Urban Math

So many things to say about what can be seen in this shot.

Downtown

Downtown

Clearly another glass clad tower will not be out of place here.

Also won’t it be great to get rid of that cacophany of steel and glass that is the rain shelters opposite, and the blank walled box of the dreary Downtown Centre.

But in particular look at the number of people standing on that one corner versus the likely number in those two cars [and you can’t count the taxi driver, he’s part of the machine, in fact he’s about to be replaced by the machine].

Barnes Dance

Barnes Dance

Here they are in motion. This is not rush hour either, it is 11:19am on a Thursday in fact [ahhh, metadata]. These things, these carbon based life forms, with hopes, dreams, desires and wallets, are what the development coming to that site in the background is all about. And it matters enormously that they are on foot. People driving by are of no consequence to the businesses on that block. The people delivered by the 200-300 carparks to built under it are also of little consequence to the retail part of the development. They’ll mostly arrive in the morning with one person in them for the towers above, and stay all day. No the economics of the millions being spent on the purchase and redevelopment here entirely depend on the people who arrive by Transit. Bus, Train, and Ferry.

Like the Britomart development, what is pretty and successful above ground there is only so because of what we the city built under ground first. The ever increasing numbers of people arriving on all modes in the City Centre and at this intersection of Transit services in particular is the foundation of this upgrade. It is also important to add to this the ever increasing numbers now living in the city and those walking or riding there too. This is a virtuous circle at work.

CBD Transport Change

It’s simple; more humans, fewer cars = successful city.

Panmure Station Revisited

Train Bus Interchange. Looked to me like was working pretty sweetly. Quite a bit of Kiss’n’Ride going on on the northern side, car drop off, as you’d expect for a reasonably far enough out station in such an auto-dependent city. And, rather like New Lynn, this station feels somewhat stranded by roads and not anything like the intensity of land use we all expect to see develop over time.

PANMURE_8614

But of course those roads bring the buses right to the front door; quite a lot of people seem to be transferring to the trains rather than staying on the bus all the way to the city centre, and Howick and Eastern looked to be doing a good trade to and from the station. It is interesting that H&E have just announced they are buying 15 new double deckers, all with wifi and charging points. It looks like the quality of the new trains has started an quality of service race among providers, along with providing the core of the lift in ridership enabling this sort of investment and upgrade; win win win.

PANMURE_8719

Looking forward to the next Interchanges at Otahuhu and Manukau that are funded to start this year. However the really spectacular upgrade for SE Auckland will be the Bus Rapid Transit part of AMETI which will connect this station with Botany, Pakuranga, and hopefully Highland Park with bus priority [construction start 2017]. Won’t be too long before we have new and much better options for getting around our city.

PANMURE_8584

 

Uncommonly Good: Melbourne Apartments show the way forward

‘The Commons’ is a new small apartment block next to a train line in Brunswick, inner Melbourne by Breathe Architecture. It is noteworthy for  the cost of the apartments [pretty affordable for the area], its strong sustainability credentials and design features [especially the shared areas], its financial success as a development, but most of all because it is a concrete example of a great way forward for urban redevelopment. It ticks every box for accessibility, humanity, and public good. Here is how it was covered in last Thursday’s The Age. Be sure to watch the video.

The Commons sarah-hurst

It is such a success that another block is underway nearby but this time not funded by a traditional developer but sort of crowd sourced, mainly by the architectural community, and it will be marketed in a fresh way too.

The total absence of any onsite car parking and mechanical aircon along with clever use of communal services that enable the generous size of the living areas and the high build quality for the price point. This shows how the removal of anti-urban planning regulations that most western cities have inherited from last century can stimulate innovation by architects and developers.

It also shows that to really offer choice and increased affordability into urban housing markets cities need to make two coordinated moves: remove the straitjacket of Minimum Parking Regulations and other dispersal enforcing regs and upgrade its Transit and Active systems to as high quality, frequency, and permanency as possible. Together these moves enable the market to provide real TODs, Transport Oriented Developments, of all sorts of scales for all sorts of markets, on currently undervalued brownfields sites.

Once these conditions exist then change can occur on scales more attractive to a variety of players driving experimentation and innovation. After all, whatever government, Council, and the market is doing now in Auckland for dwelling supply isn’t working as well as we need. Significant improvement is coming to our transport systems, now lets get the dwelling regulatory environment fixed too. Then good things will follow. As one fix is nowhere as powerful without the other.

Below, the parking [from here:http://www.redshiftaa.com.au/portfolio/apartment-design-as-it-should-be/]:

Redshift_The_Commons_Bicycles

Stuart’s 100 #61: A Truly Great Tower

61: A Truly Great Tower

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What if we could have a truly great tower?

Auckland’s city centre has been progressively developed as a dense core of high-rise office towers in the mid twentieth-century model of an American Central Business District since the 1960s and 70s. The addition of the Skytower in the 1990s gave to Auckland’s skyline a degree of distinction to what would otherwise be a fairly motley and mediocre collection of high rise towers.

While today the skyline from afar looks at once international and distinctive thanks to the beautiful landscape context of harbour, coastal cliffs and volcanic cones, up close on the waterfront and moving about our city streets most towers, even the more recent ones, are pretty dismal and leave much to the imagination.

Wouldn’t it be great if with future development we could have a developer (and to give them confidence, some anchor tenants) that were committed to doing something really unique for Auckland, something that could say something about us, but that also faced out to the world and was in tune with the best of the best high rise development happening around the world.

This is challenging when we only build around one to two truly high rise towers a decade, what with the time it takes for them to get up they often appear dated and old-fashioned from the get-go. Architects usually take a lot of the public flak about these. Often this is not fair; we should be expecting much more of the landowners, developers and their tenants who are responsible for getting these things off the ground. Building tall needs to be understood as a privilege that demands not just quality from the ground up but a sense of delight and wonderment.

We can argue about what that might mean. Indeed we should argue a lot more about the merits of tall buildings. For a better Auckland deserves better tall buildings. Fingers crossed we can achieve one or two in the future.

Stuart Houghton 2014

Photo of the Day: Australians are smarter than us…

Well in this case anyway.  Here is a suburban rail station in Melbourne, a train, a dog [for Stu], and a new apartment building going up in the background. Right next to the station. Someone got the planning regulations and building incentives right. Now that we are most of the way through upgrading the passenger service on Auckland’s rail network shouldn’t we be aligning land use up with this new opportunity? It would be a mistake to only have intensive dwelling options in the City Centre, particularly as land is cheaper out along the rail corridors, so these dwellings would be both more affordable and extremely well connected.

MELBOURNE_8991

Follow the rail corridors on this map [hotter the colour the higher the value, grey means not residential, yet]… looks like a huge opportunity for a City Development Agency to me. And older centres like Papatoetoe, say, could do with an injection of construction and new residents.

Auckland Residential Land Values per sqm 2014

Stuart’s 100 #54 Open Late

54: Open Late

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What if shop opening hours reflected when you want to shop?

Much has been said over a number of years now about the future of retail in the digital age. Many have predicted its almost wholesale demise, and then been surprised by its resilience. There seems to be a view now that e-tailing will top out at a certain percentage of all retail sales meaning there will still be a place for bricks and mortar retail in our cities.

Currently it seems the trends around in-store retail are all about providing destination in-store experiences that are all about the tangible, physical, spatial, and sensory worlds that one doesn’t experience making purchases at home in bed or on the sofa.

This makes a lot of sense and points to the new reality that people now often need a good reason to head out to a store. So why do we make it so hard to do so with opening hours? They just don’t make any sense for most people most of the time. Particularly on weekdays, who is lining up to go to shops at 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning? Wouldn’t it make more sense to open later and shut later in the evening? This gives people with day jobs more of a chance to visit stores after work.

Interestingly, Melbourne is on to this. In April this year, it was announced that almost 100 stores in Melbourne’s central shopping precinct around Bourke Street Mall will now trade until at least 7pm every night, with late-night trading until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays (for more there is a story in The Age here: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/cbd-to-go-global-with-extended-night-shopping-hours-20140406-366tg.html).

Interestingly, this is one area where the big shopping malls in Auckland’s suburbs appear to be already ahead of the game. Sylvia Park already matches these hours being adopted in Melbourne. So can we make this work in our primary street-based retail areas in the city centre, Newmarket and Ponsonby Road? Downtown there certainly seems plenty enough foot traffic on Queen Street of an evening to make this work. What about other locations?

Stuart Houghton 2014

Help Defend the Flyover Decision

From the Architectural Centre in Wellington:

The NZTA flyover and recent appeal

The NZTA have proposed building a flyover adjacent to New Zealand’s historic Basin Reserve.  There are several complex aspects to the issue, but the basic chronology is:

  1. The Minister for the Environment established a Board of Inquiry in mid-2013 to decide if a flyover should be built by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) adjacent to the Basin Reserve cricket ground.  The flyover is part of the government’s planned country-wide Roads of National Significance.
  2. The Board decided that the flyover should not be built.  This was the result of a 72 day long hearing.  The Final Decision is at: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Final_Report_and_Decision/Pages/default.aspx(and there is a brief summary of issues attached).  There were a number of non-profit community groups who opposed the flyover, and we worked together collaboratively to ensure alternative views were presented at the hearing.
  3. NZTA have appealed to the High Court asking for the decision to be overturned.  The agency has also questioned a number of matters of law including issues to do with the evalution of urban design, heritage, and alternative options to the flyover.

Wellington is not a city of flyovers, and this proposal would place a flyover within a sensitive heritage site in our city, which includes an area of small nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses which would be dwarfed by the size of the 320m long concrete flyover, and become the dominant view for people living in Ellice St.  The flyover would also block the view down the Kent/Cambridge Terrace boulevard, as well as obscuring views of the historic Basin Reserve cricket ground.  We believe that a concrete structure of this large size, in this position, is not appropriate for this part of the city, which includes Government House, and the National War Memorial Park.

In addition to opposing the flyover, we believe that it is important that the alternative view to that of the NZTA is properly represented at the appeal hearing.

This means that we are off to the High Court.

It is no secret that the parties opposing the flyover have limited financial resources, and that the lack of an opposing voice in these proceedings will mean that not all of the relevant arguments will be put before the High Court.  We consider it to be important for this to be a properly democratic process, which means that views from both sides of the argument need to be heard.  It is for all of these reasons that the Architectural Centre will be a party to the appeal, and for these reasons we are asking for your support.

If you are supportive and would like to help there are a number of things that you can do.

  1. Spread the word.  Circulate this email to anyone who you think would be keen to help.
  2. We’re holding a charity auction at 5.30-7.30pm Wed 3 December at Regional Wines and Spirits (15 Ellice St, by the Basin Reserve, Wellington)and are asking architects/artists/authors/designers/film-makers/poets etc. to donate drawings/paintings/designs/sculpture/poems/manuscripts/autographed books/film/anything – so if you can donate something that would be fabulous, and if you can encourage others to donate something that would be grand too. An auction poster is attached.

If you can donate something to be auctioned, please email us at arch@architecture.org and/or post it to the Architectural Centre, P.O. Box 24-178, Manners St, Wellington, or deliver it to Cranko Architects, 81 Harbour View Rd (M-F 8am-6pm), and include your name, email etc.  Additional information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/2014/11/01/architects-draw-charity-auction/

  1. Join the Architectural Centre.  Information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/.  More information about us is at: http://architecture.org.nz/
  2. Donate any amount you can.  Our bank account details for internet banking are included on the membership form at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/
  3. Come to the charity auction… it would be lovely to see you there.

We really appreciate that there are many, many worthy causes that are likely to be taking up your time, energy and money, so we completely understand if you are too stretched to support this one with your time and/or money too.  But if this is the case, your moral support and circulating this email to others, will be hugely appreciated by us.

nga mihi nui

Christine McCarthy, Victoria Willocks and Duncan Harding

on behalf of the Architectural Centre

The Architectural Centre is the most venerable advocacy group for better urban form in New Zealand. Formed in Wellington in 1946 by idealistic young architects and planners [including my parents] with aims of improving our built environment. The Manifesto includes clauses such as “Architecture must facilitate better living” and “Good architecture is elegant environmentalism.”  A very good history of the Centre, Vertical Living, has just been published by AUP. Here is the full manifesto:

Architectural-Centre-Manifesto

Stuart’s 100 #53: Concentrating on Corridors

53: Concentrating on Corridors

Day_53

What if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does?

One of the things we hear all the time in Auckland is ‘Unlike – insert City X – we can’t do that here because – insert excuse Y’. Now, sometimes these differences are real and we need to work harder to translate good ideas into a New Zealand context. But more often than not we exaggerate the differences between city life in this small corner of the world and that elsewhere. Fundamentally we have much in common with cities elsewhere, especially the New World cities of Australia and North America, even when they are much bigger than ours.

So what if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does? We tried this once before; the former Auckland Regional Council’s growth strategy put a lot of emphasis on intensifying centres and corridors. But not a lot of development happened. We often hear that the problem is our original grain of subdivision and street patterns that doesn’t lend itself well to this type of development. Is that the case, or do we just need to go about it differently or work a little harder to change that?

To really go to town on corridors, we would need to accept greater change in character of the say 7.5% of land area that fronts these arterial corridors, to offset less intensive change elsewhere across most suburban streets. This seems to be the basic premise of recent strategic planning in Melbourne. We can debate how successfully that strategy is being realised over there, but it is hard to argue against the fact that Melbourne already has far more examples of good mid-rise mixed use development on its major roads than Auckland. Why is that?

Here in Auckland, have we forgone such an opportunity with the Proposed Unitary Plan? Imagine if the Council had put more effort into zoning for these outcomes along corridors like Dominion, Mt Eden and Remuera Roads on the isthmus, the former highways of Great North and Great South Roads or the likes of Onewa Road or Lake Road over on the Shore. Such an approach could have adopted a strategy of greater protection of historic commercial buildings balanced with more aggressive up-zoning across the balance of sites including much deeper back from the main street to create viable sites for more intensive mid-rise development.

In acknowledging this as a great planning and urban design outcome, we would also need to acknowledge that it is pretty tough for developers to assemble sites and make it work. Council would need to look to use as many carrots as it can muster across its regulatory, revenue-gathering and investment toolboxes to provide far greater incentives for this to happen.

An Auckland where more people could afford to live amongst the great amenities and character of the long-established suburbs we already have? Wouldn’t that be a better Auckland?

Stuart Houghton 2014

The Geography of Joblessness

Two articles on employment and its relationship to urban form and transport investment turned up, rather fittingly, on Labour Day. They offer interesting international perspectives, but before we get to them here is a fascinating chart derived from Ministry of Transport Household Travel Survey data that puts the focus on journeys to work into an valuable perspective. Remember the New Zealand census question that generates the gross mode share data much loved by government ministers only asks the very narrow question about travel for work. In Australia at least they ask about travel ‘for work or education’. So here is Auckland’s travel for all purposes:

AK trips by purpose and time 2013 census

In particular look at that am rush hour [and, quaintly, it is pretty much just an hour] 8-9am. Journeys to work only make up just 22% of the trips that cause that morning congestion.Trips to education is the big one then. The afternoon is very different with a full three hours of workers and learners all coming home. A great shame that trips for education are not counted in the gross mode share question as that would help the real role of PT and Active modes in keeping this city moving from being so easily downplayed by politicians and others. I have seen elsewhere that Auckland University, for example, has a private car modeshare for its students somewhere in the rounding: 1-3% [if anyone has a data source for this please add it in the comments]. *Correction 8% is the best info we have, thanks to Thomas S; source.

I can’t top the title used by The Economist so have repeated it above, here’s the link. The article simply asks the question what role might geography have in unemployment? As it is concerned with cities the geography in question is urban form. So has 60 years of subsidising the dispersal and segregation of living and working in cities in the west made it harder to provide, find, keep, or change jobs? It surveys the research and concludes that western cities suffer from ‘spatial mismatch’ and ‘poor accessibility’ and that these conditions do indeed inversely affect employment effectiveness of these places. Basically the more dispersed, the greater the degree of separation of zones, and the less effective its Transit system the less efficiency there is in its employment market.

What’s to be done? Here is the concluding paragraph:

All this has big policy implications. Some suggest that governments should encourage companies to set up shop in areas with high unemployment. That is a tall order: firms that hire unskilled workers often need to be near customers or suppliers. A better approach would be to help workers either to move to areas with lots of jobs, or at least to commute to them. That would involve scrapping zoning laws that discourage cheaper housing, and improving public transport. The typical American city dweller can reach just 30% of jobs in their city within 90 minutes on public transport. That is a recipe for unemployment.

The second article is from the Brookings Institution and is called: Cars Remain King and barrier to Economic Opportunity

This uses a study based on commute data from the US 2013 census to focus on ‘zero-vehicle workers':

The most recent 2013 Census numbers shed additional light on their commuting habits, showing how more than 6.3 million workers don’t have a private vehicle at their home. That’s equal to about 4.5 percent of all workers, compared to 4.2 percent in 2007.

Unsurprisingly decades of building and subsidising car amenity in the US has led to widespread structural auto-dependency for employment. This study also concludes that a shift in both urban form and transport infrastructure investment would deliver positive economic outcomes. And in particular that the focus by professionals, institutions, and policy makers needs to be on accessibility and not predominantly on vehicle speed:

To address this inequity, we need to shift how we plan transportation investments and urban development. Planners and engineers need to think less about mobility—how fast we move—and more about access—how many destinations we can reach. Grounded in the daily experience of commuters, this perspective can help meet the needs of workers and employers, better tying together regional economies.

One thing that would help is broadening the specialists in this field away from a focus on the LOS metric, as advocated by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute here.

Clearly a move away from monotonal places of only work [like how the City Centre used to be], or the pure dormitory suburbs of south east Auckland, are part of the solution here. The move to a greater spread of  Mixed-Use suburbs with working and dwelling within easy and pleasant reach, especially by the Active modes or short Transit trips, is desirable. This is after all, along with proximity, one of the features of the inner pre-autodependent sprawl era suburbs that make them so successful and desirable: They were formed pre zoning rules, and can be lived in with minimal travel for work and indeed other needs for most.

Of course committed sprawlists will immediately claim that if only we flatted the centre city and spread all employment out across the city then people would all live right next to their workplace and joy! travel times, congestion, and all human misery would end. Well I’m sorry but the following chart firmly puts paid to that:

Trip Length residential 2013

Above is that chart from 2013 census showing how those in newer further out suburbs have, on average, longer commutes, regardless of their place of work. It is important to underline that these commute lengths are not about just trips to the centre but to the actual real work trips taken by everyone as recorded in the 2013 census. There is just no way around it; the further out you live the longer, on average, your work journey will be. And if we keep extending the city out the worse this will get for these edge-city dwellers and everyone on aggregate. With the concomitant disbenefits that long commutes bring; higher cost, individually and collectively; plus all the negative health, pollution, and happiness outcomes.

And below the same data flipped to show it by destination. Look how inaccessible the employment around the airport is, despite all that road building. The $140m about to be spent on the Kirkbride Rd intersection will do nothing at all to improve this. Look too at Howick on the two charts, the small number of people that work there are mostly local, which is good, but most locals work much further away. Both charts also show the lack of local employment for people in West Auckland.

Trip Length workplace 2013

 

Which all goes to show that Auckland conforms to Bertaud’s ‘Composite’ urban form model below, which is of course the most common city type on the planet, and not the dispersalists’ largely imaginary centre-less model of the ‘Urban Village’ with everyone working adjacent to where they live and none working across town.

After all, even as Auckland gets longer [it can’t get wider!] the area most closely placed to everywhere is still the centre. This helps explain why the centre will only continue to grow and thrive despite increasing rents and other barriers, as it remains the most connected and accessible place to be, on average.

Bertaud urban structure graph

Trust you had a relaxing Labour Day.

 

Stuart’s 100 #47: The Forgotten Triangle

48: The Forgotten Triangle

Day_48

What if the forgotten triangle behind Shortland Street was more than a parking lot?

Continuing the series on forgotten or underutilised spaces within the city, the steeply rising wedge of land between Shortland Street, Albert Park and Princes Street is certainly a stand out example of well-located land that should be valued and utilised for much more than just parking. Certainly, when one looks at historic photos of this part of the city, it is obvious that this area used to packed quite densely with a much more diverse array of buildings and activities than can be found there now.

Looking west over the Chancery Street area from the former Grand Hotel in Princes Street, 1902. (Auckland Council Heritage Images Online).

Looking west over the Chancery Street area from the former Grand Hotel in Princes Street, 1902. (Auckland Council Heritage Images Online).

It is actually quite crazy that this forgotten corner of the city has not been developed for more intensive and higher value uses, if you think about the location, just one block from both the A-grade office space of the corporate towers on Shortland Street and the high value retail of High Street, and bounded by what is a beautiful historic central city park.

The following is a simple four-point plan that is just a start to indicate how the potential of this part of the city could be reconsidered:

  • Improve the legibility, crossing opportunities and attractiveness of walking links through the area to Albert Park and the universities on the hill;
  • Develop high rise residential towers fronting Kitchener Street similar to the Metropolis tower and Precinct Apartments between Lorne and Kitchener Streets that capitalise on the outlook over the park and up high gain light, air and relative serenity above this quiet part of the city;
  • Rediscover and develop the forgotten laneways of Fields and Bacon Lanes, Chancery Lane, Bankside Street and Cruise Lane as back street extensions to the High Street District with opportunities to open out and activate the backs of Shortland Street towers into a gritty but interesting neighbourhood;
  • Make more use of the Bowen Park extension of Albert Park as a great public open space in its own right, reflecting its north-facing qualities and great views back to this part of the city skyline.

Stuart Houghton 2014

*For a bit more on this area there is this previous post -PR