Opening Lower Queen St for people

One of the great things about Auckland Anniversary weekend a month ago was the closing down of Queen St outside Britomart and parts of Quay St. I personally found it great and loved so seeing so many people in the city centre enjoying themselves. The council have put together this video discussing the opening of the street for people and the reaction to it.

Downtown Agreement sorted

The council and Precinct Properties have announced that they’ve come to an agreement for the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square and the costs for the City Rail Link to go through the site.

An agreement between Auckland Council and Precinct Properties announced this morning will enable the construction of the City Rail Link (CRL) to get underway through the company’s Downtown Development project at the bottom of Queen Street.

Mayor Len Brown is heralding the milestone as an historic moment for Auckland: “This is the first step towards the construction of the CRL. It will lead to an exciting transformation of the public spaces around the Britomart train station area. And it’s an example of how a partnership with the private sector can deliver economic transformation and more jobs in Auckland.”

The alignment of the CRL requires new rail tunnels to be constructed through the site presently occupied by the Downtown Shopping Centre, which is owned by Precinct Properties along with two adjacent commercial office towers, HSBC Tower at 1 Queen Street and Zurich House at 21 Queen Street.

The deal between the two parties enables the rail tunnels to be built as part of the Downtown Development Project.

Elements include:

  • The sale to Precinct of Queen Elizabeth Square for $27.2 million
  • Payment to Precinct of $9 million for provision of an East-West pedestrian laneway between Queen Street and Albert Street and compensation for tunnels volume
  • Payment of $10.7 million for additional costs of office tower construction due to CRL tunnels
  • Creation of a new downtown civic space between the project and Britomart

The sale of Queen Elizabeth Square was approved by Auckland Council’s Development Committee on 11 September 2014 after a report to council by staff pointed out the proceeds of this underutilised and poorly performing city space would enable the creation of new public spaces that better meet the needs of the area.

Len Brown says: “The agreement demonstrates the council’s positive business-friendly approach to city centre development while securing a great result for the ratepayer as it means cost savings for both parties.

“It ensures a coordinated approach to the construction work – with Auckland Transport building the CRL tunnels either side of the Precinct downtown shopping centre site from Britomart to Wyndham Street and Precinct Properties building the tunnels below its site.

“The Downtown Development Project will help create jobs giving the potential for 12,000 more people to be working close to public transport at Britomart.

“It is also the key to a number of projects that will kick-off the creation of a world-class downtown area including improvements to public space, transport facilities and urban design.”

Those improvements include:

  • The replacement of an aging 40 year old shopping centre with the Downtown Development Project enhancing retail in the area with a three-level retail laneway development while the commercial office tower will deliver much-needed office space
  • The creation of a pedestrian laneway, which re-instates a north-south link from Customs Street to Quay Street once existing as Little Queen Street. This link was lost during the large-scale demolition in the area in the 1970s
  • Moving towards the establishment of a Lower Albert Street bus interchange which would enable a pedestrianised civic space to be created in front of Britomart presently existing as a road occupied by buses
  • The protection of key views to important adjacent heritage buildings including the ferry building, Customhouse and the Dilworth building

The Mayor says: “Aucklanders have made it clear the CRL is their number one transport priority and this brings us closer to enabling a start to construction in about a year’s time.”

Construction of the Downtown section of the CRL is due to begin mid-year with completion by 2019. Tenders are due to go out later this year.

It’s great that we’re seeing some progress on the CRL and $19.7 million for it through this section is probably quite cheap compared to what it would have been had Auckland Transport been forced to buy the site had Precinct not been willing to work out a deal. That we’ll also get North-South and East-West lanes is good (more on that soon).

The issue that might cause some people concern is bound to be the sale of QE Square. Months ago when the suggestion came up we were told it could be worth up to $60 million so the council selling it for $27 million is obviously quite a bit less than that. One thing worth pointing out though is that based on the surrounding land values which are up over 9,500 per m2 this doesn’t seem such a low price.

Also this morning Precinct Properties have released a few images of what the development on the downtown site will look like. The main feature will be a 36 storey office tower which will have quite an impact on the skyline.

Precinct Tower 1

Precinct Tower 2

They’ve also released this image of the East-West laneway which will be surrounded by three storeys of retail. The big concern I have with this is that it appears to be enclosed with a roof giving it more of a mall feel than an open air lane.

Downtown Lane

Overall it’s great to see progress being made and I’m definitely looking forward to the first stages of the CRL starting in the middle of the year.

Long Term Plan Feedback So Far

The Council is currently consulting on the Long Term Plan (LTP) which is the city’s 10 year budget. A key discussion of this LTP is whether we should implement motorway tolling or increase Rates/Fuel taxes to pay all of the transport projects on the council’s plans – unless we want a scaled back and ineffectual transport system. There are three weeks left to submit on the plan and in the coming week or so we will be covering this topic a lot more. In the meantime the council say they have now had over 5,000 submissions with some interesting results.

In addition they’ve provided some generalised feedback on what the submissions (as of 19 Feb) have said and there are some fascinating results. First up some demographic info and it appears submitters are far more likely to be older European males.

2015 LTP Early Demographics

Further a break down by the local board areas shows the boards with the most submissions being Hibiscus and Bays, Albert-Eden, Howick and Howick while many of the South Auckland boards have the lowest submission levels. This combined with the demographic info suggest that perhaps the council need to be putting more effort into getting feedback from a wider cross section of our city – this is similar to the issues Peter recently expressed when he asked Who’s having the conversation about cities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly just over half of those who answered (52%) disagreed with the proposed level of rates rises of 3.5% and of those who answered what they’d change most (79%) said they’d like to see rates decreased. Council have also broken the results down by areas that people said they’d like to see changes in with only Transport only one of a few areas where more people said spend more than spend less.

2015 LTP Early Changes in Investment

Next the area most relevant to what we’re following and the issue of transport and how we pay for it. The council say that 55% of people support the full kitchen sink approach that is the Auckland Plan. When it comes to how we should fund that just over 50% support, partially support motorway tolls. This is perhaps a little surprising and I wonder how many of the people choosing that option do so because they think they can avoid it through using local roads, travelling at different times or using other modes.

2015 LTP Early network and funding preferences

The council have also put this video together about it

When asked what areas of transport the focus should be the result is overwhelmingly in favour of public transport and cycling investment – note: the herald ran a version of this graph the other day but got the labels around the wrong way. To me this result isn’t surprising and it is similar to many of the survey’s we’ve seen in the past. Frankly it’s insane that we still have some local politicians who are actively opposing these kinds of investments. It would be fascinating to see what kind of transport system we would have if funding priorities were based on results.

2015 LTP Early Changes in transport Investment

The next two question looks at whether the council should take on a more active role in development by merging Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties Limited – something I think would be good providing the DNA from Waterfront Auckland was at the core of the new organisation rather than ACPL who have appeared silent over the last 4-5 years. It seems most people agree that it is a good idea but it’s not quite a majority.

2015 LTP Early Development Auckland

The Uniform Annual General Charge UAGC is a fixed charge that every household pays regardless of property value. The lower the UAGC the more impact property prices have on rates and the higher the UAGC the less that property prices affect rates. Councillors on the right of the political spectrum have long argued for the UAGC to be higher so as to lessen the rates burden on their areas (which are often wealthier). From memory they were very happy to finally get the question about what the rate should be on the feedback form however they may not be so happy with the result showing almost 50% want it left as it is and many want it lower

2015 LTP Early UAGC

The last graph is based on whether the council should gradually reduce business property rates from 32.8% of all rates to 25.6% of all rates. The change seems widely unsupported at this stage.

2015 LTP Early Business Rates

It will be interesting to see if these kinds of results carry on through for the rest of the consultation.

Our Port and the Harbour

8-10am tomorrow morning there is a meeting organised by groups concerned about the lack of governance and oversight by Council over the Port Company. Whether you can make it tomorrow or not, if you agree that the Port Company needs more oversight and governance from the Council, visit this page and them them know.

STOP STEALING OUR HARBOUR

Letter to the Council:

Dear Mayor Len Brown and Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse,

I am writing on behalf of Urban Auckland, the NZ Institute of Architects Auckland Branch, the Urban Design Forum and the Auckland Architects Association. We represent the professionals working in the built environment of our city. We are joined by local community groups and Westhaven Marina Users.

We are deeply concerned at Ports announcement last Thursday that they are extending Bledisloe Wharf in April by 93 and 98 metres thus eliminating the crucial view down the harbour from Queens Wharf – the proposed gateway to our City. We feel let down by Council process and have no trust in Ports of Auckland.

 We are not against Ports of Auckland operating in the city. We are for establishing a way forward where we can all be good neighbours. PoA’s actions in the last few months show they have no intent at all in being that.

We feel our voice has not been heard. We have not been consulted over the City Centre Integration Plan. No study of the wider social, cultural, economic and environmental impact has been done as you promised in 2013.

Tomorrow morning Wednesday 25th February at 9am we are launching a petition ‘Save our Harbour” on the end ofQueens Wharf and would appreciate it if you could attend to listen and talk to the people. In the past we have been heartened by your leadership on this issue.

The Petition states:

We ask the Mayor and Councillors to

  • Stop the proposed extension of Bledisloe Wharf
  • Keep ‘reclamation’ of the Waitemata Harbour as a ‘non-complying’ activity
  • Start a wide-reaching study of environmental, social and economic factors affecting the site and operations of theAuckland port. The Mayor promised Aucklanders this in 2013.
  • Make Ports of Auckland work with the people of Auckland – not against them.

We acknowledge this is short notice but timing of events has been out of our control. We wanted to make sure our voices were heard before Thursday’s Development Committee meeting.

A view from architect David Mitchell in the paper paper:

PORT LETTER

It is hard to believe that the best thing to do with the Waitemata harbour is to tip dirt into it in order to store more cars on the resultant tarmac:

OSTRO_5788

 

Selling Skypath is simple, make it easy

This is a guest post from Ryan Mearns of Generation Zero

On Wednesday the 14th of January just over 5,000 people received an email asking them to submit in support of the resource consent for Skypath using a quick submission form. The form asked them to submit on the resource consent, a relatively benign step in the process before construction that is usually dominated by lengthy supporting documents from the submitter. The form asked, as you probably know if you filled it out, to write your reason for supporting Skypath and how it expanded your transport choices.

Building slowly 1,000 people made a submission within the first 12 hours, after 24 hours it had reached 2000, and after a week and a half it ended at over 11,000. The enthusiasm for the project and the sheer glee at which some expressed at the easy process draws into frame some important questions; why did it get so big, is it possible replicate and how should Council change what it does to engage this number of people on a more regular basis in complex planning decisions.

Skypath Gen Zero submissions

At it’s most basic level the overwhelming feedback was that Council’s form for submitting required such a high level of engagement in the project it turned many people off. Where to find application numbers and submission details requires you to plunge deep into the supporting documentation, Council has already turned away 90% of people that would submit on the project. In the past this complexity has also meant submissions have been discounted for other resource consents, like with the high profile case of the pohutukawa trees on Great North Road.

Simplifying the process with a quick submission form was always going elicit a much larger response from the public. But beyond this there are some interesting insights into the networked nature of local decision making and the communication of the consents process that add more weight to a questioning of how Council deals with the public and how community groups engage their supporters in Council processes.

One important aspect that definitely needs to be held at the front of most people’s mind is the way in which the consent process was framed. A simple consent process was turned into “the last hurdle before construction” and had 5 simple reasons why people should submit on the project. This isn’t revolutionary stuff but a clear explanation of the project built a story of the project that people could relate too and added a sense of urgency. A clear question of “why do you support it” and “how does it expand your transport choices” gave people a way to make the project personal to them, allowing people to express their own personal desires for Auckland.

The other aspect that allowed more than 11,000 people to submit on the project was the network of people telling their friends. On Facebook alone the page received over 11,000 likes, comments and shares. It shows how connected Aucklanders are, and with about 400 submissions coming from expats in 42 countries around the world, the project has global appeal.

So what can it teach us? It shows that if you simplify the process and give people a compelling reason to submit on a project that may directly affect them, people get pretty passionate and want to share it with their friends. For Councils sake this means customising and personalising their consent process in the future if they want to attract a similar number of submitters.

Council was very flexible with the Skypath quick submission form, which made it easy, as it took down their server at one point with the amount of emails coming in. They were very happy to support. This does reflect a point worth raising as Skypath had turned into a political discussion, as most projects do. This can make it hard for Council.

It just exemplifies the importance of community groups using their networks to push a particular decision one way or another. This is good for local democracy, deepening the level of participation people have with their community. But without a good technology background many in the community might find it hard to go to the level that we were able to by creating a quick submit form. An option that Council might consider is a specific form-builder for community groups to use that can be customised for their needs that allows them to create an easy quick submit form for resource consents.

There are many more lessons to be brought out, and it’s already good to see Council sharpening up their process using shapeauckland to take submissions on the long term plan.

Celebrating Auckland’s Transformation

Auckland has come a long way in recent years when it comes to the city and waterfront more interesting and people oriented. This was highlighted beautifully on the weekend as tens of thousands every day flocked to the waterfront to celebrate Auckland’s 175th birthday. From Captain Cook Wharf through to the Wynyard Quarter the place was buzzing with people once again proving that people respond when we make spaces for people.

Queen St Temporary Space - Ludo

Photo from Ludo Campbell-Reid

And it isn’t just Aucklanders noticing the redevelopment of the city. This piece a week ago titled Revamped Auckland waterfront inspires from The Press in Christchurch highlights the transformation that Auckland is making:

The girl sits inside what looks like a ventilation shaft, her very own stainless-steel cocoon, legs dangling over the side. Families with pushchairs, a woman walking her dog, cyclists, tourists, and locals stroll past. All look relaxed and carefree.

As they wander the length of the old pier, there’s plenty to grab their attention: Colourful metal cylinders, sculptures shaped like crabs, fish, whales, octopuses, and seahorses. Children splash through a pool underneath a gigantic metal sculpture that looks like it could be an intergalactic TV aerial. Teenagers shoot basketball hoops. Shoppers browse through treasures in market stalls.

Shipping containers have been turned into information booths; old warehouses have become restaurants and cafes. We join the throng for a leisurely and surprisingly affordable lunch.

Welcome to the Wynyard Quarter, part of Auckland’s burgeoning transformation of its previously neglected waterfront. Starting in 2011, this bold and imaginative, development has proved hugely successful. If you are heading to the City of Sails, go – you’ll love it.

We didn’t find getting around Auckland without a car too hard. We stayed on the North Shore. To reach the Wynyard Quarter, we used the Northern Express, a bus service that has is own motorway lane and bus stations. It couldn’t have been easier. We found Aucklanders more courteous to pedestrians than Christchurch drivers.

Public transportation makes a mockery of the calls for more car-parking in Christchurch. Without car parks, the city will fail, say those with a vested interest in developing their central city private businesses – for which they would love a dollop of public money.

Go to other cities and you won’t find car-parking easy either. If you can, you take the bus or train – or bike – instead.

Future cities will be nothing like the old ones. We need to be more flexible, and if that means tweaking or even radically changing former plans, let’s get on with it.

Hell even the few comments are fairly positive and it’s not like Cantabrians are known for their positive views on Auckland. This one in particular is good.

Wynyard Quarter is an amazing place to visit. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been revising my long held opinion of Auckland as a bleak soulless wasteland. Auckland’s inner city is now full of vibrancy and character again.

Wynyard Busy

North Wharf was certainly busy with people enjoying the space

What’s often forgotten is that some of the city’s most impressive transformations have only really been completed for less than 5 years. This includes Wynyard Quarter, the shared spaces and much of the Britomart Precinct.

And then there was this fantastic piece from Jack Tame in the Herald a few days ago:

Imagine describing Auckland to a foreigner who’d never heard her name. A sub-tropical climate with 1.5 million people; suburbs freckled by volcanic nipples, each so perfectly coned and green you’d swear it was just clever landscaping; a city with two impressive harbours, two impressive and different coasts; a city where rich, poor, suburban or central, most people are only ever a few minutes from the sea.

You’d likely explain to your foreign friend that Auckland is the Pacific capital, a city rich with Maori and Polynesian culture. There may be more Pacific Island people here than in all the islands combined and the blend and diversity of Aucklanders is unlike anywhere else on Earth.

We’re spoilt. Auckland is an almighty playground, geographic and cultural. But as the city flourishes and booms it will take planning not to balls it all up. Our city must intensify. It’s unsustainable to sprawl our way to Hamilton, and naive to think that every Aucklander needs to live on a quarter-acre block.

We’re making progress. Britomart and Wynyard Quarter are perfect examples of good public space and will always be embraced.

But high-quality, high-density living options and public transport are essential in ensuring Auckland remains a great place to live.

I’ve long said that Auckland has one of the best natural settings in the world, one that many cities could only dream about. If we can continue down the path we’re on we have a chance to make our urban environment just as wonderful.

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.

The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].

Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.

But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’

Frozen silence.

Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.

St Lukes Masterplan

This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].

AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.

Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.

Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.

There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.

All AT Experts Agree.

And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.

Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.

Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….

So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.

But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?

‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’

Butter wouldn’t melt.

The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.

The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite?  Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?

But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?

By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?

Photo of the day: Bledisloe Lane

This was from just before Christmas showing the newly upgraded Bledisloe Lane. The oppressively low canopy was removed, paving replaced and Bledisloe building facade repaired. The space has a much better feeling to it now and so much more pleasant to walk through.

image

image

Now we need Metro Centre building to open up onto the lane to really help activate it, something I believe the council are keen on too.

Small apartments are beautiful

Peter’s recent post explains why apartments, even expensive ones, make an important contribution to housing affordability.

Expensive apartments improve housing affordability by taking wealthy households out of the market for the existing housing stock, thereby freeing it up for other households on lower incomes. In this way, expansions in the supply of housing – even in the form of expensive apartments – will generally improve housing affordability for everyone (NB: Provided they result in an absolute increase in housing supply).

A corollary is that regulatory barriers to apartment developments will tend to drive up the cost of housing for everyone.

Peter also presented some high-level data to suggest that during the last decade or so Auckland has become more spatially stratified by income, with low-income households increasingly concentrated on the urban periphery. If true, then this is concerning news. It implies Auckland is creating ghettos for the rich and poor alike. Such outcomes would seem likely to reduce equality of opportunity, exacerbate inequality in wealth/income, and ultimately reduce social connection and cohesion. I think these kinds of outcomes would concern most New Zealanders.

What’s also interesting is that Auckland’s city centre bucks the trend towards increased spatial stratification based on income; in among its glitz and glamour Auckland’s city centre continues to meet the needs of a relatively high proportion of low-income households, as evident in the figure below.

Auckland low income households 2001-2013

It is perhaps no coincidence that the city centre has hitherto avoided the trend towards increased spatial stratification by income-levels, because it is in the city centre that the development of apartments encounters the fewest regulatory barriers. No minimum car-park requirements and higher height limits, for example.

My motivations for writing this post are similar to the issues which prompted Peter’s recent post, but I take a slightly different tack. That is, I love small apartments. As a consequence, I would like to encourage the planning profession in New Zealand to allow my preferred choice of accommodation to be brought to market.

While the list of regulatory barriers to apartment development is relatively long and sordid, my primary concern is with provisions controlling 1) the minimum size of apartments and 2) the requirement for all apartments to have balconies. My back of the envelope estimates are that these regulations collectively add between $100k – $200k to the cost of developing an apartment. That’s a 50% – 100% increase in the cost of developing apartments. Ka pow take that poor people. But I want to leave the price effects of regulation to another post …

Instead, in this post I want to push back on these regulations in a different way, by arguing that small apartments can be beautiful to those who live in them. In my experience, the aforementioned regulatory barriers to apartment development overlook that the quality of an apartment (from the occupant’s perspective) is much less a function of floor area, balconies, or car-parks and more a function of the effectiveness of the design and the quality of the materials used.

To provide an example, consider my apartment (Brooklyn Building, Emily Place) shown below.

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No apartments in my building have balconies, and many are less than the minimum apartment size proscribed in the Unitary Plan.

I know what you’re thinking – shock, horror, sure-fire squalor. Not quite. Instead of sitting on a 8 sqm balcony, I prefer to go outside. My apartment has its own green space at the back, as well as a park out the front – which seem to be much more effective ways of meeting the desire of people to be outside. I also rely on the common laundry in the basement and avoid the need for a washing machine and a dryer in my apartment. I’m happy; I’ve owned my apartment for 8 years and don’t intend to sell.

The importance of design and quality when dealing with small spaces comes through more generally in the following video from IKEA, which is titled “Small spaces – Small ideas”. IKEA has an entire YouTube channel dedicated to discussing these issues. So much for “market failure”!

If you walk into an IKEA store then you are likely to find kit-set fit-outs for apartments of between 20-25 sqm. Yes you read that correctly: IKEA sells decent kit-sets for apartments of 20-25 sqm, i.e. much less than the minimum apartment size in Auckland. Are Kiwis really such clumsy elephants that we can’t navigate apartments that are entirely appropriate in Europe?

My (kiwi) friend in Amsterdam, for example, lived in an 18 sqm studio and was perfectly happy, especially with the low rent. Of course this is anecdotal evidence and further research is required, but you get the drift: If you can live in 18 sqm in Amsterdam (where you spend much more time inside), why do we need 40 sqm in Auckland? Who wins from the latter arrangement? Landlords like me of course … who loses? Tenants like him, naturally (Callan’s not actually a loser; he’s a bright Nelsonian completing his Phd in Neurobiology). Intuitively, regulatory barriers to apartment development seem likely to transfer wealth from those who rent property to those who own it. Regressive much? But again, I’m diverging from the primary point of this post.

That is, small apartments are beautiful. And that instead of presuming their occupants are unhappy, why is there so little robust research asking them how happy they are? People postulate all sorts of things about small apartments, so why doesn’t someone go ask people how happy they are and whether they’d prefer if their home was vapourised by a regulatory laser pen?

The development shown below has used shipping containers to provide compact, cost-effective student accommodation (source). Yes there’s balconies, but they’re more like 3 sqm rather than the 8 sqm currently required in the Unitary Plan (and are formed from the container doors). Again, innovative use of cost-effective and durable materials has enabled people to live at moderate densities with moderate amenity and at an affordable price. Good news.

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For a slightly different take, here’s an article from the New Zealand Herald on Tiny Houses.

Do architecture/planning professionals at Auckland Council really know more about appropriate apartment design than say, IKEA? Or the people who will ultimately occupy the apartments? I mean, if we trust people to rent a house with the number of rooms that best suits their needs and budget, can we not trust them to rent an apartment that is sufficiently large to accommodate them? What exactly is the market failure that leads to too many small apartments being produced? Why do they think that small apartments are not beautiful?

A case could be made that the small apartments in Auckland that are frequently criticised as being “shoeboxes” actually made a major contribution to improving the density and vibrancy of Auckland’s city centre. Thanks very much low-income households; please now disappear!

In short, small apartments are beautiful in a social sense. They’re beautiful for two reasons: They make an essential contribution to affordable housing, while also reducing spatial stratification by income. Moreover, companies around the world, like IKEA, are increasingly helping to improve the efficiency of spaces. I realise we don’t yet have an IKEA in New Zealand, but perhaps that’s because one of their key market segments (small apartments) are difficult to build here?

Postscript: If you’re interested in an alternative (favourable) take on minimum apartment regulations then you may want to consider reading this conference paper. I consider the arguments advanced in this paper to be rather weak, but will leave that discussion for another post …

 

 

 

Holiday Travelling

With Christmas upon us tomorrow this is just a few reminders

Public Transport

From tomorrow through to 4 January (and till 11 January for the Northern Express and Western Line trains) a holiday timetable is in effect that will see fewer services available to use.

The holiday season is almost here and that means there are some changes to public transport services over the next few weeks.

Train

From Christmas Day, Thursday 25 December all trains will be replaced with rail buses. We’re putting on replacement buses so we can carry out important improvements on the rail network particularly around Newmarket.

For the first time replacement buses will run on Christmas Day and the other good news is you can now use your AT HOP cards on-board all planned Railbus replacement services as well. You will need to tag-on and tag-off the rail bus like any other bus service.

You can buy a cash ticket for your entire journey on board the rail bus from the driver.

The reduced timetable runs from Christmas Day, Thursday 25 December through to Sunday 4 January. The closure on the Western Line will run through to the following Sunday 11 January.

Bus

Most bus services will be operating to a Christmas/New Year Holiday timetable from Monday 22 December to Sunday 4 January, for the Northern Express the holiday schedule will run to Sunday 11 January.

Some additional NiteRider services will be operating prior to and on New Year’s Eve. Please check timetables carefully.

If you’re heading to the airport, Airbus Express and Airporter services will operate as normal over the Christmas and New Year period. They will run on a Sunday timetable on the public holidays: 25 and 26 December and 1 and 2 January.

Ferry

If you’re using a Fullers ferry, a special timetable will run from Wednesday 24 December to Sunday 4 January.

Other ferry services will be running special timetable, check out our website. All ferries will be back on a full timetable from Monday 5 January.

Christmas rail shutdowns are always a contentious issue and at least this year AT have explained what is being done.

Thursday 25 December 2014 to Sunday 4 January 2015:

Full network closure – a bus replacement service will operate on all lines. This is to allow for significant track maintenance at Newmarket, Penrose, Westfield, Wiri and Papakura, sleeper replacement on the Eastern Line, station work at Otahuhu and NZTA motorway work at Takanini and Ellerslie.

Monday 5 January to Sunday 11 January 2015:
Buses replace trains on the Western Line. Normal train services will operate on all other lines. This is to allow for track upgrades at Morningside and Kingdon Street and sleeper replacement works at level crossings.

Roads

The annual resurfacing of a few lanes on the harbour bridge is taking place, this year it will be the Northbound clip-on lanes and the closure of those lanes goes from 7am on Friday through to 5:30am on 8 December.

Around the Te Atatu Interchange there will be a number of disruptions due to work to raise the Te Atatu Rd bridge over the motorway.

  • Te Atatu Rd will be reduced to a single lane in each direction over the bridge between Te Atatu South and Te Atatu Peninsula 4am Saturday 27 December to 5am Monday 5 January
  • The Northwestern motorway will be reduced to a single lane each way under the Te Atatu Bridge during the day, and then closed under the bridge from 10pm each night. All lanes on the motorway will be open on New Year’s Eve night (31 December) and New Year’s Day (1January)
  • The Te Atatu city bound loop onramp will be closed from Saturday 27 December to Monday 5 January

And let’s not forget the annual “don’t drive north on Boxing Day” reminder. What’s more even the NZTA are saying the road is only busy because of holiday periods

Traffic on Boxing Day (26 December) will be heavy on regional highways and roads and the NZ Transport Agency is advising motorists to plan for a safe journey and to avoid delays.

“This is one of the busiest times of the year on our highways,” says the Transport Agency’s Highway Manager Brett Gliddon. “We’ll have all our teams working to help manage traffic flows and keep everyone as safe as possible and informed about traffic and road conditions.”

He says one of the busiest highways will be the Northern Gateway Toll Road on State Highway 1 north of Auckland. “Last Christmas holiday, there were an average of 20,600 trips a day – the busiest day being 2 January when there were more than 24,600 trips.

“This tremendous increase in holiday traffic on the toll road indicates just how busy the highways will be in Auckland and Northland and why we need everyone to plan their trips, allowing plenty of time for a safe journey.”

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Expect to see an image like this in the Herald at some stage

Most importantly if you are out on the roads please be drive safely and I hope you all have a great Christmas.