One of the saddest and most frustrating parts of the Unitary Plan deliberations being held at the moment is the misinformation about density controls and their effects. Phrases such as “unlimited density” create images of high-rise apartment buildings in suburban areas or tiny “chicken coop” sausage flats squeezed onto small suburban sites.
Both of which are simply not possible. Not because some fluffy urban design assessment criteria will stop such things – but because of hard rules like maximums height limits, maximums site coverage controls, minimum dwelling sizes, private open space requirements and more. If we take a look at the residential rules of the Unitary Plan from prior to the Councillors’ changes throughout last week and yesterday (I have been asking the council for a list of all of the changes agreed to but they are ignoring my requests) we find out that a so-called unlimited density development in the different parts of the Mixed Housing zone would have the following development controls applied (as well as requiring a resource consent to even apply to build more than four units and requiring a large site to start with!)
- A building height limit of 8 metres
- Height in relation to boundary rules requiring heights of no more than 3m plus 1m for every metre back from the boundary the part of the building is located.
- Yard controls, including a (stupid in my opinion) front yard requirement of 4m.
- A maximum impervious area control of 60 per cent (i.e. building or paving can’t exceed 60% of the site).
- A maximum building coverage of 40% for sites 400m² or more or 50% for sites less than 400m².
- A requirement to landscape at least 30% of a site, including covering at least 10% of the site in plants or shrubs (including a further requirement for at least one large tree!)
- Outlook spaces of at least 6m by 4m from each main living room, from the principal bedroom of at least 3m by 3m and from other rooms of at least 1m by 1m.
- Building separation requirements, including a requirement for separation from main living rooms of 15m.
- At outdoor living space of at least 40 square metres, including dimension requirements.
- Minimum amounts of glazing in the main living area, bedrooms and out to the street.
- Maximum garage size and impact on the front façade including additional set back controls.
- Maximum building length restrictions.
- Minimum dwelling size requirements of at least 40 square metres for studios and 45 square metres for one bedroom apartments.
- Minimum dimension requirements for living rooms and even bedrooms.
Most of these rules have some logic and good intentions sitting behind them and are an attempt to ensure that development is of a sufficient quality. But, importantly, all the rules will limit the development density which can occur on a site – at least indirectly. What all these controls really do (aside from the minimum dwelling size and to a lesser extent the minimum dimension requirements) is influence the bulk, location, scale and layout of development – how the development will be perceived from the outside world. What density controls do, over and above these other controls, is basically determine how a building envelop is ‘sliced and diced’ into different dwellings.
Density controls have been pretty common throughout Auckland’s planning documents for the past few decades – with the result being this:
What stands out in the image above is the monotony of this urban form. Each site is roughly the same size, each dwelling takes up roughly the same amount of land on the site, each place is basically the same.
- Large houses on 400-500 square metre sites.
- None of them with particularly large backyards.
- No variety of building types.
Importantly, these areas also lack the provision of any affordable housing – because the only thing being built are huge standalone houses. And the reason why the only things being built are huge standalone houses is because the density controls mean a minimum amount of land needs to be set aside for each dwelling, leading to effectively a minimum size of house in order for the developer to make a profit and therefore a minimum sale price that’s often well north of $500,000.
The frustrating thing about density rules is that the urban form above does not necessarily result in more greenspace or less building bulk or a more spacious urban environment. Those aesthetic outcomes are controlled through the use of regulations like height, site coverage, yard controls and the like.
Sadly, yesterday the Council effectively banned the provision of affordable housing in the widespread Mixed Housing Suburban zone by requiring a density controls to be applied for all developments in that zone. Supposedly they did it to protect the character of the suburbs, but as explained above, density rules don’t affect the bulk, scale and location of development.
Over the last few months we have tried to hold off discussing the unitary plan too much while the council worked through the feedback. Today the council will start the process of going through the changes to the plan so that it can finalised and ultimately notified so we will be having a look at some of the changes and how they might affect some of the outcomes of the overall plan.
We are going to start today with the residential zones. We had already seen a couple of fairly positive developments that have occurred over the intervening time period since the consultation period finished. In particular that the issues around building height had largely resolved by using a more fine grained approach. Another major concern was the extent of the mixed house zone. Some of this related to building height fears while a lot of it related to just straight out fear of change and a lack of understanding about what plans already existed. Once again a more fine grained approach has been adopted with the zone being split in two – like we and others had suggested in our feedback. The split mixed housing zones are now known the Mixed Housing Suburban Zone and the Mixed Housing Urban Zone.
The key reason for proposing that the zone be split is that it appears that it was trying to do the job of two zones but doing each badly. In particular it squeezed out the options of a three storey terraced house – a building typology that has the potential to enable a lot of intensification without the negative issues that result from height discussions. The split zones address this by more specifically targeting parts of Auckland. There are two key differences between the two mixed housing zones which relate to building height and building density. The differences in these are shown below.
Original Mixed House Zone
- Building height limit of 8m or can go to 10m with resource consent.
- One dwelling per 300m² net site area where up to four dwellings are proposed
- No density limits where there are more than five dwellings and certain conditions are met.
Mixed Housing Suburban Zone
- Building height limit of 8m (two storeys)
- Allows for one dwelling per 400m² net site area or
- One dwelling per 300m² net site where certain conditions are met.
- No density limits where there are more than five dwellings proposed and set conditions are met.
Mixed Housing Urban Zone
- Allows for a high limit of 10m (three storeys)
- Allows for one dwelling per 300m² net site area or
- One dwelling per 250m² net site where certain conditions are met.
- No density limits where there are more than five dwellings proposed and set conditions are met.
As you can see, the key differences in height and density are that the suburban zone retains the height limits but has larger sites (i.e. less dense) whereas the urban zone retains the site size but allows greater height (i.e. more dense). Sadly none of the changes seem to allow for the type of small scale subdivision talked about in this post from Patrick.
One of the key problems with this approach of splitting the zones though comes down to balancing where each of the zones are located. If you put too much of the suburban zone in place and not enough of the urban zone in then you reduce the overall capacity of an area meaning potentially growth has to go elsewhere or more greenfield land is required. Put too much of the urban zone in and you upset all of the silly groups like Auckland 2040 who will then fight the plan tooth and nail potentially delaying it for years.
As part of that balancing act the unlimited density controls when very specific conditions are met become even more important as a bit of a safety valve allowing for higher density when a development passes design controls that address key issues with intensification. But now even that that is under attack.
A controversial proposal to allow developers to build unlimited density housing in much of suburban Auckland is set to be rejected by Auckland councillors this week.
Councillor Ann Hartley is unhappy with the latest rules drawn up by council planners for the mixed housing zone, which caused the greatest alarm in public feedback on the draft Unitary Plan.
The latest rules allow for unlimited density in the zone, which has been split into two subzones – a three-storey height limit close to town centres and a two-storey height limit in the suburbs.
Ms Hartley was happy with the unlimited density rule in the so-called mixed housing urban zone, but said allowing unlimited density in the mixed housing suburban zone was unacceptable and undermined what councillors wanted.
She has drawn up 18 amendments to the rules for the mixed housing suburban zone for a three-day meeting of the Auckland Plan committee from tomorrow to wrap up the Unitary Plan for notification.
“I believe I have support to carry the amendments,” said Ms Hartley, a member of Mayor Len Brown’s inner circle.
As mentioned the whole purpose of the various design controls required to be completed to meet the criteria for unlimited density are there to ensure the various issues are fully addressed. Of course being an Orsman article about the unitary plan the 2040 group get plenty of space.
Richard Burton, spokesman for the Auckland 2040 movement set up to oppose haphazard development, supported the two subzones when they were proposed last month but said the devil would be in the detail.
Yesterday, Mr Burton said the planners were hijacking the process by trying to set the same unlimited density rules for both subzones.
He said the planners’ argument for providing enough capacity for growth was wrong because there was a lot of potential in more intensified zones around town centres.
As Richard says, the devil is in the detail. We know that the various local boards and councillors have been having numerous workshops to look at where each of the zones should sit but we will have to wait till new versions of the maps come out to see just how balanced they might be. However we can get a bit of an idea from this document. The maps show where some of the conflicts still exist between planners and local boards however the first one gives a good overview of much of the isthmus. It appears that the mixed housing urban zone has retained the beige colour from the original unitary plan maps while the suburban zone has a light yellow colour.
Compare that with what was originally proposed.
You can see that within the isthmus there is almost no mixed housing urban zone with almost the entire previous mixed housing zone being converted to either the suburban zone or the single house zone. Some of the THAB zones appear to have been made slightly bigger but not but much and definitely not by enough to offset the reduction in zoning from using the suburban zone everywhere. Interestingly the only place you can really see any change in the other direction is in my local board, Henderson-Massey where you can see some quite substantial extensions to the THAB zone, especially on the Te Atatu Peninsula. Perhaps they are the only board to remember that this is a 30 year plan and that zoning for higher density doesn’t mean it will suddenly appear overnight.
These maps make it even more important that intensification is allowed through the unlimited density provisions if the right conditions are met. Without those provisions it will be impossible for Auckland to cater for the projected number of people the plan is meant to be designed for meaning even more growth will have to happen in greenfield land. Seriously if Anne Hartley and any other councillor that vote to remove this clause they should really give themselves an uppercut. Hell they and the local boards (Henderson-Massey excluded) should probably do that anyway for the shameful mapping exercise above.
Further it seems I’m not the only one concerned about this sudden lurch to a fear of change based on this press release from the NZ Institute of Architects.
NZIA Cautions Against Dilution of Draft Unitary Plan
As Auckland councillors head into a three-day meeting on the draft Unitary Plan the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) urges them to carefully consider the effect of any decisions that will dilute rules allowing for a more intensely populated city.
“We believe most Aucklanders agree with the Council’s position that growth largely within the existing urban boundary and around existing centres is far more desirable and sustainable than the alternative, which is a costly sprawl across the isthmus and into the countryside,” says Richard Goldie, chair of the NZIA’s Auckland branch.
“The Council has been careful to limit building heights in the mixed housing zone, with the trade-off being the possibility of more intensive use of building sites within the zone,” Goldie says.
“We think this strikes the right balance between a popular preference for lower buildings and the acknowledged need for more housing.”
The Council has put huge effort into producing the draft Unitary Plan, Goldie says, and rather than compromise its intent Councillors might be better to turn their attention to the issue of the quality of buildings within the mixed housing zone’s two ‘sub-zones’ – the mixed housing urban zone and mixed housing suburban zone.
“Community concerns about density are often really concerns about building quality. Auckland has many examples of well-designed and well-built medium-density housing, but unfortunately there is also a legacy of too many poorly planned apartment complexes.”
“The challenge for the Council, and for the construction sector – developers, architects and contractors – is to convince Aucklanders that intensive development does not mean mediocre buildings.”
“Work on intensification should go hand-in-hand with work on improving the quality of building design and construction,” Goldie says. “We think this should be a focus of Councillors’ attention.”
“The pressing issue for Auckland and for its Council is not how much building will be allowed in the mixed housing zone, but what standards are expected.”
We will be watching with interest what happens to the proposed residential zones.
Fascinating infographics from the New York Times illustrating the revitalisation of that great metropolis under Mayor Bloomberg:
Showing new buildings, areas where re-zoning has help spur development [below]
And of course the 450 miles of bike lanes added by repurposing traffic lanes:
It also briefly mentions concern around rising property values, a complex issue which is of course on one hand a sign of success but that also creates exclusion some sections of community.
A nice piece of work by the Times and a good illustration of how much and what ways cities are changing this century. Hat tip to regular reader George D for the link, be sure to check it out.
As hinted at in these posts here and here the editorial team at ATB in collaboration with Generation Zero believe there is a much better way forward for Auckland than the expensive and ineffectual road-heavy ‘build everything’ transport scheme identified in the Auckland Plan, and set out and analysed in the Integrated Transport Plan. This post describes how Auckland can build a world class public transport network that is both affordable and will be the envy of every comparable city worldwide. How in only 17 years Auckland can leapfrog its rivals and transform from a very inefficient mono-modal auto-dependent city to a much more dynamic, multidimensional, and effective and exciting place.
Our plans isolate the top layer of the Public Transport Network and show how these can be expanded and connected while remaining integrated with the other layers of the public transport system, especially the Frequent and Local Bus Networks, to form a complete system to compliment the existing and mature road network. It is important to note that this should also be developed in parallel to a region wide cycling network which both ATB and Generation Zero are extremely supportive of but is outside of the scope of this project [but complimentary to it]. Perhaps Cycle Action Auckland will take up this challenge?
In order to show how we think we should do this we have developed a staged process at five year intervals from 2015-2030 illustrated in four maps below [big thanks to Niko Elsen from GenZero for the graphics and to the great Henry 'Harry' Beck for the inspiration of his genius London Underground map; a project also produced without official sanction but eventually adopted to great success].
Over the coming days we will analyse the costs and benefits associated with our plans and show that they will not only lead to a higher quality and better functioning city but are also more affordable than the ineffective current plans as described in the ITP [Link here]. In fact investing in the ‘missing modes’ in Auckland’s transport mix before further expanding the road network so expensively will almost certainly turn out to be much cheaper and more efficient for the city and the nation as well as actually being more in sync with the times. Especially as many of the most expensive and invasive road projects will prove to be unnecessary once Auckland has this powerful additional network in place. Our plan will also greatly improve Auckland’s performance in other harder to calculate but vital areas such as air quality, carbon emissions, oil dependency, urban form, and public health outcomes.
Before we get to the maps it’s important to clarify that the networks we are showing are built on what we already have in Auckland and what is proposed in varying senarios by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, NZTA, and other professional bodies, and are all predicated on maximising value from existing infrastructure. In other words these are all possible and realistic projects. They are both buildable and fit into efficient operating models as well as being focused on unlocking hidden capacity and other benefits latent in our existing networks. They are in sync with the proposed directions of Auckland’s future growth [both up and out] and have been selected with quality of place outcomes in mind as well as likely changes in movement demand.
The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors, what are known as Class A routes, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes, Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case process. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At once taking pressure off the increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.
The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether for many more people at many more times and for many more journeys.
Definitions and Qualifications
To qualify for the Congestion Free Network a Transit service needs to fulfil two conditions:
1. It should have its own separate Class A Right of Way.
2. And offer a high frequency service, the ‘turn-up-and-go’ rate of a ride at least every ten minutes or better.
In other words these are the top of the line services from Auckland Transport and their partners. As we will explain we have taken some liberties with these two definitions out of necessity, with some services for various reasons not quite fulfilling one of the criteria above. But where we have opted to bend the definitions a little there is good reason to believe that the deficiency can be fixed on the route in question, and in fact its inclusion on the CFN map is part of the process for showing why that should be the case.
There is a third condition that we are confident will be maintained on this network and that is the quality of the vehicles themselves along with important attractors such as free WIFI on board and at stations:
OK, to the maps. On all maps Rail Lines are solid, Bus Lines are striped, and Ferry routes dashed, but all should be considered as approaching as much as possible those two main criteria above in order to qualify as Congestion Free.
This is all on the way: The the newly electrified rail network with its higher frequency brand new electric trains plus the Northern Busway, and the Devonport Ferry. These are as close to the only Class A and high frequency dedicated transit routes that we will have in Auckland at this time. We have taken some liberties with our definition of some services above. The trains on the Onehunga Line cannot be frequent enough to qualify until the track is improved, and the Devonport Ferry does not run at ten minute cycles all day, but it is frequent enough at the peaks to just qualify. And the Busway, although running at very high frequencies, suffers from an inconsistent degree of separation from traffic, once it gets to the Bridge and through the city, but we are confident that by 2015 or soon after the level of bus priority will have improved especially through Fanshaw and Customs Sts.
We are also confident that these improvements plus the others already underway now and rolling out through 2013-2016, such as integrated fares and the New Bus Network at the next layer down, will mean that more and more people will be choosing to use our nascent core network and it will justify rapid extension.
So how could we extend this next, and which projects are the most urgent? Here’s what we think: Filling in the Gaps:
This is in many ways is the biggest jump; but then it’s really seven and a half years from now so is the longest time period covered and shows the completion of a whole lot of projects that are already at least in the planning stage right now: Unlocking the Core and Accessing the Suburbs:
1. The CRL; the ‘Killer App’ for unlocking capacity and value in the rail network, and all the improvements we have invested in on the whole rail network this century.
2. Two relatively cheap and easy rail network extensions: The Mt Roskill branch line and electrification to Pukekohe and new stations to serve planned new housing in the south.
3. Extensions to each end of the Northern Busway; from the new bus lanes on Customs St up the Central Connector through the University, the Hospital, Grafton Station and the adjacent new Uni Campus, and on to Newmarket. And in the north; extension from Constellation Station to Albany and three new stations to serve the expanding suburbs there.
4. Forms of high quality bus priority on Great North Rd through Grey Lynn, up the North Western motorway all the way to Westgate. Not completely grade separate all the way but proper new stations to connect with new bus services on the Frequent Network and;
5. The Upper Harbour Bus Line, running from Henderson Station up Lincoln Rd, Westgate, and across to connect with the Northern Busway at Constellation on SH18 with new stations.
6. Further south the extension of the AMETI project both past Panmure along the Mt Wellington Highway on dedicated lanes to link with Ellerslie Station and looping the other way down to Botany and on to Manukau City and the Southern Line at Puhinui.
The next phase is all about consolidation and extension, most notably though the neglected Southwest: Mangere and the Airport:
1.The Airport is connected by both the extension of the Onehunga Line through Mangere with important local stations and the extension of the South Eastern Bus Line from Puhinui.
2. The south east also gets proper bus priority up the Pakuranga Highway to Howick, linked through a Pakuranga interchange all the way to Panmure and Ellerslie.
3. The North Western gets extended to the growing hub of Kumeu/Huapai
4. The Northern Line now reaches Silverdale.
5. More frequency is presumed to be required by this time on the ferries heading up the harbour to complete a useful circuit on the Waitemata.
One project dominates the next period: The Shore Line:
1. The Shore Line. There are various versions of this important project, but it is clear that no version should add any more road lanes. The one illustrated here is a rail only crossing and the track doesn’t join directly with the existing rail lines so can be a completely separate technology like the system used in Vancouver’s extremely cost effective SkyTrain [as well as elsewhere], commonly known as Light Metro. This line could be staged by first building the Aotea-Wynyard-Onewa-Akoranga-Takapuna section and keeping the best part of the busway going with a transfer station at Akoranga, but one of the great advantages of the Light Metro train technology is that it can fit on the existing alignments of the busway with very little alterartion and therefore can be extended all the way to Constellation, Albany, or beyond at much lower cost than the Standard Rail used elsewhere on the Network.
2. Also included here is the suggestion of Light Rail for the important Dominion Rd/Queen St bus route.
Notes and Queries.
There are a number of differing options in many parts of these schemes all with various advantages and disadvantages and many have been debated sometimes fairly vigorously amongst those of us working on the maps. These conversations are still ongoing so the maps as they are now should not be considered some kind of final position by the members of either ATB or Generation Zero, but certainly do represent the areas of focus with top contenders for the best solutions. For example here is an alternative city extension of the North Shore Line:
There also is much to be discussed around the detail and the timing of these projects, and we look forward to your views on all of that. To finish it’s probably worth reminding everyone that what is shown here in all these maps are only the best of the best Class A, fast and frequent Transit services that sit at the very top of the public transport pecking order. Below them sit other much more widespread and also improved more widespread services that will still also be running and linking up with these new flash routes. Here is the official AT map of the bus system for 2016, that includes services on our Congestion Free Network but that also shows the wider Frequent Network, and of course there even more local services beneath these:
Mode Selection and the Conceptual Foundation of the Network.
We know there is a lot of attachment to various transport modes by experts and laypeople alike, we experience this everyday in the comment section on this site. There is a tendency for people to focus on the advantages of their favoured mode in a way that expresses their general priorities; some feel spending less on capital works is always the most important issue and others value the quality of the ROW and the permanence of the investment above all else so take a longer view on the costs. We have sought to balance all these considerations when deciding on the most appropriate technology for each corridor. We know that train fans will be disappointed by the amount of bus routes above and that the budget obsessed will be appalled by what they will see as lavish spending on ‘expensive’ rail. And of course the road lobby will see no need for any of this especially as we wish to downscale, delay, or delete many of their pet motorway projects in order to fast track it all and to reduce the disbenefits of reinforcing auto-domination and auto-dependency on Auckland that their projects also bring.
We also have ignored the current government’s particular obsession with only using the National Land Transport Fund for road investments, for, as we have just seen, governments are capable of changing their policies, but also because the public are more than capable of changing governments, and will have at least five such opportunities to do so throughout this period.
The 2016 FTN map directly above clearly shows that a number of the new routes on our maps are current or planned bus routes that we are picking to deserve a greater level of quality as time goes by, maybe not as early as we have by demand alone, but when seen in the context of this new conceptual reading of the city that is The Congestion Free Network, we believe there is additional value in completing parts of this network occasionally ahead of demand [especially where it is more cost effective to do so]. The CFN is a city-shaping tool as well as a movement programme. As of course are all transport networks. This is, in many ways, the most critical point about the changes required in Auckland now. Transport funding decisions must not remain siloed in the transport sector, or worse be captured by institutionalised mode bias as has been the case for most of the last 60 years. Urban transport is, after all, simply a means to an end. And that end is the quality of life for all those in the city and beyond. These involve much wider issues than we have been considering in Auckland in the recent past. It’s time we got more sophisticated.
So in many cases, especially towards the edges of the city, the best way to achieve completion of the network is simply to upgrade the quality of existing bus routes by improving the physical separation of the route and the efficiency and frequency of their running patterns as well as the provision of interchange stations. These routes tend to be further into the suburbs usually where there is freer available roadspace [eg SH18] or closer in where because of new routes older roads have space that can be repurposed for transit [and cycleways] like Great North Rd through Grey Lynn.
However in a few high profile cases the demands and conditions are different, on these routes it could be there is demand for a very high capacity system and just no spare roadspace [the CRL] or where there is already a rail RTN that is worth extending or improving [The CRL, Mt Roskill, Pukekohe, the Mangere and Airport Line], or a combination of the two plus a unique physical barrier [The Shore Line]. In these cases we have, on balance, agreed that the particular characteristics of rail provide solutions that justify the higher capital cost.
It is also worth noting that the three major rail investments, one in each of the three time periods, are the ones that Mayor Len Brown campaigned on to become the first leader of a unified Auckland. So we know they are popular, but their inclusion here is not just because of that. They are here because they are also the rational choice when all issues are considered. The same cannot be said for the congestion promoting motorway projects that Len Brown has subsequently signed up for in some kind of Faustian trade off as expressed in the ITP. So part of this campaign is to get the Mayor, as he faces re-election, to get his transport thinking ‘back on track’.
So lets leave the last word to Len Brown from his inauguration speech in 2010:
“it is time to stop imagining how to improve Auckland’s transport system and other infrastructure and time to start acting.”
Note: the maps can be accessed in PDF form by clicking on the titles above each one- feel free to download, print, distribute, draw on, set alight, decorate your room, or re-blog….
30 years ago Vancouver didn’t have a passenger rail system. Then in time with the 1986 expo they built their first skytrain line, initially between the Waterfront and New Westminister. Other lines and extensions were made later to give the network that exists today.
What is interesting though is to see the change in the landscape that has occurred largely in response to the existing of the line. This video is perfectly synchronised up and shows the difference from 1986 to 2013
It would interesting to be able to do the same thing in Auckland in 30 years time.
H/T Gordon Price
One chart for all you Sprawlistas out there that keep arguing that Houston is some kind of role model for Auckland’s growth:
From Wiki, here. I figure this is self-explanatory. The dispersed spatial pattern of Houston is the single most expensive and inefficient type of urban form possible, but it can function there because of a set of specific local factors, including that Houston is at the centre of a largely flat plain without geographical constraints like, you know, two harbours. But especially because of economic conditions that are pretty unique to Houston compared to other cities in the OECD.
Houston is at the centre of a petro-state. It is energy rich, especially in hydrocarbons; oil and gas, for all that driving. But also, and this may surprise some, Texas is home to the largest concentrations of wind turbines in the US. Something’s got to keep all that aircon running. Solar is growing very fast too, it being both sunny and windy there, and large areas of land are available throughout the state with few other competing uses, especially as increasing droughts threaten the large agriculture business. Texas is energy rich and Houston is the capital of the US energy industry.
From the Houston Wiki page:
Houston is recognized worldwide for its energy industry—particularly for oil and natural gas—as well as for biomedical research and aeronautics. Renewable energy sources—wind and solar—are also growing economic bases in Houston. The ship channel is also a large part of Houston’s economic base. Because of these strengths, Houston is designated as a global city by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network and by global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.
The Houston area is a leading center for building oilfield equipment. Much of Houston’s success as a petrochemical complex is due to its busy ship channel, the Port of Houston. The port ranks first in the United States in international commerce, and is the tenth-largest port in the world. Unlike most places, high oil and gasoline prices are beneficial for Houston’s economy as many of its residents are employed in the energy industry. [my emphasis]
The predominant form of transportation in Houston is the automobile with 71.7 percent of residents driving alone to work This is facilitated through Houston’s freewaysystem, comprising 739.3 miles (1,189.8 km) of freeways and expressways in a ten-county metropolitan area. However, the Texas Transportation Institute‘s annual Urban Mobility Report found that Houston had the fourth-worst congestion in the country with commuters spending an average of 58 hours in traffic in 2009.[my emphasis]
But perhaps there’s some hope because:
Houston has the largest number of bike commuters in Texas with over 160 miles of dedicated bikeways. The city is currently in the process of expanding its on and off street bikeway network. A newBicycle sharing system known as Houston B-Cycle currently operates 11 different stations in the downtown area and 7 in other parts of Houston.
But really, Houston’s conditions are so distant from Auckland’s that it is not realistic to point to its urban form as an answer to our situation. Even if we were agreed that Houston’s pattern is is even desirable:
Houston HW3 During the evacuation from Hurricane Katrina
Brady Nixon, the Development Manager at Progressive Enterprises [yup, the supermarket biz] and the force behind the upcoming Vinegar Lane development in Ponsonby has written a very detailed response to key aspects of the Draft Unitary Plan. His approach is particularly interesting because it is grounded in market practicalities and focused on design quality outcomes through intensification. It is also good to see a discussion around the built environment with some visual sophistication. The fully illustrated PDF, Market Responsive Intensification, is available here.
The inspiration for his approach is an urban renewal project from the 1990s on some disused docks in Amsterdam, called Borneo Sporenburg:
At Borneo Sporenburg there are some 2500 separately titled four story dwellings with a pretty handy density of 100 units per hectare. The key to their appeal is the variety of appearance within a consistency of massing of the resultant blocks. This richly textured outcome is a result of each building being designed and built to the tastes of each owner rather than by one developer but all within a very tight master plan and a design control process.
There are also two larger more traditional blocks that throw the regularity of the pattern on each pier and a couple of fancy foot bridges. And of course all the joys of being right on the water, largely car free, and close to the centre of old Amsterdam. Focusing on the ‘row houses’ their defining characteristic is that each dwelling has a relatively small footprint and therefore the whole site offers a comparable density to apartment blocks but they can still be organised more like detached buildings with independent ownership rather than needing systems like Bodies Corporate to operate them. Furthermore by subdividing valuable land into small lots the cost barriers to entry come down, so this is a way to involve ordinary people in development and not just leave it to developers.
Which brings us to Auckland. Nixon argues that the market is more accustomed to ‘Fee Simple’ ownership structures than to more collective models such as renting or co-governing whole buildings.
He has two other observations from local market condition.
One, that we are a nation of small scale builders; our building industry is predominantly structured around putting up one dwelling at a time, with a straightforward builder-client relationship [or builder-architect-client] with relatively small amounts of venture capital . He claims that the proportion of single dwelling construction compared to higher volume builds is 80%. Therefore however the city is to grow then that change must be deliverable through this cottage industry model in order to happen.
Two. He argues that the resultant structures are more acceptable to those fearful of the idea of intensification. He asks:
Where communities oppose intensification the question is not do they oppose intensification but in what form do they oppose intensification?
Going on to use the example of his own development, Vinegar Lane, comparing his new fee simple individually designed but dense small footprint model with the previous developer controled monolith:
The solution engaged at Ponsonby is in fact denser than the previous Soho scheme. But it is lower in bulk, scale and height than what was proposed and it is able to be delivered within the framework of the Mixed Use Zone rules.
So all is good then? Nixon and others can happily offer this typology to the market, and if he is right that sites in developments like this should be lapped up, as indeed they have in Ponsonby?
Not so fast, there are a whole lot of road blocks in the way of this model in the DUP, most notably minimum lot size, but also set-backs, height in relation to boundary, and, of course, those great place killers; minimum parking regulations. In Nixon’s view the DUP primarily imagines two main routes to intensification; large scale apartment buildings, or infill in residential zones ['garden gobbling'].
The former he claims is often unworkable because of the difficulties of site amalgamation, insufficient numbers of well funded development companies, and a luke warm demand. The latter neither supplies sufficient increase in density nor protects popular old neighbourhoods so is arguably likely to be even less successful.
For the solution to this problem Nixon’s next inspiration is Tokyo, a city with high density but often not high rise, here’s an example:
But only if subdivision is possible, and other regulations that restrict these kind of tight typologies on appropriate sites are removed.
Vinegar Lane will supply about 110 units per hectare, comparable to Borneo Sporenburg, way above the 15-25 that new greenfields subdivisions offer, and even better than the densities of nearby Grey Lynn which is around 35-40.
The sites are all intentionally varied in size and the smallest is 72m^2. So you can see why Nixon sees the DUP’s minimum lot sizes of 200m^2 in urban zones to be a problem
Here’s what the DUP proposes for the very zones that are ideal for more intensive construction, Nixon’s commentary on the right:
Here’s another example, this time from Sydney:
So here is Nixon’s summary of his small footprint argument:
And below are his overall UP recommendations, which are probably best summed as saying that the Council should concentrate on Quality controls and be less proscriptive with Quantity ones. If a Quality city is sought then compact one will follow so long as the barriers to achieving this morphology can be removed for appropriate locations. I would love to see these types of buildings in all their variety going up along Great North Rd as well as apartments and other mixed use buildings. I’m sure the old light commercial parts of Onehunga would be enlivened by this sort of owner built environment.
And the key to achieving it allowing greater subdivision than is currently planned.
Unfortunately there is a tendency in discussions on housing affordability to remain quite siloed. The government seems to be only concerned with land supply as the key to addressing affordability, financial commentators privilege access to loans and other financial instruments, and developers stress construction overheads and compliance costs. Other observers, like this blog, are keen to point out city regulations that inhibit compact and attached building typologies as barriers to better dwelling affordability. It is clear that all of these are important contributors to the problem and it is not my intention here to dismiss any of the above, but rather I want to add another that I think gets even less attention but that is just as important. Location specific overheads.
People aren’t stupid. When looking for somewhere to live they automatically calculate all the costs and benefits of any possible dwelling and the biggest single cost after the direct property costs [mortgage, rates, rents] is transportation. In fact consideration of transport costs is really indivisible from direct dwelling costs in calculation of affordability. Any analysis that fails to understand locational costs in addition to land, construction, and financing costs is likely to remain deeply flawed.
The Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s Todd Litman describes this as Affordable-Accessible Housing and discusses it throughly in this paper. What follows is a quick summary of this work.
These figures are from Canada but there isn’t too much reason to believe that the general thrust wouldn’t also hold for Auckland. Vancouver like Auckland is doing well so therefore has a growing population and pressure on its existing housing stock. Also while Vancouver’s Public Transit systems are much better than Auckland’s it remains true for Auckland that service is better the closer to the centre you get, and it is therefore more possible and cheaper to get around using Public Transit in the inner suburbs and city. This balance is clearly reflected in dwelling prices too. People are clearly willing to pay more to avoid life on the motorways.
You can see that the construction costs are basically constant for each type but that the land and the transportation costs vary depending on the location. Land is more expensive as the location becomes more desirable, but transportation costs increases as the location moves further out. But also note that the biggest cost determinant is building size and type. So even the most expensive 100m^2 apartment is cheaper than the cheapest townhouse or detached house. Size does matter, as does type.
It is also important to note that both housing and transport costs form a greater proportion of people’s expenditure the poorer they are:
Perhaps because the costs of car ownership are either minor or born by employers or absorbed as a business overhead by many players and commentators in the property field that the reality of these costs for those on lower incomes are too easily overlooked. When vehicle cost is either insignificant or not born directly then car ownership can is likely to be viewed as a source of pleasure and an opportunity for expression of status and individuality. This personal experience muddies the appreciation of the burdens of car ownership on many in an auto-dependant society. Car ownership and all its attendant costs are just assumed to be covered for ‘normal’ people. This is how locational overheads can be ignored.
This analysis is supported by the existence of available and keenly priced dwellings in fringe and distant locations. Why else do they remain undesirable? They are not in practice as affordable as they seem because their location is expensive to operate from. Isolation while sought after by those with the money and preference for lifestyle blocks is an expensive burden for those at the other end of the socio-economic scale.
Even if a dwelling is built cheaply on cheap land and comes with supported financing, it may still fail to be affordable in practice because of its separation from employment, education, medical, and other social amenity, particularly if it is underserved by Public Transport.
Experts recommend spending less than 32% of total household budget on housing (rents or mortgages, basic utilities and maintenance) and less than 18% on transportation, or 45% on housing and transport combined. Many lower- and middle-income households exceed these levels (Figure ES-1).
The most expensive form of transport for poorer households are private vehicles. If a dwelling is poorly connected to public services and employment then in order for adults to get to work, as well as for the elderly, children, and infirm in those households to function will be dependant on buying, maintaining, and running multiple vehicles. This section of society often gets into debt with private lenders over vehicles and over-extension on these loans can often be the source of default and failure to meet other commitments. High transport cost due to the dispersed nature of habitation, employment, and services is a very real contributor the problem of people remaining trapped in negative income.
Careful consideration of the location of affordable housing as well the continued improvement in Public Transport services and attention to barriers to its use [cost, frequency and suitability of services] are two vital tools in improving the lives of all Aucklanders and the economic performance of the whole city. Transport poverty is a drain on productivity.
People who live or work in more accessible, multi-modal areas have better access to goods, services and activities, tend to own fewer vehicles, drive less, and rely more on alternative modes than in more automobile- oriented, sprawled communities.
Housing with more affordable locational attributes enable people to turn up to work more regularly, are more able to meet their housing payments, and are more likely to get family members to medical services earlier and whose children are more likely to arrive at school having had breakfast or at all.
Communities must respond to changing demands and conditions. Current demographic and economic trends are increasing demand for affordable-accessible housing, and increasing the benefits to society of accommodating this increased demand.
So in summary: To truly address the problem of housing affordability we need to address all of the following:
Construction and Compliance cost
The types of dwellings that are best suited to meeting all of these criteria are more likely to be smaller, attached dwellings on brownfields sites well served by public transport and local community services and facilitated by a fast tracked consenting and funding programme.
Over the next week we’re going to try and focus a lot on the Unitary Plan – as the May 31st deadline for closing of submissions looms closer and closer. Given that the NZ Herald seems to have gone off the deep end in its complete misunderstanding of the planning system, while the Council doesn’t seem particularly effective at getting the message across, perhaps this focus can be constructive in looking at what’s worth supporting in the Unitary Plan and what should be amended to make the plan better. This posts picks up on a number of key points that we plan on making in our submission on the Unitary Plan: points that might be worth reiterating in your submission.
It is important to start by repeating that there are many good reasons to support the intent of the Draft Unitary Plan- the core purpose of it. In many ways the Unitary Plan will make perhaps the most important contribution to the Auckland Plan’s vision of making Auckland the world’s most liveable city – in the way it seeks to manage the tricky balance between making development easier (to ease affordability problems) but at the same time ensuring that development is good quality, in the right places and supported by necessary infrastructure. Critically, the Unitary Plan has taken the opportunity to not only bring together existing District and Regional Plans around Auckland, but also at the same time provide for a transformational shift in the future shape of Auckland in a way that supports the development strategy of the Auckland Plan. This bold approach is to be encouraged and must be maintained.
Key parts of the Unitary Plan we support include:
- Provision for ‘upzoning’ of land in a number of strategically important locations around Auckland. In particular, there appears to be good alignment between the zoning structure of the Unitary Plan and Auckland’s existing and future public transport network.
- The Unitary Plan includes robust assessment criteria to ensure that intensification is of a good quality. In particular the criteria relating to ensuring carparking does not dominate the streetscape are utterly essential in creating quality centres.
- The removal of minimum parking requirements in a number of zones gives effect to Directive 10.6 of the Auckland Plan and reflects growing international evidence that minimum parking requirements are perhaps the most critical planning rule that shapes urban form and transport outcomes.
- The removal of density controls in the Terraced Housing and Apartment Building zone, and the Mixed Use zone. Density controls undermine the ability to provide affordable housing by encouraging very large houses so developers can maximise their profit. Density often also has little to do with environmental outcomes as a single very large house can have greater effects than two or three much smaller houses.
Of course there are also a number of parts of the Unitary Plan that need improving. We’ll try to look at a number of these in detail over the next week but generally they are:
- In some locations it appears as though obvious opportunities for enabling intensification have been missed or the zoning is just illogical. We’ll try to pull together a reasonably comprehensive list of these but it’s worth scanning through the zoning maps to see whether anything “sticks out”. There’s a weird block of light industrial zoned land in the middle of Grafton, which seemingly obviously should be Mixed Use, for example.
- The urban land supply section of the Plan’s Regional Policy Statement needs to give clearer guidance in ensuring greenfield land is planned for appropriately and only released if absolutely required. There should also not be any ability to extend the rural urban boundary. While this might be overridden by the Auckland Housing Accord in the short term, in the longer term there’s likely to be a big risk of “hodge podge” sprawl randomly proposed in various parts of the new greenfield areas.
- There should be some variation in the future development potential of Metropolitan Centres based on their particular characteristics rather than blanket rules across all of these key centres.
- There should be the ability for some areas zoned Mixed Use to develop to a greater extent where the effects on surrounding communities would be minor and there is particularly good public transport access. Great North Road between Grey Lynn and town is a great example of this.
- The parking rules should be re-looked at quite extensively, including the removal of minimum parking requirements completely (particularly in the Mixed Housing zone).
- The Mixed Housing zone and Terraced Housing and Apartment Building (THAB) zone appear to be trying to do the job of three zones, with three-level fee-simple terraced housing (a typology with much potential in Auckland) being ‘squeezed out’. A third zone, specifically aimed at providing for that typology, is suggested. We’ll talk about this in more detail in a day or two.
Perhaps the one further thing yesterday’s Herald article highlighted is the need for the Unitary Plan to be clearer about what it does want and what it doesn’t want. It does seem weird that building anything in the THAB zone (which we obviously want to happen) requires the same level of consent as breaching a height limit (which we probably don’t want to happen 95% of the time).
Please add your suggestions for improvements, with reasons why in the comments and we’ll aim to generate a good crowd sourced submission.
The Auckland Plan’s development strategy highlighted 10 metropolitan centres across Auckland: Albany (emerging), Takapuna, Westgate (emerging), Henderson, New Lynn, Newmarket, Sylvia Park (emerging), Botany (emerging), Manukau and Papakura. They’re shown on the Auckland Plan map below:
The Unitary Plan’s job is to give effect to the Auckland Plan, so each centre has effectively become a “zone” – with rules applied to those centres. If we look at New Lynn, for example, we can see that it’s actually just the “core” part of the centre (the pink/purple striped area) which is given that zone – the same thing is repeated across all the metropolitan centres:While in places like New Lynn the 18 storey height limit seems pretty appropriate, and it’s a sensible limit as development of around that height is currently proposed, I think it’s a valid question as to whether this somewhat arbitrary number makes sense across each and every one of the ten metropolitan centres.
For example, in Takapuna and Newmarket 18 levels seems potentially a bit too limiting – both are places where you could have market demand for higher, where in some selected locations higher buildings might be appropriate and are also very well developed centres in terms of the existing amenities available. At the other end of the scale, in places like Papakura, Botany or Westgate, 18 levels seems light-years away from what’s likely to occur in these areas for quite a long time and would be extremely different to what’s in those locations at the moment.
Furthermore, I think it’s also questionable whether the entire centre should have the same height limit. If we look at somewhere like Takapuna, there’s part of the Metropolitan Centre zone which is pretty close to the beach – where it might be desirable to have a lower height limit and avoid the buildings shading the beach in the afternoon sun, but then areas further to the west where higher limits than 18 levels would be appropriate:What seems to potentially be behind a bit of the angst over the Unitary Plan at the moment is a feeling that it’s a little bit too “one size fits all” in its approach – not quite nuanced enough to take into consideration the often subtle variations across different parts of Auckland. Of course there are advantages that come out of a greater level of simplicity and uniformity in terms of making the planning documents easier to understand, plus a more consistent planning framework across Auckland is one of the key drivers behind the Unitary Plan replacing the myriad of old plans.
But overall it does seem that perhaps this drive for simplicity has perhaps gone a bit too far. Takapuna and Newmarket do seem fundamentally different to Botany or Papakura – and perhaps always will be. Similarly, some bits of the Metropolitan Centres seem like they’re likely to be suitable for greater levels of intensity than other parts. A more nuanced approach doesn’t necessarily mean winding back on the proposed zoning of the Unitary Plan – it might well mean greater levels of intensity are possible in places like Newmarket and the western parts of Takapuna, to balance out lower levels elsewhere. Because ultimately I don’t think all Metropolitan Centres are created equal in terms of their suitability for growth, just as not all areas within each centre is equally suitable.