Let’s ban everything dangerous, like walking

This week, the Herald on Sunday published an article calling out a dangerous new practice: walking under the influence of a smartphone. According to them, careless walking causes literally dozens of injuries a year and should possibly be criminalised:

Now legislation has been introduced in New Jersey that would slap a US$50 ($72) fine and possible jail time on pedestrians caught using phones while they cross. And in the German city of Augsburg, traffic lights have been embedded in the pavement – so people looking down at their phones will see them.

The Herald on Sunday carried out an unscientific experiment at the busy intersection of Victoria and Queen Sts in central Auckland during the lunchtime rush to discover the scale of the problem here. Observing one of the corners, between 1pm and 1.30pm, we spotted 39 people using their cellphones while crossing.

Some people looked up briefly while crossing. Others kept their heads down, oblivious to what was going on around them.

In the past 10 years, the Accident Compensation Corporation has paid out more than $150,000 for texting-related injuries to a total of 272 Kiwis.

About 90 per cent of injuries were a result of people tripping, falling or walking into things while texting.

Incidentally, I have to admit some guilt here. While I don’t usually walk under the influence of a smartphone, I will often walk around reading a book – a habit I picked up during university. In over a decade of distracted walking, I’ve never fallen over, walked into anything, walked in front of a car, or walked into anybody else.

Anyway.

Let’s take the Herald’s suggestions seriously, and ask whether there is a case to ban other activities that risk injury to participants. Their threshold for “enough harm to consider regulation” appears to be around 27 injuries a year costing ACC at least $15,000.

What else fails that test?

I went to ACC’s injury statistics tool to get a sense. Helpfully, they break out injury claims (and the cost thereof) by cause, activity, and a range of other characteristics.

Here’s a table summarising some of the sports that should be considered for a ban. Rugby and league are obvious candidates, of course, as they result in tens of thousands of claims every year and a total cost in the tens of millions. But would you have suspected that humble, harmless lawn bowls was so hazardous? The sport of septuagenarians injures over 1,000 people a year and costs ACC $1m. Likewise with dancing, golf, and fishing. They’re all too dangerous to be allowed. It’s a miracle that we’ve survived this long with all of this harmful physical activity occurring.

Sport Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Rugby union 56,842 $65.4m
Rugby league 12,556 $15.3m
Lawn bowls 1,134 $1.0m
Dancing 6,972 $5.1m
Golf 5,797 $4.5m
Fishing 2,431 $3.2m

But it doesn’t stop with sports. Your home is full of seemingly innocuous items that are eager to kill or maim you. Your stove, for example. Boiling liquids cause almost 5,000 injuries a year, costing ACC $1.9 million. We should definitely ban home cooking. Leave it to the professionals, for pity’s sake! Lifting and carrying objects at home is even more dangerous – over 100,000 claims a year. So don’t pick up that tea-tray or box of knick-knacks: call in someone who’s suitably qualified for handling such dangerous objects.

And let’s not even mention the toll taken by falls, except to strenuously argue for a ban on showers, bathroom tiles, and private ownership of ladders.

Cause of accident Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Boiling liquids (at home) 4,680 $1.9m
Lifting / carrying objects (at home) 103,798 $95.1m
Falls (at home) 310,292 $323.4m
Driving-related accidents (on roads/streets) 13,322 $173.2m

Finally, it’s important to remember an important bit of context that the Herald doesn’t mention: Distracted walking is a far, far lesser danger than driving cars (distracted or not). In the average year, ACC receives 13,300 claims for driving-related accidents and pays out a total of $173 million for people who have been injured or killed. That far, far exceeds the injury toll associated with texting while walking.

On the whole, you’re more likely to be killed or injured while in a car than you are while walking. This chart, taken from a Ministry of Transport report on “risk on the road”, shows deaths or injuries in motor vehicle crashes per million hours spent travelling. Drivers experience 8 deaths/injuries per million hours. The two safest modes are walking (4.6 deaths/injuries per million hours) and public transport (0.7).

Because different travel modes are substitutes, measures to discourage walking – i.e. by penalising people who combine walking with smartphone use – may have the unintended consequence of killing or injuring more people.

MoT risk on the road chart

[As an aside, this chart presents a somewhat misleading picture of cycle safety. People on bicycles experience 31 deaths or injuries per million hours – considerably higher than driving. However, drivers, not cyclists, are at fault in the majority of cycle crashes. According to another recent MoT report, cyclists were primarily responsible for only 22% of crashes. Drivers were partially or fully at fault in the remaining 78% of crashes.

MoT cycle crash fault chart

Consequently, if we provided safe cycle infrastructure that kept people on bikes away from people in cars, cycling would get a lot safer. If we could completely eliminate the risk of people on bikes being hit by cars, cycling would be about as safe as driving.]

To conclude, there are two things that the statistics teach us.

The first is that although injuries and ACC claims are bad, it’s essential to put risks in perspective. And the relevant perspective is this: Walking is a safe mode of travel. It’s remained safe in spite of the invention of the smartphone and the existence of hoons like me who walk around with their nose in a book.

It’s always worth looking for effective ways to improve safety. That’s why Transportblog’s advocated for safe, separated cycleways, and also why it’s taken a positive view on cost-effective investments to improve road safety, like the recent announcement of safety improvements to SH2. But it’s also important to remember that the best way to improve safety is to make it easier to travel in comparatively safe ways. Like walking and public transport.

The second lesson is that there are many activities that can injure us, from rugby to lawn bowls to cooking. Walking while texting is a recent invention, so it may seem newsworthy. But it’s only one of the many hazards that people choose to expose themselves to. If you’re not living in a padded room, you’re probably risking your life in some way or another.

As humans, we’re very prone to focus on risks from new activities while ignoring the effects of things that are already common. Status quo bias is a very real thing – and it doesn’t just apply to transport reporting. It’s the reason why people can, say, oppose new three-storey apartment buildings while being perfectly comfortable with the three-storey houses next door to them.

What risks do you think we should pay more (or less) attention to?

Urban form and agglomeration economies – the impact of “edge cities”

Last week, I took a look at the contribution of agglomeration to Auckland’s recent economic growth. Based on observed changes to employment density over the period, plus agglomeration elasticities calculated by David Maré and Daniel Graham, I estimated that 11-12% of Auckland’s recent productivity growth was due to increased urban scale and density.

The gains from agglomeration since 2000 are significant: Auckland’s GDP is approximately $1.4 billion larger as a result. Ultimately, productivity gains are good for everyone. If you’re retired, they help to pay your pension. If you’re in school, they help pay your teachers and living costs. In between, they help fund your health care and pay for your neighbourhood library.

But is agglomeration simply a consequence of urban scale, or does urban form also matter? In other words, are there any reasons that we should prefer one distribution of employment within cities to another?

Interesting question.

There are a couple of ways we can address it. One would be to gather data on the spatial distribution of employment in a range of cities, and examine the impact on productivity. This is, implicitly, what Maré and Graham (and other economists studying productivity) have done by measuring effective job density and productivity at a highly detailed level and comparing outcomes within and between cities.

Other papers use a slightly different methodology but also come up with suggestive results. For example, a 2014 paper by Daniel Chatman and Robert Noland finds that public transport provision can encourage agglomeration economies in dense city centres. From the abstract:

Using data on US metropolitan areas, this paper traces the links from transit service to central city employment density, urbanised area employment density and population; and from these physical agglomeration measures to average wages and per capita GMP. Significant indirect productivity effects of transit service are found. For example, in the case of central city employment density, estimated wage increases range between $1.5 million and $1.8 billion per metropolitan area yearly for a 10 per cent increase in transit seats or rail service miles per capita. Firms and households likely receive unanticipated agglomeration benefits from transit-induced densification and growth, and current benefit–cost evaluations may therefore underestimate the benefits of improving transit service, particularly in large cities with existing transit networks.

Another approach would be to simulate the impact of alternative employment distribution on effective density and hence on productivity. Last week, I looked at how Auckland’s job density had changed from 2000 to 2015. This week, I’m also going to consider a simple simulation: What if the city had grown in a different way between 2000 and 2015?

According to Stats NZ’s Business Demography data, Auckland added approximately 174,000 jobs – a 33% increase – over this period. Here’s a chart showing how they were distributed at a local board level. Waitemata local board added the most jobs (almost 41,000) followed by Upper Harbour (22,000) and Howick and Maungakiekie-Tamaki (both around 19,000).

By contrast, the rest of the isthmus and lower North Shore saw exceptionally low rates of change. (A pattern that is matched in population growth: high growth in the city centre, Howick, and Upper Harbour, where planning rules have enabled growth, and low growth in other areas where they’ve prevented it.)

Auckland employment change by local board 2000-2015 chart

But what if Auckland’s recent employment growth had followed a different pattern? For example, what if we’d chosen to decentralise employment growth to a new “edge city”?

Let’s set aside, for a moment, the fact that creating new employment centres by planning fiat tends to disappoint. (As demonstrated by Manukau’s underwhelming history, and possibly also the new NorthWest mall.) If businesses don’t see an advantage in locating there, it won’t happen.

As a benchmark, consider a new “edge city” in Drury, which is currently a set of paddocks that are conveniently located along the Southern Motorway and the unelectrified portion of Auckland’s Southern Rail Line. Let’s assume that we succeeded in relocating a bit over 25% of Auckland’s recent employment growth to Drury – creating a new employment centre with 50,000 jobs. (Around half the size of the Auckland city centre.) All other areas of Auckland would have seen proportionately lower rates of growth.

What would that do to the city’s potential for agglomeration?

Here’s a map comparing the effective density of employment under this “edge city” scenario with the actual effective density of employment in 2015. (Remember, effective density is a measure of an area’s potential for agglomeration economies, as areas that are accessible to more jobs are likely to be more productive.)

Areas shaded in yellow would experience reductions in agglomeration potential, while areas in green and blue would be more accessible to jobs under the “edge city” scenario. Notice how most of the city is coloured yellow. The only places to benefit from this change are the areas immediately around Drury.

Auckland effective density edge city scenario

Overall, the job density gains around Drury are far outweighed by the “deglomeration” experienced by the rest of the city. Shifting employment growth to an “edge city” in Drury would have reduced the city’s overall job density by 9%. (In 2015, the average Auckland employee was accessible to around 92,000 other jobs. Under the “edge city” scenario, they’d only be accessible to around 84,000 jobs.)

This would in turn reduce the city’s economic productivity. Based on Maré and Graham’s measured agglomeration elasticity of 0.065, I estimate that Auckland’s productivity would be 0.6% lower under the “edge city” scenario. (Again, using an arc elasticity formula: (92,000/84,000)^0.065-1.)

Because Auckland’s GDP was $88.3 billion in 2015, the productivity losses from deglomeration would equate to roughly half a billion dollars a year. That’s a lot of money. For comparison’s sake, $0.5 billion is roughly equivalent to:

Of course, more centralisation is not always optimal. In a large city, there are good reasons for businesses to spread themselves around a bit. Retailers want to be close to local shoppers, warehouses want to be on cheap land close to transport infrastructure, and so on and so forth. And, from a policy perspective, adding peak transport capacity to enable existing centres to grow may be costly.

But, as this simulation of a Drury “edge city” shows, forcing decentralisation is likely to be highly sub-optimal. Auckland would be less productive if it had chosen to push employment growth into outlying centres, rather than accommodating it in the city centre and other locations throughout the city. Over time, that would translate into lower competitiveness for local businesses, lower wages for Auckland workers, lower living standards for residents, and worse public services and infrastructure.

Do you think urban form can contribute to a productive, happy city?

Mid-week reading: Burglaries, governance, and managing change

Mid-week reading!

One of the more thought-provoking things I read this week was Patrick Lyons’ interview (in Vice) with Geoff Manaugh, who runs the incredibly interesting website BLDGBLOG and who has just written a book on burglary. Manaugh argues that burglary is an essentially architectural crime:

A Burglar’s Guide to the City takes a look at our everyday urban environments through the eyes of the criminals aiming to hack them, illuminating the spatially-specific tactics used to break in, escape, and stay hidden in today’s surveillance-heavy metropolises. The goal, however, is not to be an actual handbook for the aspiring thief, but rather an alternative study of architecture and urban design.

Through interviews with former burglars, as well as law enforcement and security professionals, Manaugh explains how various features of cities and buildings lead to very specific types of burglaries. Los Angeles, with its sprawling highways, lends itself to quick bank robberies with easy escape routes. Chain businesses with identical layouts and employee schedules, such as McDonalds, invite repeat thieves who’ve previously robbed other locations. “If you look closely, from just the right angle,” he writes, “every city implies the crimes that will one day take place there.”

Throughout the text, Manaugh carefully organizes chapters focused on cities, buildings themselves, common burglary tools, and, finally, getaway strategies, bringing us along for the ride for an exhilarating, perspective-shifting read…

I will have to check the book out at some point. Incidentally, heist movies are always fascinated with architecture. Think about the way that Die Hard and Ocean’s Eleven dwelled on buildings, or the way that Inception constantly subverted the built form.

Another interesting take on cities – from an economic perspective rather than a criminal one – is provided by Noah Smith (in Bloomberg View), who looks at optimal government structures. It’s quite relevant for New Zealand, which sometimes seems like it has both too many and too few local governments. On the one hand, there’s an incentive to aggregate local governments to reduce coordination failures and share costs. On the other hand, there’s some value in competition between neighbouring local governments. Smith discusses the arguments for more fragmented government:

What’s the optimal size for economic performance? Are we better off with many little competing city-states, a bunch of midsized nations or just a few big super-countries overseeing hundreds of millions of people each? If bigger is better, what about a global government?

Actually, economists have thought about this a fair amount. In 1956, Charles Tiebout believed he had a solution to the problem. He reasoned that local governments knew more about their people’s needs than distant central governments, and so the best system was one where local governing units — city-states, essentially — offered different packages of taxes and public services. People would vote with their feet, going to the place that suited them the most…

Some people also claim that political fragmentation has been beneficial in the past. Anthropologist Jared Diamond, in his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” suggested that competition between small countries allowed Europe to get a head start on unified China in the Industrial Revolution. Economists Brad DeLong and Andrei Shleifer argued in 1993 that city-states helped Europe develop (though more recent evidence seems to counter this). Casual evidence would also suggest that Taiwan’s de facto independence from China helped provide the mainland with a capitalist model to revive its moribund economy in the 1980s and 1990s.

… and the arguments against:

But there are arguments on the other side, too. The mathematician and economist Truman Bewley examined the Tiebout idea in the 1980s, and found that a patchwork of little city-states doesn’t always lead to a well-functioning system.

There are several reasons why Tiebout’s idea can fail. One is that many of the services governments provide are what economists call public goods. These are things that the private sector either can’t or won’t provide. The classic examples are national defense, police, courts and support for basic research. But many other things, like roads, electrical grids and ports, are usually in short supply when left to the private sector…

A second issue is that governments don’t always have the right incentives. Some governments may decide to maximize the size of their tax bases. Others might care only about the welfare of their citizens, while others might be beholden to special interests — I imagine an independent San Francisco would be ruled by local landlords even more than it already is. There’s no perfect type of local government, and so we’ll have a wide variety of them. Bewley showed that this problem also prevents Tiebout’s patchwork from being an economically efficient utopia.

Finally, something from a month back. Public health researcher Alistair Woodward wrote a really invaluable article about Wellington’s Island Bay cycleway, which has aroused ferocious ire from some residents (via BikeAKL). It’s definitely worth reading in full, but here’s some highlights.

Woodward points out that the Island Bay arguments are nothing new:

But what is most remarkable about this story for me is its familiarity. What is happening in Island Bay has taken place in other cities. The arguments fit, almost word for word, with those made elsewhere.

Check out what was written about bike lanes on Lake Road, on the North Shore of Auckland, for example. Overseas, New York City has made many changes to its streets but attempts to re-allocate space from cars to other road users have been fiercely resisted, on much the same grounds as in Island Bay. Jason Henderson has written an excellent book on the politics of mobility in San Francisco, in which the chapter on bicycle space in the city applies closely to the situation in Wellington. In London the push to grow cycling by re-building roads has had many successes, but there has been opposition. See, for example, the arguments made against Dutch style separated lanes in Enfield.

The reason the Island Bay story is essentially a re-run of older controversies is this: there is a deep, underlying and terribly important issue here, and it has nothing to do with Island Bay (or any other specific location).

The issue is how we, as a society, negotiate access to resources that are shared and limited. Roads are part of the public commons – they belong to everyone and they belong to no-one in particular. Everybody benefits from access, but concessions must be made because the resource is finite. Who concedes, and by how much, are matters that are vital to everyone’s welfare and must be agreed upon collectively.

He goes on to make a few useful suggestions about how we can better manage change in the commons:

There must be a local solution, requiring hard work by Council and communities, stamina, good faith, political savvy and technical intelligence. But let’s not lose sight of the big picture, which is about how we, collectively, manage change. James Longhurst again: ‘the vehemence of the recurring battles since the bicycle’s arrival demonstrates that even the smallest alteration of perceptions, policy or physical construction may be perceived by competing forces as a new front in a war over a scarce resource.’

I argue that it is important to take a ‘responsiveness to change’ perspective because the present New Zealand transport system is, in many respects, stiff, constrained, and not well equipped to manage challenges to the status quo.

Here are three suggestions that are unlikely to resolve the Island Bay cycleway, but might contribute to sorting out future conflicts over what it really means to ‘share the road’.

  1. It would be a great help if governments signed up to a strategic vision and powerful targets for cycling and walking. There is nothing in New Zealand to match, just as an example, San Francisco’s vision of a 30/30/40 mode split by 2035 (30% motor vehicles, 30% transit, 40% walking and cycling). Many of those working in transport acknowledge the need for high-level goals to drive network change. Without this force from above, planning and operations fall back into incremental mode, and one of the consequences is that consultation tends to occur at the micro-scale. Change becomes very ‘sticky’ and difficult to progress.

  2. We must overcome a systemic tendency towards conservatism in design. Arising perhaps from concerns over institutional and political risk, and focusing on mind-numbingly fine print, putting a brake on innovation and experimentation is dangerous because it increases the chance of system failure. It is difficult in New Zealand at present, for example, to apply New York-style soft interventions (such as the first, temporary barriers in Times Square) that are easy to install, can be assessed rapidly, and if need be, taken down rapidly. In this environment the best minds in the world may struggle to get the best value from existing infrastructure, scope new challenges, test unfamiliar solutions, and respond quickly.

  3. Finally, I argue for a greater investment in evaluation. Compared with the intense scrutiny that applies at the front end of planning (business cases, benefit cost ratios, trying to find the best way of navigating blizzards of consents), remarkably little effort goes into learning after the event. In terms of cycling infrastructure and safety for example, there is generally no follow-up until police crash statistics reveal a problem – although it is well-known these data are insensitive, partial and slow to come to hand. Lack of follow-up also misses successes, which is important because re-allocation of road space may be a very good thing, benefiting residents, car drivers, walkers and cyclists, and local businesses.

Great suggestions from Woodward. How do you think we can improve the way we manage change?

Road Pricing straight to GPS

As I briefly mentioned last week, I think road pricing is a discussion that’s only going to increase in Auckland in the future. Len Brown has been talking about it for some time and Mayoral Candidate Phil Goff has already said he supports some form of road charging. We also know that road pricing is being considered as part of the ATAP process. With this post I wanted to look into it a bit more.

At a high level there are two main goals in the push behind road pricing. One is a desire to manage demand for roads thereby improving their efficiency, which can deliver a mix of benefits such as reducing congestion and potentially the need for expensive and increasingly contentious projects. In this situation the aim is to use road pricing tools to change individuals behaviour. The second main goal is a desire to use road pricing as tool to supplement fuel taxes and/or raise additional money which can then be fed back to spend on more transport projects. In this situation the aim is to collect as much money as cheaply as possible.

The ATAP process is looking at road pricing from a demand management point of view while the mayor’s Consensus Building Group and subsequent Long Term Plan discussion were examples of a revenue gathering focus. In the recent discussion the tool of choice for revenue gathering has been motorway tolling where people are charged for entering the motorway but there are other solutions too:

  • Cordon pricing charges people for driving past a certain point and Auckland with it’s natural and man-made boundaries is almost uniquely set up for that.
  • A slightly more advanced version and like what happens in London is an area charge whereby there is a cordon inside of which are a number of checkpoints to pick up trips made within the cordon.

As an example the two maps below from a report into road pricing in Auckland from 2008 show the difference – in this case using a double cordon.

Road Pricing options

There appear to be a are a couple of major problems with many of these solutions.

  • Tolling just the motorways opens up the issue of diversion where drivers shift to non-motorway routes – as has already been seen without road pricing and if motorway tolling was turned on I imagine it would only amplify.
  • Cordons can have significant boundary effects, in the example above those living in the inner suburbs, the ones who might have the most alternative options, pay nothing for driving within the area but those further out will pay for travelling over a line.
  • The area charging is a little fairer on the boundary effects due to the scattered checkpoints to pick up on inter-area travel but as we also know, congestion isn’t limited to the city centre and a central area charge won’t stop Manukau from clogging up.

One of the problems with all of these technologies is they can be very expensive to install with multiple sites needing to be set up and maintained to capture the details of all passing vehicles. As a result, collection costs are normally quite high. In the case of the Northern Gateway Toll Road collection costs usually eat up 25-30% of the toll collected and reports indicate similar levels would be expected in these situations. In addition to just how revenue is collected there is also the issue of just how much is charged. Flat tolls can still leave roads busy and congested at peak times.

The holy grail of road pricing these days appears to be to use GPS to deliver dynamic road pricing. With it, people can be charged for how far they travel, where they travel, when they travel and just how busy the roads they travel on are. If the roads you want to travel on are busy then it will cost you more to join in and travel at the same time.

Interestingly some places are already starting to look at using GPS based road pricing to better manage their road systems. Singapore has been at the forefront of road pricing and was one of the first cities to implement it. They currently use a network of around 80 gantries located around the city that record passing vehicles.

Singapore ERP Gantry

An ERP gantry in Singapore

Just over a month ago, Singapore announced it had awarded a tender to replace their current gantry set-up with a GPS based one in 2020. The new system will cost about NZ $600 million and the cost and difficulty of maintaining the current system was listed as one of the reasons for doing so.

This next-generation ERP system will allow for more flexibility in managing traffic congestion through distance-based road pricing, where motorists are charged according to the distance travelled on congested roads, which would be fairer to motorists. It will also be able to overcome the constraints of physical gantries, which are costly and take up land space. In addition, off-peak car users can look forward to new policies which LTA is considering, which may allow them to pay only for using their vehicles for short periods rather than the whole day, or for using them only on uncongested roads. A new On-Board Unit (OBU) will replace the existing In-Vehicle Unit (IU), which can also be used to deliver additional services to motorists. For example, LTA will be able to disseminate traffic advisories through the OBU. The OBU can also be used to pay for parking, checkpoint tolls, and usage of off-peak cars electronically.

In my view, if we’re going to go to the cost and trouble of implementing a road pricing solution – and on the surface at least there seems a valid case to do so – it seems we might a swell skip the gantry phase and move straight to a GPS solution

Another interesting recent system is OReGO in Oregon. While not time of use pricing, it does introduce distance based pricing using a small device that plugs in most relatively modern vehicles. The basic version only charges based on distance and rebates users for the amount of fuel taxes they would have paid however 3rd parties offer GPS tracking and other features. It wouldn’t be a stretch to have versions in the future which enable time of day pricing.

One of the challenges of road pricing is whether it’s only needed in Auckland of if the solution is something that needs to be rolled out to the entire country. OReGO also gives an idea as to how GPS based road pricing could be implemented in NZ – this is also based on a post by Stu back in 2011.

  1. People can get approved GPS tracking devices from AT/NZTA or third parties to install in their cars.  These devices record time/distance/location, for which users pay differential rates.
  2. Users that sign up to the time-of-use pricing scheme would then be exempt from fuel taxes (there would need to be some verification and/or refund process).
  3. People who did not want to participate in the scheme would remain with the current system.  So fuel taxes would operate alongside the GPS scheme but prices would be adjusted over time to encourage the use of GPS tracking.

A voluntary system might not have the immediate impacts on congestion as turning on motorway tolls but ultimately it’s an approach that be required to get public buy in.

What are your thoughts on road pricing and would you sign up it (for those times you’re not on PT or walking/cycling).

 

The contribution of agglomeration to economic growth in Auckland

We’ve written quite a bit about agglomeration economies, as they’re one of the most important forces shaping urban life. Agglomeration economies refer to the benefits of proximity for economic and social interaction – when you’re around more people, it’s easier to meet the right person (for business or relationships!), easier to share knowledge, and easier to do things in general.

One “stylised fact” from the economic literature is that cities that are larger and better connected – i.e. denser and/or easier to get around – tend to be more productive. When it comes to economic performance, size matters. This benefits firms and workers, of course, but it is also good for consumers. For example, if you want to see a lot of rugby tests, you’re better off locating in Auckland than in Taupo, because test matches tend to go to where the people are. And if you want more restaurants and groceries, live in a denser neighbourhood.

However, economists have focused on agglomeration economies in production as they’re often easier to measure. For example, a few years ago the New Zealand economist David Maré estimated an “Auckland productivity premium” of around 50%. That means that firms located in Auckland are around 50% more productive than similar firms located in other regions. The premium was even higher for Auckland’s city centre.

In subsequent work, Maré and a collaborator, Daniel Graham, estimated that New Zealand had an “agglomeration elasticity” of around 0.065 (averaged across all industries). What this means is that places that are 10% denser tend to be around 0.65% more productive, all else equal.

But what does this mean in practice? How much does agglomeration contribute to the New Zealand economy? Is it a big deal, or not that important in the grand scheme of things?

To get a rough idea, I calculated changes in the “effective density” of jobs in Auckland over the period 2000-2015, taking into account the location of jobs within Auckland (from Stats NZ’s Business Demographics data) and the distance between job locations (calculated using GIS tools). I followed Maré and Graham’s formula for job density as a function of weighted distance to jobs in nearby areas – for the precise formula see equation 2 on page 12 of their paper.

Here’s a map showing how effective density of jobs changed over the whole period. Darker blues indicate higher percentage increases.

Almost everywhere in the Auckland urbanised area became more accessible to employment over this period – the rising tide of urban development lifted all boats. On average across the region, effective density rose by 29%. However, increases were faster around Albany and the upper North Shore, which saw rapid development, and slower in the western isthmus and west Auckland.

Auckland effective density 2000-2015

So things have changed quite a lot. The following chart shows that these changes happened incrementally over time. It shows the effective density of employment for the average job in Auckland. In 2000, the average job was proximate to around 71,000 other jobs. In 2015, that had risen to slightly less than 92,000 jobs.

Auckland effective density 2000-2015 chart

So job density has gone up quite a lot over the last 16 years as a result of Auckland’s growth. What effect has this had on productivity?

As a point of comparison, I estimated changes in GDP per employee over the same period. (I used Stats NZ’s employment data, regional GDP statistics, and GDP price deflators for the whole country. This isn’t a perfect estimate, as I’ve excluded self-employed people and haven’t corrected for part-time employment, but it’s not miles off.) Here’s what that looks like. Over the entire period, GDP per employee has risen by approximately 14.4%. The city’s economy currently produces around $88.3 billion in output.

Auckland real GDP per employee 2000-2015 chart

By comparison, Maré and Graham’s agglomeration elasticity of 0.065 implies that a 29% increase in job density is associated with a 1.7% increase in productivity (calculated using an arc elasticity formula: (92,000/71,000)^0.065-1). The true figure may be higher, as Auckland is specialised in industries that benefit more strongly from agglomeration economies.

In short:

  • Roughly 11-12% of the total productivity growth in Auckland over the last 16 years is due to increased agglomeration economies
  • In the absence of increased agglomeration economies from scale and density, Auckland’s economy would be around $1.4 billion smaller.

A wide range of other factors – increased skills, investment in capital goods, improved business practices, and changes to the composition of Auckland’s economy – also make important contributions to productivity growth. However, the contribution of agglomeration is significant – both in dollar terms and as a share of the city’s overall productivity growth. In the long term, those tenths of a percent add up to quite a lot. If we want a wealthier New Zealand, we need better, more productive cities.

Policymakers can do a lot to enhance – or undermine – agglomeration economies. For example:

What do you think about agglomeration economies in Auckland?

Feb-16 Indicator Graphs

Last week I wrote about the Patronage results for February. At the time of writing that post, AT’s monthly indicators report was not available which provides more detail on the patronage plus a number of other metrics. I thought I would highlight a few interesting aspects from that indicators report.

One of the first pages I tend to look at in recent months has been the one showing what’s happening PT subsidies as we’ve been seeing significant changes – especially since the electric trains started rolling out. This information is always two months behind so the data shown here is till the end of January and as you can see the trends continue to be very positive.

Farebox recovery – This is how much fares cover the cost of services and the measure has soared over the last year rising from 45.9% in Jan 15 to 49.4% in Jan 16. Given it had been in approximately a 44-46% range for around a decade that’s a significant jump and is a clear result of the rapidly growing patronage, especially on trains. AT need for overall Farebox Recovery to reach 50% by 2018 so it appears they’re on track to do this in the next few months, well ahead of when the NZTA say it needs to happen. This should hopefully mean AT are able to be more aggressive with the pricing for integrated fares later this year and/or also allow for more to be invested in new and improved services.

As different modes have quite different usage patterns the bottom graph also shows the cost per passenger km for rail is following a very positive trend

2016-02 - Farebox

Parking in the city – remains very high and as you can see below, the upper limit on street metric was surpassed in March. For both on and off street parking, AT want to use pricing to manage demand by setting the rates so that there are always some spaces available should people want to use it. AT consider 90% full as the top of their target range to maintain that and with both measures at or above 90% does it suggest AT could be rising prices again soon?

2016-02 - Parking Results

Daily Rail Boardings – In February we surpassed 60k per weekday which is even higher than it was in March last year. It makes me wonder just how high we’ll reach for this month?

2016-02 - Rail Weekday

HOP Usage – The percentage of PT trips being made using HOP appears to have plateaued over the last year or so at around 70%. What plans do AT have to push this higher up towards 80-90%? So far we know that the government is requiring all SuperGold fares in Auckland to be made via HOP from July so presumably AT will be running a campaign to get those users to shift. SuperGold users make up about 9% of all PT trips although some already use HOP. After that in the absence of any campaign then integrated fares may be a driver to improve uptake. The reason for improving the level of HOP use is that it speeds up buses which helps make them more efficient. It also makes it easier to implement changes that can deliver further improvements such as not giving change, all door boarding etc.

2016-02 - HOP Uptake

Arterial Road Productivity – At a few key sites around the city measurements are taken to look at the productivity of roads – which is the product of the number of vehicles on the road, the number of people in them and how fast they’re going. Interestingly the chart shows that productivity has been increasing with the only major exception being Glenfield Rd. I guess congestion in some places isn’t as bad as thought.

2016-02 Road Productivity 2

Road Crashes – Perhaps related to the above result, over the past year crashes involving serious injuries have increased quite a bit.

2016-02 Road Crashes

 

Are there any other graphs from the pact that caught your eye?

The “consumer city” and urban growth in Christchurch

This article was originally posted on Making Christchurch, a group blog set up by Barnaby Bennett in the wake of the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, at the invitation of Transportblog commenter Brendon Harre.

Why do cities grow and change? And how can cities harness those dynamics?

Last month, I took a look at agglomeration economies, which describe the productivity and innovation gains arising from urban scale and density. The advantages that cities offer for production have underpinned urban success throughout history.

Economic productivity is important. To paraphrase Paul Krugman, in the long run, productivity growth underpins our ability to consume more of everything from electronics to healthcare, and to have more of the non-economic things that make life enjoyable. All else being equal, people tend to move towards more productive places in search of higher living standards. But economic productivity isn’t the only thing that matters for wellbeing — or for growth and change in cities.

Urban economics tackles urban amenities

For a long time, people assumed that cities offer advantages for production but disadvantages for consumption. This assumption, which shaped a lot of economic analysis and policymaking, was understandable. After all, modern cities first arose as manufacturing centres at a time when manufacturing was a dirty business. People could get jobs in the city’s “dark Satanic Mills”, but they had to suffer bad air, choleric water, and high crime rates to do so.

But things appear to have changed over the last half century, at least in developed countries. The bad aspects of cities, such as crime and pollution, have improved, and the good parts have also gotten better. Cities have become attractive for consumers as well as producers.

A pioneering 2000 paper by Ed Glaeser, Jed Kolko and Albert Saiz explored these dynamics. They argued that the availability of “four critical urban amenities” would shape future urban growth:

  • The availability of a rich variety of consumer goods and services —  which, in the era of Amazon.com and the iTunes store, means “non-tradables” like restaurants, live bands, bars, and dating opportunities
  • Aesthetics and natural settings — in other words, the quality of the city’s architecture, public parks, natural environment, and climate
  • Good public services such as schools and low crime rates
  • The quality and speed of transport systems — cities that make more destinations accessible are more likely to be attractive to residents.

In their view, the rise of the “consumer city” opens up other pathways for urban growth. If cities want to attract new residents and businesses, they don’t have to focus only on providing “producer amenities” like convention centres. Supplying great “consumer amenities” can also foster ongoing vibrancy and growth.

Here, I want to look at the prospects for New Zealand cities, and Christchurch in particular, to become successful “consumer cities”. I’m going to focus on the first two dimensions — variety in goods and services and aesthetics and natural settings — and leave a discussion of transport for a future post. (Public services are a bit less relevant to urban growth in New Zealand, as education and law enforcement are run by central government.)

Goods and services

New Zealand cities are coming around to the importance of consumption. It hasn’t always been thus. In the middle of the 20th century, when my parents were growing up in Auckland, the country was firmly in the grips of what historian James Belich called the “tight society”:

homogenous, conformist, masculist, egalitarian and monocultural, subject to heavy formal and informal regulation. There were no licensed restaurants, little weekend shopping, one supermarket (opened in Auckland in 1958) and a very limited range of goods and foods to buy in the shops and unlicensed restaurants that did exist… School milk was free, but you had to drink it.

A lot has changed since then, economically and demographically. While the wholesale deregulation of the 1980s was not an unmixed blessing, it certainly expanded the consumption choices available to New Zealanders. A more liberal migration policy brought new migrants with, thank goodness, new cuisines. And since the advent of mass-market international air travel, Kiwis returning from OEs have come back with new ideas for things to do in cities — from rock bands to restaurants to cycle lanes.

The result is a favourable climate for the adoption, invention, and proliferation of a variety of goods and services in cities — especially when it comes to bars, restaurants, and entertainment.

Christchurch has been instrumental in shaping a key part of the hospitality market: beer. When I started to be able to afford to drink nice beer in bars, the best thing on tap was often from craft breweries in Christchurch like Harrington’s and Three Boys. Their success has fostered competition: craft brewing has since taken off in Wellington and, more recently, Auckland.

In short, New Zealand cities have potential, but they may have to do a few things differently in order to fully realise it.

The first is simple: get some of the barriers out of the way. For example, minimum parking requirements can be a major impediment to opening new restaurants and bars, or converting old warehouse space to retail. They often require restaurants to devote more space to parking than to dining areas, which can be the kiss of death for hole-in-the-wall eateries.

The second is to understand — and take advantage of — positive feedback loops between population density and consumer amenities. Neighbourhoods with more people support a greater variety of consumption choices. While density isn’t for everyone, cities need some medium-to-high density, mixed use neighbourhoods to supply a rich variety of urban goods and services.

In medium-sized cities, city centres have traditionally filled that role. As the following population density maps (darker blue = higher density) show, that’s an area where Christchurch lagged behind Auckland and Wellington even before the earthquakes. The destruction caused by the 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes has created an opportunity for revitalisation on different lines — but government bungles seem to have delayed the process. It’s important that it get back on track.

Aesthetics and natural settings

Christchurch, like many other New Zealand cities, has some intrinsic aesthetic advantages as a result of the natural landscape. Here’s the view west across the city:

 

Photographer: P. Stalder

New Zealand’s environment has always drawn migrants, who often come for the landscape and live in the cities. Take, for example, novelist Eleanor Catton’s description of what drew her family to Christchurch:

I grew up on the South Island of New Zealand, in a city chosen and beloved by my parents for its proximity to the mountains — Christchurch is two hours distant from the worn saddle of Arthur’s Pass, the mountain village that was and is my father’s spiritual touchstone, his chapel and cathedral in the wild. For many years while I was growing up my parents did not own a car. We rode around town on two tandem bicycles and one single (a source of considerable embarrassment to me at the time) and at weekends we would occasionally rent a car in order to drive into the alps, and go hiking.

However, urban aesthetics also matter — even if you go tramping on the weekend, you still spend your weekdays in the city. This is an area where Christchurch has some strengths and some challenges.

From the start, Christchurch had a reputation as a “garden city” as a result of its large public parks and street trees. Although the idea of parks as a city’s “lungs” is less salient today than in Industrial Revolution cities, parks and street trees are still public amenities. They make people better off simply by existing in the vicinity.

The earthquakes seem to have opened up some opportunities to enhance the garden city — particularly along the Avon River, where many houses have been red-zoned. In addition to the central government-promoted Avon River Precinct, some community groups are calling for a forest park out to New Brighton. Others have simply gotten on with creating something new.

The built environment, however, is more problematic. Central government oversaw the demolition of over 1200 buildings in the city centre in the years following the earthquakes, including many of the city’s historic buildings.

Source: Wikipedia

This has been controversial and at times acrimonious. As I am neither an architect nor a Cantabrian, I’m not in a good position to weigh in on the debate. But as an economist from Auckland I’d observe that heritage buildings have a definite public value  — not one that trumps all other costs, but one that should be accounted for in decision-making. At the very least, it would be smart to replace any demolished buildings with more attractive and usable ones.

Prospects for population growth in Christchurch

Thus far, I’ve considered — in a thematic way — some of Christchurch’s challenges and opportunities as a “consumer city”. But what would success look like?

Let’s take a look at a few data points. First, here’s a chart showing Statistics NZ’s latest (2015) regional population projections. The Canterbury region, which includes Christchurch and its satellite towns, is projected to grow faster than all regions other than Auckland over the next three decades.

In other words, Stats NZ expects Christchurch to be relatively successful at attracting and retaining people. But look at the range on their estimates: the city could grow faster than Auckland, or it could hardly grow at all.

Without digging into Stats NZ’s forecasting methodology, it’s difficult to say why they’ve picked such a wide range. But perhaps it reflects uncertainty about the future attractiveness of Christchurch as a consumer city. Wages in Christchurch tend to be lower than in Auckland and Wellington, meaning that urban amenities potentially have a stronger role to play in fostering urban growth.

A second data point. A few months ago, I took a look at the sources of Auckland’s population growth. I found that natural increase accounted for the majority of growth but that net migration — more people arriving than departing — fluctuated wildly from year to year. Here’s what the picture looks like for Canterbury:

Source: Stats NZ Infoshare

Net migration to Canterbury has followed a very similar trend as net migration to Auckland — the peaks and the troughs coincide remarkably well. However, the troughs are just a little bit deeper in Christchurch, as substantial numbers flow out of the region in a bad year. In Auckland, by contrast, net migration seldom turns negative.

Net migration will always be a bit of a rollercoaster in New Zealand — it’s followed a boom-and-bust cycle for a very long time. But it’s possible — with the right combination of a resilient economy and good consumer amenities — to reduce the depths of the troughs and raise the height of the peaks. It might not be an inspiring mission statement for a city, but perhaps it’s the right one for Christchurch.

Mayoral Candidates views on transport

The two current main contenders for the Auckland mayoralty are still yet to release any policy but they are starting to make more noise. At a business association meeting in East Tamaki yesterday they talked transport with both leaving a lot to be desired.

Phil Goff

He repeated his vision for light rail in parts of the city.

“The City Rail Link will double heavy rail capacity, but that only benefits the south and west, while other parts of Auckland don’t get that,” he says.

Goff says he wants to explore public-private partnerships and city bonds as a means to fund large infrastructure projects.

He says rates alone should not be relied on to fund projects, which would mean an opportunity for public-private partnerships and an element of “user pays”.

“There’s no money put aside [for light rail]…but the cost of not doing anything is more,” he says.

He says up to $3 billion in productivity is being lost in the city’s congestion.

On funding, Goff says city bonds would be an option to share the cost over generations.

He’d also ensure the council would be unified and prepared when presenting a plan to Government for support on projects.

The biggest issue with Goff’s statements are his claims about cost of congestion are rising faster than rail patronage, having doubled in the last month or so from the more frequently quoted $1-1.5 billion. But even that isn’t correct as highlighted by this research a few years ago which showed those upper limits of congestion are based on assuming roads should operate in complete free flow conditions 24/7 – which in reality would mean a massive overbuilding of capacity. Using a more relevant metric that focuses on network utilisation results in a cost of just $250 million.

We also know that congestion hasn’t actually got much worse in recent years. The recent ATAP foundation report showed that travel time delay has been fairly stable and has even declined in the AM peak.

ATAP - Travel Time Delay

Victoria Crone

Crone favoured an “aligned” approach to her transport plan – that includes investing in all transport modes across the entire region.

She would follow other international cities in investigating innovations like driverless vehicles.

During her speaking period, Crone questioned why the AMETI project isn’t more of a priority for completion.

She also questioned why more park and ride facilities aren’t in use across the city alongside buses, trains and ferries.

“Without park and rides you’re capping the number of people that will use that service,” she says.

However, Crone says the challenge would be on funding the projects.

She is intent on bringing Auckland Council spending under control, including promising to open the books to shed light on how it is spending money.

“The private partnerships [for transport projects] and the Government – the taxpayer – shouldn’t be putting money into a system that’s wasted,” she says.

Crone hit out at the CBD cycleways being constructed when other areas like Rodney are still waiting on sealed footpaths.

I agree with Crone that AMETI should be a higher priority. AT need to hurry up and get on with it but many of her other comments show a lack of understanding of transport issues and seem more aligned with common over the barbecue type generalisations or contradictions.

AMETI Buslane - Pakuranga Rd

AT need to get on with the AMETI busway

One is the assumption that a lot more park n ride is needed to get more people using PT. Research has shown that adding P&R will often see many existing users change how they get to a station so the actual parking capacity gained much less what is built. It’s also not cheap, even simple P&Rs like the new one at Swanson can cost as much as $18,000 per carpark and if they’re buildings or underground the cost goes up even more. Spending $100 million might add as few as 5,000 carparks and assuming they were all new users it would be equivalent of around 2.5 million trips per year which is around 3% of current patronage. Also if driverless cars do become common soon like she hopes then P&R probably won’t be needed at all.

But it’s the last comment that’s the strangest and shows a lack of understanding of even how transport is funded. Already thousands of people per day are using the new cycleways being built in the city and those are being funded by the council, NZTA and the government through its urban cycleway fund. The NZTA and UCF funding isn’t something that can be diverted to other projects – and if council didn’t put up their share it would go somewhere else. Even if the funding could be diverted likely the last place it would go would be to rural footpaths

 

At the end of the day it might not matter who the mayor is and what their personal transport vision is. The ATAP process currently under way and due to wrap up in August has been about creating alignment in transport between Auckland and the Government – at least at a broad level. This is likely to limit any

Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse

It’s a perfect storm really. The CRL works plus other street and building works are combining with the recent sharp increase in pedestrian and bus numbers to pretty much infarct the Central City at any time of the day. The City-sandpit is not going to get better until the CRL is actually running in 2023, which seems a very long time away.

Victoria 5:40pm

Victoria 5:40pm

Sure some important improvements loom large; the Wellesley St bus corridor and better stations and priority on Fanshawe St will clearly help. But it’s also certain that both pedestrian and bus demand will continue to rise because 1) the number of people living, learning, and working in the City Centre is growing rapidly and is likely secular* 2) PT uptake is currently running at about 3 times population growth across the city.

WELLESLEY VICTORIA_7266

Wellesley 4:40pm

Time and Space

In the medium term AT is keen to add Light Rail in a ‘surface rapid transit’ pattern down the length of Queen St, which certainly would add significant high quality PT capacity on a route that, aside from the CityLink and Airbus, is not used much for PT, nor does it provide substantial private vehicle volume [properly understood, and executed well, LRT on Queen offers new capacity on a route that is currently hiding in plain sight].  This is a good plan, but like CRL, not a quick one. It’s only just begun its battle for believers in Wellington. And anyway, delivering this system would involve even more street works and therefore further disruption, which alone could significantly stand in the way of it happening in the near term. So sorting Centre City street allocation should be front and centre of AT’s senior management group’s attention. Perhaps, in this sense, the CRL works are a test of this group’s attention to detail and creativity?

It seems plain things have to be done now and probably every year until the big PT improvements are finished ready to do their heavy lifting. Bus vehicle supply is clearly a problem which is being addressed, albeit in a Dad’s Army kind of way. But other operational issues must follow too.

AT and AC need to immediately address the allocation of roadspace and signal settings in City Centre. Currently both exhibit legacy private vehicle privilege over other modes, which is completely at odds with the strategic direction of the city centre and the efficient running of all systems. Crossing cycles and crossing opportunities have improved for the dominant mode: pedestrians, but this has been been additional to other priorities rather than substitutive. The throughput of people and goods on these streets is not what it could be; there are simply too many space eating cars preventing higher capacity and value transport modes. Cars are given too many options and too much cycle time at critical intersections, which in turn requires more road width to be used for dedicated turning lanes.

Streets in the city centre are increasingly inaccessible for truck and trade vehicles and, importantly, also for emergency vehicles.

Our pavements and crossing cycles are pumping ever more people through on that brilliantly spatially efficient mode; walking, as can be seen in the shots here. Less visible, of course are the numbers of people in the buses. In the photo above we see 12 or so buses. As it’s the afternoon peak they’re likely almost full so together will be carrying approximately 500 people. The cars maybe a total of 10-15 people. So why is so much space dedicated to cars?

Buses that are not moving are not only belching out carcinogenic diesel fumes for us all to inhale, and C02 to help fry the biosphere, but they are also wasting our money; buses stuck in traffic cost more. On proper bus lanes or busways, buses can do much more work. Average speed on the Northern Busway services, for example, is 40kph, whereas other buses average 20kph. Faster buses not only cost less to operate but they also attract many more (fare paying) passengers because they are more useful.

Priority

AT really need to make some clear decisions about private vehicle priority in the city centre. Right now it’s a dog’s breakfast that is neither working well nor reflects policy.

The City East West Transport Study highlighted the importance of east-west traffic movements between the north-south routes of Symonds St in the east and the unlovely couplet of Hobson/Nelson in the west. Queen St is actually not that important for private vehicles, it is cut off at each end by Customs St and K Rd, neither of which supply it with either motorway traffic nor major bus routes. Outside of Hobson/Nelson all motorway traffic from the rest of the city arrive perpendicular to Queen before heading across the valley to parking structures, and the major bus routes likewise all are on either side of it, save some recent additions and the Airport and City Link service. The critical mode on Queen St are the pedestrians, and the cross town vehicle movements that need to traverse the street, albeit briefly. Driving along Queen St needs to be diminished as it is largely pointless [no vehicles entrances on Queen St], and because it disrupts these more valuable movements.

Wellesley 5:32pm

Wellesley 5:32pm

So what can be done ***immediately*** to assist the east-west direction without compromising pedestrian movement on Queen and it’s smaller parallel routes?

The obvious first step would be to remove the near useless right turns at Wellesley and Victoria. Restricting general traffic to straight ahead and left hand turns would greatly simplify the cycles to only three: Ped Barnes’ Dance, east-west traffic, and north-south traffic each running concurrently. Clearing these intersections more efficiently and reducing the addition of pointless traffic onto Queen St a little. Such an arrangement will likely happen post-Wellesley Street bus corridor so why not make it happen now?

CEWT Roads

Two other moves on smaller streets would help too. The right hand turn out of Lorne St looks particularly disruptive for its utility, and using High St to exit the Victoria St parking building is still a terrible thing and really needs fixing, too much space is stolen from pedestrians there and the resultant traffic blocks the mid block of Victoria St East.
High St 4:32pm

High St 4:32pm

Anyway it is policy to get the cars off Queen St one day, so why aren’t we working more deliberately towards that in increments? Do we really have to wait for Light Rail to achieve this? Let’s get the important east-west road priority happening along with complete bus lanes on Queen St as a way to prepare for the glorious future; because for the foreseeable, glamorous or not, buses will have to do most of the heavy lifting in the City Centre.

Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut

A strangely people-free picture of a future lower Queen St.

 

  • secular = Economics (Of a fluctuation or trend) occurring or persisting over an indefinitely long period: ‘there is evidence that the slump is not cyclical but secular’
  • http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/secular

Should council investment follow where growth occurs?

A couple of days ago Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse raised a point that I’ve suggested from time to time for years, that the council’s investment should match the areas experiencing the most growth. It was part of an article in which she also decried the argument used by some in the recent Unitary Plan debate that suburbs close to the city should not have any change as they are “aspirational suburbs”, something she calls distasteful.

“Not only is more money being spent in these suburbs closer to the CBD, there’s also an expectation that there is not going to be much growth in them,” Hulse says.

“And as someone who lives out west – that really strikes me as being fundamentally not right.”

Zoning along the main transport corridors and close to town centres should be equal “whether it’s Remuera or Glendowie or Glen Eden”, she says.

Hulse says the concept of “aspirational suburbs” has been a recurring theme over the past few months.

Residents of inner-city suburbs have espoused the view that their suburbs “should pretty much stay as they are because they are leafy and beautiful and that people out west and down south should simply accept that their suburbs aren’t as worthy of preservation”.

….

“And there’s a certain amount of prejudice creeping into this discussion, which I find distasteful.

“Their preference is that the west is probably of less importance, and to save some of the ‘lovely suburbs’ in their area, the west should just suck it up and grow more.

“Now if the south and the west were also going to accept the bulk of the expensive infrastructure investment, like light rail which is being promoted in places like Dominion Rd and through the Eden-Albert area, then maybe this would be a more equable discussion.”

It’s an interesting point and as mentioned above, one I’ve suggested before. Population growth across Auckland needs to be supported by a range of physical/social infrastructure and more services. Whether that be better public transport and bike lanes, improvements to our streets, water supply, parks, community centres or a range or other things, the growing population needs to be supported. And in an environment where there is a great desire to reduce rates or keep rises to a minimum that means we have to get better at prioritising what we invest in.

So let’s look at a few examples, below are the zoning maps in the Unitary Plan as it was when notified. If you had $400 million to spend would you do so on a single road to create an additional connection to a peninsula where almost no growth is allowed to occur or would you spend it the area/s that aren’t scared of change and as such have been zoned to allow a lot more people to live in them. In case you need a reminder the darker yellow/orange areas are Terraced House and Apartment zones while the dark peachy colour is the mixed housing urban zone. By comparison the Whangaparaoa Peninsula is almost exclusively a single house zone. That means unless someone is holding vacant sections, the look of the peninsula isn’t going to change much any time soon.

PAUP maps - West vs Whangapararoa

If local politicians knew there wouldn’t be any investment in improvements – or at least much more limited investment I wonder how that would change perceptions on the housing debate?

Of course as usual it would never quite be that simple. I suspect that whatever sense of entitlement that exists around housing will also exist around council investment too and there would be a lot of complaints about paying rates and “not getting anything in return”

There are also other complicating factors, such as where investment is needed due to the impact somewhere else. Auckland Transport’s plans for light rail are a good example of this. They have suggested up to four routes on the isthmus though some of the most hostile anti-change areas in Auckland. As I understand it, one of the key reasons for looking at light rail is the limited space within which buses are already struggling. In that case the primary beneficiary might be someone who lives on/near one of the four isthmus routes who would have better transport options but it may mean that city dwellers and visitors also have big benefits from reduced bus and car volume, noise, pollution, congestion etc.

All up it’s an interesting idea and one that might have merit in some form but it also isn’t likely to be practical for all situations. What do you think, should the focus as much investment as possible on the areas that allow for growth?