 2010 by the government as part of the super city changes to manage many of the council’s functions. The CCOs are:
- Auckland Council Investments Limited
- Auckland Council Property Limited
- Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Limited
- Auckland Transport
- Auckland Waterfront Development Agency Limited (Waterfront Auckland)
- Regional Facilities Auckland
- Watercare Services Limited
We’re not likely to see many changes to Auckland Transport or Watercare as their existence is enshrined in legislation however the other CCOs are not.
One change I’ve long liked the idea of is to merge Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Property Limited (ACPL) to create a region wide urban development agency. Waterfront Auckland has been the driver behind the spectacular and internationally award winning redevelopment of the Wynyard Quarter while ACPL manages almost 1200 properties around the region worth over $1 billion. They say part of their role is to facilitate development that supports the council’s broader place shaping and housing development objectives however on the surface it doesn’t appear that much has happened in this regard. A combined agency that is able to harness some of the knowledge and skills that Waterfront Auckland have built up and leverage that across the region would be extremely useful.
Density done well coming to Wynyard
I know many others who have expressed this view too and it appears this might be exactly what will happen.
The Auckland Council is considering merging its waterfront agency and property company as it focuses on how to improve run down main streets.
The new development agency is the biggest change being considered in a year-long review of council-controlled organisations, which has so far continued behind closed doors.
Council chief executive Stephen Town has provided a glimpse into the review, which will run for a further month.
Mr Town said the council had looked at similar re-generation agencies in Australia, which put existing council property into joint ventures, with the private sector or government.
“In some parts of Auckland we’ve got very large land holdings clustered in town centres,” he said.
“It’s not inconceivable to see $500 million to $1.5 billion developments occurring over 10 years.”
The council is loathe to name possible redevelopment centres at this stage. However there are obvious candidates.
On the same day as the council unveiled the agency proposal, members of Avondale Community Action appealed to the Auckland Development Committee to re-vitalise their neglected town centre.
Avondale includes vacant private sites in the middle of the town centre, run down council-owned facilities, and Housing New Zealand property ripe for redevelopment. Other long-established centres in decline include Mt Albert, Otahuhu and Papatoetoe.
Mr Town said the work though could begin in earnest before then, under existing council structures. He said the development agency would likely begin life inheriting a portfolio of surplus council property, but would be expected to enhance council finances, rather than be a burden on them.
If an Urban Development Agency is formed, it is expected to result in cuts to management within the existing Waterfront Agency, and Auckland Council Properties Limited. That has yet to be explored.
If it goes ahead the biggest risk is what kind of culture comes through and that will likely be determined by how the merger occurs. In my view it would be better to put the property acquisition and management experience into the Waterfront Auckland structure rather than to put the urban design, planning and development experience into the ACPL structure.
Overall a well run urban redevelopment agency would be a huge asset to the council that would enable some of the visions highlighted in the Auckland Plan to become a reality.
Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:
Town centre could rise around new rail station
Colin Taylor writes:
One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.
The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.
Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.
The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.
This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.
Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.
“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.
“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.
“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”
Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.
“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”
However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.
“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”
This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].
But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.
So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.
- A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
- A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
- A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
- A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.
With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.
Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.
However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.
Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].
And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.
There are a number of events coming up that readers may be interested in.
Tomorrow – IPENZ Talk by Steven Burgess on Designing for safety how safe road design doesn’t make safe streets
Next Week – Brent Toderian is back in Auckland and giving another Auckland Conversations talk, this time on Vibrant Waterfronts
4th November – Vancouver Cycle Chic are here to talk about emerging bike culture
2011 saw the release of a study led by Ian Wallis Associates into Auckland’s public transport performance. It is a sober and restrained report that simply sets out to describe the performance of Auckland’s PT systems on comparative terms with a range of not dissimilar cities around the region. A very useful exercise, because while no two cities are identical, all cities face similar tradeoffs and pressures and much can be learned by studying the successes and failures of other places. The whole document is here.
The cities selected for the study are all in anglophone nations around the Pacific from Australia, the US, Canada, and New Zealand, with Auckland right in the middle in terms of size. And as summarised by Mathew Dearnaley in the Herald at the time, it showed Auckland to be the dunce of the class by pretty much every metric. Although the article is called Auckland in last place for public transport use it’s clear that the headline it would have reflected the report’s findings more accurately if the paper had simply said; Auckland in last place for public transport. Because it showed that the low uptake of public transport in Auckland cannot be separated from the low quality, slow, infrequent, and expensive services available.
Here’s the uptake overview:
So it’s clear that population alone is no determinant of PT uptake. If it isn’t the size of the city what is it? Various people have their pet theories, some like to claim various unfixable emotional factors are at work, like our apparently ‘car-loving’ culture, though is it credible that we have a more intense passion for cars than Americans or Australians? The homes of Bathurst and the Indy 500? Others claim that the geography of this quite long and harbour constrained city somehow suits road building and driving over bus, train, and ferry use. A quixotic claim especially when compared to the flat and sprawling cities of the American West which much more easily allow space for both wide roads and endless dispersal in every direction. Another popular claim is that Auckland isn’t dense enough to support much Transit use. Yet it is considerably denser than all but the biggest cities on the list.
So what does the study say is the reason for Auckland’s outlying performance?
It considers service quantity [PT kms per capita], quality [including speed, reliability, comfort, safety, etc] and cost both for the passenger and society, and easy of use [payment systems]. Along with other issues such as mode interoperability, and land-use/transit integration. And all at considerable depth. The report found that Auckland’s PT services are poor, often with the very worst performance by all of these factors and this is the main driver of our low uptake.
And happily some of the things that stand out in the report are well on the way to being addressed. Here, for example is what it says about fares:
The HOP card is no doubt a huge improvement and has enabled some fare cost improvement. And we can expect more to be done in this area soon, we are told, especially for off peak fares. Additionally the integration of fares is still to come [zone charging].
Here’s what it says about service quantity and quality:
Yet there is one thing that the report returns to on a number of occasions that perhaps best captures what’s wrong with Auckland, and offers a fast track to improvement. And, even at this early stage, gives us a way of checking the theory against results in the real world:
Right, so perhaps the biggest problem with Auckland’s PT system is simply the lack of enough true Rapid Transit routes and services. To qualify as true Rapid Transit it is generally accepted that along with the definition above, a separate right of way, the services must also offer a ‘turn up and go’ frequency, at least at the busiest sections of the lines. And that this is generally considered to mean a service at least every ten minutes, but ideally even more frequent than that.
In Auckland we only have the Rail Network and the Northern Busway that qualify as using separate right of ways, and the busway for only 41% of its route. At least the frequencies on the Busway are often very high, where as on the Rail Network they only make it to ten minute frequencies for the busiest few hours of the day. So to say that Auckland has any real high quality Rapid Transit services even now is a bit of a stretch. However these services have been improving in the three years since the report was released, and will continue to do so in the near future with the roll out of the new trains and higher frequencies on the Rail Network, and more Bus lanes on the North Shore routes especially at the city end of their runs.
Here is a map with a fairly generous description of our current or at least improving Rapid Transit Network:
Even though it is only three years since the report was released, and there is much more to come, there have been improvements, so we can ask; how have the public responded to the improvements to date?
Below are the latest Ridership numbers from Auckland Transport, for August 2014:
SOI: Statement Of Intent, AT’s expectations or hopes. NEX: Northern Express.
So the chart above, showing our most ‘Rapid’ services, Rail and the NEX, are clearly attracting more and more users out of all proportion with the rest, and way above Auckland Transport’s expectations or hopes as expressed by the SOI, is a pretty good indication that both the report authors were right, Auckland is crying out for more Rapid Transit services and routes, and, at least in this case, Einstein was wrong: Practice does indeed seem to be baring out the Theory.
And from here we can clearly expect this rise in uptake to continue, if not actually increase, as the few Rapid Transit routes we have now are going to continue to get service improvements. And 19% increases, if sustained, amount to a doubling in only four years! Rail ridership was around 10 million a year ago, so it could be approaching 20 mil by mid 2017, if this rate of growth is sustained.
But this also means we can clearly expect any well planned investment in extensions to the Rail Network [eg CRL] or additional busways [eg North Western] to also be rewarded with over the odds increases in use. Aucklanders love quality, and give them high quality PT and they will use it.
Furthermore, given that these numbers are in response to only partial improvements even extending on-street bus lanes for regular bus services looks highly likely to be meet with accelerated ridership growth. I think it is pretty clear that Auckland Transport, NZTA, MoT, and Auckland Council can be confident that any substantive quality, frequency, and right-of-way improvement to PT in Auckland will be rewarded with uptake.
Given that Auckland’s PT use is advancing ahead of population growth [unlike the driving stats] I believe we have already improved that poor number up top to 47 trips per person per year. So there’s still plenty of room for growth even to catch up with the next city on the list. So perhaps it’s time to formally update that report too?
Imagine just how well a full city wide network of Rapid Transit would be used? Clearly Auckland is ready for it:
We’ve spent almost 60 years designing our cities and streets based on one overriding principle, the movement of as many vehicles as possible. This is seen not just on our roads but also in how we develop town centres and even our suburbs. It has become so extreme that in many cases it is virtually impossible to get around a place in anything but a car. Of course this isn’t unique to New Zealand with similar situations arising in many countries, but particularly the English speaking new world ones such as Australia, Canada and of course the US.
We have lots of examples of this in Auckland that have come to symbolise this car centric planning and some classic ones are Albany (left) and Botany (right) although there are many other places equally bad on smaller scales. They share a number of similar characteristics such as a huge volume of parking, buildings set back from the street and all surrounded by large roads that are difficult to get across. It’s not uncommon in places like these to people drive 150m to change carpark rather than walk between stores.
Yet both of these two places are listed in the Auckland Plan as being Metropolitan centres which means they are meant to (or eventually meant to) accommodate a large proportion of the city’s future residential, retail and employment growth and be linked to the region through efficient transport networks. To achieve this we will effectively need to retrofit them to become much more dense and walkable urban environments focused on people rather than the movement of cars.
This isn’t going to be an easy task but thankfully it’s a challenge now being tackled in many cities around the world that we can learn from. Below are a handful of underlying principles distill down the key elements that make for successful and walkable urban areas courtesy of Design for Walkability which is from SPUR, a research and advocacy group out of the San Francisco Bay area. They are all points that we’ve covered off before but it’s useful in repeating them and of course they are not just useful for the likes of Albany or Botany but should be applied to any urban areas.
1. Create fine-grained pedestrian circulation
Frequent and densely interconnected pedestrian routes are fundamental to walkability, shortening both actual and perceived distances. This can be accomplished by making city blocks smaller or by providing access through blocks via publicly accessible alleys, pathways or paseos (pedestrian boulevards) coupled with frequent crosswalks. A good rule of thumb is that a comfortable walking environment offers a choice of route about once per minute, which is every 60 to 90 metres at a moderate walking pace — typical of a traditional, pre-war city block. This not only allows pedestrians efficient access but also provides visual interest and a sense of progress as new structures and intersections come into view with reasonable frequency.
This kind of “permeability” sometimes meets with resistance from developers and property owners, who may cite security, property rights or site-planning concerns. But street networks are fundamental to walking. Walking five 60 metre blocks through Portland, Oregon, is easy and comfortable. Walking the same 300 metres on a suburban commercial street, past a single distant building and no intersections, is very uncomfortable.
A major statistical analysis found that intersection density and street connectivity are more strongly correlated with walking than even density and mixed land uses. Only proximity to the city centre has a stronger effect.
2. Orient buildings to street and open spaces
In walkable urban environments, buildings are placed right at the edges of streets and public spaces, rather than being set back behind parking lots or expanses of landscaping. These built edges provide a sense of definition to streets and other spaces, which helps makes the environment more legible and coherent. At all scales, from big-city downtowns to small neighborhood centers, edges help reinforce circulation routes while allowing easy pedestrian access to buildings. Building entrances are on or next to sidewalks. Setbacks from the street are short and exist only to provide public space or a transition from public to private life.
Where buildings are set back behind parking lots or landscaping, pedestrians are isolated from uses and activities, exposed to traffic and forced to walk greater distances. Even if a walking path or sidewalk is provided, pedestrians and transit users receive the message that they are of secondary importance. Loading docks, service entrances, blank walls and driveways should be limited in size and located where they minimize disruption of pedestrian access.
3. Organize uses to support public activity
The way uses are arranged on a site has a major impact on the activity, vitality, security and identity of surrounding streets and spaces.
Active uses (such as retail, lobbies and event spaces) should be placed strategically along pedestrian routes to engage the public and should be designed for transparency and interest.
Secure, private spaces should be placed at site interiors, away from public streets.
Residential entrances should be designed to provide a graceful transition from public to private. Stoops, front porches, balconies and lobbies can all provide privacy while supporting sociability and greater security by increasing the number of “eyes on the street.”
Certain uses, such as garages and cinemas, should be tucked deeply away, but their points of access can be major nodes of activity.
Loading and utility spaces should be hidden from pedestrian frontages.
4. Place parking behind or below buildings
In newer development, good places for people depend heavily on the artful accommodation of cars. Parking is an expensive, space-hungry and unattractive use — and it’s a key driver of site planning and project finances. It should be provided in multilevel structures where possible and placed where it will not disrupt pedestrian spaces. Well-designed garages can serve multiple buildings, draw people onto streets and allow parking to be managed efficiently. Once they have parked, every driver becomes a pedestrian, so pedestrian garage exits should be located to support and enliven public spaces.
5. Address the human scale with building and landscape details
People experience the built environment at the scale of their own bodies in space. Buildings should meet and engage people at that scale, with awnings, façade elements, lighting, signage and other features along sidewalks. Building forms can be broken down or subdivided visually to lighten the sense of mass. Even very large buildings can meet the human scale in a gracious and accommodating manner.
6. Provide clear, continuous pedestrian access
Wide sidewalks that include elements like trees, lighting, street furniture and public art are the city’s connective tissue. In great walking cities like Barcelona and New York, sidewalks 12 metres wide are not uncommon, but a well-designed 3 metre sidewalk can be adequate in some contexts. Sidewalks should form a continuous network connected by frequent, safe street crossings.
Sidewalks, while fundamental, are only one part of the broader public realm. They should be seamlessly integrated with walkways, paseos, building entrances, transit facilities, plazas and parks. In order for people to feel comfortable walking, the continuity of pedestrian access among major uses and amenities, including transit facilities, is essential.
7. Build complete streets
Streets can accommodate a variety of travel modes while also serving as public amenities, sites of commerce and green spaces. Vehicular roadways should be no bigger than necessary for their function, and they should apportion space safely among private vehicles, transit, bicycles and parking. If they are well designed, streets can move significant volumes of auto traffic and still support other activities. Small streets are equally important and can limit vehicular speeds and capacity in the service of other functions, from deliveries to social activity.
From The City of San Jose’s Envision 2040 General Plan:
“A complete street provides safe, comfortable, attractive and convenient access and travel for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit users of all ages, abilities and preferences. The design of a complete street considers both the public right-of-way and the land uses and design of adjoining properties, including appropriate building heights and the planning of adjoining land uses that actively engage the public street realm.”
Obviously implementing all these recommendations straight away is a bit tricky but they are definitely something we should be working on too across the region.
As a youngster in Social Studies class, I remember being regaled with stories of the Northward Drift, that well-known phenomenon of people moving from the South Island to the North Island, and to Auckland from everywhere that wasn’t Auckland. How we thrilled to the tales of those intrepid folk, heading north on their oxen-drawn wagons (we assumed) to the land of plenty. However, by the time I was learning about it in the late ’90s or thereabouts, it wasn’t really happening any more. Tables from Statistics New Zealand show that, on a net basis, people have been moving from the North Island to the South Island since the late ’80s (and the good people at Stats NZ have also written a good “mythbusters” article on it). It took a devastating earthquake to reverse the trend, with the South Island finally losing people to the North Island again in the five years to 2013:
As for Auckland, it took a little while longer to follow the trend, but Auckland has been losing population to other regions since the late ’90s. I wrote last year that
[Auckland has] had a decade of negative migration, in domestic (or “internal”, i.e. within NZ) terms. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues when the 2013 census results come out. The “northward drift” of population, which certainly has been a factor in the past, doesn’t seem to be happening any more.
Well, the 2013 census results are out, and they do indeed show a continuation of this trend – although it has slowed significantly.
This leads to the inevitable media coverage on “Aucklanders moving to [insert other town or city here]“. Google this for Tauranga or Hamilton and you’ll see these articles getting written at least once a year for each city – it’s a reliable page-filler and it’s easy enough to find a couple of case studies to interview.
Now, the “net” numbers shown here represent the difference between two much larger numbers – total internal immigrants, and total internal emigrants. These numbers were each around 60,000 for the five years to March 2013 – what we’re seeing is just the net result of fluctuations (or trends) in each of these numbers.
The articles (and the people mentioned in them, including real estate agents and so on) usually make the mistake of thinking about these migration flows as being one way. They’re not. Of course real estate agents in Tauranga will notice home buyers moving from Auckland – and vice versa, if anyone had bothered to ask the agents in Auckland. However, the effect will be much more noticeable in the smaller city, because Hamiltonians will notice a couple of thousand new residents coming from Auckland, whereas it’ll be a bit harder to see that when the new residents get spread around a city with ten times the population.
Even so, we’re now looking at a fairly well established trend which has generally been heading in one direction for the last 30 years. It’s probably safe to say that overall, more Aucklanders will keep leaving for other parts of New Zealand than the reverse.
However, it’s worth pointing out that these numbers just aren’t that big in the context of Auckland. We’re talking about a net loss of 4,653 people over the last five years, whereas Auckland is generally growing at 20,000 to 25,000 people each year (and probably faster at the moment). In the graph below, I’ve broken down Auckland’s overall population growth into gains from internal migration, international migration, and “natural increase” (births minus deaths). Note that my data for those other two items only goes back 20 years.
Compare those three elements of Auckland’s population growth, and it becomes pretty obvious why it’s much more important for us to analyse and understand the factors behind international migration, and natural increase. For other towns and cities, internal migration can be pretty important – it’s a key driver of growth in Hamilton and Tauranga, for example – but for Auckland, it’s pretty small stuff.