Last week Statistics NZ released their business demography statistics for 2013 which provides a range of information about businesses in New Zealand. One of the really interesting bits of information included within the release are employee counts by geographic area, which can tell us the number of jobs in each area unit. The data is collected annually in February each year and is available back to 2000. So what’s happening with employment in Auckland?
First of all, at a region wide level, you can see that at an increase of just under 6,300 jobs the increase was less than it had been for the prior two years. However, what we did see is that the total number of jobs surpassed what we had prior to the GFC, which is very significant. Note this doesn’t mean the unemployment rate is lower as we have had population growth and more young people entering the job market. You can also see that in the last few years there has been quite a jump in percentage of jobs in Auckland compared to the rest of the country with the number increasing by more than 1% in the last few years to a high of 33.5%. This suggests that Auckland is performing better than the rest of NZ which lines up with other economic data we have seen.
However the really interesting part is when we look at what is happening at a more detailed level. For each area unit I have assigned it to one of the following
- Rural Northwest – Rural areas and towns to the North and west outside the main Auckland Urban area. This includes the likes of Huapai and Warkworth.
- Hibiscus – The urban area of Orewa, Silverdale and the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
- North Shore – The old North Shore City Council area.
- West Auckland – The urban parts of the old Waitakere City Council area.
- Central City – The CBD and neighbouring fringe suburbs like Freemans Bay, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Eden Terrace, Grafton, Newmarket and Parnell.
- Other Isthmus – The old Auckland City council area outside of the Central City.
- South Auckland – The urban areas of the old Manukau City and Papakura District council areas.
- Rural Southeast – The rural areas and towns in the South and East of Auckland including Pukekohe.
The results are below, however for the keen eyed among you, the numbers don’t add up completely to the ones above as there are a small handful of jobs noted as being on one of the harbours or islands around the region. Due to how small the number, is I excluded them from the table below.
When you start to go through the results there are some quite interesting trends, especially over the last few years. The table below shows the change in job numbers over the same time period.
Looking at what’s happening recently, what’s surprising is just how strong the growth has been in the central city over the last few years. In total it accounts for about 52% of the increases in employment that has occurred, and over the last year that figure is up to around 78%. These numbers are absolutely massive but also show just how strong the demand for the central city is.
Looking at the other parts of the region, over the last year the only other growth of note has been in the North with both the North Shore and Hibiscus areas seeing any significant change. The one area that is particularly concerning is West Auckland where there are now fewer jobs than there were in 2004. I wonder if anything can or should be done to try and reverse the change.
Another area that these numbers highlight is just how many jobs as a total number there actually are in the central city area (map of which is below). Percentage wise it accounts for about 24.5% of all employment in the region however as a total number there are more people working in the central city than all of South Auckland, more than the Hibiscus area, North Shore and West Auckland combined and almost the same as all of the jobs in the rest of the old Auckland City area which includes all of the industrial areas around Onehunga, Penrose and Mt Wellington.
Of course this strong employment growth comes recently after we found out that there had also been some really strong population growth in the area.
Excellent news today that Lonely Planet has ranked Auckland as one of the best cities to visit.
Auckland has been rated one of the world’s top 10 cities to visit by travel bible Lonely Planet.
The city, which attracts 1.8 million foreign visitors a year, sits alongside iconic places including Paris, Zurich, Shanghai and Vancouver in the ninth annual Best in Travel guide, published today. The book highlights the best trends, destinations, journeys and experiences for the upcoming year.
Auckland was praised for its newly revitalised waterfront districts such as the Wynyard Quarter, and shopping and dining precincts such as the City Works Depot and Britomart.
Also singled out are black-sand beaches on the west coast, the Waitakere Ranges, Rangitoto Island, Waiheke Island, the 77km Hillary Trail, the SkyWalk atop Auckland’s Sky Tower and the refurbished Auckland Art Gallery.
“Auckland is often overlooked by travellers eager to head for the stellar alpine and lake landscapes further south, but food, arts and exploring the coastal hinterland are all excellent reasons to extend your stay in New Zealand’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city,” the book says.
Auckland’s many festivals and events, vibrant Maori and Pacific culture and impressive line-up of major sporting events also got a mention.
The only criticisms of the city of 1.4 million people are the traffic and the “inconsistent (but always entertaining) form of the Warriors”.
Auckland has some stunning natural beauty with a mix of harbours, islands, mountains, forests, beaches and rural areas which all combine to make the city extremely unique and it’s not surprising to see some of recognised. However it is the praise for the likes of the Wynyard Quarter and Britomart precincts that are the most interesting as they have been showing that Auckland does now have the ability to make some great urban spaces if we put our mind to it. Further as the lonely planet recognition shows, these spaces don’t just benefit locals but can also help tourism and that’s not just good for Auckland but for the whole country as it makes NZ as a whole a more interesting and viable destination.
What’s also notable about the urban areas mentioned is that they aren’t car free but that cars don’t have the same level impact as they do elsewhere. The focus has been improving the pedestrian realm rather than simply moving as many cars through the area as possible. As we have also seen with the shared spaces, this can have considerable positive impacts for nearby businesses. It really makes me wonder that if we are starting to get recognition for a few relatively small areas, just imagine what people will think if we can do other similar and great developments all over the CBD and city fringe. For example around the rest of Wynyard Quarter, around the Aotea, Karangahape Rd and Newton stations CRL stations and in fringe suburbs like Ponsonby, Newmarket and Parnell.
The quality of Wynyard is something picked up on by Brent Toderian who is currently visiting the city and who is speaking tomorrow night (although I think the event is full)
Number one on the list is unsurprisingly Paris which is a tourist mecca however it’s also worth noting one of the things being done to improve the city.
With a push to reduce the cars clogging one of Europe’s most congested cities, Paris has been reborn. Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe has created more pedestrian-friendly areas, particularly along the riverbanks.
Last year the Auckland Plan set a target for 70% of intensification to happen within the existing metropolitan urban area (note that includes greenfield land out to the imposed urban boundary). This was seen as a too radical step for many, something completely different from what Aucklander’s were used to and that would result in people being forced into apartments. The council ended up chickening out on the target and so included a fall-back position 60% intensification.
The debate on intensification heated up again earlier this year during the discussions on the Unitary Plan with again some people claiming that most people want to live on the
traditional mythical “quarter acre paradise”. However I’ve always been a bit sceptical about just how much sprawl has been occurring and back in January I looked at the building consent figures which showed that over 70% of the consents issued occurred within the existing urban area.
The first batch of detailed census data was released last week and as you would expect with the information, there is a lot of interesting results hidden within the figures. The first response of many when the data came out was understandably to look at where most of the growth has occurred – the answer to that was generally the CBD and some of the greenfield developments to in the Northwest and Southeast. The seemingly strong greenfield growth caused some to immediately question whether the councils compact city model was really the right direction for the city should be head – despite the compact city model being a forward looking plan and the census being a backward looking exercise.
However looking at where growth is occurring it can be very easy to overlook some key points. In particular a lot of low level growth across the suburbs may not look that important but it can easily add up to a significant amount when combined together. With that in mind and thinking about the intensification targets that were set I thought I would go have a look at what has happened population growth in a slightly different fashion to what has happened so far. To start with for each of the Auckland Census area units I have put them in to one of the following categories.
- City and Fringe – CBD, eastern Side of Ponsonby Rd, Newton, Grafton, Newmarket and Parnell.
- Metro Centres – e.g. Albany, Takapuna, Henderson, New Lynn, Manukau, Papakura.
- Suburban – Rest of the urban area.
- Mixed – Had some suburban development in 2006 however has also seen some greenfield development.
- Greenfield – Most of the population growth has through greenfield development.
- Rural – should be fairly self-explanatory.
- Rural towns – Settlements outside the existing urban area e.g. Pukekohe, Huapai, Warkworth etc.
Now admittedly it isn’t perfect and we really need the meshblock data to do this exercise properly but still it’s a useful indication. The results in the table below shows that while the suburban areas saw the least growth as a percentage increase figure, they did see by far the most overall growth and accounted for 51% of all the growth that did occur within the region. On the whole population growth within the existing urban areas of Auckland was 64% of all the growth that occurred while greenfield developments accounted for just 24% of the population growth. Perhaps unsurprisingly these results are similar to the building consent ones. What it does mean is that a target of 70% intensification is not only realistic but not that different from what has been happening in recent years.
Further, as you would expect this growth is having an impact on the density of the city. For each area unit I have rounded the density to the nearest 500 people per square km and use that to create a density profile for the region. The graph below shows that density profile for the entire region based on the percentage of people living in each of the density buckets. It indicates that the density curve is shifting higher while also flattening out with the change generally being less people living at lower densities and more people living at higher densities.
However the question is not just whether there are more people living at higher densities but whether the suburbs themselves are getting denser. To help answer this, the graph below shows the density profile based on the total number of people living in each density bucket. What this shows is that there are actually less people living in some of the lower density buckets. For example in 2001 almost 285,000 were living at a density of roughly 2500 people per km², by 2006 that had dropped to 247,500 and in 2013 is at just over 218,500.
What this suggests is that the density is changing due to the suburbs getting denser. It is important though to point out that at this stage that it’s unknown whether that is due to there being more dwellings, more people in each dwelling or less vacant dwellings. We will need to wait for future census data to come out before we can tell that.
One thing that is really noticeable is that there is an almost complete absence of people living in the medium-high densities. Something between the really high density seen in places like the CBD -which reaches over 10,000 people per km² and the low-medium densities in the suburbs. We should really be seeing a lot more people in the 4,500-6,000 range however we will need to address that in a separate post.
Based on what we know so far it is pretty clear that Auckland is getting denser and when you consider the change since 2001 the impact is quite substantial. One useful way of measuring density as a whole is to look at the weighted density which measures density based on what the average density that people experience rather than a simple calculation of total number of people divided by total land area. One of the reasons for using this metric is that otherwise you get some very odd results like that Auckland is more dense than the urban area of New York due to the large amounts of low density housing in places like New Jersey and Long Island. Based on the weighted density measure, the Auckland region comes in at roughly 2,650 per km² which is an increase of 17% over 2001.
One last point that is worth mentioning in all of this. Census area units are very broad and include parks, industrial areas and other pieces of land that can have negative impacts on density calculations. As such the figures in this post are very rough and we will need to wait for the more detailed meshblock data to emerge before giving more accurate results however it does mean that the density calculations are likely to increase. That more detailed data will also eventually allow us to look more closely at how we compare to other cities in NZ and overseas.
So Auckland has been getting denser already and the sky hasn’t fallen, someone should tell the residents of St Heliers and Milford that it’s ok to come out of their single storey houses now.
While there ended up being other news yesterday afternoon that stole the headlines, the more important announcement was that of the census results. Like the week before, the results released were still only the numbers from the census night and so didn’t include those out of the country or those that didn’t fill in their census forms – and those numbers will come later – but they did include the results down to the census area unit level which gives a good indication of where the population growth is occurring.
As expected from the results, Auckland saw the greatest growth with a population increase of 110,592 people. To put that in perspective, that’s 51.6% of all of the growth that has occurred in New Zealand since the last census and Auckland’s growth is similar to having added the entire city or Tauranga (114,789) or Dunedin (120,246) to the region.
In total the population of Auckland increased by 8.5% over the seven years since the last census, an average growth of 1.2%. That is less than the 12.5% (2.4% per year) that the region saw between the 2001 and 2006 censuses however is roughly in line with the trends seen in the rest of the country. Auckland’s share of the country’s growth actually increased slightly as for the 2001-06 period Auckland had 49.8% of all NZ growth. Further as pointed out by John yesterday (and by the council at a briefing on the results), the numbers can be dramatically impacted by changes in migration which tends to go in cycles – and we are just starting to come out of a lull in this regard.
Some people have already said the lower population growth means the council should cut back on the Unitary Plan however these figures are just one part of the story and there is a lot more detail to come from Stats NZ including updated population projections before any changes to planning might be needed. Anyway if there is lower growth then the first parts of the Unitary Plan that should be scaled back are those that allow for huge expansion into greenfield land in the North, Northwest and South.
As mentioned the most interesting parts of the information released was the population by census area unit which is the second lowest level of data that Stats NZ release (the lowest being meshblock but that hasn’t been released yet). The Herald have already whipped out these maps showing the population density in Auckland for 2006 and 2013 however it is worth noting that the scale isn’t exactly even as the first six colours combined represent the same range of density as the 7th and most common peachy colour.
Unsurprisingly the densest part of the region is in the CBD and some of the surrounding areas. However there is also quite a lot of density in the Mangere, Papatoetoe and Otara areas. These likely reflect much larger household sizes rather than smaller and more intensive dwellings like we see in the CBD.
There has already been some talk about the pure numbers of population change in some of the urban fringe areas and while in absolute terms that might be true, it is also worth noting that often the area units can be quite large and that growth is spread over a large area. For example the area unit with the single biggest population growth was Ormiston in the South East which has seen quite a bit of greenfield development associated with the new Flat Bush town centre. It grew by 4,263 people since the last census 7 years ago when it was almost exclusively rural. There has some quite strong growth in the neighbouring area units too. However compared to other parts of Auckland the area unit is extremely large at roughly 9.8 km². As a comparison, in just over half of the total area (5.0 km²) there are five area units that cover the CBD (and a little bit outside of it) and combined they have seen an extra 9,978 living in the area over the last seven years . In other words they have had roughly twice the population growth occur in half of the space.
To help show the changes, Kent has put together this map together showing the change in density between 2006 and 2013.
When you combine the info in here with that of the map above what you can see is that not only is the central city the densest area in Auckland but it is growing denser faster. There are a few patches of increased density outside the central city but they do tend to be places where long planned greenfield development has taken place.
While on the subject, here is the council’s press release and so far they have only really looked at the data at a local board level.
Auckland Council’s Chief Planning Officer says today’s 2013 Census results, which show Auckland’s population has hit 1,415,550 people, provide vital insights to help plan for Auckland’s future.
The results, released by Statistics New Zealand, show Auckland’s population has grown by 110,592 people since the 2006 Census. Auckland now represents 33.4 per cent of New Zealand’s total population.
“The results reinforce that Auckland continues on its strong growth path, and the prudent thing to do is plan and prepare for that growth,” says Chief Planning Officer Dr Roger Blakeley.
Auckland experienced the largest growth in New Zealand between 2006 and 2013. This was in line with the rest of the country, however the rapid rate of population growth that was seen in Auckland between 2001 and 2006 appears to have slowed.
Dr Blakeley says it’s important to note that census counts are snapshots in time.
“The population growth over the past seven years is not a reliable guide for Auckland’s next 30 years, however the growth rate remains strong and we need to plan for it,” he says.
Contributing factors to the lower population growth rate in New Zealand over the past seven years include a reduction in net immigration caused by the global recession and an increased number of departing New Zealand citizens, mainly to Australia. Auckland also has more migrants and higher fertility than other parts of the country.
The distribution of growth within Auckland’s local board areas has been variable. Growth has been particularly strong in the urban fringe areas and city centre.
Between 2006 and 2013, the five local boards that grew the most were:
1. Waitematā – increased by 14,208 people
2. Howick – 13,620
3. Upper Harbour – 10,797
4. Henderson-Massey – 8898
5. Hibiscus and Bays – 7974.
The five local boards that experienced the least growth during the same period were:
17. Devonport-Takapuna – increased by 2817 people
18. Māngere-Ōtāhuhu – 2808
19. Puketāpapa – 2133
20. Waiheke – 543
21. Great Barrier – 45.
What was odd is that the council held a briefing on the results and the cities chief anti intensification campaigner – Bernard Orsman was there. Despite the extremely strong growth in the city centre he made the statement more than once that if we just ignore the CBD (perhaps he thinks apartment dwellers are lesser beings) that it somehow proves the “compact city model” and the unitary plan was flawed, not what people want and therefore should be dumped. There are of course a couple of issues with this with the primary one being that you can’t just ignore the a huge segment of the growth that has occurred. He was also told on numerous occasions that the growth over the last 7 years is no reflection of where the growth will occur over the next 30. The reason I mention all of this is to highlight that Orsman seems to have quite an agenda that he is pursuing when it comes to the unitary plan. It will be interesting to see what he says in any article he writes about it.
We will be doing more posts on the Census data over time.
Today’s pic of the day is the new ASB Headquarters in the Wynyard Quarter which is an awesome addition to the city
Photos are copyright to Sydney and Craig.
I’ve had a chance to look around inside the building too and it is very neat.
We know that Auckland has some amazing natural beauty with the harbours, volcanoes and ranges but the one area that really lets it down is the urban environment. Things are slowly starting to improve – although there is still a long way to go. As such I want to start a new feature on the blog and the intention is that most days there will be one or more pictures highlighting an urban scene within Auckland, some will be good and some might not be so good.
I would also love for you to get involved too, if you’re a photographer or capture some interesting photos then send them to me.
To kick off here are a few photos, these ones are by Sydney and are copyrighted
Park, Motorway and Heritage building all in one.
Walkway with a great view for those inside but that blocks the view for pedestrians on Lower Albert St
The old tracks have been retained at Wynyard
Zurich House, an office building without a single basement carpark
Auckland is such a naturally beautiful city and as Fred Dagg says, “we don’t know how lucky we are”. This is just a simple post showing some amazing pictures of the city and if we can get our urban environment sorted, we will truly be the worlds most liveable city . I’m not sure of the details of who took them so if you want me to add credit for them then just let me know.
Photo: Chris McLennan www.cmphoto.co.nz
The next two are by Richard Wong
And the last one for tonight by Mattglogan
I’ve been feeling suspiciously positive of late. Notwithstanding grumbling about “transport priorities this” and “government policies that”, I am generally optimistic about New Zealand in general, and Auckland in particular.
More specifically, several of my recent posts on this blog have attempted to highlight (with varying degrees of success) the close links between the success of urban and rural parts of NZ. The parochial urban/rural divide is, I think, too simplistic: New Zealand would be much the worse without Auckland, and vice versa. Both need each other.
Indeed one of the reasons I love living in Auckland is that from there I can access so many beautiful and remote places with relative ease, as illustrated below (chocolate fish prize for anyone who guesses the location). In short I’m hoping we can start to get over the urban/rural divide and instead start appreciating the contribution that both make to NZ’s quality of life.
The need for a more inclusive and less parochial perspective was recently highlighted to me by a blog post in the U.S. titled “The Greatest Nation on Earth Isn’t Us”. The blog post starts with the following extract from a T.V. show, where a university student earnestly asks a couple of pundits “why America is the greatest nation in the world.”
To which the subsequent response is (after some heated rhetoric and a few interesting statistics) “there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that America is the number one country in the world … America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” Here’s the full video http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=16K6m3Ua2nw
The subsequent blog post then goes on to list several reasons why the author considers New Zealand, rather than the U.S., to be the greatest nation in the world, namely:
- Freedom – “The latest international index of 123 countries released by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think-tank, and Germany’s Liberales Institut, ranked New Zealand number one for offering the highest level of freedom worldwide … The survey measured the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties – freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly – in each country surveyed, as well as indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women’s freedoms.”
- Business – “So, who did top the list for the Best Countries for Business? New Zealand. New Zealand can boast a transparent and stable business climate that encourages entrepreneurship. New Zealand is the smallest economy in the top 10 at $162 billion, but it ranks first in personal freedom and investor protection, as well as a lack of red tape and corruption.”
- Education – “That would be New Zealand again, first in the world on the basis of performance in three areas: access to education, quality of education and human capital … According to the QS World University Rankings, two of New Zealand’s universities – Auckland and Otago – rank in the top 200 of the 700 best universities in the world, and Auckland in the top 100 (83rd and 133rd respectively). That’s 25% compared to the United State’s 2.06%. All eight universities rank in the top 500, with Auckland University of Technology appearing on the list for the first time this year.”
- Auckland - Auckland is ranked the third best city out of the top five for quality of living, after Vienna and Zurich, nothing in the United States making the list at all.
Reading the blog post and the subsequent comments did make me feel humble – the kind of feeling that you get when you realise how good something was only after looking at an old photo of the event. Or when you receive a lovely letter from a reader of this blog.
At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that I’m not a raging patriot at all – in fact I always feel slightly uncomfortable when confronted with overly patriotic expressions. For this reason I much prefer the respectful but fun celebrations of national identified observed in countries like the Netherlands (Queens Day) and Norway to the pomp and puffery of more Anglo-Saxon countries.
But on the other hand I must say that I really like New Zealand. From the bustling diversity of Auckland, to the rolling green suburbs and blue waters of Dunedin, to the stunning seaside villages of Northland. I’m not sure whether all these places means NZ can lay claim to being the “greatest” – and frankly I don’t care – but it does mean, I think, NZ is a fairly “great” place to be right now. And that we should get on with working hard to make it even better.
At this point I started to see past my suspiciously positive feelings and start to wonder what I would change about New Zealand if I could? Well, “the first step in solving any problem is recognising there is [at least] one”. In that spirit I would just like to highlight a few areas where NZ might improve:
- Child poverty – we should all be concerned about the cycle of child poverty that seems to becoming embedded in our society. I think some big and bold interventionist policies are clearly required.
- Livability of our cities – as discussed at length in this blog, cities are not simply “big towns”; they are very complex beasts that demand targeted policies and investment and a focus on amenity.
- Taxation - I think we need to shift our tax base from labour (income tax) to capital (CGT, land taxes etc). Reductions in company tax would also help, I think, because company tax is primarily a tax on employment/innovation.
Ultimately I think that our success, or otherwise, on these issues amongst others will be determined by reductions in our rates of emigration and/or increasing numbers of expatriates returning home. While some level of emigration is natural and indeed beneficial, the levels NZ currently supports suggests that too many people are being “pushed” rather than “pulled”.
All this should not stop us from reveling in being nominated as the “greatest nation on Earth”, if only by a relatively obscure blog. It’s just food for thought as you all get your feet back under the desk at work and start gearing up for a productive 2013. A kiwi form of thanksgiving if you like; bless.
“..the revolutionary rhetoric of Modernism passed a death sentence on the street.”- Stephen Marshall, Streets and Patterns
Bits of remaining urban fabric- Great North Road
I lobbed a few easy questions at the end of my last post:
“What has happened to Great North Road that makes is so low scoring in this analysis and so seemingly low value on the ground?”
One correct answer, as many suggested, is that Great North Road is affected by motorway severance thus leading to reduced network connectivity. The other answer, one that is not depicted in the simple network analysis, is that the actual accessibility conditions on the ground seriously limit local trips and these two structural conditions work in tandem to yield a disurban environment. Below is a look at Great North Road, pre-motorway. It has a fingerprint very similar to Ponsonby Road or Queen Street where buildings are clustered at intersections along the edge of the street where the real estate value was located.
Great North Road, 1940. Maximising street access.
So while Jane Jacobs argues for the necessity of short blocks, if not so much for their physical properties (which are also important- see Portland’s smalls blocks designed to increase real estate value by providing more corners), but mostly since they allow a variety of movement modes and choices, something not available any more on Great North Road nor along most other corridors in Auckland.
The discussion from the last post inspired me to dig up some of my previous work examining the urban form changes in Auckland’s first ring suburbs.
In Auckland, like virtually all large western cities, there was a concerted effort, sometimes explicit, to disperse the intensity the city centre to the suburbs. This was facilitated by the motorway system and just about every other transportation investment and policy decision. Below are the results of that policy on the ground throughout Eden Terrace. In addition to the motorway, the severance of the ancillary road system like the Dominion Rd Flyover also contributed to radically transform and degrade local neighbourhoods.
1959 figure-field diagram. Eden Terrace was one of the many first ring surburbs conveniently located adjacent to the CBD and with access facilitated by streetcars. Large building footprints are located near the railroad.
2011 figure-field diagram. The completion of Ian MacKinnon Drive joins with the original Dominion Road flyover to significantly transform a traditional first-ring suburb. The original street network is obliterated by the formation of a highway-like facility. The urban form is also radically changed from residential and rail based industry to large scale warehousing and automobile based industries.
Here is a different view of the outcome of this ‘disurban’ experiment as calculated by surface parking and asphalt- a good indicator of anti-urban environments.
Neighbourhood transition: Grey Lynn, Auckland. Surface parking indicated in black.
So in addition to the severance or barrier environment of the motorway, the local street conditions of Great North Road and Dominion Road Extension have helped to atomise the value of the city (accessibility, proximity, and convenience) across the landscape. In the next few posts I’ll be taking a closer look at some of these streets from the ground level.
Continuing Stu’s look at the value of cities and our ongoing book club I thought is was time to pull out Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City again to further unpack the value of the urban world. Ed Glaeser is a professor of Economics at Harvard and this book is the distillation of years of research backed by data, but is also a great read for anyone interested in the direction of society now and the forces that drive these changes across the world.
Triumph of the City
But first where does Auckland fit; demographically, historically, and politically?
Auckland is New Zealand’s only city of scale yet at 1.5m people in global terms it’s pretty small. And has only recently reached both its current size and arguably its self-identity as a city proper this century- the creation of the single unified authority for Auckland has been the critical point in this it is now becoming clear. Auckland is of course part of a nation with a vital and powerful rural sector and [like other colonial societies] a culture that has a vestigal founding mythology based on rural individualism and rugged sporting and military achievement. This can be still seen in the tired clichés that the advertising industry regularly insults us with when flogging watery beer or soapy cheese…. if TV ads were the only clues available to someone trying to find out what NZ is like they would have to conclude that all 4.5 million of us inhabit a high country farm. I exaggerate but you get my point- this is a self image that the persuasion industry loves to play on, so still clearly has some life in it.
And it is a self-image that easily slips into a suspicion of urban and intellectual life. Add to that Auckland’s relatively nouveau or arriviste status within the nation; to many outside our fair city Auckland is a ‘johnny come lately‘ an undeserving upstart with neither breeding nor legitimacy. Therefore its scale and continuing growth are matters for concern and complaint and its difference; a thing to be feared. What are these differences? Certainly its racial make-up is significantly other from the rest of the nation. It is now and is increasingly becoming more Pacifica and more Asian than the rest of NZ. But so is its urban scale and culture. More of us live in apartments or do other things, say, than follow rugby than the rest of the nation. To many Auckland just feels a bit foreign. And now Auckland even wants foreign things like a subway/metro/tube system.
On recent trips to Australia I have found myself reflecting on the differences and similarities with cities there, after all they are our closest comparisons both historically and culturally. According to these numbers Auckland comes in below Perth but above Adelaide in the population stakes, so only the 5th biggest city in Australasia.
AUSTRALIA’S LARGEST CITIES, JUNE 2011
But what also strikes me as instructive about comparing Auckland to these Australian cities is that they are all primary cities within their states as Auckland is within New Zealand but that Auckland is the only one that isn’t also the political centre. I think that this is another problem for Auckland attracting sufficient attention and funding for its institutions and infrastructure. Despite the new unity of the territorial authority, at the national level [and here I am comparing our nation in scale and responsibility to an Australian State] we are still played off against each other by a government that essentially represents a largely provincial, anti-Urban and therefore anti-Auckland worldview.
Which not to criticise the provincial worldview as such, it is after all wholly appropriate for the country-side, but simply to point out how it no longer fits with Auckland’s condition and may in fact be holding back our biggest city’s potential to the detriment of the whole nation.
So to summarise, Auckland struggles to gain traction within the city itself and the nation as a whole because:
1. Its scale and urban qualities, problems, and needs are relatively new.
2. The nation’s dominant culture is not that receptive to these ideas and needs.
3. It is not a centre of political power, and nor does it present a unified force on the national stage.
Does any of this matter? We’re a farming nation aren’t we? Isn’t Auckland just a big fat anomaly that doesn’t produce any milk?
Well it does generate a full third of the nation’s GDP and perhaps it could contribute even more if it was unleashed. To support the idea that the urban realm is something to be excited and optimistic about, and indeed fought for, especially with regards to the nation’s economic performance, here is a taste of the conclusions of the good professor’s research:
‘There is a near-perfect correlation between urbanisation and prosperity across nations.’ p7
‘We should simply eschew the simplistic view that better long-distance communication will reduce our desire and need to be near one another.’ P15
‘…the virtues of the great pre- and post-industrial cities: competition, connection, and human capital.’ P43
‘…human creativity is strong, especially when reinforced by urban density.’ P67
‘…the city’s core purpose, lifting the country by connecting talented people with each other and the outside world.’ P96
‘Urban enjoyments help determine a city’s success. Talent is mobile, and it seeks out good places to consume as well as produce.’ P118
‘Today successful cities, young or old, attract smart entrepreneurial people, in part, by being urban theme parks.’ p11
‘People are increasingly choosing areas on the basis of quality of life, and the skilled people who come to attractive areas then provide the new ideas that fuel the local economy. Smart, entrepreneurial people are the ultimate source of a city’s economic power, and as those people become more prosperous, they care more about quality of life.’ P132
‘… the magic of urban proximity’ p136
‘Cities are ultimately about connections among people.’ P142
‘…human diversity demands a variety of living arrangements’ p147
‘Great cities are not static- they constantly change with the world round them.’
‘Whereas the typical 19C city was located in a place where factories had and edge in production [I would add distribution too], the typical 21C is more likely to be a place where workers have an edge in consumption.’ P118
‘Education is, after temperature, the most reliable predictor of urban [economic] growth, especially among older cities. Per capita productivity rises sharply with metropolitan area size if the city is well educated, but not if it isn’t. Cities and schools complement each other, and for that reason, education policy is a vital ingredient in urban success.’ P253
‘Above all, we must free ourselves from our tendency to see cities as their buildings, and remember that the real city is made of flesh, not concrete.’ P15
‘The magic of cities comes from their people, but they must be well served by the bricks and mortar that surround them.’ P160
And of course what has a huge influence on the shape of cities?
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form.’ P12
‘Transportation technologies shape cities’ p140
‘[Cars] also require space when they’re standing still. A typical parking space can often be more than 40 sqm- about the size of a standard work cubicle. Bringing a car to work essentially doubles the amount of space that someone needs on the job.’ P178
And finally, is this the case with Auckland currently?
‘Too many countries have stacked the deck against urban areas…Cities don’t need handout’s, but they need a level playing field.’ P250
So. What are cities good for, what are Auckland’s increasing urban qualities good for?
Potentially: Absolutely Everything.