Sunday reading: 24 May 2015

Greg Bruce, “Skypath: The Path of Most Resistance“, Metro Magazine:

This is a story of conflict and how a small but heavily fortified opposition attempted to block a project that has overwhelming public and institutional support. But if SkyPath is granted its resource consent and any subsequent appeals to the Environment Court are dismissed, the story is likely to be framed differently. It will be about a humble accountant who fought to bring the project to life, despite tremendous institutional opposition and public apathy.

Bevan Woodward estimates he now spends six to nine hours each day working on SkyPath, and that for long periods over the past 10 years he worked even harder, until he realised he was burning himself out.

For many years, almost nobody supported it: not NZTA, not Auckland Transport, not Waterfront Auckland. SkyPath had supporters at Auckland Council, but few other people in power were prepared to help it succeed.

He’s an unlikely champion for a project that almost everyone now wants. He seems surprised by it himself. “I’m a former accountant. I was a business owner in Takapuna, I now live up in Warkworth for family reasons and once a week I carpool down to Auckland, go to my meetings. I’m not being paid to do this. Why is it that one of the most important transport projects has to be run by some unpaid members of the community?”

In 2009, before 5000 Aucklanders pushed through police lines, crossing the bridge on foot and on bike to demonstrate their support, he was ready to quit. He still talks about that event with reverence, as if its memory still sustains him.

Shabnam Dastgheib, “Auckland’s housing boom could prove unstoppable“, Stuff:

The statistical analysis of of 20 industrial countries including New Zealand since 1970 has found that housing booms and busts are lasting longer and when governments take a “wait and see” approach to those cycles, they can spiral out of control.

The longer the booms like the one Auckland is experiencing last, the less likely it is that intervention will be effective…

The paper, Booms, Busts, and Normal Times in the Housing Market by the American Statistical Association appeared in the Journal of Business and Economic Statistics and was publicised this month.

The paper’s authors say their findings support preventive policy interventions by governments during boom times and emphasise the need for timeliness.

A counter-cyclical policy was needed before housing booms and busts reached 26 quarters in order to avoid large and persistent housing price swings and to speed up the return of the market cycle to a normal phase.

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the typical cycle (bottom to top) in New Zealand had gone from about three years in the 1970s to six years in the 2000s boom. The current boom had been running four years “and counting”.

“The international evidence in (this) paper suggests that action should be taken within the first six or seven years of the boom. We are in that phase now where co-ordinated action by policy makers is necessary to avoid the costs of sharply accelerating house prices and the risks of a potential future downturn,” Eaqub said.

Brandon Gaille, “21 Startling Road Rage Facts and Statistics“:

the face of road rage

Jim Russell, “The Third Gobalization: Human Capital and Demographic Decline“, Pacific Standard:

Riffing off of the University of Toronto’s Roger L. Martin, the history of globalization can be understood as the international trade of different forms of capital. For Globalization I, the world exchanged physical capital (i.e. manufactured goods). The epicenter of this economic epoch was Detroit. United States President Ronald Reagan unleashed Globalization II, the era of financial capital. The twin towers, New York City and London (NYLON), ruled the flows of money across sovereign borders. The time of Globalization III is nigh. Human capital lords over physical and financial capital, setting up Boston as the Venice of the current age.

Echoing Martin once again, the highest return on the type of capital defines globalization. If physical capital offers the strongest returns on investment, then Globalization I rules. Welcome to Globalization II if finance provides the best way to get rich. Lastly, acknowledge Globalization III when higher education defines economic geography. Instead of goods or cash, where the brains go matters most.

Invest in education, not stocks or oil.

Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti, “Why Do Cities Matter? Local Growth and Aggregate Growth“, NBER Working Paper. Thanks to Eric Crampton for the reference:

We study how growth of cities determines the growth of nations. Using a spatial equilibrium model and data on 220 US metropolitan areas from 1964 to 2009, we first estimate the contribution of each U.S. city to national GDP growth. We show that the contribution of a city to aggregate growth can differ significantly from what one might naively infer from the growth of the city’s GDP. Despite some of the strongest rate of local growth, New York, San Francisco and San Jose were only responsible for a small fraction of U.S. growth in this period. By contrast, almost half of aggregate US growth was driven by growth of cities in the South. We then provide a normative analysis of potential growth. We show that the dispersion of the conditional average nominal wage across US cities doubled, indicating that worker productivity is increasingly different across cities. We calculate that this increased wage dispersion lowered aggregate U.S. GDP by 13.5%. Most of the loss was likely caused by increased constraints to housing supply in high productivity cities like New York, San Francisco and San Jose. Lowering regulatory constraints in these cities to the level of the median city would expand their work force and increase U.S. GDP by 9.5%. We conclude that the aggregate gains in output and welfare from spatial reallocation of labor are likely to be substantial in the U.S., and that a major impediment to a more efficient spatial allocation of labor are housing supply constraints. These constraints limit the number of US workers who have access to the most productive of American cities. In general equilibrium, this lowers income and welfare of all US workers.

AAP, “Study links car commute with weight gain“, NZ Herald:

Research led by the University of East Anglia in the UK had 4,000 participants describe their main mode of transport for their daily commute and provide details of their height and weight, which was used to calculate their body mass index (BMI).

Researchers then used a series of analyses to see if changes in mode of transport were linked to changes in weight over a two-year period.

Switching from a car to walking, cycling, or using public transport was associated with an average reduction in BMI of 0.32kg/m2 – equivalent to a difference of around one kilogram a person.

The longer the commute, the stronger the association, with a weight loss of around 2kg associated with journeys of more than 10 minutes, and 7kg on average for journeys of more than 30 minutes.

Switching to a car was associated with a significant weight gain of around 1kg per person after taking account of other influential factors.

Charles Marohn, “Lafayette“, Strong Towns:

You would think that would make a city, especially one as well-managed and prudent as Lafayette, incredibly conservative when it comes to taking on long-term commitments. In reality, we see the opposite, not just in Lafayette but in nearly every city across the country. Local governments face enormous incentives to pursue near term growth objectives by taking on onerous long term liabilities. We’ve called it a Ponzi scheme because, despite the lack of a nefarious objective, the mechanism is the same. Cash today with the bill coming due sometime in the future…

The median house in Lafayette costs roughly $150,000. A family living in this house would pay about $1,500 per year in taxes to the local government (more to the schools and regional government) of which 10%, approximately $150, goes to maintenance of infrastructure. A fraction of that $150 – it varies by year – is spent on actual pavement.

To maintain just the roads and drainage systems that have already been built, the family in that median house would need to have their taxes increase by $3,300 per year. That assumes no new roads are built and existing roadways are not widened or substantively improved. That is $3,300 in additional local taxes just to tread water.

That does not include underground utilities – sewer and water – or major facilities such as treatment plants, water towers and public buildings. Using ratios we’ve experienced from other communities, it is likely that the total infrastructure revenue gap for that median home is closer to $8,000 per year.

Urban Kchoze, “Traditional Euro-bloc: what is it, how it was built, why it can’t be built anymore“:

The Traditional Euro-bloc (what I at first called the traditional European urban bloc) is a form of development that is present in almost all European cities and typically forms their densest residential and mixed up sections.

Here is a typical example, in Prague:

A more recent Traditional Euro-bloc in Prague

So, what is the Traditional Euro-bloc? It takes the form of buildings built wall-to-wall, lining the street, that are typically mid-rise (usually 4 to 6 stories high, sometimes a bit more or less). They have little to no front setback, providing for a great sense of enclosure (maybe even more than most North Americans would like) but having the possibility of creating a cold, claustrophobic street scene if without commercial activity and with street parking. Since buildings are built at the property line, it creates an empty space inside the bloc, that space can be used in many different ways: a shared courtyard, parking, a park, playing fields, etc…

So, to come back to the idea of urbanism focused on form or on process, focusing on the form of these Euro-blocs rather than the process through which they were built is, in my view, a mistake. They have emerged largely organically through incremental development, responding to economic signals and community needs, trying to replace that by a planner’s dictates seems like a bad idea to me. But that’s what happens when people want harmony and are ready to leapfrog stages of development heedless of economic realities to get it. Not that it cannot work, but it can also fail by making it so expensive and difficult to do that developers will pass on that opportunity and prefer to work in suburbs where regulations are less restrictive.

Can we build this today too?

Actually, the exact form of these Euro-blocs would probably be illegal, and adapting them to fulfill the legal obligations would make them much more expensive…

Toby Lloyd, “Understanding and adapting the land market is the key to solving the housing crisis“, LSE British Politics and Policy blog. A nice discussion of the “natural monopoly” aspects of land markets:

Try buying some land. You will rapidly discover that the land market has some very odd features. First, it’s extremely hard to find out what bits of land might be for sale. Landowners sometimes advertise a site for sale, in trade magazines most of us have never heard of, but this is very much the exception. Most sites are bought by a developer or agent approaching the owner directly to suggest a possible sale.

Second, it’s often very tricky to find out who the owner is. The ownership of most land is recorded at the Land Registry and can in theory be looked up – but it’s not an easy process, and you need to know what you’re doing. Half the time it turns out that the registered owner is a company name, often registered overseas, so you may never be able to track down someone who could discuss selling the site.

The next barrier is simply that most landowners have no intention of selling their land, at least not unless you offer them a very high price. After all, they’ve stopped making it. Many landowners turn out to have no interest in building: 50% of land with planning permission in London is owned by non-developers.

Adam Gopnik, “The Plot Against Trains“, New Yorker:

What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state. Ride a fast train to Washington today and you’ll start thinking about national health insurance tomorrow.

…the prejudice against trains is not a prejudice against an élite but against a commonality. The late Tony Judt, who was hardly anyone’s idea of a leftist softy, devoted much of his last, heroic work, written in conditions of near-impossible personal suffering, to the subject of … trains: trains as symbols of the public good, trains as a triumph of the liberal imagination, trains as the “symbol and symptom of modernity,” and modernity at its best. “The railways were the necessary and natural accompaniment to the emergence of civil society,” he wrote. “They are a collective project for individual benefit … something that the market cannot accomplish, except, on its own account of itself, by happy inadvertence. … If we lose the railways we shall not just have lost a valuable practical asset. We shall have acknowledged that we have forgotten how to live collectively.”

Trains take us places together. (You can read good books on them, too.) Every time you ride one, you look outside, and you look inside, and you can’t help but think about the private and the public in a new way. As Judt wrote, the railroad represents neither the fearsome state nor the free individual. A train is a small society, headed somewhere more or less on time, more or less together, more or less sharing the same window, with a common view and a singular destination.

Unbundle carparks, find innovative transport solutions

As I’ve written before, car parking doesn’t come cheap for apartments and terraces. Typically, car parks in a basement or building will cost around $30,000 to $50,000 each to provide. This can make a big difference to the overall cost of an apartment, something often overlooked in the debate about affordable housing.

For this reason and many others, we’ve consistently advocated for the removal of parking minimums. That’s the preferred policy approach. We also push for more frequent, more reliable, and more connected public and active transport options, so people have choices besides driving.

However, the private sector has a role to play too. Most of the developments we’re tracking around Auckland have one or two carparks bundled with each  apartment. The cost of that park is factored into the overall sale price. What we’d like to see is more developments “unbundling” their carparks, selling them separately to the apartments. Buyers will still be able to purchase them, but if the $40,000 price tag makes them reevaluate how much they need a carpark, they won’t have to (what are you doing parking your $5,000 car in a $40,000 carpark anyway?). As a result, the developer gets a better gauge of the demand for carparks – one which matches the demand to the actual cost of providing them – and can potentially build fewer of them.

MERCHANT QUARTER_5732

Photo: Patrick Reynolds. The Merchant Quarter Condominiums are one of only a few developments outside the city centre to have unbundled carparks (although it is actually built above a public parking building)

We expect to see a lot more bike racks in new developments – these are often mandatory anyway – and we’re starting to see some encouraging signs that developers are innovating and coming up with new ideas for helping apartment residents get around the city.

This was well covered in a Herald article earlier this week:

Free Primavera 50 Vespa motor scooters and helmets are being given away with six “affordable” Mt Eden one-bedroom apartments, for sale from $430,000.

Greg Reidy, managing director of developer McDougall Reidy, said the scooter and helmet idea was for buyers of the smaller places in his Botanica Living scheme because they have no carparks.

Although the new apartment block will rise near the Mt Eden Train Station, Reidy said the Vespa idea was an attempt to resolve transport and commuting issues for buyers.

“They cost about $6000 each. We thought it was an option for people to get around the city without using a car. I think it’s a good solution. You see it all around the world, in places like Rome, people buzzing around on those,” Reidy said.

Two free electric cars come with another big apartment scheme where residents will each be issued with keys and must then decide who gets to use the cars and when.

Mark Todd of developers Ockham Residential described the electric car scheme for a high-profile block planned on Akepiro St, Mt Eden.

“We will be building 33 apartments this coming spring with just two communal electric cars. There will also be cycle and motorcycle parking”.

OK, so most Botanica apartments still come bundled with carparks, but so do almost all the others in Auckland, especially outside the city centre. Scooters are a good option for people who still need to drive occasionally (and who’d only be taking up one seat in a five seat car anyway…), so this is an innovative idea from the developer. Scooters are cheap, fuel efficient, and take up a lot less space in the basement than cars, so the parks cost a lot less to provide.

As for Akepiro St, which I’m told will be called the Daisy apartments, this is pioneering stuff for New Zealand in many ways – transport is just one of them. Based on the article, it seems they’ve gone from 25 to 33 apartments since the design competition for the building finished, and from 11 to 2 carparks, both of which are communal. It’s a well connected site, close to both train and bus routes, and pretty central for people who want to use active modes. I’m sure there’ll be a number of companies keen to give Ockham a good deal on the electric cars, too.

Sunday reading: 17 May 2015

Jarrett Walker, “Abundant Access: a map of the community’s transit choices, and a possible goal of transit“, Human Transit:

abundant access chart

The goal of abundant access has several kinds of appeal.

First, it can be measured objectively without recourse to psychology or culture.  Ridership estimates are based heavily on travel times that approximate the notion of abundant access, but they also add psychological factors that are less stable, such as observed preferences for particular technologies.  These factors may be emotionally vivid, but like many emotional factors they are likely to change with time and especially with generations — just as emotional attitudes toward cars are changing now.  Abundance access measures a fact that is entirely objective — travel times.  Unlike emotional reactions to technologies, the value of access has been constant across millennia of human experience.

Second, abundance of access is literally a quantification of freedom, in the sense that matters to us in transportation.  Isochrone maps like Mapnificent’s, in particular, show us our freedom in a very immediate way: here is where you are free to go, now.  Abundant access measures the transportation element of opportunity of all kinds, which is one of the main reasons people have moved to cities since their invention.

The concept of freedom is sadly undervalued in much urbanist discourse, and I am always looking for ways to reintroduce it.  Much urbanist writing, for example, is blatantly prescriptive (“you should want this kind of community”), which feeds conservative stereotypes of urbanism as manipulative or coercive.  We need to be able to talk not just about ideal communities but about freedom and personal responsibility, a frame in which all the great urbanist ideas — and all the urgent environmental imperatives — can be stated equally well.  In that frame, the key idea is not “the good” but “choice,” where freedom of choices also implies responsiblity for your choices.

David Hembrow, “The Grid: the most important enabler of mass cycling“, A View From the Cycle Path:

An individual cycle-path is only as useful as the rest of the grid of routes to which it connects. Even exceptional pieces of bicycle infrastructure are almost entirely useless on their own. They only reach their potential when they are part of a very finely spaced grid of routes which connects to all destinations. To be suitable for all people, this must provide a high quality level of service to all of those destinations. The average quality of service experienced by cyclists dictates how many people will cycle.

Example of a real, successful, cycling grid

Primary (red) and secondary (blue) bicycle routes in Assen. Grey lines are mainly residential streets almost completely free of motor traffic, green are recreational routes. Primary routes are never more than 750 m apart, but note that all the space between them is also available by bike. There are no real gaps in this grid and it leads right from villages outside the city to the city centre. Total map width approximately 6.5 km.

To summarise: Assen’s cycling grid goes everywhere, it has many high quality cycle-paths, but no “sharrows” and very few routes marked by relatively in-effective painted on-road cycle-lanes. Inferior junction designs such as advanced stop lines (aka bike boxes), central cycle-lanes and multi stage turns have been eliminated, while good roundabout and traffic light junction designs are common. Many one-way restrictions help to prevent drivers from using residential streets as through routes, but none of them apply to cyclists. Note that average speeds for cyclists are relatively high because stops are infrequent. Due to cyclists being unravelled from motorists they are often directed around large and time consuming junctions because they are needed only on motor routes.

Assen’s grid is successful. More than 40% of all trips are made by bicycle here.

Bernard Hickey, “Why Auckland landlords will be celebrating… and everyone else will be grinding their teeth“, Interest.co.nz:

New mortgages 2013-2015 chart

By the end of the week rental property investors were sitting pretty at the fireside.

They would have smiled on Monday when Mr Key downplayed again the prospect of any Australian-style restrictions on foreign buyers or any Victoria-style taxes on foreign buyers.

They would have grinned from ear to ear as the Governments responsible for encouraging new house building squabbled on Tuesday over how to pay for pipes and roads while the shortage of 25,000 dwellings grew ever larger.

Later on Tuesday, landlords would have given a little fist pump on hearing Labour Leader Andrew Little give his strongest opposition yet to any suggestion of a capital gains tax. Fresh from 20% rise in prices, those landlords who bought a NZ$600,000 rental with a 60% mortgage a year ago are sitting on a tax-free gain of 50% on their equity and are newly confident that, even with a change of Government, that they will not have that gain taxed.

Joseph Stromburg, “The real story behind the demise of America’s once-mighty streetcars“, Vox:

“There’s this widespread conspiracy theory that the streetcars were bought up by a company National City Lines, which was effectively controlled by GM, so that they could be torn up and converted into bus lines,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.

But that’s not actually the full story, he says. “By the time National City Lines was buying up these streetcar companies, they were already in bankruptcy.”

Surprisingly, though, streetcars didn’t solely go bankrupt because people chose cars over rail. The real reasons for the streetcar’s demise are much less nefarious than a GM-driven conspiracy — they include gridlock and city rules that kept fares artificially low — but they’re fascinating in their own right, and if you’re a transit fan, they’re even more frustrating.

Mike Ives, “New Zealand property boom attracts overseas migrants“, NY Times:

Auckland’s beaches, clean air and environmentally friendly image are clear selling points for foreign property investors, analysts said. And New Zealand’s property investment laws — which do not include a stamp duty or a capital gains tax — are seen as more welcoming than those of Singapore, Hong Kong and other global investment hubs.

“Offshore investors are having an effect” at all levels of the residential market, said Layne Harwood, country head for New Zealand at the global property consulting firm Knight Frank. “They’re here for security of capital.”

By the way, if you click on the article, notice who took the pictures the NYT used…

Chris Parker, “No, Mike, house crisis is not our fault“, NZ Herald:

Action is needed on several fronts.

The most fundamental challenge is how to balance what communities judge is best for them with what is best for Auckland and the country. There is a need to relax regulatory controls on height and density, while retaining provisions for quality urban design. That will allow more dwellings per unit of land, more choice, and improve housing affordability.

We need better tools, such as road pricing and congestion charging, to raise revenue from the value created by infrastructure.

For construction productivity, many changes are needed. Particularly, I would like to see the Productivity Commission make an inquiry into how to get a 25 per cent productivity gain in residential construction within 10 to 15 years.

Bored Panda, “Anonymous artist ‘Wanksy’ draws penises on UK potholes to make government fix them“:

After another cyclist friend was injured by potholes, Wanksy, an artist from Greater Manchester, England, decided to act. He used washable paint to draw penises around potholes in his neighborhood, and suddenly, they were repaired in 48 hours.

“People will drive over the same pothole and forget about it,” Wanksy said in an interview. “Suddenly you draw something amusing around it, everyone sees it and it either gets reported or fixed.” A Bury Council spokesman disagreed: “Painting obscenities around potholes will not get them repaired any quicker, but simply waste valuable time and resources.”

Bored Panda journalists found that using the Manchester City Council website, it took 5 clicks, 1 form, 1 survey, and a minimum of 5 days just to get a pothole inspected.

wanksy potholes

Emily Badger, “The myth of the American love affair with cars“, Washington Post Wonkblog:

This isn’t to say that there aren’t people who love their cars. The phenomenon of sports cars, weekend cars and collector cars is real. So, too, is the allure for many people of road trips, scenic highways or weekend drives through the country. Rather, the story Norton disputes, which he has written about in the book “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,” is the history that says that we’ve built car-dependent cities and suburbs because that’s what Americans wanted, the story that says all our surface parking lots and spaghetti interchanges are a pure product of American preferences.

“When I actually looked into the history record, documents from the time, I found just the opposite,” Norton says. “What Americans in cities wanted in the ‘20s was to get the cars out.”

Bob Dey, “Council approves budget in debate where policy and action get mixed“, Bob Dey Property Report:

Transport is the leading edge of the debate on the council’s core role: providing the infrastructure for a society to function smoothly. As usual, the infrastructure you don’t see until it breaks, like sewers & waterpipes, attracted no attention.

Government intransigence on funding methods meant the council couldn’t use either of the options it had proposed in lengthy consultation, a fuel tax or tolling motorways. If the council was going to fund any of a list of capital projects deemed necessary, not just desirable, something else had to be thought up. The short-term levy – $99 for every residential property, $159 for business properties, both + gst to make the levies in practice $114 & $159 – is in place for 3 years.

Opponents argued the levy hadn’t been consulted on, and it hadn’t, but what to do? Abandon hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure work or get on with it?

Ami Sedghi and George Arnett, “How does commuting affect wellbeing?” The Guardian:

Commuters are more likely to be anxious, dissatisfied and have the sense that their daily activities lack meaning than those who don’t have to travel to work even if they are paid more. Those were the findings of a study by the Office for National Statistics looking at commuting and personal wellbeing…

It found that each additional minute of commuting time made you feel slightly worse up to a certain point. However, strangely, once a commute hit three hours then the negative effects dropped off.

UK commuting and life satisfaction chart

Development update: May 2015

The RCG Development Tracker has just been given its May update, as always featuring a number of new projects. I’ve also added Auckland’s rail network and stations – sorry, I really should have done this months ago – so it’s possible to see where developments are happening close to train stations. Next on the list, I should be adding in the Wellington rail network, figuring out a way to incorporate the Congestion Free Network and so on…

In terms of intensification around rail stations, it’s certainly not all quiet on the western front. There are a lot of projects underway or planned in inner west Auckland, with most of them pretty close to train stations. Note that this includes some Special Housing Areas which may not be actively underway at the moment.

West

More centrally, we’re now looking at a huge number of developments around the CBD, Grey Lynn, Eden Terrace, Parnell and other inner suburbs. Most of these places have great links to train stations – or they will when the City Rail Link is complete – and even if they don’t, they’re well connected with buses and other alternatives to driving.

Inner

 

On to building consents, which are an excellent indicator of what’s going to be happening in the next year or two. Statistics New Zealand have just given their data a massive overhaul, and they now give a lot more detail on the typology of new dwellings.

Auckland dwelling consents

This image shows that Auckland is almost at 8,000 consents a year – still well below the Auckland Plan targets, which are for an average of 10,000 a year over 2012-2022 and even higher after that. This supply still isn’t fast enough to meet demand, especially with migration running hot.

Also interesting is that consents for standalone houses have actually been pretty flat since 2013. In that year, 4,318 houses were consented. In the twelve months to March 2015, the figure was 4,628. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this in the MBIE’s monitoring of the Housing Accord, which I’ll try to write about next month.

Where there has been growth is in apartments, retirement village units, and the catch-all category of “townhouses, flats, units, and other dwellings”. That will be clearer in this next graph:

Auckland higher density consents

This shows a dramatic rise in apartment consents from late 2013 – although, to be fair, momentum seems to have trailed off there as well in the last year. There’s also been a jump in retirement village consents, and a steady rise for other units.

Based on what we’re seeing with the Development Tracker, I’d expect to see more apartments consented during the rest of this year, and more of the other kinds of units as well. Barring some kind of macroeconomic nasty, this should keep growing in the years to come.

Volunteers wanted: Auckland public life survey

Takutai Square, Britomart, Winter solstice 2014.

Takutai Square, Britomart, Winter solstice 2014.

Five years ago Gehl Architects enlisted a team of volunteers to document public life across the city centre. The work culminated in a summary report (1, 2) and a great Auckland Conversation event.

Since that time there have been remarkable changes across the city. Here are a few things that stand out:

  • Shared spaces across the city
  • A resurgence of retail and hospitality offerings
  • Introduction of global flagships stores on Queen Street
  • Two urban supermarkets (how did we survive without these?)
  • Britomart Quarter (see photo above)
  • Wynyard Quarter
  • HOP ticketing
  • Massive non-car travel increases into the city
  • EMU’s and rail electrification

In addition to all these changes it seems like the city has finally achieved a critical mass of scale and concentration making it actually feel like a proper city. The streets are packed every day of the week and on weekends, events are happening all the time, and people seem to be genuinely proud of the place. This trend is unstoppable.

Importantly, while the global winds are pushing in this direction, this is not something that “just happened” (Asheville Just ‘Happened’ to Develop a Nice Downtown—or Did It?) . There has been a concerted effort, investment and leadership push that has delivered most of what we now take for granted.

This is how James Fallows describes the disconnect between what people see on the ground and how it got that way (Nice Downtowns: How Did They Get That Way):

It’s tempting, if you haven’t seen the varied stages of this process, to imagine that some cities just “naturally” have attractive and successful downtowns, and others just don’t happen to. It’s like happening to be located on a river, or not.

But in every city we’ve visited with a good downtown, we’ve heard accounts of the long, deliberate process that led to today’s result.

Auckland Council’s Auckland Design Office is working with Gehl Architects to update its research survey later this week and is looking for volunteers.

A follow up survey has been set for May 12th – 18th, 2015. To successfully deliver the survey volunteers are invited to participate in observational analysis across the city centre; counting, mapping, tracking and recording the behaviour, movement and activities of people in public spaces…

 

If you are interested in the urbanism, survey methods, and meeting interesting people, this is a great opportunity.

 

More information can be found here (pdf), or by emailing dennis.aitken@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz.

Sunday reading: 10 May 2015

Frank LD, Kershaw SE, Chapman JE, Perrotta K. (2014). Residential preferences and Public Health in Metro Vancouver: Promoting Health and Well Being by Meeting the Demand for Walkable Urban Environments. Health and Community Design Lab, University of British Columbia. Vancouver, BC. (pdf)

There is unmet demand for more walkable neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver, with proximity to commercial areas and a wide range of food stores identified as the features most lacking in existing neighbourhoods.

Among City of Vancouver residents who considered their existing neighbourhood to be very auto-oriented, strong desire to live in a neighbourhood within walking distance to commercial areas, and within walking distance to a variety of small and medium-sized food stores was expressed by 30% and 20% respectively. Similarly, an unmet demand for these neighbourhood features was reported by about 25% of residents living in auto-oriented neighbourhoods in other areas of Metro Vancouver. These findings suggest that there is unmet demand for more walkable residential neighbourhoods in both the City of Vancouver, and other areas of Metro Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver residents who prefer and live in a walkable neighbourhood are more active than those who prefer a walkable neighbourhood, but do not live in one.

Metro Vancouver residents who prefer an auto-oriented neighbourhood are more active if their neighbourhood allows them to walk to shops and services, than those who share this preference but live in a low walkable place.

Terry Slavin, “Unless we stop driving cars, all other sustainable transport plans are pointless“, The Guardian. I don’t know if I totally agree with his argument, but I thought this was an excellent point:

Melia, who lectures in transport and planning at the University of the West of England and advised the last Labour government on its eco-towns programme, says one of the biggest myths about transport policy is that there has been a “war on the motorist” – that successive governments have used fuel duties, speed cameras and road taxes to discourage car use and help fund public transport…

But if there is a war going on, it is against public transport users, says Melia. According to the RAC Foundation, the cost of rail and bus travel rose twice as much as the cost of driving in the past 10 years, and public spending on roads over the past five years has been more than twice that spent on local public transport.

Joseph Stromburg, “Young people are driving less than their parents. But why?” Vox:

The only way to know for sure what’ll happen is to wait and see. “It’s really hard to distinguish what’s going on from the cyclical short-term trend,” says Alan Pisarski, a transportation researcher. “Are we still in the aftermath of the recession, or are these structural changes in society that augur a new normal?”

There are some reasons to believe that young people today might have different priorities than their predecessors.

For one, the 2009 data that showed 16- to 34-year olds driving much less can’t be chalked up entirely to more unemployment. Those with jobs still drove 16.4 percent fewer miles per capita than the same age group in 2001.

Meanwhile, surveys find that compared to older generations, young people today are much likelier to care more about living near a city center, in a walkable neighborhood.

Other surveys show that, in general, young people are less obsessed with cars than before: they say they’d rather give up their cars than their computers or smartphones, and half as many of them describe themselves as “car enthusiasts,” compared with baby boomers.

Paul Swinney and Elli Thomas, “A Century of Cities: Urban Economic Change Since 1911“, Centre for Cities:

Over the last 100 years all cities have been buffeted by the winds of economic change. Globalisation and technological and transport developments have meant that they have had to continually adapt to these changes, both to continue to provide jobs and contribute to national economic growth. These global changes have altered the role that our cities play in the national economy, meaning it is now proximity to knowledge rather than proximity to resources that is the primary driver of city growth.

Those cities that have adapted to this change have reinvented their economies, creating jobs in new, more knowledge-focused industries to offset losses in more traditional industries. These cities, such as Reading and Brighton, have thrived as a result, creating many thousands of jobs in higher-skilled, higher paying occupations.

Those cities that have struggled over the last 100 years have merely replicated their economies. They have replaced jobs in declining industries with lower-skilled, more routinised jobs, swapping cotton mills for call centres and dock yards for distribution sheds. Some cities have struggled even to do this – Burnley has half the total number of jobs in 2013 that it did in 1911.

Century-of-Cities-Figure-2-Growth-in-Jobs-Map-733x1024

Gareth Morgan, “We warned you Nick: Auckland’s sprawl is a false economy“, Gareth’s World:

Auckland Ratepayers should not pay for Government policy

Auckland Council are right to speak up, and existing ratepayers should get behind them with the message that they aren’t going to pick up the bill for sprawl. There are good reasons for this – successful public transport systems overseas focus on providing a high quality, cheap service for short trips. Spending large amounts of money subsidising trips from Helensville to Auckland is a waste – in most countries in the world that trip would be viewed as a long distance trip between cities. Councils should make it clear that new suburbs will not be the priority for their investment, and any rational ratepayer should back that stance.

Of course ratepayers are part of the problem – the same people that stand to lose from sprawl are the ones opposing development in the city. House owners in the central city need to swallow their pride and accept that high-density housing – if done well – can bring all sorts of benefits. A major one is future proofing – a major new report shows that denser cities have far lower carbon emissions.

Instead of spending their money on new suburbs, Councils could calm ratepayer concerns by focusing their investment on making areas of high-density housing very liveable. Councils need to ensure that high-density housing areas have the best services in terms of parks, access to shopping and cafés, and transport. They also need to ensure the high-density housing itself is high quality to avoid repeating the mistakes of the shoddy apartments that went up in the 1990s.

Once people see that high-density housing can actually be a very pleasant way to live, attitudes will shift. After all, high-density housing is a way of life for the majority of people living in the most liveable cities in the world.

John Quiggin, “Some Unwelcome Good News“. Quiggin, a well-known Australian economist, is being a bit puckish with this title – this is good news for the planet, but unwelcome for people who’ve been denying that we can act on climate change:

The announcement by Tesla of a new home battery storage system, called Powerwall, costing $3500 for 10KwH of storage, has been greeted with enthusiasm, but also a good deal of scepticism regarding its commercial viability, which depends in any given market on such things as the gap between retail electricity prices feed-in tariffs for solar PV.

This is missing the forest for the trees, however. Assuming the Tesla system comes anywhere near meeting its announced specifications, and noting that electric cars are also on the market from Tesla and others, we now have just about everything we need for a technological fix for climate change, based on a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency, at a cost that’s a small fraction of global income (and hence a small fraction of national income for any country)…

Dominion Post, “Editorial: Welcome movement on Wellington bike lanes“:

Yet can there really be much dispute that cyclists need at least some decent, dedicated infrastructure?

There shouldn’t be. The arguments are simple and convincing. The present system is obviously unsafe. Cyclists and vehicles should not have to share busy roads where traffic moves at speed – it is a recipe for crashes and injuries.

Each is caused by someone or other – driver or cyclist – but the bigger point is that they are caused by failing roads, and they ought to be changed.

Now set that against a large pool of government money available for urban cycling projects in the next three years. Add to it the growing number of cyclists in Wellington, despite the inhospitable roads – up 75 per cent in the seven years to the 2013 census, and doubtless up again since then.

Put that together with the other “silent” group – the high numbers of Wellingtonians who say they would cycle if only it didn’t feel so unsafe, among them children and older people.

The net result is a strong case for what is only a modestly expensive piece of infrastructure.

Roman Mars, “The Gruen Effect“, 99% Invisible. A fantastic history of the shopping mall – and how its inventor, Victor Gruen, eventually came to rue its creation:

In his travels across the United States, Gruen saw how much time Americans spent riding around in their cars, cut off from the city and from each other. This was especially true in the suburbs.

Gruen_4_Malls_Suburbs

[From Centers for the Urban Environment: Survival of the Cities by Victor Gruen]

The suburbs lacked what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls third places.  If home is the primary place, and work is a second place, then a third place anywhere else one goes to be around other people—to build community, to hang out, to feel connected. Gruen wanted to give the American suburbs that third place.

Victor Gruen imagined designing an environment full of greenery and shops. An indoor plaza which could be an island of connection in the middle of the sprawl. One that would get people out of their cars in order to walk and stroll within them.

Gruen_5_Malls_Cars

[From Centers for the Urban Environment : Survival of the Cities by Victor Gruen]

Gruen saw his structure as an architectural panacea—it would remedy environmental, commercial, and sociological problems with the creation of a single building.

Gruen presented his a solution for America: The Shopping Mall.

Jamie Morton, “Next Auckland eruption: Should you worry? Map pins volcano risk spots“, NZ Herald:

New models have laid bare the threat explosive volcanic activity poses to our largest city, with Three Kings and Mangere among the Auckland suburbs most vulnerable to devastating, high-powered blasts.

Just-published maps, created by a Massey University researcher, show for the first time which areas are more at risk from a violent kind of eruption that can send a turbulent cocktail of gas, steam and fragments roaring from the ground. These events are sparked when magma mixes with water from the sea or underground, causing an explosion.

Auckland volcano risk map

 

Mikayla Bouchard, “Transportation emerges as crucial to escape poverty“, NY Times:

In a large, continuing study of upward mobility based at Harvard, commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.

The relationship between transportation and social mobility is stronger than that between mobility and several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community, said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and one of the researchers on the study.

The study notes the connection in places with notoriously long commutes and poverty, including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala.

A separate report focusing on New York, from New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation, came to a similar conclusion. The study compared neighborhoods by accessibility to mass transit and the number of jobs within an hour’s commute. It found that residents of the areas least well served by mass transit relied on personal vehicles. Areas in the middle third — those with some, but insufficient, access to transportation — had the highest rates of unemployment and the lowest incomes, the study found.

Graduate Opportunity

This is a guest post from behalf of the T² engineers which we’re posting as we know there are a lot of readers who may be interested in working in the industry.

T2 Grad Opportunity

Sunday reading 3 May 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Stephen Moss, “End of the car age: How cities are outgrowing the automobile“, The Guardian:

Stephen Bayley, who has written several books on car design, is convinced the age of the car is coming to an end. “It’s five minutes to midnight for the private car,” he says. “It’s no longer rational to use cars in cities like London.” Cars were invented as agents of freedom, but to drive (and, worse, to have to park) one in a city is tantamount to punishment.

Bayley also believes the arrival of driverless cars will further undermine the driving experience. Sex, beauty, status, freedom – all the words which advertisers have tried to associate with cars over the past 50 years – have been replaced by mere functionality.

“There was some research a year or so ago which interviewed people in their 20s and 30s,” he says. “The great majority said they would rather give up their car than their smartphone, and in their list of cool brands, no car manufacturer appeared in the top 20. That’s a very significant change. Twenty years ago, if you’d asked young people, BMW and other car brands would certainly have featured.”

Greg Dixon, “How to make Auckland livable in 10 steps“, NZ Herald:

The European settlement of New Zealand actually began with the creations of cities, rather than rural settlements, and we are now one of the most urbanised societies in the world – 87 per cent of us live in cities, a higher proportion than even the Dutch or the Japanese. Yet, says [urban designer Garth] Falconer, there is a yawning gap in the information about how we got to where we are today.

“We have this continual run of overseas experts coming in to pontificate about how we should be living and we try to cherry-pick the best ideas and make them work. What I’m saying is ‘listen we’ve got a really rich and specific history [of our own].’

“I wanted this book to fill a void, a big gap, because right now we’re making really important decisions about the rebuild of Christchurch and about [the spending] of $1 billion a year on transportation for Auckland for the next 10 years. That’s what we’re arguing about right now. And we have people with TB in South Auckland and crappy houses that leak: we have major issues and we’ve got virutally no information.”

For Falconer the Mangere poo ponds, or rather how they came to be back in the mid-1950s, are a great example of what modern Auckland should be striving for too: public participation, environmental concern, good leadership and state of the art technology leading to the best in urban design…

Dumpark, “Mapping hours of direct sunlight in Wellington City“:

Ever wondered where to find the sunniest spots in your city? This interactive map shows the yearly average number of hours of direct sunlight received in a day and a breakdown for mornings and afternoons in Wellington City.

For a day, the average hours of direct sunlight range from 0 (dark) to 12h (light yellow).

Dumpark Wellington daylight hours

Bernard Hickey, “Land tax the fairest option“, NZ Herald:

With Capital Gains Tax off the table, what’s the next idea boffins and politicians will turn to in the attempt to reduce tax incentives for rental property investors?

The 2010 Tax Working Group looked at a land tax. Arthur Grimes, a former Reserve Bank chairman, proposed it.

It is simple, clean, and he estimated a 1 per cent tax on the value of land would raise $460 million a year and cut land prices by 17 per cent if it was introduced up front.

It would prompt more intense development of land and also encourage land bankers to build, something the Reserve Bank and the Government say they want.

Farmers and iwi would not be thrilled, but it would be the sort of broad-based and low rate tax that works best.

Twisted Sifter, “8 homes built out of spite“. Spite houses are possibly my favourite architectural phenomenon. They say so much about human nature:

Nothing says ‘screw you’ like building a house out of pure spite. Wikipedia defines a spite house as:

A building constructed or modified to irritate neighbors or other parties with land stakes. Spite houses often serve as obstructions, blocking out light or access to neighboring buildings, or as flamboyant symbols of defiance. Because long-term occupation is at best a secondary consideration, spite houses frequently sport strange and impractical structures.

Below you will find eight real-world examples of people who took their conflict to the next level.

The Freeport Spite House:
Spiteful Developer vs ‘The Grid’ in Freeport, New York 1800s

Also in the 19th century, a Freeport, New York developer who opposed all of Freeport being laid out in a grid, put up a Victorian house virtually overnight on a triangular plot at the corner of Lena Avenue and Wilson Place to spite the grid designers. The Freeport Spite House is still standing and occupied to this day. [Source]

Robert Litan, “Economists: Don’t leave home without one“, McKinsey Quarterly:

The Internet economy we know today would not have been possible, in scale or in speed of adoption, without an extremely important policy development of the 1970s and 1980s—the deregulation of transportation—in which economists played an important role…

Had the transportation industry not been deregulated in the 1970s and early 1980s, and had the much more efficient and flexible systems built by companies such as UPS not emerged in response to competition, it is difficult to see how Internet retailers like Amazon, which came along roughly two decades later, would have been able to get started or succeed. Amazon would have had to begin with its own fleet of trucks or even planes to escape the strictures of the pre-1980 regulatory regime, a barrier to entry that almost certainly would have been impossible for new retailers to overcome.

Aaron Renn, “What’s the perfect size for a city?“, The Guardian:

Fragmentation affects a whole range of things, including the economy. The OECD estimates that for regions of equal population, doubling the number of governments reduces productivity by 6%. It recommends reducing this effect with a regional coordinating body, which can also reduce sprawl, increase public transport satisfaction (by 14 percentage points, apparently) and improve air quality…

[But] as the Toronto example shows, amalgamation – bringing fragmented government regions together – comes with downsides of its own. Of course, you can put people in the same governmental box, but that won’t necessarily create common ground – instead, it can create a zero-sum, winner-takes-all dynamic. People in living in cities and those in their suburbs often have different values, priorities and even a different culture…

Clearly, transport has to be designed and implemented on a regional basis, at least for major infrastructure. New York’s Port Authority arguably went off the rails in the late 1960s when it expanded beyond transportation and got into the real estate business by building the World Trade Centre.

So the best way to start charting a middle ground between fragmentation and amalgamation might be for cities to look for ways to better regionalise transport governance. It won’t be easy, not least because of the common fighting over territory, both geographical and bureaucratic. London’s success with the GLA, compared with how amalgamation set Toronto’s transport planning back a decade or more, shows that creating a regional entity is only half the battle. The real drive is to create regional agreement and consensus.

What to ask at the next Census

Statistics NZ have announced that for the first time they’re seeking public input into what questions should be asked in the next census and have launched a discussion forum so people can have their say.

For the first time, New Zealanders are being encouraged to go online to say what they think should be asked in the next census, with a new online discussion forum on the Statistics NZ website.

The six-week discussion forum has been set up as part of wider consultation on the content of the 2018 New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings.

Census General Manager Denise McGregor says it is the first time Statistics NZ has engaged online about the census with the public.

“We know New Zealanders really care about what’s asked in the census, and the information they can get from it. This is part of a comprehensive review of the census, including how previous questions performed, a stocktake of what the data is used for, who uses it, and considering international trends.

“People can get in and respond to our initial recommendations and thinking, share their views, and discuss issues that matter to them with other Kiwis.”

Statistics NZ will be facilitating discussions, and will analyse emerging themes to help with making decisions on 2018 Census content. Factors such as statistical quality, and the length and complexity of the questionnaire will be taken into account before making any changes.

“The census needs to reflect the changing nature of society, and we have to balance that with being able to compare data over time and track trends.”

Statistics NZ is using the online forum to encourage a wide range of people to talk about the census ahead of the formal submission period.

“We will listen to suggestions raised in the online forums, but the best opportunity to influence census content is still to make a formal submission,” Denise McGregor said.

2018 Census has information about how to join the discussion or make a formal submission. The online discussion forum will be live until 10 June. People can make a formal submission from 18 May until 30 June.

Following consultation, Statistics NZ will analyse the submissions, and aims to confirm final content in early 2017 for the 2018 Census.

I think it’s good that they’re considering new ways to ensure the right questions are asked.

When it comes to transport we’ve long had issues with the data that is collected. At the last census the two questions related to transport were

  • Individual – What was the one main way you travelled to work – that is, the one you used for the greatest distance?
  • Dwelling – How many motor vehicles (not counting motorbikes) do the people who live here have available for their use?

We’ve previously highlighted some of what we consider to be issues with these questions and how they’re used, some of which are below

Main means of travel to work

While useful it ignores tens of thousands of trips for that are for education or other purposes. Particularly for education there’s a high likelihood that there will be a much higher share of non-car modes than there is for workers. Further as our transport system evolves I think there will become an increasing issue in only asking for the mode people travelled the longest on. This is because we’re increasingly going to see more multi-modal trips occurring thanks to developments like the New Network which will see an integrated network and many people transferring to complete their commutes. One other minor issue that is mostly unique to Auckland is that ferries are counted in the ‘other’ category and it would be useful to have that split out.

Number of motor vehicles

There’s not such an issue with what is collected but what it’s used for. Stats NZ feed the data into their Deprivation Index where they assume that households with fewer cars tend to be more deprived. That of course ignores that now in many places such as the City Centre, residents simply don’t need a car as they have many other options for getting around.

In their preliminary view Stats NZ acknowledge the issue of journey to education and are recommending it be considered to be added however in my view that still misses out trips for other purposes. They also suggest changing the question from the main means of travel to work on the day of the census to the usual means of travel to work. They say that it was intended to give a snapshot on transport volumes for a particular day but they note that many people now fill the form in early and in 2013, 46% completed the online form before Census day.

There’s more information on Stats NZ thoughts in the link above and you can also have your say in the online forum they’ve set up and I see there’s already some good discussion on these issues from some of our regular readers.

The actual census is three years away but it’s already fascinating to think how it will change. Between 2016 and 2013 we started to see some significant changes in mode-share and with the patronage growth we’re seeing and PT improvements planned those trends are likely to continue.

modeshare-change-percent

Sunday reading 26 April 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

stuart

From Stuart’s 100. @HoughtonSd

Joe Cortright, “Our Shortage of Cities“, City Commentary.

Cortright makes a convincing argument that the exploding demand for urban living is not being met by supply. How does a city grow urban land? Stuart (above) provides a good start of places in Auckland that are sitters for urban intensification. Here is Cortright:

But in economic terms, high and rising prices are sending a clear market message: cities are valuable. More people want to access the advantages that cities provide, and in the face of growing demand we have a shortage of great urban spaces. The market is signaling that we need to build more and better city neighborhoods. Instead of discouraging developers from creating new housing, the most effective solution to this problem is to increase the supply of new urban neighborhoods.

..In many cities, zoning restrictions, discretionary approval processes and excessive parking requirements—and now, potentially, new taxes on developer–makes new development difficult and expensive.

The Economist, “The paradox of soil: Land, the centre of the pre-industrial economy, has returned as a constraint on growth“.

A welcome latecomer to the discussion on urban economics and the constraints on growth due to land use regulation, the Economist has recently published a series of excellent articles. This one considers the growth implication of land use regulations and presents some possible solutions including a land tax.

Concern over land has come roaring back. The issue is not overall scarcity, but scarcity in specific places—the cities responsible for a disproportionate amount of the world’s output. The high price of land in these places is in part an unavoidable concomitant of success. But it is also the product of distortions that cost the world dear. One estimate suggests that since the 1960s such distortions have reduced America’s GDP by more than 13%.

The good news is that the world’s urban-land scarcity is largely an artificial problem. The bad news is that that does not make it a soluble one. Redressing strict land regulation is among the most politically fraught of policy issues.

Robyn A. Friedman, “Companies Trade Suburbs for City Life“, The Wall Street Journal.

 Large companies are moving back into the city in an attempt to attract and retain workers—particularly younger workers who are postponing homeownership and favor renting in walkable neighborhoods with easy access to restaurants, shopping and cultural opportunities.

Companies are relocating to not only be closer to skilled workers but also to keep those workers happy. “They need to be where the brain trust wants to be,” said Rick Lechtman,eastern U.S. director of the National Office and Industrial Properties Group at Marcus & Millichap in New York. “Employees work 10- or 12-hour days at their desk and don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere.

Matt Wade. “How treating pedestrians better will boost the economy“, The Age. In this fascinating piece researchers explore the agglomeration benefits of walking improvements. We will surely revisit this work in more detail, as it is consistent with much of the Blog’s articles and initiatives. Having a robust evidence base for something that is so plainly obvious is an indication of how far we are along the path to returning to the tradition of urban living.

Economic change, especially the growing importance of knowledge-based firms, has made the walkability of business centres all the more important. The exchange of ideas and information is crucial for the productivity of knowledge industries. That’s one reason why knowledge-intensive businesses – like finance, insurance, IT and professional services – tend to cluster together in CBDs. Much of the sharing of ideas and knowledge takes place face-to-face. And those face-to-face encounters are very often the result of a walking trip. It might sound old school but walking is vital to our premier business hubs.

The study identified big variations in the routes available to CBD walkers. Some walkways allowed pedestrians to travel at a maximum average speed of 4 kilometres an hour. But others allowed speeds of just 1 kilometre an hour because of obstacles like unfavourable traffic light phasing. Those slow pedestrian routes have a significant impact on productivity. SGS Economics and Planning concluded Melbourne’s economy could be boosted by $1.3 billion a year if the flow of pedestrians around the CBD was optimised. Terry Rawnsley, an economist at SGS Economics and Planning, said a similar improvement in Sydney’s CBD could yield a $2 billion lift to the city’s economy.

Ben Heather, “Forgotten law puts squeeze on damp homes and dodgy landlords“, Stuff.co.nz. What if New Zealand had stronger tenancy laws? Turns out that we already have some, but they have been mostly ignored.

The law, passed in 1947, requires homes to be “free of damp”, but it has been largely forgotten. Tenancy tribunals have often sided with landlords, even when dampness was causing serious health problems to tenants.
Now, in a study published in New Zealand Universities Law Review, academics from Victoria and Otago university argue that it is time to resurrect the “free of damp” law to help families who are failing to win redress from tribunals.

Ben L, “Dutch scenes in a British context, lessons for New Zealand“. CAA.org.

Take a look at these powerful images from the blog Alternative Department of Transport, created by transposing typical Dutch cyclists into a British street environment… which could just as easily be a New Zealand street environment.

Straight away it becomes blindingly obvious why women, children and the elderly are so underrepresented among regular cyclists in NZ. It also demonstrates why most people put themselves in a majority group who would love to cycle more but don’t feel safe doing so.

bikeyface

Business owners have a bad record of guessing how their customers visit them. Here are a few links of studies that show the gap between the estimated and actual travel mode to commercial streets. #Protip: if business owners stand in the way of sensible transport infrastructure, it’s time to call in the surveyors.