This is a guest post from John P
I really enjoyed Matt’s post on why he wants intensification in his neighbourhood. I thought I’d write one on why I love it in mine. First off I should explain that I live in a CBD fringe apartment.
1. Work is a ten minute walk away. This is hard to beat, and you can believe me when I say that I don’t miss long commutes. This means more time to do the things I want, and less money spent on petrol. It was also great to be close to the university when I was doing postgrad (again, pretty much a ten minute walk).
2. A slightly longer walk takes me to Britomart, Wynyard Quarter, Queen St, the movies, you name it. There are 650 cafes, restaurants, takeaways and bars in the CBD, there for the taking (subject to budgetary constraints).
A short walk from the finest eating destinations
A slightly longer walk may lead to spontaneous singing of The Lonely Island songs
3. I’m a five minute walk from the supermarket. Sure, it’s a Countdown and pretty expensive, but it’s good for top-up shopping. We try to do bigger shops out at Pak N’ Save, and this is one of those situations where the car comes in handy.
4. In summary, we are very well set up to do a lot of walking to places, rather than driving. This is presumably good for my fitness level.
5. This all means that my partner and I get by very well with one car between us. We’re thankful we’ve got the car, it gives us a lot of options and we wouldn’t want to be without it, but we don’t need two. This is probably saving us at least $1,000 a year.
6. There’s always something happening in the city. Lantern Festivals can break out at a moment’s notice.
World Cups also just come out of nowhere
7. My apartment complex has a tennis court, a gym, a lap pool and a sauna. I don’t use these facilities as much as I should, but it’s nice to know they’re there! If I go for a run, I can take in Princes Wharf, Victoria Park and other enjoyable locales. Or I could head the other way out to Tamaki Drive.
Tennis court provided. BYO coordination.
8. There’s better security. You need a swiper to get in the front door of the complex, and then again for each floor, and you’ve only got access to your own floor. Plus there are surveillance cameras at the main entrances. It’d be pretty hard for people to get robbed here.
9. Higher density living is low maintenance. There’s no worry about mowing the lawn, less outside area to clean up and so on. I actually enjoy the small amount of cleaning up I do get to do outside, but looking after a whole house would stop being fun pretty quickly.
10. This apartment is the warmest place I’ve ever lived, including my parents’ houses and any number of flats. The best insulation you can have is another dwelling attached to yours. In my case, the only surface exposed to the elements is a single wall. I’ve got a little fan heater which I put on now and again in winter, but I can’t even tell the difference between my power usage in summer and winter (I’m the kind of person who records this). On average, we pay $90 a month for power, water and water heating combined. Which includes my share of the water used in common areas and the pool.
11. I’ve got friends living in the same building as me, and I can go and annoy them any time I want!
Sure, there are down sides. If other friends come round, it can be tricky for them to find a park, and of course this is even tougher in the centre of town. But you’re always going to get that in the CBD, and if friends want to take public transport – perhaps it’s a Friday or a Saturday evening and driving home doesn’t seem like a good idea – then it couldn’t be any easier.
Soot and black dust builds up in the courtyard and, to a lesser extent, inside. I’m not too sure what the air quality is like but it’s probably a bit worse than, say, a lifestyle block in Karaka. Our neighbours tried to grow some lettuces in those ready-made potting mix bags that you get from Mitre 10, and that stuff actually built up inside the lettuces as they grew. So growing stuff you’re going to eat is a no-no here. This situation probably has a bit to do with cars and a lot to do with the trucks from the port, but hopefully cleaner vehicles will make it better over time.
At this level of density, it’s not practical (or allowed, in the case of my building) to have pets like cats and dogs. But renters struggle with this everywhere in New Zealand. For medium density, side-by-side townhouses and so on, I can’t see there being any problem with cats and dogs.
I’m also lucky to live in a fairly large one-bedroom apartment (60 m2 plus a sizeable courtyard). It’s not a shoebox and I wouldn’t want to live in one, but some people do and I’ve got no problem with that.
On the whole, high-density living isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be. This is a point which has been brought up on this blog time and again. People aren’t going to be forced to live in apartments, or even townhouses. But there should be choices available. For me, right now, high-density living is great. I’ve been here three years so far and I could be here another 3-5 years easily.
After that, maybe I’d want to start thinking medium-density, somewhere with a little more space where my hypothetical kids can run around and be closer to schools (which the CBD is not well endowed with). If there were more good 2-3 bedroom apartments available in town, and if there were better facilities for kids, maybe I’d stay in the CBD instead. But low density? Big house, big backyard, long commutes? Not for me.
There has been lot of media interest in the past few days about the upcoming release of the Auckland Unitary Plan’s discussion document – which will go out for public consultation on March 15th. There’s the usual scaremongering from the Herald about how the Plan will enable intensification and that will inevitably lead to slums:
The Auckland Council yesterday approved the draft unitary plan that sets out to change residents’ behaviour and expectations when it comes to their love affair with housing.
Councillors heard that apartments and intensification would not only give Aucklanders greater housing choices, but meet the desire of communities to jazz up town centres.
The proposals have not gone down well with some councillors, who fear it will lead to slums and multi-storey “walls” along popular beachfronts such as Orewa and Browns Bay.
Deputy mayor Penny Hulse, who is leading work on the unitary plan, said it tackled many sometimes difficult issues. “We want as many Aucklanders as possible to have their say to ensure we get a plan for all Aucklanders.”
Under the plan, the greatest intensification will occur in 10 “metropolitan” centres, where apartments of 18 storeys will be allowed. This is followed by 37 town centres, where four to eight storeys will be permitted.
Moving out of these centres into residential areas, the council has created a 250m zone for terraced housing and apartments of between four and six storeys.
The remaining residential areas will have a mixed-housing zone, allowing for one house per 300sq m with no density limits when developers landbank more than 1200sq m to build five or more houses.
The terraced house and apartment zone and mixed-housing zone account for 56 per cent of residential land, leaving 44 per cent for a single-house zone and a large-lot zone.
The single-house zone permits one house per 500sq m and includes the heritage suburbs, while the large-lot zone covers large single-house lots, typically on the urban edge.
There’s a lot of really interesting information in here to digest. But to start with I must say I find the “framing” of the debate exceedingly annoying – that the Plan is trying to ‘force’ people into changing their behaviours and all the references to slums. As we’ve been arguing on this blog for a very long time, there’s quite a lot of evidence that people really do want to live in a wider variety of housing if it means that they’re able to live closer to amenities, employment and so forth. By loosening the controls on development the Unitary Plan is simply enabling what people want to do.
There will be a lot of discussion about height limits, but at first glance it seems that the Unitary Plan is taking a reasonably balanced approach by linking height limits quite clearly with a ‘hierarchy of centres’: much higher limits in metropolitan centres then stepping down to medium-rise for town centres. Whether this leads to “walls” or “slums” comes down to detailed design qualities in my mind, rather than the height limit itself.
Moving away from the centres, it seems like a fairly generous apartments and terraced housing zone is proposed. I just hope that there’s also some alignment of the zone to places with really good public transport and the 250 metre limit isn’t applied too arbitrarily – often in some situations I think it could probably extent much further (for example in areas around more major centres like New Lynn) while elsewhere it might not make much sense at all (say in a place like Howick which is pretty isolated).
The mixed housing zone sounds like the most widespread zone across the entire city, so getting it right will be critical. It’s very disappointing to hear that the zone will still have density limits – as these lead to incredibly stupid outcomes and militate against the provision of affordable housing – unless someone’s able to amalgamate over 1200 square metres to do a larger-scale development. I would suggest that small-scale intensification should be promoted to a greater extent in this zone, with questions over a proposal’s acceptability or not being more related to urban design controls, bulk and height – rather than how many units a particular building/buildings are broken up into.
Of course it will be the balance of enabling growth while trying to make that growth a higher quality than what’s often occurred in the past which will be the real challenge. Achieving this balance is really really tricky if a Plan is also trying to provide some level of certainty over what someone can and cannot do with a site. I think in many ways there simply isn’t a way to balance all three competing interests so it’ll be interesting to see what loses out.
The article mentions nothing about a changed approach to parking minimums (hopefully their complete removal) which will be something to look at in great detail when the draft is publicly released for comment in the middle of March.
News emerged the other day about the Manukau Golf Club moving to a new location with their existing site having been sold to Fletchers who plan to turn it into housing.
More than 700 members of one of Auckland’s best-known golf clubs are upping sticks and moving south.
The Manukau Golf Club, off Great South Rd near the Southern Motorway at Manurewa, is shifting 8km away to Alfriston-Ardmore Rd near Ardmore Airport, after more than 80 per cent of members voted to leave their 45ha site.
Fletcher Residential is understood to be paying more than $40 million for the site, which could take 500 to 800 houses and is already zoned residential.
Here is the area being talked about.
But it is perhaps the last line of the article that has got a few people annoyed.
Conifer Grove Residents Association chairman Jan van Wijk said people had enjoyed beautiful views across the greens for many years but this would all change once Fletcher moved in. Homeowners on Keywella Drive, Chippewa Place and Aristoy Close would be worst affected and concerns had been raised about traffic and congestion once the new places were built.
“I don’t think everyone is thrilled about it but we can’t object to it. If it comes up for consultation, we’ll certainly make some noises, asking for decent quality housing,”
Mr van Wijk understood a 600- residence low-density development was planned.
It is fairly widely acknowledged that Auckland will need to increase its density to help with accommodating the expected population growth over the next 30 years. The Auckland plan has a focus on on getting 60-70% of all dwellings built in the next 30 years within the existing urban limits. As such I have seen a few comments from people saying that we should be putting medium to high density dwellings in here but I think that ignores a few realities. The first is that the council seems to have realised that one of the key things to making density more attractive to people is that a location needs to have good amenity, particularly in the form of a local centre and good transport links. Unless the council and/or Fletchers decide to put a town centre in here (which isn’t necessarily a bad idea) then there is unlikely to be the needed amenity to really support higher density.
The issue of transport links raises another interesting debate. The North Eastern corner is semi close to the existing Te Mahia however according to the RPTP that is set to close. Even it if were to stay open, which I don’t necessarily agree with for a number of reasons, only the closest of the houses would be within walking distance while the vast majority would still need to use other methods if they wanted to catch a train. That means for public transport, buses feeding into Manurewa are likely to be key so any development whether it includes a town centre or not really needs to take that into account. One big opportunity with the development is that it could enable much better connectivity from places like the nearby Conifer grove. Currently that area has only one access point which happens to be a motorway over bridge so one bad bridge strike by a truck could cut off the neighbourhood for days. This development provides the potential to solve that problem while at the same time potentially providing more feasible bus route and a quick look at the roads suggests that Brylee Dr was designed from the start with this in mind.
One last comment on the issue of density. A quick calculation shows that the density in Auckland as a whole is roughly 2400 per square km while the average house size is 3 people per dwelling. With those figures in mind and the minimum number of potential dwellings being 500, the density of this development would be around 3300 people per square km so while it has been described as low density development, it is not likely to be quite as low density as Auckland is used to. That could change further as it is likely the unitary plan that the council is currently working on will be in place by the time construction kicks off and the new rules will hopefuly dramatically change things like minimum lot sizes and setbacks which would allow for more dwellings.
Personally I think a mix of terraced houses and traditional standalone houses are what is needed here but really we will need to wait to see what plans Fletchers produce (Fletchers feel free to get in touch with me if you want to share your plans). One thing I would almost bet on is that we will see a whole heap of roads in this development with golf themed names.
Included with the City Centre Future Access Study documentation released late last year were the answers to a number of questions that the previous Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, had asked in mid 2011. As well as requesting the preparation of what turned into the CCFAS, Joyce requested the following:
- “Finalisation of the spatial plan and master plan including establishing achievable growth projections for the CBD
- Demonstration of a commitment to resolving current CBD issues, for example by improving bus operations and addressing capacity issues
- Evidence of rail patronage increases, particularly in the morning peak, residential intensification and CBD regeneration as a result of current investment
- Beginning implementation of large scale residential developments along the rail corridors
- Implementation of additional park and ride sites, and changes to bus feeder services”
There’s a lot of really interesting information in Auckland Council and Auckland Transport’s response to these questions, but for this post I’m going to look at an element of the third question: evidence of residential intensification as a result of current investment.
To help get an understanding of the level of intensification past/current investment in the rail network might have stimulated, the report compares growth since 2001 in areas with good proximity to the rail network with growth in other areas that were already urbanised in 2001 These are the areas looked at:
A couple of years back Steven Joyce suggested that most intensification in recent years had actually occurred away from the rail corridors, by saying this:
Yep, we should allow the city to increase in density (watch councillors run a mile when it comes time for the district plan changes), and we should support cost-effective transport options that support that. But we also have to understand that people like to live where they want to live, and provide cost-effective transport options (roads even!) for those people too. Amusingly, Auckland has increased in density in recent times. But largely not where the central planners said it would, (along the transport corridors) and instead in the beach-side suburbs. Fancy that.
I suspect that Joyce asked Auckland Council the question about where intensification occurred because he thought he’d be able to say “gotcha!” then the results showed that investment in rail had not had any impact on development patterns.
Comparing the level of growth in Census Area Units near the rail corridors with the level of growth elsewhere in Auckland would test Joyce’s assumption and also help answer his question – of whether the investment in rail upgrades had coincided with higher rates of growth in nearby areas (recognising of course that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.
The results are quite interesting:
These results are reinforced by analysis of consents by type (looking just at the Auckland City Council area this time):
This shows that almost all “higher intensity” housing typologies like apartments and terraced houses constructed within the old Auckland City Council area over the past five years have been in the rail CAUs.
The report concludes that it would seem Steven Joyce was wrong and intensification has definitely been occurring at a higher rate in areas close to the rail system compared to other parts of Auckland:
Both population trends and building consent data indicate that intensification has occurred at a faster rate within the rail CAUs than elsewhere in Auckland since 2001. Development within the rail CAUs has occurred in a variety of different ways, reflecting different development markets in different parts of Auckland. Some important trends include:
- Significant construction of apartments in the city centre.
- A number of larger-scale intensive developments around inner parts of the rail network (e.g. Newmarket, Mt Eden, Kingsland and New Lynn stations).
- New development areas around stations in the outer parts of the network (e.g. Sturges Road and Takanini stations).
- General infill and small-scale intensification across the network.
- Increasing household sizes in the outer Southern Line part of the network.
Combining analysis of population trends and building consent information with economic analysis suggests that improved rail services boost property values and therefore makes intensification more economically viable. It would appear that this process has happened in Auckland over the past decade, although in different ways in different areas – reflecting varying market characteristics across Auckland.
I think the way in which the report notes how intensification has occurred differently in different areas is quite important. I suspect the assumptions made by Steven Joyce (and others) around ‘apartments next to railway lines’ is an over-simplification of how intensification can occur. Apartments are clearly only market attractive in some locations and it’s unrealistic to expect them to be built right throughout the rail corridors any time particularly soon. However, other forms of growth such as general infill, new growth around some stations, small-scale intensification as well as apartments and terraces have happened and overall it seems clear that there has at least been a correlation between the rail corridors and a higher level of development over the past decade.
Not for the first time, it seems that Steven Joyce was wrong.
This piece from Federated Farmers slipped out a couple of days ago. It includes a few odd solutions and urban myths, that show they don’t fully understand urban/Auckland issues, however it is still quite important in that it shows they are at least heading in the right direction. The background to it seems to be that they are sick of urban sprawl, especially in Auckland taking over farm land. Anyway, here is their piece in full
Sunday, 30 December 2012, 11:19 am
Opinion: Federated Farmers
Lets take the lid off our Cities
New Zealand is a big country – at 268,000 square Kms we are bigger than the United Kingdom; we are 67% the size of Germany, 72% the size of Japan. Our coast line is longer than both mainland USA and mainland China. Our economic zone is more than half the size of Australia. But these countries have far greater populations than we do. Demographics drives a lot in any country, any economy.
We have to get over this small country mentality and mindset and back ourselves more. Some are simply having the wrong discussion – is growth good? Yes it is. The question for New Zealand is not about weather we grow, but how we grow.
Human capability is critical to all parts of our community and economy. In most parts of New Zealand, except Auckland, the population is flat or in decline. And like all the other slow growth indebted countries, we also have an aging population. There are not enough people to produce the exports, provide the services, pay the taxes and build a future at first world income levels. We simply need more people.
But we need to be smart about it, in two ways
First, we need to take the lid off our cities. When driving along Manakau Road to come into Auckland CBD from the airport, it seams like the tallest building is a corner dairy. We should stop building out and start build up. Perhaps Manakau road needs to have 200 -300 buildings 8 – 30 stories tall, and then run a mono rail down the middle to the airport. Wellington is doing a pretty good job of “Mahattanising” on its Te Aro flat around Courtney Place. Surely Auckland is capable of similar. With forecast of another million people, there simply needs to be more density of population per square km.
This would mean
1. we stop gobbling up productive land – we’ve already lost 30% over the last 30 years to urban sprawl and the conservation estate – now 35% of NZ.
2. It means Auckland might have some chance of becoming a green or even an international city. Right now Auckland it has no chance of doing either. It’s a series of little low level villages. It simply cant be compared to Paris, Singapore, New York or London. The strategy seams to be to spread it out all the way to Taumarunui. It needs less traffic congestion, more public transport, better utilization of resources, more integrated and diverse communities. To do this it simply has to go up, not out. Public transport will never work unless there are far more people in far less space.
3. And it means more affordable housing, so home ownership becomes a reality, not just a dream. Instead of 3 bedrooms on a 400 meter section you might have 20 to 120, which would make the land component per bedroom somewhat less in theory.
Secondly, we need to be smart and spread the population growth across the country. This means investing in networks such as broadband, water, science, roads, public transport, energy and housing right across the nation, not just Auckland. It’s important for New Zealand that Auckland is successful absolutely, but Auckland is not New Zealand, it is but one part of New Zealand.
So we need to increase our population in smart ways and we have got to stop thinking like a small country. Taking the lid of Auckland is an obvious next step.
I’m just going to list a few of my thoughts on the piece.
- It is all very well quoting the physical size of the country but it would probably be more useful to think about things from the amount of productive land. A large amount of the country is rugged and or covered in bush that is unsuitable for either farming or urbanisation.
- I think they have generally been smart not to fall into the trap of suggesting that we try and curb Auckland’s growth and force people out to the regions but instead seem to recognise that if we want to get more people into other places then we need to make them more attractive. Indeed they even seem to recognise that a Auckland growing isn’t a bad thing and is probably needed for Auckland to become more internationally competitive.
- Coming from the background of not wanting more urban sprawl they correctly point out that for Auckland to handle its growth, it will need to get denser however this is also where they make their biggest mistake. Suggesting that the solution requires turning Auckland into a version of Manhattan with 8-30 story apartment blocks all around the place is simply ridiculous. Spreading the growth out through a lot more medium density development (e.g. terraced houses and low rise apartments) would cover off a large proportion of the forecast growth for the next 30-40 years, possibly longer.
- I did find it really interesting and positive that they actually linked higher densities to helping improve housing affordability issues that the city has.
- On the issue of PT, more density will help but it isn’t the necessity that they state. Much better PT is already on the way in the form of the new bus network along with some of the other projects going on at AT.
- I admit I did have a little laugh at the suggestion of a monorail down Manukau Rd but perhaps the positive side is it means they at least support some form of rail to the airport
All in all I think this is actually quite positive from Federated Farmers and seeing as they support rural interests, perhaps the rural/urban divide isn’t as great as it thought to be. It would be good if perhaps the Chief Executive of Federated Farmers had a word to his brother about this.
Walking around my local area got me thinking, why do our residential streets need to be so big. The more I have thought about it, the more I wonder if we have yet again more planning or engineering rules working against us creating higher densities. Its probably easiest to show what I mean so lets start with my local area.
Looking closer using the councils GIS viewer you can see the property boundaries as well as measure the distance between them. For these two streets for example the road reserve is 18m wide, that’s just 2m narrower than at some points along Dominion Rd yet they only serve a handful of houses (34 in the case of these two streets).
Looking at another couple of streets, both Lantern Court and Millstone Lane are 16m wide and each only having 11 houses on them. The same width as Braestar Court and Russett Grove which combined have 26 houses on them.
Yet a large proportion of the road reserve is taken up by space for things like footpaths which all contribute towards in some cases setting houses back quite far from the actual street. What is also interesting in all the examples shown is that whenever I walk around, there are almost no cars parked on the streets due to all houses having a garage (and most a double garage). But what I find interesting is to compare it two another street nearby that I travel through on a regular basis to get to the train station.
This is Vitex lane and putting aside the terraced houses what I have noticed is that every single person walks down the middle of the street and not on the footpaths, some of the local kids even play in the street so in many ways it has turned out to be an early version of a shared space. The road reserve itself is a couple of metres narrower but what interested me was to think about what would have happened if we applied a shared space kind of thinking to to these quiet residential streets.
With only a small number of houses on each of these streets there isn’t much vehicle traffic so a shared space approach would help to not only slow cars down further but also save a lot of needed road space. A couple of metres on less on each side of the road isn’t likely to be noticed that much but when you combine that saving across a number of roads it quickly adds up. In a development of houses this size it might be enough to squeeze another dozen houses in without even considering smaller section sizes. Across whole neighbourhoods it might add enough people to cross the threshold and allow for the 5 minute pint test to be passed. Further less road space means that infrastructure can likely be built cheaper while also allowing the costs to be spread amongst more properties. It might not be much but when trying to find ways to bring down the costs of development, every little bit helps.
Sadly its a bit late now for these existing suburbs but it is something we should think about for any future greenfield developments.
An interesting Australian article highlights something that has perhaps slipped under the radar of many – that a huge implication of economies in countries like New Zealand shifting away from manufacturing and more towards knowledge industries is a likely changing of the geography of employment. The Australian Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, notes that Australian cities are facing increasing competition from growing cities in Asia, while at the same time facing the aforementioned shift in employment types. Let’s pick up a few key paragraphs:
Albanese noted that Australian cities will continue to face competition from a growing number of larger cities in the region.
“That puts a major incentive in dealing with how we position ourselves in our increasingly urbanised and increasingly affluent region,” he said. “Our cities have to be more productive. Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it’s nearly everything.”
Albanese added that the changing nature of cities will mean more need for inner-urban medium density housing as work increasingly shifts away from outer urban areas toward city centres.
“In terms of economic functions, our cities are shrinking in on themselves,” he said. “The forces which drove the spread of our cities in the post-war period, predominately manufacturing, are being replaced by knowledge industries – the banking, legal, insurance and myriad of other business services.”
Albanese pointed out that the changes will continue to influence the shape of cities in Australia.
“Whereas manufacturing plants which are traditionally located on the city fringe or in industrial zones, the job-rich knowledge industries tend to concentrate in the heart of our cities,” he said. “As the State of Australian Cities reports, this trend is seeing more and more workers commuting into our city centres.”
There’s a bit of a myth (perhaps another one for our list) that Auckland’s city centre is somehow dying and becoming increasingly irrelevant as employment disperses wider and wider throughout the region. Furthermore, there are often quotes that only 13-15% of Auckland’s jobs are within the motorway ring that’s generally used to define the CBD. Yet as Matt showed in a recent post, the city centre and its fringe is actually still by absolutely miles the largest concentration of employment in Auckland. Furthermore, as shown in the map below, by far the greatest concentrations of employment – in terms of jobs per hectare, are in meshblocks located in the CBD:
There has long been debate between the Council and Central Government over the future projections for employment numbers in the city centre, which seems to be quite critical to how well the business case for the CRL stacks up. If we follow the trends that are increasingly seen in Australia – and which just seem pretty logical as our economy transitions more and more to a post-industrial state – then a reconcentration of employment downtown seems likely (and also incredibly desirable in terms of economic productivity). Which, of course, makes the case for CRL even more compelling.
Arguments about density and public transport usage are notorious. Paul Mees dedicated an unfortunately large amount of his most recent book, Transport in Suburbia, to a rather implausible argument that there is little relationship between density and public transport usage – although in the process making a pretty helpful argument that service quality is also extremely important. A recent paper by Eric Guerra and Robert Cervero tackles this forever vexed issue, looking at the relationship between density and the cost-effectiveness of public transport provision. With Auckland’s future density somewhat up for debate, and the nature of where we invest our future transport budget very much a matter of great debate, this is an issue worthy of further analysis.
Guerra and Cervero set the scene:
Comparing the costs and the number of passenger-miles traveled for 54 American rail transit investments since 1970, we found wide variation in cost-effectiveness. The worst-performing system costs nearly 50 times more per passenger-mile than the best-performing. What factors distinguish the most successful transit investments?
Dense concentrations of people and jobs around transit stations are particularly important. Outside of Manhattan, Chicago’s Loop, and a few other urban pockets, however, most Americans dislike density. Many loathe it. For them, the “D” word means traffic congestion, crowded sidewalks, packed schools, long lines at the grocery store, and high crime rates. Without density, however, high-capacity transit tends to attract too few trips to offset the high price tag. As a result, there is a great interest in the minimum densities needed to support transit.
While Perth has shown that you can make rail work well in low density areas, this has required massive park and rides, comprehensive feeder services plus very widely spaced stations to ensure trains have a high average speed. All this clearly comes at a cost, plus Perth’s rail system hasn’t really ‘shaped development’ in the way that a system more focused on its walkable catchment might.
The issue of ‘minimum densities’ to support transit is particularly interesting when we look at Auckland’s future development areas – especially in the south where the railway line runs through the biggest area identified for greenfield development in the Council’s spatial plan. There has been research into this issue for quite some time:
In 1965, John Meyer, John Kain, and Martin Wohl wrote, “nothing is so conducive to the relative economy of rail transit as high volumes and population density. High population density increases the costs of all urban transportation, but substantially less for rail than for other modes.” They and other scholars found that rail transit, with its high up-front investment and high capacity, costs less than buses or cars only in corridors with high travel demand. Thus they found that rail was more cost-effective than buses or cars in high-density cities, while cars were more cost effective in low-density cities. The majority of job and population growth, however, was occurring in newer, low-density cities and in distant suburbs.
A decade later, Boris Pushkarev and Jeffrey Zupan estimated minimum density thresholds for different types of public transit. According to their calculations, net residential densities of 12 households per acre surrounding a 50-million square-foot central business district (CBD)—roughly the size of Los Angeles’ or Newark’s downtown in 1970—could support a cost-effective heavy-rail investment. Nine households per acre surrounding a 20-to-50 million square-foot CBD could, at that time, support a minimal light-rail investment.
12 households per acre is a bit higher than the general development standard we see in much of Auckland (around 400 square metre lots or 10 households per acre) – but not by too much.
To measure ‘cost-effectiveness’, the study looks at using a measurement of ‘net subsidy per passenger mile’ (including capital cost). As alluded to earlier, this results in an incredibly wide spread of cost-effectiveness results:
As there is such a massive range in cost-effectiveness, we should be able to get some interesting results when comparing this with the densities of the different areas the projects serve. But first, putting all the stations and stops of the various projects completed since 1972 together and sorting them by density shows a rather surprising result – the absolute vast majority of new stations/stops have been constructed in very very low density areas:
The authors then undertook a regression analysis between density and cost-effectiveness, as well as developing a ‘threshold of cost-effectiveness’ – which is a useful tool as it describes the level at which the new project was worth it, rather than just investing more in the existing system. This is described in a bit more detail below:
Using our recent investment and system data, we calculated minimum land use density thresholds for otherwise-average transit systems to be highly cost-effective. We defined cost-effective investments as investments that increased passenger-miles for a smaller estimated subsidy than either fare reductions or increased train frequencies on existing systems. Fare reductions, less expensive than increased frequencies, required an estimated $0.58 subsidy for each new passenger-mile. Roughly a quarter of the investments met this cutoff. They carried 57 percent of passenger-miles on the 54 investments in 2008.
The relationship between density and cost-effectiveness is shown in the graph below:
The paper goes on to develop some pretty high density thresholds, but notes that these should be treated with a bit of caution as there are some big exceptions to the trends:
Transit-supportive density thresholds need to be viewed with caution. There is no one hard and fast rule that can be applied across all projects. Regression-based models mask considerable variation. For example, despite low surrounding densities, the Franconia-Springfield extension of the Blue Line in Washington, DC, is one of the best performing investments. Low capital costs, a plentiful supply of parking at stations, frequent train service, and good access to downtown jobs contribute to low costs per rider. By contrast, the Buffalo light-rail system is one of the least cost-effective, despite above-average job and population densities.
I think the most important thing to take out of the study is that some pretty widespread analysis of US cities has shown a pretty clear connection between density and the cost-effectiveness of public transport projects. This may end up being most useful in driving land-use policies to support public transport – particularly in relation to the level of upzoning around existing stations or target densities for new development in places that are within walking distance of train stations.
So while density may not be everything (after all you can have dense sprawl), it seems that if you’re trying to ensure investment in rail is going to be cost-effective, density certainly helps. (And this isn’t suggesting Auckland has insufficient density – as Matt pointed out recently, Auckland’s density is actually surprisingly high.)
It is said that the government and the Auckland council agree on 95% of what was in the Auckland Plan but the problem though is that some of the things they didn’t agree on are the big bits like the CRL or perhaps even more importantly how the city develops over the coming decades. In particular views about whether we should accommodate future population growth within our existing city boundaries or whether we should allow for much more greenfield development seem to be largely driven by ideology and emotion rather than evidence. There was work done by the former Auckland Regional Council that was incorporated by the new Auckland Council on the environmental and social costs of different development options but I think some people viewed that as justifying an existing ideological position.
That’s why it was interesting to read an announcement while I was away that went largely unnoticed about a government funded research project to look into the issue of how we should develop our cities.
The Government is spending $9 million on a research project that will try to work out the best way for cities to develop.
The Otago University-led project received one of the largest grants in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s $133 million funding round announced this week.
Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, director of the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities which is leading the project, said the research “basically pulls together everyone working on the issue in New Zealand”.
“Very, very” little work had been done in this country on urban issues such as whether urban limits should be imposed or whether infill housing should be built, she said.
“This research will make a big difference to the way our cities will look in future, we hope.”
Otago University said the project – called Resilient Urban Futures and awarded $9.2 million over four years – linked the universities of Otago, Victoria, Auckland, Massey and Canterbury, Niwa and the Motu Public Policy Research Group, with councils, government, iwi groups, developers and community groups.
Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Kapiti, Wellington and Christchurch cities would be involved, with the research comparing the broad costs and benefits and qualities of two possible urban development paths.
The first path emphasised more compact development within existing urban areas, while the other focused on further greenfield development on the outskirts of cities.
The research would enable government, developers and iwi to have a clear idea of the broad future consequences of different urban investment decisions, Prof Howden-Chapman said.
“We’re very excited about the impact this can have on the lives we all live in cities.”
While the project would provide much better information for making decisions about regulations, its aim was not to look at what laws should be changed, rather it was about understanding how cities worked.
The agenda for the research came from four years of consultation with councils and central government, Prof Howden-Chapman said.
The researchers would be looking at many different models for cities.
For example, a polycentric model being followed by many new cities in China had clusters of housing linked by public transport routes, rather than having a central core.
“We’re interested in the advantages and disadvantages of doing things in different ways,” she said.
Development was usually driven by what had worked in the past, but that had led to some pretty spectacular failures.
While the Government was concerned about the costs or regulation, costs could also be incurred without regulation, as happened with leaky buildings.
“It’s obviously a balance.”
Part of the research also involves analysing the impact of ultra-fast broadband, and possible transport link efficiencies between the ports in Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei, and the proposed inland port at Hamilton.
Prof Howden-Chapman said people could be a bit parochial about the ports, but there was a need to think about them together and look for efficiencies.
This will be quite interesting research and with so many organisations working together there should be quite a bit of knowledge that can be drawn upon. The research is meant to take four years so it is probably going to take a while for us to see any results from it but at the end of it there will at least be some good widely accepted information that can be used to base decisions on, providing that people are willing to listen to it.
Also on the topic of how cities develop, one of the things I have been thinking about is just what kind of urban density Auckland will have in 30 years at the completion of the Auckland plan. One of the big myths that has existed over the last 50+ years is that Auckland is one of the most spread out cities on the planet. Our previous admin looked into this quite some time ago to show that it was simply not the case as there are many different ways of calculating density. One way is to look at just the urban density which compares the urban population with the urban area rather than regional or municipality boundaries. Demographia (who normally use their research to push for a more auto dependant future) have done some interesting work looking at urban densities around the world and describe the urban area as:
An urban area is best thought of as the “urban footprint” — the lighted area that can be observed from an airplane (or satellite) on a clear night.
Based on that definition they currently calculate the Auckland urban area at 544 km² with an urban population of around 1.3m with the remaining ~200k being in the rural parts of Auckland. That gives us an urban density of around 2400 people per km² which makes Auckland not only the most dense city in New Zealand (I found it interesting that Hamilton is second at 2200) but it is also more dense than any of the Australian cities with the closest being Sydney with an average of 2100 per km².
So what would Auckland be like as a result of the Auckland plan? The aim is for 70% of new development to be within the existing urban limits (note: some of that is still greenfield land at the moment) but that planning should take place for a worst case scenario of 60% within the existing limits. The MUL was last changed in 2010 where it was extended around the areas of Westgate and is shown in the map below. By my calculation it covers approximately 570 km².
The MUL boundaries according to the Auckland Council
As mentioned earlier the Auckland plan aims for around 60-70% of development to occur within the 2010 MUL and that up to another 1 million people will call Auckland home over that period. Choosing the midpoint of 65% within the existing MUL that would mean an additional 650,000 people living within that 570 km². That would mean that just under 2 million people will live within the existing MUL area giving it an average density of around 3400 people per km². That doesn’t take into account the what impact we will see from land that will be developed outside of the current boundaries but I would expect that it is likely to be done at a higher density than we have seen on the fringes in recent times, likely taking its queue from the research mentioned at the top of the post.
But how does that compare to international cities today. Here are a few cities with similar populations around that that level of density?
An nice mix of cities there and I think that at an average of around 3400 people per km² Auckland would have a very interesting mix of housing options along with some potentially great urban areas without feeling squashed in by massive buildings but I’m interested to hear what you think.
On issues normally of interest to this blog, transport and urban development, it seems that the government and the council are miles apart so it is pleasing to see them working together on at least the second of those issues. In an announcement today, they are forming a redevelopment company to focus the Tamaki area which includes Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure. Here are parts of the press release:
The Government and the Auckland Council signed a Heads of Agreement today to jointly form New Zealand’s first urban redevelopment company to transform Tâmaki (including Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure) in Auckland over the next 15-25 years.
Housing Minister Phil Heatley says that the jointly-owned Tâmaki Redevelopment Company (TRC) will bring together the right pubc and private partners, the right level of resource, authority and mandate to get results in Tâmaki. Similar companies have been successful internationally.
“The people of the Tâmaki community have td us they are keen to see the Tâmaki Transformation Programme vision that has been developed by the local community, together with central and local government partners during the foundation period, brought to fruition as quickly as possible. The new company will make that happen,” he said.
Work has been going on to examine how to transform Tâmaki into a thriving, prosperous, attractive and self-reant community.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown welcomes the partnership with Government and says the work in Tâmaki reflects what the council is working to achieve across Auckland through the recently-launched Auckland Plan.
“It is only through initiatives ke the transformation of Tâmaki that Auckland can become the world’s most veable city,” says the Mayor. “The people of Tâmaki have been waiting for this for a long time and this is a great project for the new Auckland to be getting on with. Many thanks are due to those who have contributed to the Tamaki Transformation project over several years.”
Mr Heatley says that, if successful, this redevelopment programme could be a blueprint for urban renewal elsewhere in the country.
“Successful transformation programmes overseas have brought together the local community, government, business, education, social agencies, developers and financiers in claboration to achieve a common vision.
“Tâmaki is a key growth area for Auckland and its future prosperity will have a flow-on effect for the rest of the country. The new company will ensure a co-ordinated approach to create measurable improvement across four key components over time.”
A social component will support Tâmaki residents and their famies in getting the skills, knowledge and employment opportunities they need. An economic component will strengthen the local economy, creating new jobs and business opportunities.
A housing component will optimise land use and existing housing stock, including progressing private housing development and devering better social housing options in Tâmaki.
Meanwhile, a spatial component will create safe and connected neighbourhoods and spaces that support the social and economic development of Tâmaki and its community.
The first task for the new company will be to bring all the current and future initiatives and projects together into a single strategic framework. This will include catalyst projects to improve education, employment, health, environment, and safety. The Crown and the Council will approve the over-arching plan and business cases before full transformation projects start.
The TRC will lead the transformation, undertaking some projects itself, procuring devery of other projects, and influencing the direction of others.
The jointly owned company is a new structure for the Government and the Council. Res and responsibities have been defined in the Heads of Agreement signed today.
The new company will have a board of up to seven directors to allow for a wide range of skills. A comprehensive appointment process for the full board is under way.
The Chief Executive Officer-designate of the new company is Debra Lawson, who will take up the position on 3 September. She has over 20 years’ experience as a chief executive in organisations devering affordable homes and social infrastructure in the United Kingdom.
She has worked at the leading edge of pubc private partnership initiatives, devering large-scale and complex urban regeneration programmes within the diverse communities of South London, with a strong focus on accountabity to local people.
The TRC will be based in offices in the Glen Innes area.
For further information: www.tamakitransformation.co.nz
This is a positive step, not just for government/council relations but also for Auckland. Many of these areas don’t have the best reputation and are run down with the houses well past use by date as a lot of the houses were build quickly and cheaply in the boom years of the 50′s and 60′s. There is also a huge amount of land that is currently wasted on that could be put to much better use as you can see in the image below.
There is I imagine a lot of work to go on before we start seeing any final plans but there is such a huge opportunity here for for the council to develop and showcase its plans for high quality, less car dependant, more dense and more liveable city. I also hope that there is a wider focus than just housing, I’m sure there are a number of ways that transport linkages could be vastly improved. Further with large parts of the area fairly flat it could perhaps be an ideal opportunity to develop some best practice cycling infrastructure to link into the nearby town centres and train stations.
Also here is a video from Interest.co.nz talking to Phil Heatley about the plan.