More jobs in the city centre

However you define Auckland’s “city centre”, it’s been adding jobs rapidly in the last couple of years. Based on a narrow definition – roughly, the area bounded by the motorways – the city centre has hit a new milestone of 100,000 jobs, actually reaching almost 102,000 as at February 2016.

Using a slightly wider definition, you could call it 111,200 jobs. This is the definition used by the Ministry of Transport when they were monitoring employment growth in the city centre. More on that below.

Once you get beyond the motorways, which are pretty major barriers, there’s also plenty of employment close to the city centre even if you don’t consider it to be part of the city centre. That includes Parnell, Newmarket, Grafton, Newton, Kingsland, Ponsonby and Freemans Bay. Many of these have rapid transit (rail) connections – even if they don’t, they have good bus frequencies. You can think of this area as the “city centre and surrounds”, and that takes you to 178,000 jobs – a quarter of all the jobs in the entire Auckland region.

Depending on what definition you use, the city centre has added around 5,000 jobs in each of the last two years.

That might not sound like that much, but this is regionally, even nationally, significant growth. Auckland as a whole added 18,000-28,000 jobs a year in the last three years (averaging 23,500). New Zealand added 40,000-50,000 jobs a year over this time. Prior to the last three years, jobs growth was weaker or even negative, as the country struggled with a post-GFC recession.

Overall, Auckland’s city centre is one of the major growth engines for employment in New Zealand. This is set to continue for at least the next few years, with plenty of job-creating developments underway (offices, hotels, the International Convention Centre, the City Rail Link etc).

You might recall that back in 2013, the government was giving very guarded support to the City Rail Link (CRL). They said they’d fund an early start if two very tough targets were met:

  1. Auckland CBD employment increases by 25 percent over current levels; and
  2. Annual rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020.

We were critical of these targets at the time. They didn’t relate that well to the goals of the CRL, and were just arbitrary hoops to jump through, the kind of thing which road projects have never had to face. Plus, they reinforced the false perception that the CRL was all about the city centre, whereas it actually delivers benefits across Auckland.

Fortunately, these targets have now been dispensed with. After hemming and hawing for a few years, the government came fully on board with the CRL in 2016. The former targets are now irrelevant, so what follows is really just for interest.

Matt still covers our progress towards the patronage target from time to time. Auckland is surging towards 20 million rail trips a year, hitting 18 million in 2016. We’re on track to hit 20 million by the end of 2017, although it might end up being 2018.

The employment target was much trickier, partly because it was so badly defined. The government’s initial announcement of the targets didn’t define the CBD, or the timeframe over which employment was meant to grow by 25%. See this post, which links to two earlier ones, for details.

For what it’s worth, I think the fairest interpretation of the government’s target – based on the City Centre Future Access Study which they based it on – was to use 2006 as a base year, and the  “narrow definition” of the city centre I’ve used above. That wasn’t the interpretation they went with – they took a much tougher line – but it would have been the fairest one.

Anyway, city centre employment was 81,200 in 2006, and 101,900 in 2016. So we’ve actually grown by 25% already based on that, and there’s a strong growth trend continuing. The government eventually decided on a tougher (and I think less fair) interpretation of their target, but even then we would probably be on track to hit it. They used 2012 as the base year, and the city centre has grown by 13% in the four years since. Keeping up that rate of growth, we’d hit 25% by 2020.

So, for what it’s worth, even though the government targets were arbitrary, and incredibly hard to hit, it looks like we’d be hitting them anyway.

All in all, it’s a bloody good thing the CRL is now under construction, even if we’re still going to have to wait another 5 or 6 years before it opens – it’s the only thing that will let the city centre jobs engine keep purring.

Traffic’s fine, free the streets for people

Auckland’s city centre is currently undergoing change on scale possibly never seen before and nowhere more so than around Albert St with the construction of the City Rail Link underway. Streets have been narrowed or in some places cut off completely. As I’ve talked about before, it has felt that the massive reduction in vehicle capacity hasn’t had any negative impact times for vehicles with roads still seeming to flow about as well as they did before the CRL works started. Although it feels that this has come at the expense of pedestrians who now have to wait longer at lights, something I’ll talk about later in this post.

One of the best examples of just how much road capacity has been taken out of the city centre is from the corner of Albert and Customs streets. The layout is being changed regularly and so what you see below from early November is not how it is now, but the level of capacity available is the same. There’s just one each way lane east-west on Customs, one lane southbound only on Albert south of Customs and only northbound lanes on Albert north of customs.

Looking south to the Albert/Customs intersection – via emergingauckland.org.nz

Despite official predictions of chaos for drivers, anecdotal observations from many us suggested this was simply not happening. Now AT have created a report called the ‘City Centre Network Operations Monthly Report’ showing just what the impact has been and it seems our observations were correct. This report is for October 2016 but I also understand this report may become published monthly in the future too.

You can often tell an organisations priorities based on what areas they focus their reporting on, and in this case, the first and biggest section focuses on vehicle speeds and volumes. As you can see below, vehicle volumes into the CBD over the course of the day remain almost identical to what they were in October 2015 which was before the works started, just slightly down in the morning peak. Yet despite the massive loss of road capacity, speeds on the road network have actually gone up. The series of speedo graphs on the right hand side show in more detail the results for a number of major roads. Essentially if the dial is in the blue the route is faster than it was last year and the numbers show that only Customs St was slower.

cbd-monitoring-report-2016-10-speeds-and-volume-dashboard

One aspect I wasn’t aware of is that there is resource consent condition around vehicle delays being no more than 10 minutes compared to what they were before construction. It’s crazy that one mode has conditions like this put on it while the other modes don’t. Especially so to put it on the mode that is the least efficient way of moving people and that is less than half of all AM peak trips. These are metrics looked at on second page of the report. As a note, the report talks about people movement rather than just vehicles so it means with vehicles counting the number of passengers too.

This next page is frankly a jumbled mess, even putting aside the silly clip-art image. We’ve got a graph showing that a breakdown of trips to the CBD in the AM peak by mode. This also shows that the numbers are growing slightly. But by focusing on the people arriving in the city, there is a major omission of the number of people who live in the CBD already and so aren’t counted in these numbers. With the CBD population now over 40,000 and growing rapidly this is an important segment to include as will likely made a big difference on the in discussions on projects like the Victoria St Linear Park that AT want to squeeze up to fit more cars.

cbd-monitoring-report-2016-10-mode-splits

Speaking of pedestrians, one of the reasons for why travel speeds have improved is that in many intersections it appears that the signals have been adjusted to give greater priority to vehicles. We know that the double phasing on Queen St was removed and it appears that pedestrians are now having to wait longer at other intersections too. We need to get this changed and have more priority for people. This is even more important as pedestrian volumes are increasing according to the automated counters that Heart of The City have. As you can see below those counters are showing an 11% increase for the quarter to 30 September over the same time the year prior.

hotc-ped-report-2016-10

Also thinking long term, these results show that AT and the council can afford to be bolder on the future design of our streets in the city. After the CRL works finish, is there really a need to rush roads like Albert St back to unabated vehicle priority. The current construction works, and those in the future, present us huge opportunities to allow us to change the space allocation in the city.

Cities are ultimately about people and so it’s important we build our cities to support people.

Photo of the Day: Our Out of Balance Centre City Streets

Vincent and Pitt, Thursday 5:49 pm. Every corner occupied with people wanting to cross, including eight on this silly little delight of a ‘pedestrian refuge’, or nine if you include me, as I stepped back into the vehicle priority slip lane to take the shot, including at least one genuine princess. There appears to be one vehicle using the intersection and another a long long way in the distance up Pitt street.

vincent-pitt-6pm-thrus

Auckland Transport have a lot of work to do to fix the dated modal priority that dominates City Centre streets as it is no longer fit for purpose. This design dates from a time when very few lived in the city, fewer worked there and those that did didn’t stay on to recreate in the city either. It is also from before the time that the economic and social value of well designed walkable streets were so well understood. People not in cars need more space and time afforded to them from the people that control this critical part of our public domain. The value of this in supporting the modern urban services economy and the social well being of everyone is overwhelming.

After all transport infrastructure is simply a means to economic and social ends; not an end in it self.

CRL and the opportunity to fix city streets

From the significant disruption of building the City Rail Link we get two huge benefits. First and foremost, we get a tunnel that transforms our rail network and allow significantly more people to travel around the region free of congestion. But for many of our city streets, it also delivers us blank slate from which we can deliver on the visions that have already been created for the future of the city. It is an opportunity too important to waste. And yet as we highlighted last week, Auckland Transport seem determined to waste that opportunity with their awful plans Albert St and the roads that cross it.

At their heart, AT’s plans once again show that many transport engineers and institutions seem to desperately cling to the belief that their role is to find ways of accommodating a set (and growing) level of traffic demand. In doing so they often fail to recognise that drivers respond to road network provided to them.

Adding traffic lanes and supersizing intersections is almost always a vain attempt to ‘solve congestion’. But any relief is normally only short lived because traffic tends to act like a gas, expanding to fill any space made available to it. Conversely it has now been seen time and time again that removing capacity from the road network results in traffic melting away as drivers respond to the changes.

Some of the most famous examples worldwide have been the removal of an elevated highway and restoration of the stream under it in Cheonggyecheon, Seoul, the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after it collapsed in the Loma Preita earthquake and recently Paris has permanently closed off a section of road along a bank of the Seine. These have actually resulted in net reductions in vehicle numbers as drivers find alternative routes or change how and when they travel.

Back here in Auckland we now have our own real life experiment underway right now thanks to the works to construct the CRL. Parts of Albert, Customs, Victoria, Wellesley and Wyndham Streets are currently shadows of their former selves having been narrowed down for works, in some cases significantly. An example of this is highlighted well by the image from my post the other day on the construction progress of the City Rail Link looking at the Albert/Customs/Fanshawe intersection. As you can see:

  • Albert St south of the intersection has been narrowed down to just one lane southbound with the other five lanes closed off for construction works.
  • Albert St north of the intersection only allows for vehicles to travel northbound. The southbound lanes are closed due to the proximity to the under demolition Downtown site.
  • Customs St has also been narrowed down to just one lane each way through the intersection. Previously there were three lanes westbound and two eastbound.

crl-site-visit-2016-09-albert-st

While the works are the scale they are for a reason, in many locations AT also appear to have adopted a policy of trying to minimise disruption for motorists resulting in footpaths that have been cut back and pedestrian phases changed to provide as much capacity for cars as they can. Yet for months now Auckland Transport have pushed the message that people need to change how they travel to avoid carmegeddon including through the use of Jerome Kaino to help push the message.

Based on results so far, I think we can say that Auckland Transport’s message has got through and/or that we’re seeing the same result as those examples mentioned earlier. This is because one of the most notable outcomes from the works so far has been a lack of major traffic issues. Peak time congestion doesn’t appear to be any worse than it was before the works started and during the day these roads can still be eerily empty, as this picture from looking South of Wellesley shows.

These works and previous city centre improvements show that the drivers will adapt to changes, that the city doesn’t grind to a halt. It confirms we can shape or city to promote more of the things we want and less of the things we don’t.

Therefore we believe we need to start looking differently at how we approach roads in the city centre. In some cases, plans that even a few years ago were considered visionary or even just “the best we could hope for” are now starting to look tame. We need to completely rethink how we approach space in the city centre and we can start but looking overseas.

Most great cities that we look to have come to realise that right priority for transport in cities is something like below.

reverse-traffic-pyramid

We need to start thinking the same way too. And not just on those streets most directly affected by the CRL works. Take Customs St as an example. In places it is currently up to seven lanes wide. The City East-West Transport Study (CEWT) suggested the pedestrian space increase a little bit but that there would still be at least three lanes each way.

 

CEWT Customs St

Yet the image above shows that at one location at least, Customs St has been reduced to just one lane each way and last time I looked the sky was still well above my head. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rethink what we want for the city. Let’s be bolder and perhaps start by answering questions like:

  • Do we really need four general traffic lanes on Customs St?
  • Do we need traffic on Quay St at all?
  • How soon can we pull down the awful Hobson St flyover?
  • Can we be bolder in how we redesign Hobson and Nelson Streets, including returning them to two way streets?
  • Why do we still even have cars in Queen St?
  • Can we make Fanshawe St less like a motorway sewer?

We obviously can’t do everything at once what the CRL works perfectly show is that drivers will adapt, that the sky won’t fall so we might as well be bold and design a world-class city. And of course until we can deliver that bold design, we can always start by trialling it New York style with some planters and temporary solutions.

Apartments and housing affordability

The NZ Herald’s been running a series on Auckland’s housing affordability crisis. The articles thus far have ranged from thoughtful and thought-provoking to downright imbecilic – such as a mortgage broker’s suggestion that young people could afford homes if they gave up their Sky subscription. I think there’s a Tui ad for that.

One of the best bits, however, is the interactive map of housing affordability that data journalist Caleb Tutty put together. Here it is in animated gif form:

The map shows the share of properties sold within each suburb over the last year that you’d be able to afford, depending upon how much of a deposit you’d saved up.

For example, here’s what the affordability map looks like if you have $100,000 in the bank. Under current bank lending policies you can borrow 80% of the house value, meaning that your deposit will buy you a half-million dollar house. Observe how the vast majority of the city is coloured red, indicating that the majority of properties would be beyond your reach.

NZH home affordability map $100k deposit

Incidentally, a $100,000 deposit is a prohibitively large sum for most young Aucklanders. According to Stats NZ data on incomes, in 2015 the median pre-tax weekly income for Aucklanders in their late 20s (25-29) was $729, or around $38,000 a year. Income taxes take about $5,700 of that sum, leaving $32,300 to provide for the necessities and save for a deposit. (On average, people in their early 30s earn a bit more – $901 per week – but that doesn’t close the gap.)

Consequently, the average young Aucklander would have to save something like one-third of their after-tax income for ten years in order to afford a deposit on a half-million dollar home. So in other words, if you’re young, you’re probably screwed no matter how thrifty or prudent you are… unless your parents are wealthy and generous.

However, there are some tentative bright spots in this rather disheartening picture. To illustrate, I’ve reduced the deposit to $70,000, which is still pretty onerous but not impossible for young people. That would allow you to buy a home worth $350,000. Here’s the map. Now the entire city is shaded a deeply unaffordable red. You can hardly buy anything anywhere. The isthmus is red. The North Shore is red. The Waitakeres are red. Manukau is red. You can’t even afford to live in Otara or Manurewa.

NZH home affordability map $70k deposit

But if you zoom in closer, you’ll notice that there is still a solitary green patch of affordability in the middle. The majority of apartment sales in the city centre are still in your price range! You can afford 55% of the properties sold in the city centre or in neighbouring Grafton. (Manukau central is the next most affordable place – just under half of the dwellings sold there are cheaper than $350,000. But there are fewer homes there.)

NZH home affordability map city centre

Prices in the city centre aren’t necessarily cheap in an absolute sense – but it nonetheless offers many more options for a young buyer seeking to buy a starter home than anywhere else in Auckland.

Why is this?

It’s not because demand to live in the city centre is low. Its residential population has quadrupled since 2001 – a rate of increase that far outstrips the rest of the city. Today, there are more people living in the Auckland city centre than there are in Whanganui.

City Centre Population - 1996-2015 2

What sets the city centre apart isn’t low demand but high supply responsiveness: the city centre has stayed affordable because lot of apartments have been built there. This includes a mix of expensive apartments and small, affordable apartments to meet a range of different demands for space. Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry is moving into a luxury apartment in the Viaduct Harbour, while there are many students on low incomes living a bit further up the hill.

These maps show one simple thing: Building lots of apartments works. The one place in the city where we’ve allowed it to happen – the city centre – is now the most affordable place in the city.

There’s nothing that special about the city centre. It’s hardly the only place in the city where it’s physically possible or commercially feasible to build apartments. We could allow the same thing to happen in a lot of places, and reap the benefits.

This doesn’t mean a high-rise building on every street. It’s possible to build lots of apartments while keeping building heights to a quite human scale – three to seven storeys, say. This is the model that’s worked well in a lot of European cities. Like this new neighbourhood in Freiburg, Germany:

Source: Celsias

Source: Celsias

It’s also a model that allowed fast-growing New World cities to develop and prosper a century ago – as this excellent article from Bike Portland points out. This is the type of building that we used to build:

So what’s the holdup?

City Centre Investment Map

The last five years have seen Auckland change dramatically for the better. If you were in the city then you wouldn’t have found any of the shared spaces, much of the area surrounding Britomart was still run down and unused and Wynyard Quarter as a people place didn’t exist. While we’ve already seen a lot of change the next 10 years promises even more and much of it – such as the CRL – will fundamentally alter Auckland for the better.

In fact there is so much going on in Auckland’s City Centre right now that it’s starting to resemble a sand pit. There are a huge number of publicly and privately funded improvements happening. Importantly they are leveraging off each other to make Auckland a more liveable and attractive place. That’s good for Auckland’s economy which in turn is good for the entire nation. It also bears reminding that the changes and growth that’s occurred in recent years hasn’t spelt doom on the regions roads as all the growth in travel to the centre has happened not on in cars but via PT and active modes.

To highlight all of the known changes that are planned or desired for the next decade the council have created a map showing all the ones they know about (there are bound to be more appear over that time – especially private developments). Note: not all of these projects have funding confirmed yet so not all might happen. Click to enlarge the images or go here for the PDF version (2.6MB).

City Centre Projects April 2015

City Centre Projects April 2015 Legend

There are of course a few things missing from this map. A few I noticed quickly are AT’s Light Rail plans, Cycle lanes on Pitt St as part of the Nelson St Cycleway and cyclelanes on Karangahape Rd as part of the city centre priority routes.

The major criticism I can see in all of this is that the map is focused on the city centre. That’s understandable seeing as it’s come from the city centre integration group however perhaps the council should create an interactive version for the entire region. It could show what’s going on and how projects like the CRL benefit the entire region.

I’m looking forward to the changes that planned. It should make the city centre a much more vibrant and interesting and liveable place.

The Central Wharves Strategy

The council’s City Centre Integration Group (CCIG) – the team charged with turning all of the various visions and plans for the city centre into a reality – are wanting the council to endorse their strategy for the city’s Central Wharves which will see some significant changes to how the wharves are used. The central wharves are essentially the finger wharves that jut out into the harbour and include Princes Wharf, Queens Wharf, Captain Cook Wharf and Marsden Wharf.

It was first signalled that CCIG were looking at the wharves in the Downtown Framework in September last year and at the time they said more work needed to be done to make the best use of the space.

Before going into the proposal some background. The core issue the strategy is trying to address is growth that’s expected to occur in ferries, cruise ships, public space/events and freight. All of those cause congestion not just on land but also on the water too. More specifically on each:

  • Ferries – They say ferry patronage and the number of ferries plying the harbour are expected to grow by around 50% over the next decade. That means more space is needed for ferries and even if the location is left where it is will also need to be reconfigured to handle those extra volumes.
  • Cruise Ships – The number of cruise ships visiting keeps increasing and along with that the cruise ships themselves are getting bigger. They say there’s now a need to be able to accommodate 350m long vessels (Queen Mary 2 which has visited a few times is 345m long and has had to tie up at the freight wharves). That means to keep cruise ships here one or more of the finger wharves need to be extended. This is also apparently not just important for Auckland but for NZ as a whole as if ships can’t stop in Auckland they won’t visit elsewhere in NZ either. It’s also not just the cruise ships themselves but also all of the provisioning that goes along with that. As an example they say one ship carrying 3,000 people on a 7-day cruise needs 6,500kg of fish, 26,500kg of meat, 27,500 of fruit & vegetables and 17,000 litres of milk that all need to be loaded aboard. To add one more issue the cruise ships generally like to leave port right in the afternoon peak when the ferries are at their busiest putting added pressure on that water space.
  • Public Space – All of the council’s plans call for the waterfront to become more accessible and friendly to the public. Queens Wharf was brought from the ports ($40 million) for exactly this reason. Of course because Queens Wharf is also used for cruise ships it becomes anything but publicly accessible during many days in summer – just when people most want to use it. The image below highlights one of the problems with much of the wharf effectively closed off to the public.

Queens Wharf Cruise Ships

  • Freight – Captain Cook and Marsden wharves are currently used by the port for the storage of bulk goods and primarily imported cars – many of which eventually head out of Auckland. The ports obviously want to continue and grow that. I’m not convinced that the storage of large bulk items like cars is necessarily the best use such prime waterfront land.
  • Other – In addition to the uses above there’s also increasing demand for use of various wharves by tourist operators and by the marine sector in relation to super yacht visits.

Moving back to the Downtown Framework, the document suggested four possible future scenarios for the uses of the central wharves. As part of the strategy that was expanded to six options. All options involve the extension of Halsey Wharf at Wynyard and the need to retain the ability for cruise ships at Princes wharf for when there are three in town at once. Further all but one involve the removal of Marsden Wharf. The six options that were evaluated were:

  1. An extension to Queens Wharf, operationally it would be the same as what we have now.
  2. Shifting the Ferry terminal to Captain Cook Wharf which would see Queens Wharf dedicated to cruise ships and still be the public space too.
  3. Extending Bledisloe Wharf substantially with enough space for two large cruise ships end to end.
  4. Extending Captain Cook Wharf and shifting all cruise operations there. They say it would also require some wharf extension and reclamation for Bledisloe Wharf which the port claim is needed to compensate for almost 3ha lost from no longer having access to Captain Cook and Marsden Wharves.
  5. A shorter extension of Bledisloe Wharf with cruise ships shared between there and Queens Wharf
  6. An extension of Princes Wharf to handle longer ships and retaining the use of Queens Wharf.

This list was then narrowed down to options 1, 3 and 4. The remaining options were then evaluated on a range of criteria and compared in a matrix. Unfortunately I currently only have a low quality paper copy of this until the presentation goes online however it is clear from it that option 1 was by far the worst with option 4 the best.

Central Wharves Evaluation Matrix

Option 4 is shown below.

Central Wharves Option 4 - Captain Cook Extension

CCIG say the benefits of this option is it enables two new public spaces either side of Queens Wharf (the breastworks between Princes and Queens would be extended). These areas would be the replacement for public space lost from the sale of QE2 square. Queens Wharf would become dedicated to people use or for events along with a reconfigured ferry terminal with 12 end loading berths. The downside in my view is the extension of Bledisloe Wharf. I get the feeling that the Ports of Auckland are trying to use whatever methods they can to get extensions happening.

Admiralty Basin

An idea of what Admiralty Basin could look like

 

Incidentally I and many others have been saying that Captain Cook is the best location for the cruise ship terminal for some time. The last time it came up it was suddenly shot down by Len Brown before it could be investigated.

The one big unknown in all of this is just what it will cost. I can’t see the extension of Captain Cook wharf being cheap nor the works to improve the waterfront for more people space. I also can’t see the councillors being all that supportive of a strategy that endorses the extension of Bledisloe Wharf but we’ll have to wait to see till Thursday.

1971 Central City proposals

The council’s City Centre Master Plan contains a huge number of great ideas for making the city centre a better place to live work and play but it’s far from the first document looking at the subject. Our friend Darren Davis has recently come across a document from 1971 called Central Area Proposals outlining a number of ideas from the time. Some were good ideas, some odd ideas and some terrible ideas. Of these some were implemented and others not. The ideas also don’t appear to be a cohesive set of projects and so some of the ideas clash with other ideas.

One interesting fact from the document was that mode share to the central city was about over 50% PT, walking or cycling , a similar level that we’ve only just achieved again.

Central Area Proposals

The good

Durham St Pedestrianisation

Khartoum Pl

And from the files that didn’t happen, pedestrianising Queen St

Queen St Pedestranisation

The Odd

This idea seems to be about getting people out of Queen St, presumably so there’s more space for cars and parking – although the image is shown with pedestrians at street level too. It certainly wouldn’t go with the idea of closing Queen St to traffic above.

Queen St People Mover

Closing K Rd to traffic but presumably providing more parking.

K Rd Parking Mall

The Bad

Wellesley St elevated over Queen St which would have destroyed the Civic corner and made a hostile area for pedestrians under the over pass.

Wellesley St elevated over Queen St

Mayoral Dr sold as a tree lined boulevard linking up green spaces in the city. Implementing this wiped out a significant chunk of CBD property

Mayoral Dr

An extension of Mayoral Dr all the way to Quay St on the eastern side of the CBD. With option 1 of this we wouldn’t have had an O’Connell St to make a shared space on and the Britomart area would have been severed by a massive road.

Mayoral Dr Extension

And perhaps the granddaddy of bad ideas an elevated motorway along Quay St – the idea was first proposed in the 1955 master transportation plan but thankfully none of these proposals ever happened.

Quay St

I’m not sure when this image is from but it gives an idea of what it may have looked like, some more shots here and here

Thankfully we managed to dodge at least some of these bullets which if implemented might have been enough to well in truly kill the city centre.

Thanks for the images Darren

Accessing the City Centre

As Patrick so eloquently described in his Metro article – and post yesterday – Auckland is experiencing an unseen revolution in transport. While the pace of the change is becoming increasingly evident, what many people don’t realise is that this revolution isn’t new, instead it’s been slowly building up a head of steam for over a decade. Nowhere is this more evident than in the central city where the sure but steady change has now become so dramatic that it’s now challenging the stereotype of Auckland being a drive everywhere city. Despite the frustrations we see from time to time one shift is that public transport and active modes are increasingly becoming normalised and not solely for those not able to drive.

We can see this change quite clearly from the data collected annually since 1986 by Auckland Transport and prior to that the Auckland Regional Council. The data comes from a screenline survey which counts all vehicles and people crossing a certain location. In the case of the city centre that screenline survey takes place on all roads that cross the motorway moat that rings the city.

The backdrop to the change has been growth in employment and education coupled with vastly improved retail and hospitality offerings. It’s difficult to get figures for some of those areas however for employment Stats NZ figures show there are now over 100,000 jobs within the screenline boundary mentioned above. That’s up from around 80,000 in 2001 – an almost a 25% increase despite a few bumps along the way such as the Global Financial Crisis. In addition there were only around 10,000 people living in the central city whereas now there are over 31,0000 helping to bring energy and vitality to the urban environment – and all/most without needing to drive to get to work or play.

AKL CBD employment & population 2000-2014

For people who have to travel to the city for, not all are doing so during the morning peak but it’s certainly when the largest number are of 7am to 9am and this is what the Screenline Survey captures. What the data astonishingly shows is that increasingly the change in the transport use over the has exclusively come from modes other than driving more. This screenline data was presented to the AT board last week.

Back in 2001 some 39,000 people or 64% of everyone arriving in the city centre via motorised transport during the morning peak via did so by way of a private vehicle. That means either they were driving or were a passenger in a car. The remaining 21,100 came by bus (23%), train (5%) or ferry (8%).

In 2014 38,000 people entered by private vehicle representing a slight fall in numbers compared to 2001. That in itself is interesting as during that time we’ve made it easier to get to the city thanks to numerous road projects such as the Central Motorway Junction upgrade. However the big story is that the number of people arriving by public transport share has risen dramatically to over 34,400 (48%). The change is shown on the graph below.

CBD Transport Change

If we throw active modes in to the mix (not including those already in the city centre) then the number of people not driving to the city outweighs the number who do

The graph above is a great result but what’s powering it? Is it just lots more people using PT in general or some parts of the PT network doing much more work. The graph below shows the growth rate by mode. *It’s worth noting that it appears from some of the other data I was sent that the Northern busway refers to people and travelling from the North Shore, not just those on the busway.

AKL CBD mode growth

And the numbers compared to 2001.

CBD Transport Change #

Looking to the future we can only expect the current trends to continue, not least because there is nowhere else to squeeze in additional roads/lanes.

Is the City Centre Deprived?

*16/10/2014: updated with interactive map*

Radio New Zealand recently ran an article titled “Slum warning over Auckland CBD”, which began:

Auckland’s central city is home to some of the region’s poorest people, living in tiny overcrowded apartments which are threatening to turn some areas into slums.

Census data shows part of the inner city has a deprivation level of 10, which is the same as some of the poorest parts of south Auckland – such as Mangere, Papakura and Otara.

Once you get past the somewhat sensationalist headline and opening, this is actually a relatively informative article, but I think a bit more context is required. My response is possibly a bit too much context, so feel free to skip to the last few paragraphs.

 

What is Deprivation?

According to the University of Otago, who publishes the New Zealand Index of Deprivation, “deprivation has been defined as a state of observable and demonstrable disadvantage relative to the local community or the wider society or nation to which an individual, family or group belongs”. It’s a multi-dimensional and evolving concept, and can be assessed in a number of different ways.

The New Zealand Index of Deprivation uses census data to gauge deprivation at the local (but not individual/ household) level. In the latest index, based on the 2013 census, the following variables are used, in order of decreasing weight in the index:

Dep Index variables

The index uses aggregated data to provide useful information about whether people living in a given area are more or less likely to be deprived. The data is based on what’s available from the census, and is more limited (and less direct) than the range of questions we’d focus on if we were interviewing individuals or households, for example. In fact, the University of Otago has also created a New Zealand Index of Socioeconomic Deprivation for Individuals, which is an interview-based system.

Similarly, Statistics New Zealand ask a wide range of questions in their Household Economic Survey – whether household members have shoes in good condition, or do things like go without good meals, doctor’s visits and so on to save on costs. The survey used to ask “how often in the last twelve months [the interviewee] had stayed in bed longer to save on heating costs – never, occasionally or often”, and I used this variable in my dissertation to look at energy poverty – one of the many dimensions of poverty, which is a related concept to deprivation.

As you can see from these questions, there are a range of things that people can end up going without, which many of us may not really come across in our everyday lives (although we may have been through phases of this, e.g. while studying). These are social issues and not generally the domain of this blog, but I mention them for context and to give an idea of what deprivation indices are really trying to get at.

 

Is the Index of Deprivation well suited to looking at the city centre?

The New Zealand Index of Deprivation is an excellent resource and useful for comparing different areas, assessing the need for health and social services and so on. However, I think the Radio New Zealand article above, and the New Zealand Index of Deprivation itself, probably overstates the degree of deprivation in the city centre, although there are certainly deprived people (and arguably even deprived areas) in the city centre.

To give more detail, the index assigns each of the 2,000-odd geographical “area units” across New Zealand a ranking of 1 to 10, with the same number of area units in each decile, and 10 being the most deprived. One of the “area units” in the city centre, Auckland Central East (east of Queen St), was ranked 10 in the 2013 index, whereas Auckland Central West (west of Queen St) was ranked 9 and Auckland Harbourside (north of Customs St, the Viaduct, the Scene apartments etc) was ranked 6.

I’ve listed the variables that go into the index above. and as you can imagine, there are some indicators that are less relevant to a high-density context, and there are others that are less relevant to areas with a younger population. The University is aware of this, and mention in their FAQ here:

What happens if people choose not to own one or more of a house, a car or a phone?

We are restricted to information available from the census forms, which do not include information about choice for these items. However, the NZDep index includes information from six deprivation variables which are unlikely to be relevant to people who make such choices, such as some people living in inner-city apartments, so the index-value for a small area is unlikely to be substantively affected by the lack of choice information for the other three index variables.

An important aspect of deprivation is the lack of choice in going without certain things – it’s really about people who feel forced to go without “a house, a car or a phone”, or from further up in this post, “wearing shoes with holes because you could not afford replacement” and so on, rather than choosing to do without for lifestyle or other reasons. So the first point I’d note is that people often choose to live in the city centre and not own their apartment, a car etc, while I also acknowledge the university’s comments on the other variables in the index.

Secondly, areas with a high proportion of students also tend to come out badly in the index. Students obviously tend to perform poorly on income measures, and also on unemployment ones – based on customised census data, 10.3% of full time students in NZ are unemployed, vs. 4.5% for the general population (and the unemployment rate, which is different, is 22.0%).

In Dunedin, for example, students are heavily concentrated in the “Otago University” and “North Dunedin” area units, both of which have a deprivation index of 9. I lived in this area for 18 months, and while there are certainly students living in substandard conditions, again there’s an element of choice; going without now to earn higher incomes down the track.

That brings me to another important point, which is that deprivation for individual students is likely to be short-lived, rather than entrenched. Student-oriented areas may be “deprived” and remain so over time, but that’s arguably less of a social issue than areas where you have the same people living there for years and remaining deprived.

As you’d expect, the University of Otago is clued up about this. They make some effort to adjust for the student factor, e.g. through leaving the Student Allowance Benefit out of the benefit variable in the index (“it was considered that the majority of people on this benefit were probably not disadvantaged or socioeconomically deprived in the same way as those on the other means tested benefits”), but generally the index is still a bit less meaningful for areas with a large proportion of students.

Thirdly, the city centre, being dominated by apartments, will come out very well on some measures which aren’t recorded in the index – apartments aren’t usually damp and cold, as so many NZ houses are. On the other hand, many of them could still be seen as substandard, in terms of minimal living space, poor facilities, not much natural light or ventilation and so on.

 

So, is the City Centre Deprived?

Here’s a map of the Index of Deprivation scores for meshblocks across the CBD:

I’ve done some analysis on the city centre using the variables which go into the Index of Deprivation, and my conclusions would be that the city centre is still relatively deprived in many ways – but it’s probably not as bad as it looks in the index, and the deprivation for individuals is less likely to be long-term.

Unemployment rates for city centre residents are high however you slice it, for both students and non-students. I expect that a lot of that has to do with the age structure (youth unemployment is much higher) and ethnic mix (unemployment for Asian ethnic groups is somewhat higher).

The city centre also comes out badly on the “living space” variable, as you might expect given high land costs and generally smaller dwelling sizes. Using a simple measure of overcrowding – more than two people per bedroom – 3.5% of CBD dwellings are overcrowded, vs. 1.2% across New Zealand. The index measure is a bit more in depth, and looks at the number of “spare bedrooms” compared to an occupancy standard; if anything, the CBD probably comes out worse on that measure.

On the “support” variable, there are also quite a lot of single parent families in the city centre. So, there are some warning signs here – I’d hope there is a good support structure in place for these families.

So, there is deprivation in the city centre, and it needs to be acknowledged. I don’t think it calls for a hysterical response, but there are social issues which should be recognised and addressed. It’s important that the CBD has good social services in place – and I think it generally does – and that these continue to improve as the CBD’s population continues to grow.