Several months back, I took a look at the way we’re designing street networks and neighbourhoods in greenfield subdivisions. It’s not a pretty picture. The reigning assumption seems to be that places on the edge of the city are car-dependent now and will be car-dependent forever. As a result, developers and planners build places where it’s difficult to walk, cycle, or take a bus.
In my view, this ignores the reality that today’s fringe suburbs are tomorrow’s urban fabric. That’s nicely illustrated in this map from the Auckland Plan, which shows how the city has expanded since 1840. Suburbs built in the 1950s and 1960s are now firmly in the midst of the city.
In other words, urban growth wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that it is often pathological from a transport perspective – i.e. a developer goes to the edge of town and builds a bunch of cul-de-sacs, single use suburbs, and non-connective street networks, under the assumption that it will be a car-based place forever. Then somebody else comes along and develops the next paddock, and before long you’ve got this unworkable mess in the middle of an urban fabric.
In my previous post on the topic, I took a look at some research into how we can transform car-dependent suburbs into workable urban places. Here’s one such design from Galina Tachieva’s Sprawl Repair Manual. It’s a great idea, but it would require the purchase and demolition of 5-10% of the houses in the neighbourhood. The end result would be a net increase in dwellings as sites are redeveloped, but I can’t imagine it would be easy to implement.
Wouldn’t it be better to simply do it right the first time?
Now, I’m no urban designer, but it seems like there could be a role for strengthened structure planning in greenfield areas. This could entail, for example, local governments establishing (and rigorously enforcing) structure plans for street networks and street designs in new developments. The aim would be to ensure that streets functioned well for all modes of transport, rather than just cars, and that they didn’t create any “holes” in the urban fabric that would be difficult to travel through later on.
There are a number of great examples from the Netherlands, but I figured that it would be good to highlight some local examples where people are taking steps in the right direction. I haven’t comprehensively surveyed new developments, so I can’s say how representative these examples are.
First, here’s the development plan for Hobsonville Point. Hobsonville’s quite interesting as it’s conceived as a mixed-density, mixed-use place with a ferry connection. Here’s the plan for the street network at the Point itself:
The street cross-sections seem to be designed in emulation of the city’s most successful urban/suburban places – with street trees and relatively narrow lanes (by Auckland standards, at least). The two “boulevard” sections (red lines on the above map) are designed with 1.8 metre cycle lanes. It would obviously be better to have safe, separated cycleways, but hey, it’s a start:
A bit further west, at a Special Housing Area site in Whenuapai, they seem to be going one step further and installing separated cycle lanes on two major streets from the get-go. (All images are from the plan change released by Auckland Council the other week.) Although Whenuapai is following the classic “boxes in a paddock” model of suburban development in Auckland, it seems to be aspiring to something a bit different on the transport front. Here’s the map of the development:
It’s a bit difficult to understand how all of this will fit together without knowing more about proposed street networks for surrounding areas. The streets within the SHA seem like they may be quite wide, without consistent cycle provision. But take a look at the street cross-sections for the main arterials, Brigham Creek Rd and Totara Rd. They will have safe separated cycleways from the start:
Of course, a few cycleways in new subdivisions will not compensate for the street design mistakes made in previous developments. If you start riding the Brigham Creek Rd cycleway, you’re probably going to be mixing it up with traffic on some pretty inhospitable roads before long. That will take time to fix. But I’m hopeful that these projects are an indicator that we are in the process of overcoming our pathological approach to street design in new subdivisions.
Lastly, I’m aware that I’ve mainly talked about cycle design here, and omitted public transport. That’s because safe cycle facilities are particularly easy to install in advance, and challenging to retrofit. (Once people have moved in, adding cycle lanes means taking away their essential human right to free on-street parking – cue uproar!) But we also need to ensure that the area is served with good rapid transit choices, as proposed in the Congestion Free Network.
Given the growth out near Hobsonville and Whenuapai, perhaps we should be talking about accelerating the installation of busways on state highways 16 and 18? I honestly can’t see those areas working, long-term, without congestion free transport options:
What do you think about street design in new subdivisions? How could we do things better?
A while back, I read the following passage in W.G. Sebald’s spectacular novel The Rings of Saturn. In the book, Sebald tours the coastline of East Anglia, along with his own memory and England’s history. In a book full of striking, thoughtful passages, I was particularly struck by the following one:
Over the centuries that followed, catastrophic incursions of the sea into the land of this kind happened time and again, and, even during the long years of apparent calm, coastal erosion continued to take its natural course. Little by little the people of Dunwich accepted the inevitability of the process. They abandoned their hopeless struggle, turned their backs on the sea, and whenever their declining means allowed it, built to the westward in a protracted flight that went on for generations; the slowly dying town thus followed – by reflex, one might say – one of the fundamental patterns of human behaviour. A strikingly large number of our settlements are oriented to the west and, where circumstances permit, relocate in a westward direction. The east stands for lost causes. Especially at the time when the continent of America was being colonized, it was noticeable that the townships spread to the west even as their eastern districts were falling apart. In Brazil, to this day, whole provinces die down like fires when the land is exhausted by overcropping and new areas to the west are opened up. In North America, too, countless settlements of various kinds, complete with gas stations, models and shopping malls, move west along the turnpikes, and along that axis affluence and squalor are unfailingly polarized.
Does this ring true to you?
This month I’m going to look at one of the fastest growing types of housing – retirement villages. There are often several different typologies in a retirement village, from detached villas to duplexes, independent apartments, serviced apartments through to rest home, hospital and dementia care – but let’s set that to one side.
The RCG Development Tracker shows that there are new retirement villages, and expansions to existing villages, happening around the country – even places that don’t have a lot of population growth.
We can get a good gauge on how much retirement village development is going on by looking at building consents. As the chart below shows, the sector is expanding faster than it ever has before.*
Growth has really kicked up a notch in the last few years, with two major growth spurts in 2011-12 and 2014-15 and that growth being sustained. around 1,900. There are around 25,000 retirement village units in New Zealand, so we’re talking 7% or 8% growth a year.
With the major players all holding “land banks” for future expansion, and an ageing population, it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll be seeing more retirement villages in the future.
Auckland Housing Growth
May 2015 wasn’t a great month for building consents in Auckland – 651 new dwellings were approved, up from 611 in May 2014 but a smaller increase than we’ve been seeing recently. In the last 12 months, 8,195 homes were consented. That’s still a long way short of Auckland Plan targets or current demand.
As noted previously, most of the growth in the last year or so has been in the higher-density dwellings: apartments, townhouses, retirement villages.
Long Train Running
Various projects have been added or updated in the Tracker, but perhaps of most interest is that I’ve added in the Wellington rail network (although I haven’t shown it all the way out to Wairarapa). Rail in Wellington is a very different kettle of fish to Auckland – five lines winding their way through valleys, hills and tunnels, converging on a single station at the northern end of Wellington’s city centre.
With trains a long-established part of the Wellington environment, and electric trains running on some lines since the 1930s, the city has about 12 million train passengers a year. Auckland has only recently overtaken this.
I rode out to Swanson on the weekend to have a look at the two developments that have been happening out there.
The first was to see what $2.5 million of Auckland Transport and NZTA money buys us. The answer, a new park n ride facility with 136 carparks. This is in addtion to the small existing carpark. The new addition works out at over $18,000 per carpark highlighting just how expensive it is to add capacity by way of park n ride. If every space is used every working day in a year it would add about 34k trips per year.
Carparks are fairly boring but the images below highlight the location of the carpark in relation to the station. The second image is taken from the platform
AT say the works are completed however there’s no sign of the covered walkway or station upgrades as initially mentioned.
The proposed improvements at Swanson include
- Construction of a Park and Ride with an additional 136 car parks and a covered walkway to the station. This is expected to cost $2.5 million and be completed in March 2015.
- A station upgrade which will include improved lighting, signage, CCTV, additional platform shelters, walkway canopies to the footbridge and stairs, and new platform surfacing and marking. Design is expected to be completed at the end of 2014.
Note: the original carpark below
The other and more interesting development is the Penihana North development that’s happening to the south of the tracks. This is the only greenfield development next to a station served by electric trains and as such it will be interesting to see what impact the development. I’d suggest it will probably lead to a greater gain in patronage than the Park n Ride will – although it obviously takes up more space too. I understand it has taken over 13 years to occur due to a lot of opposition from local residents – some who suggest it will be an urban ghetto (I suspect they don’t know what a real urban ghetto is). Perhaps one positive is I suspect the delay has meant the development is better than it would have been as if if occurred 13 years ago the idea of the station being important wouldn’t have crossed the developers mind.
The development basically covers the area below that is (was) lined with hedges.
It seems that a lot of bulk earthworks are going on but I’d suggest we’ll start seeing houses sprouting up later this year as the sections closest to the station look almost ready for them – including with formed roads. In total it is expected there will be about 330 dwellings in the development with those closest to the station being terraced houses. One aspect that I really like that has already been completed – but is not open to the public – is a shared path that runs alongside the tracks from Pooks Rd/Oneils Rd at eastern edge of the development. Importantly the path leads directly in to the station platform where there are also some new bike racks, this is something we need at many more stations. You can see it in the image below along with some of the development.
Oh and yes there is a small gap in the railing between the platform and the path at the end allowing for more permeability – it just needs some more HOP readers installed.
The new bike racks are slightly protected from the elements by the stairs for the pedestrian bridge.
From the station the development stretches up away from the station
The map below gives an idea of how the development is being laid out
My guess is that all the developments at Swanson – including the electric trains – will help considerably boost patronage from the station which has been one of the lesser used on the network
Last year Auckland Transport announced it was dropping the Newton station from the City Rail Link in favour of a redeveloped Mt Eden station. Some of the key reasons cited included:
- That heritage and view shaft restrictions severely limited the redevelopment potential around the station. Also much of the redevelopable land probably has easier access to the K Rd station with the entrance to Mercury Lane.
- It allowed them to build a grade separated junction instead of a flat one (like all the other Auckland ones are) which is better for reliability.
- It saved around $120 million
On the first point they noted the restrictions around Newton aren’t present around the Mt Eden station so there’s the potential for a lot of development. This is especially the case seeing as a huge chunk of the area will be dug up to build the tunnels leaving lots of vacant land available.
An image in a recent presentation shows how much the area could be developed once the CRL has been completed
That could represent a substantial number of dwellings. It would be interesting to know how much money raised from the redevelopment and sale of that land could contribute towards the cost of the overall project – something I don’t think is able to be included in the business case.
This is image if the potential street pattern that was shown when the change as announced
And an idea of what the redeveloped station might look like.
It’s been a busy month for development: Auckland Council announced they’d be selling off some of their surplus land, and so did the government (which Matt wrote about here).
This makes good headlines for the council and government, making it look like they’re taking steps to tackle the supposed housing crisis. However, I’m not sure how much of the land is actually “new” to the scene – e.g. the council’s announcement includes the land being developed for the Flat Bush town centre, which has been a work in progress for many years, the government’s announcement includes Hobsonville and the McLennan subdivision in Papakura, and so on. Anyway, I’ll look at this more in the next few weeks, and see what needs to go into the RCG Development Tracker as a result.
Developments around New Zealand
Speaking of the Tracker, I haven’t written much about what’s happening in Wellington yet. Using the fantastical power of computers, let’s whisk you away to the nation’s capital, where you can see a number of projects in the city centre or nearby.
Te Aro continues to transition to a more residential environment, and accommodation and mixed use projects are reshaping Wellington’s waterfront areas. A lot of the projects on this map are now coming to an end, and it’s not immediately clear what will replace them. Based on a recent visit, there certainly aren’t as many cranes visible in Wellington as there are in Auckland or Christchurch.
As for Auckland, there are a number of new things in the Tracker this month (including 1 Mills Lane, which could be the tallest office building in the city, as well as Mitre 10’s new head office building, the Oasis and SOMA apartments and more).
I was also down in Christchurch a couple of weeks ago, and it’s due an update as well – but that will have to wait until next month. In the meantime, you might enjoy looking at CERA’s Progress Map or the Avenues Four page.
Auckland Building Consents
Turning to building consents in Auckland, April was a massive month for apartments: 438 units were granted consent, with 392 of those in the Waitemata and Gulf Ward. This probably reflects two or three major projects getting the go ahead from Council (I’m guessing it might have been Park Residences and 88 Broadway, as the numbers more or less match up and both are now underway).
The graph below shows moving annual totals for these and other higher-density consents:
In fact, when you stack these lines on top of each other and add in the consents for standalone houses, you can see that most of the growth in consents over the last two years or so has come from higher-density dwellings:
There’s a tendency in some circles to suggest that Auckland’s housing issues stem from a lack of land on the fringes. However, higher-density dwellings are going to play an important role in Auckland’s growth, and in housing the extra people who want to live here. Let’s hope they’re getting the attention they deserve from the council and government.
It appears that Albert St is shaping up to be one massive sandpit for the next few years after Mansons TCLM have announced details of their plans for the site currently occupied by the Herald.
New Zealand’s tallest new office tower, the $675 million 1 Mills Lane, is planned for the NZME. site in Auckland’s CBD.
Culum Manson, a director of real estate developers and investors Mansons TCLM, today announced the plans for the 190m-tall block between Albert, Wyndham and Swanson Sts and Mills Lane.
The block will include a 30-level tower for 4000 workers, a 125-room hotel, up to 10 luxury brand shops, a new garden penthouse viewing floor, a lower level garden floor and a 45m architectural feature at the top.
The NZME. site is leased to the Herald, which has been in the area since 1863 but in November is moving to Manson’s new office block at 151 Victoria St West.
“We now have demolition consent and we are looking to commence demolition of the old Herald buildings when the site is vacant,” Manson said.
The plan was for the Herald to move off-site at the end of the year to its new building.
“Our team is working closely with Auckland Council and receiving input from the Urban Design Panel.
“We are looking at achieving a final resource consented development design by October this year. This will be Auckland’s next premium office tower with a completion date of December 2018 and an end value of $675 million including the hotel.”
Mansons certainly don’t muck around with their developments and get building quickly. Along with this development we also have the
- NDG centre in the long empty site that is bordered by Elliot St, Victoria St and Albert St. At 209 metres it will be the tallest building outside of the Skytower – last I heard it is due to start next year
- Precinct Properties Downtown Office Tower and replacement of the Downtown Mall due to start next year
- Park Residences which is ~30 storeys tall and under construction now (across the road from Mills Lane development
- The site just up from Park Residences (51-53 Albert St) has resource consent for 46 storey apartment tower.
Through all of this is the City Rail Link of which the enabling works will be starting at the end of this year. I think it’s safe to say that when all of this combined there’s a hell of a lot of change and investment going in to that corridor which also means there’s likely to be a lot of disruption. In many ways having so much disruption at once might not be such a bad thing. It will be painful but far better than spreading it out over a decade or more. This level of private investment also shows that the private sector have a lot of faith in the plans the council have for Auckland and how much of it is only really feasible thanks to the increased people moving power of investments like the CRL?
The developments will mean Albert St will definitely need wider footpaths
Of course this isn’t the only area being developed in the central city. A lot of work is going on in and around Wynyard Quarter and a large number of other locations.
There’s been quite a few bits of development news in the last few days that are worth covering. The first is in Albany where an 800 apartment development called the Rose Garden apartments might finally give some hope that Albany won’t be a completely soulless auto dependant centre. The development located on what is currently empty grass land just to the north of the mall is only about 500m away from the Albany Busway station – although more on that shortly.
One of the things I really like about the development is that they are selling one to four bedroom apartments which gives plenty of options – although the price of these larger options will be key. A quick search online suggests most of the four bedroom apartments are around $800-850k (although some are higher or lower). I also like that it appears the development will create activation out to the street edges which is something that will hopefully become more useful as more of the empty space is developed. On the video about the development on the Herald the architects behind the plan talk about density done well and I hope this lives up to that.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the sales pitch is to do with transport. There isn’t a single mention of car parking anywhere or even the common “it’s only X minutes drive to the city/beach/airport”. Instead the only mention of transport is that the development is in walking distance to the mall, Massey University, Albany Stadium and the busway station. On the busway station, it does talk about the bus only being only a 20 minute trip to town.
With Albany park-and-ride bus station two minutes’ walk away, you can be in downtown Auckland in less than 20 minutes. But everything you need is even closer to home at the Rose Garden Apartments.
To me this discussion about transport is a positive sign of both how successful the busway has been in changing perceptions about public transport and how much the city is changing away from the drive everywhere mentality. Even though it was already needed it does once again highlight how important it is that the Busway itself is extended from Constellation Station to Albany – something that the government cut out of their motorway project works. I think it also highlights that Auckland Transport will need to work to fix the racetrack like roads around Albany to make it easier and safer for people to be able to walk or cycle to the station.
In other news the Herald have announced (on Twitter) that in November they will move from their long time home on Albert St to office in Victoria St. Their site was sold last year to developer Mansons and is a substantial space in the heart of the city. The timing of the herald moving out is interesting as that’s likely to be just before works start on the CRL in the area. We’ll be looking to see what’s proposed for the site however one thing I do hope that happens is a new lane through the middle linking into Mills Lane.
Lastly it’s also been announced that the foyer of the St James Theatre is to reopen soon.
The foyer of Auckland’s long-abandoned historic St James Theatre will soon re-open as a cafe.
Major seismic strengthening of the whole building was also planned and sophisticated base isolation units being considered.
Mike Gibbon, development director for property owner Relianz Holdings, and architect Paul Brown, this morning said that in a few weeks, St James’ foyer would re-open.
But re-opening of the precious theatre was some years away, they said.
This will hopefully also help to activate some more of Lorne St outside the Library which for too long has had a large blank wall.
Lorne St Shared Space
It’s also positive that already over half of the apartments planned have been sold however I do have big concerns about the carparking associated with it which will apparently open out to Lorne St.
There were a number of interesting comments this week in relation to intensification in Auckland. The first came from the Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler talking about how Auckland needs to do more to enable intensification in the city and address NIMBYism to address housing shortages.
Wheeler said the Reserve Bank estimated Auckland had a backlog of unbuilt houses of 15,000 to 20,000 and needed to build 10,000 houses a year for the next 30 years to keep up with demand.
“If you look at permits at this point they are running at an annual rate of around 7,500, which is a huge improvement on where they were 2 years ago, but still well short of the 10,000,” Wheeler said.
“I think some very good work has been done on opening up new areas but a major challenge there is getting houses built quickly enough, and a lot of those areas are in the periphery of Auckland where people may decide that the transport costs are less attractive for them, or the infrastructure needs might be considerable,” he said.
“I think work needs to be done in inner Auckland in addressing the height restrictions and the Not-In-My-Backyard syndrome that’s there.”
Wheeler said he welcomed the Government’s commissoning of work by the Productivity Commission on how issues around zoning decisions, regulatory reform and approval processes
“I am very interested to see the outcome of that sort of review. But we see it mainly as a supply side problem,” he said.
We’ve certainly made it easier to develop greenfield land and with the unitary plan it should get even easier with the proposed Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) which is larger and more flexible than the old urban limits. However even that looks set to be watered down to enable more greenfield development.
The independent panel hearing submissions on the Auckland unitary plan has told submitters the council’s proposed provisions for the new rural:urban boundary “may be overly stringent” and that a more flexible boundary would be better.
The panel also said in interim guidance it issued on Monday: “A rural:urban boundary is the most appropriate method to achieve the objective of a quality compact urban city when compared to the principal alternatives of the operative metropolitan urban limit & no boundary.”
The number of dwelling consents issued over the last 12 months is around 7,700 which is up considerably on the low of just over 3,200 in August 2009.
In response to Wheeler’s comments, Bill English – who has in the past spoken about the NIMBYism issue – has said calls for more densification in Auckland’s housing were “about as popular in parts of Auckland as Ebola” would be. Suggesting that putting a few terraced houses or low rise apartments in an area is provides a similar fear to a deadly disease is probably taking things a bit too far but also highlights why the council need to do a better job of explaining the benefits of more people being in an area – such as that it provides more opportunities for local businesses and amenities such as local cafe’s, shops and more/better parks.
Mr English, who spoke today for the seventh year in a row at the annual Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Massey University lunch in Auckland, said the city’s local government had said homeowners couldn’t build up but have now recognised that means there has to be a “build out.”
The government will confirm details in the new few weeks about further decisions on the Tamaki Redevelopment Co, a joint venture between central government and Auckland Council in 2012 to rejuvenate the suburb. The entity is expected to build about 7,500 new houses over the next decade. Once old properties have been removed or demolished, that will increase the area’s housing stock by 5,000, of which 2,800 will be Housing New Zealand-owned.
“We want to accelerate this type of activity, so small and large redevelopments of Housing New Zealand land and properties are completed with more urgency,” English said.
Lastly he had this to say about housing and infrastructure in general:
The minister said the government had learnt a lot over Auckland’s housing issues and that should lead to a more constructive process than previously about the region’s infrastructure needs, including a second harbour crossing.
‘We could do with a common understanding of the strategy. To government, it has looked like a series of projects arriving for political reasons as well as economic ones and we have to have that common view.”
Coming up with a region wide strategy was one of the key reasons behind amalgamating the previous councils into a single region wide council and requiring a 30 year plan (The Auckland Plan). The problem wasn’t the plan but that the government chose to ignore it for ideological reasons and as such kept fighting it. I’d also suggest that unless he’s prepared to fight the NIMBY issue then there’s not much point in even discussing a second harbour crossing as the local board areas on the North Shore have some of the lowest levels of population growth forecast across the region – in part due to much of the area fighting any form of development.
On Monday the 9th, we’re launching our new, improved, updated Development Tracker page. You’ll notice a few changes when the new page goes live. One, it’s more user friendly, with a wider range of information, and it’s now laid out in table form. Two, we’ve extended it from just looking at apartments and terrace developments, to looking at major hotel, retail, office and retirement village projects as well. Three, we’ve added other cities – the Tracker now covers the whole of the country, as well as Auckland.
Lastly, it will be called the “RCG Development Tracker”, and is being sponsored by RCG Ltd. They are “property, architecture, design and research experts” who “create commercially successful environments”. I should disclose that I’m an employee of, and a shareholder in, RCG.
We’ve utilised sponsorships for events in the past, such as our film nights, but this is the first time we’ve had sponsorship on the blog itself. As such, I want to explain why we’re doing it now.
The main reason is that sponsorship funding, from this and potentially other activities in the future, will help us to do more with the blog. We’ve got quite a lot planned for 2015, which we’ll announce later on. However, the current funding will probably be used for something fairly mundane, such as a website redesign or server hosting. We’ll also run events this year as we have in the past.
Secondly, the main thing we’re limited by is time. All of the authors involved at TransportBlog are volunteers, and we’re producing a lot of great content, in my opinion, with a growing list of contributors including moat recently Peter Nunns, while Matt L continues to do an amazing job as the blog’s main author. Matt and Patrick also do a lot of stuff behind the scenes, and spend time on meetings and talking to other stakeholders – things which we want to build on this year. The Development Tracker page is one of those things that was a great idea, but fell by the wayside a little without anyone having the time to update and improve it. The sponsorship means I can write and update the content required during my work hours.
RCG’s involvement with the blog is limited to sponsoring the Development Tracker, and they do not have any influence over our editorial direction. As per our About page, “the opinions expressed in posts are solely the opinions of the individuals writing, at a particular point in time. They are not the opinions of… any other organisations with which the authors are affiliated or of the employers of the authors”.
The plan is that I’ll update the Development Tracker page regularly, and do a post once a month summarising the updates, commenting on development trends and so on. This will be timed for near the start of the month, coming out shortly after the date Statistics New Zealand release information on building consents.
The first of these monthly posts will go up next week. Hope you enjoy it and checking out the new page!