A fantastic Harbour in a vigourous climate and out of reach for people for many years, but now a really great series of different toned places. Urban and wild; industrial and recreational; gastronomic and cultural; contemporary and faithful to its past. A very real role model for Auckland as our more benign version is still nowhere near as accessible nor as integrated into the city as Wellington’s is now.
Just one small section, note how a commercial and retail building is right there surrounded by great and varied public realm improvements. Total and free access all around the commercial users. Proper mixed use, and indeed used by the full mix of society.
Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.
Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew
Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there. No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.
Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canal, is still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.
Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908
The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.
These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.
And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.
The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.
Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963
QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:
Then just general traffic:
CPO Lower Queen
Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:
The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.
Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.
Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.
It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.
This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.
So the plan is a good one:
1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances
2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]
3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square
4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces
All at the cost of the current QEII Square.
However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.
Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.
This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.
Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:
Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre
Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France
This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.
Peter’s post this morning (written a few days ago) seems extra timely considering news out yesterday about the latest inquiry the government has set for the Productivity Commission. The inquiry is to look at how local authorities regulate to make land available for housing.
The Government has asked the Productivity Commission to investigate ways to improve the way local authorities regulate to make land available for housing.
In 2012 the Productivity Commission completed an inquiry into housing affordability. This new inquiry will build on the 2012 inquiry, focusing on improving the supply and development capacity of land for housing in New Zealand cities, especially in areas of high population growth.
The Commission has been asked to examine and compare the rules and processes of local government to identify leading practices in planning and taking decisions about making land available for housing, and providing for necessary infrastructure. It has also been asked to look at models adopted by cities overseas that might provide valuable lessons for New Zealand.
“Our inquiry into housing affordability identified constraints on the supply of land as a major driver of New Zealand’s housing affordability problems. This new inquiry will delve deeper into how councils take decisions about making land available, as well as decisions about increasing the capacity for housing in existing urban areas through rules around such things as subdivision and intensive development”, said Commission Chair, Murray Sherwin.
“Capacity for more housing is not the single answer for housing affordability, but it is an essential component of a policy response, especially where demand for housing is outstripping supply.
“It is important that local authorities’ planning and development systems are working well to deliver an adequate supply of housing, while balancing the competing social, environmental and economic consequences of development. This inquiry will seek to identify which authorities are effective in making available enough land to meet demand, and have good processes that could be adopted by other authorities.
“We expect that the range of approaches used internationally and in New Zealand will provide valuable lessons for local authorities making decisions about land for housing”.
The terms of reference are now available below and anyone interested in the topic can subscribe to receive regular updates.
The Commission will begin the inquiry with the publication of an “issues paper” that will outline its proposed approach to this inquiry, the context for the inquiry, and a preliminary list of key questions to be addressed. The issues paper will seek submissions from all interested parties and be accompanied by consultation to gather a wide range of views and experience. The Commission’s final report to the Government is due on 30 September 2015.
The press release reads a bit like they are only going to be focused on opening up greenfield land so I hope the actual inquiry takes a more holistic look and also includes issues like land use restrictions e.g. minimum parking, height and density limits.
While it’s not likely I also think there should be a wider scope to look at the total costs of land use planning rather than just the cost and use of land and infrastructure. This should include the cost of providing other local and central government infrastructure, for example the cost of providing and running schools, emergency services, community facilities and a range of other services that should all be being taken in to account when making decisions about how land is zoned. Also let’s not forget one of the biggest costs imposed as a result of our land use planning and that’s transport costs which tend to be considerably higher in NZ than many other countries due to the dominance of private vehicles which his seeing people spending increasing amounts of their incomes on fuel.
As mentioned the next step above is for the commission to create a issues paper, we’ll be looking very closely at that once it has been produced.
This is a Guest Post by regular reader Warren Sanderson
Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg
What do these three cities have in common?
- In my view a real “sense of place”.
- Very efficient public transport systems
- They all had my wife and me as visitors in the month of July. We spent roughly a week reacquainting ourselves with each of these cities during our recent journey to the Baltic countries and northern Germany. For the record, not once in the six weeks we were away and touching eight northern European countries, did we travel in a private motor car. This was independent travel and our modes were bus, train, boat, river ferry boat, light rail, taxi (twice) and lots of walking.
Let’s have a look at transit in each of these cities in turn.
This city on Sweden’s west coast is smaller than Auckland with a metropolitan population of around one million. It was a pleasing city to visit without the hordes of tourists that plague some European destinations. It has an apartment culture in the inner city of mostly four or five storey buildings, but is still possible to see the church spires which I always find aesthetically most satisfying.
One of the advantages of having been born too long ago – and there aren’t many of them – is that it is easy to remember everything about Auckland’s trams because I travelled on every route at some stage.
Well – wow! Gothenburg still has a tramway system just like we had in Auckland until the 1950’s. And they all go through the centre of town and out to a suburb destination on the other side of town just like Auckland’s did. A point of difference though is that at the terminus end of the tracks Gothenburg has a large round turning circle so that the driver remains in the same cab, whereas in Auckland the driver switched poles, took his driving handle to the cab at the other end of the tram and commenced driving in the opposite direction from there.
Each Gothenburg route had a number prominently displayed plus the actual destination and it was very easy to ensure that one had boarded the correct tram.
I noted that both on week-days and at the week-end the two main streets were full of people, the remarkably quiet trams always appeared to enjoy excellent patronage and car traffic by comparison with Auckland was very light. It is also worth recording that in general the streets are quite wide and have room for a wide footpath each side, a bike lane each side, a single car lane each side and double tram tracks – sometimes these tracks are in the middle and sometimes on the side of the arterial route. When we caught a bus to Marstrand some 50 kilometres away, I noted that the tram tracks in the middle of a section of the road a little further out of town also served as a bus lane.
Like most European cities the Central Railway Station is a prominent feature. As well as the usual inter-city departure platforms, there a couple of substantial retail wings and a long covered bus station wing known as the Nils Ericson Terminal.
Intending pre-ticketed passengers queue at the appropriate gate number in the air-conditioned building and when the bus arrives, board it directly from the terminal rather like a modern airport. Seats are few within the Terminal.
Just across the street from the Central Station is the Nordstan Shopping Centre a very large shopping mall and beyond that the delightful city centre, pedestrian squares, covered market and parks.
It is evident that Gothenburg has a highly efficient transport hub, which not only serves commuters, but is integral to a vibrant retail, business and entertainment area. In addition there are time-tabled Gota River ferries serving a university precinct and other riverside locations.
Out of town I did not see a motorway with more than two lanes except on one occasion when the third lane was a bus only lane. They may have them but I didn’t see any. But I did see plenty of bikes – they are a very popular mode of transport.
As an important rail and road junction Hanover was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and this is reflected in the architecture which is obviously of post-war construction and in the main rather bland. As usual the Hauptbahnhof is prominent with a large and daytime busy Ernst August Platz in front of the main entrance. The façade of the Station is a post-war reconstruction of the old, but the interior is modern, busy and user-friendly with many shops.
They also have what they call trams but I would refer to as light rail. At some point they have dug up some of their now pedestrianized city streets to install the system, so to visit the Herrengarten we descended to a station under the main street, boarded the ‘tram’ and after a couple of stops at underground stations emerged on the surface and proceeded along the side of the arterial road to our destination, alighting at a raised safety zone complete with shelter. Apparently two out every three people in Hanover use these ‘trams’ every day.
If Hanover can build a tramway of 120 kilometres both underground and on the surface with a population of under 600,000 surely Auckland can build a three and a half kilometre City Rail – Come on National Government – get your priorities properly sorted!!
I must say that railed transit systems of any sort are very visitor user-friendly, even if you don’t speak the language. I never worry about mistakes – even if you go in the wrong direction or to the wrong destination, it is always easy to recover, just cross over and take next one back to where you came from. Bus routeing is less reassuring.
I really enjoyed revisiting The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, to give it its full title. With reunification it has recovered that part of its natural hinterland within the former East Germany. Its port has relocated and is massive. Brownfield sites mostly in central locations such as HafenCity (Harbour City) are being re-developed. The CBD was busy and vibrant on both week days and the week-end.
Trains to charming suburbs such as Blankenese [underlined in red below] worked well for us and ferries plying the Elbe are available. After a few years of stall the population is again growing and is officially recorded as 1,741,000 inhabitants.
What I really wanted to convey to readers is that I had the opportunity to pick up, from the splendid Rathaus, a booklet entitled:
‘GREEN, INCLUSIVE, GROWING CITY BY THE WATER – PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN HAMBURG’.
It has a foreword by Jutta Blankau, Senator for Urban Development. This is really the approved vision for Hamburg. It is well illustrated and surprisingly was available in both German and English. Overview here.
What follows are some bullet points I have selected and uplifted from various sections of the document;
- More City in the City
- Internal Development Before Expansion
- Good Quality Open Space Even As The City Becomes More Compact
- People Are Already Increasing Their Use Of Street Space And Public Squares
- Hamburg Will Not Become A City Of High Rises – The Ideal Height For Urban Density Is Six To Seven Floors
- When The Port Operations Were Moved To Their New Location Hamburg Is Accepting The Challenge To Create New Residential Areas, Work Places And Attractive Places
- Improving Urban Quality Including – Constructing a new S4 Train Line to the East of Hamburg.
- Roofing Over A7 Motorway Cuttings to Reconnect Severed Parts of the City in the West.
Now some points uplifted from the section entitled: Mobility – From Owning To Using:
- The car is losing its importance as a status symbol
- Various modes of transport are to converge and link up at mobility service points in order to make private travel superfluous
- Hamburg must not be allowed to lag behind comparable big cities which are considerably expending their Metro systems
And the most interesting of all the statements under this heading of Mobility –
“ The core conflict in the town planning debate of the last century – the battle between car friendliness and urban life in the city – is now drawing to a close. The city of the future will be liveable and allow mobility also.”
This is a significant (and not necessarily recent) attitudinal change for a major city in a country in which the export of motor vehicles plays such an important role in foreign exchange earnings. Regretfully and on this basis, our current National government’s thinking hasn’t moved into the 21st century and in New Zealand we are stuck with poorly targeted and excessive spending on the single mode of of roading and particularly duplicate roading, and motorway expansion. The direction being taken by other civic jurisdictions is clear and well elucidated in the document from Hamburg.
Far and away, Auckland will be New Zealand’s only international city. The trends and evidence in support of more balanced urban mobility options for a city like Auckland are abundantly clear.
The Transport Blog has been carefully analysing and presenting researched factual data in support of changed transport policies for some years now.
For the sake of those who live in Auckland now, and who will live in Auckland in the future, it is time to demand that the Government accept the necessary mindset change and as a first step, provide their share of the finance for the early construction of the City Rail Link.
Edit: Just to be clear, the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek. But the point of the post – that poorly thought out policies can have unintended consequences – is very serious.
The Auckland City Harbour News reports that a new cafe in Grey Lynn has drawn stiff opposition from the locals:
Concerned residents are saying a big “no” to a proposed cafe at The Little Grocer site.
The fate of the Grey Lynn property at 311 Richmond Rd will be decided by a panel of independent commissioners after Auckland Council received 62 submissions opposing the application.
Christchurch-based Hummingbird Coffee is proposing to convert the current retail property on the corner of Richmond Rd and Peel St into a 60-seat licensed cafe which will operate from 6.30am to 6pm, seven days a week.
Surrounding residents fear an increase in traffic, parking shortage and the noise and unpleasant smells from coffee roasting.
Let’s put aside, for a moment, the whole debate over whether or not homeowners should be able to impose on their neighbours’ property rights. Let’s consider what would happen to the economy if we all exhibited such reflexive opposition to any changes to our neighbourhoods.
First of all, it would probably stifle the competitiveness of Auckland’s retail sector. Banning one new cafe from opening might seem like a minor thing – but if people organised in opposition to every new coffeeshop it would give existing businesses a monopoly. Queues for morning flat whites would run out the doors, and prices would skyrocket.
If we did the same thing with, say, supermarkets or DIY shops, we’d all end up paying higher prices for lower-quality goods. Of course, deep-pocketed companies would be able to foot the bill to fight the court battles, but they’d have to pass on those costs to consumers. And, ultimately, it would result in a retail environment where McDonalds and Countdown could squeeze out their independent competition.
Second of all, if it’s this hard to get a cafe started, imagine how difficult it would be to open a new factory or warehouse. Auckland’s blue-collar economy would slowly gurgle down the tubes as the red tape imposed by residents associations forced businesses out to China or the Waikato instead. And when the blue-collar jobs went, there’d be increasing pressure for the white-collar jobs that go alongside them – from R&D to design to logistics t0 head offices – to follow.
Third, supply of new housing would slow to a trickle as existing residents would picket every attempt to build a new block of flats or subdivide a residential lot. New Aucklanders looking for housing would be forced out to the fringes, raising their housing and transport costs while offering them less amenity and fewer job opportunities. To add insult to injury, residential opposition to every new bus lane, rail line, bike path, or road widening would result in steadily increasing congestion and no opportunities to avoid it.
However, there is a bright spot in the nightmare scenario created by an effective ban on changing anything in Auckland. House prices would eventually fall to a more sensible level, as the crippled Auckland economy failed to attract new migrants and retain young Aucklanders. But that wouldn’t exactly be in the best interests of the residents associations either…
This is the just completed Merchant Quarter in New Lynn, designed by Jasmax, it offers one bedroom freehold apartments from around 250k, as well as larger ones. I believe the new owners are about to move in.
Merchant Quarter is step along the way of the planned revitalisation of New Lynn metropolitan centre begun by Waitakere City Council and continued by Auckland Council. A process to transform a declining and depressed area into a vibrant and more successful contributor to the city as a whole. The apartment tower itself is a privately funded development, the Council, with AT, NZTA, and the [previous] government through Project Dart have invested in the massive transport changes at New Lynn and now it is up to the private sector to develop the built environment. The Council have also invested in the public realm with both streetscape upgrades and open space. Below is a small urban park with works by Peter Lange referencing the area’s long history of brick making.
The plan aims to enable the addition of 20,000 new residents to the wider area by 2031. And right now, apart from the train and bus station, it is pretty empty; it’s not hard to see how ready New Lynn is for thousands more people and what a powerful economic transformation they will bring.
The new apartment building sits directly above a multi level carpark and is connected to a large medical centre by air bridge. It is also, of course, directly adjacent to the New Lynn Train and Bus Interchange Station:
Above is a view of the apartment building from the Train Station. On the other side is the New Lynn Library and of course all the retail glories of LynnMall. Below shows the Medical Centre. At the ground floor spaces are all activated and open to the street with retail.
So not only are the dwellings affordable here but clearly so are their occupants’ likely transport needs. And importantly, this comes with a rich abundance of movement options. The people who choose to live here can buy or rent car parks in their building, and for any experience or service not within an easy walk, they have a huge range of increasingly higher quality movement options. This type of living choice will score very highly not only for walkability but also by any Housing/Transport affordability metric.
This is a very good and important addition to the mix of dwelling options for Auckland. It will not suit everyone just as detached houses at the end of a long drive does not suit everyone, and nor does it need to. It is great at last to see the market being able to diversify beyond the monotony of ever more distant new greenfields developments.
Just as important are the considerable efforts by all parties here to provide as high quality features as possible for the lower end of the market. In recent decades this has been a segment that no one has properly addressed; we have either built luxurious but expensive apartments or cheap and nasty ones. Both types are clearly visible in the central city. It is really important that the both the Council and the private sector close the door on that regrettable chapter, and find way to insist on and enable higher quality at all market segments.
The next stage is for duplex terrace-house style dwellings directly on top of the corten steel clad carpark building. These seem to me a rather strange conflation of the suburban and the urban, rather curiously suspended in space, but I guess that’s one way to deal with such an enormous carpark? They will however provide yet more dwelling variety and with all of the locational advantages of the adjacent apartments.
Update. It seems the internal layout has not worked that well for some. One buyer (only) has apparently objected to a column placement, claiming they didn’t know about it. Gleefully reported in the Herald. We’re sure to hear more on this, I hope it gets resolved.
Several weeks ago I attended the annual New Zealand Association of Economists conference in Auckland. Geoff Cooper, Auckland Council’s Chief Economist, had organised several sessions on urban issues, and as a result there was a lot of excellent discussion of urban issues and Auckland’s housing market. You can see the full conference programme and some papers here.
At the conference, I presented some new research on housing and transport costs in New Zealand’s main urban areas. My working paper, enticingly entitled Location Affordability in New Zealand Cities: An Intra-Urban and Comparative Perspective, can be read in full here (pdf). Before I discuss the results, I’d like to thank my employer, MRCagney, for giving me the time and the data to write the paper, along with several of my colleagues for help with the analysis, and Geoff Cooper for suggesting the topic and providing helpful feedback along the way.
The aim of the paper was to provide broader and more meaningful estimates of location affordability that take into account all costs faced by households. In my view, widely-reported sources such as Massey University’s Home Affordability Report have too narrow a focus, looking only at house prices. However, a range of research has found that transport costs vary between different locations depending upon a range of factors such as urban form, availability of transport, and accessibility to jobs and services. And transport costs are pretty large for many households!
I used two methods to provide a more comprehensive estimate of location affordability in Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury. First, I used Census 2013 data to estimate household housing, car ownership, and commute spending at a detailed area level within each of the three regions. This allowed me to estimate variations in affordability between areas within individual regions. Second, I used household budget survey data to get a sense of how New Zealand cities stack up against other New World cities.
My main findings were as follows:
- First, rents (a proxy measure for housing costs) tended to fall with distance from the city centre. However, commute costs tended to rise with distance – meaning that outlying areas were less affordable for residents once all costs are included. This was consistent with previous work on location affordability in New Zealand and the United States.
- Second, international comparisons suggest that Auckland and Wellington have relatively high housing costs and that this may be driving some of the affordability findings. While this finding lines up with previous research that’s focused on house prices alone, it’s important to note that the location affordability estimates suggest that a focus on greenfields growth alone may not save households money.
- Third, while I didn’t identify any specific policy recommendations, I’d recommend that (a) policymakers should consider all location-related costs when attempting to address affordability for households and that (b) further research should focus on removing barriers to increasing the supply of dwellings in relatively accessible areas.
And now for some pictures.
These maps show two measures of location affordability within Auckland. The left-hand map shows estimated housing costs (i.e. rents) as a share of median household incomes at a detailed area level. Broadly speaking, this map shows that expected housing costs fall between 20% and 30% of household income in most of the city, although some areas are relatively less affordable.
The right-hand map, on the other hand, incorporates expected car ownership and commute costs. Overall location affordability is lower throughout the city. Expected housing and transport costs rise to 40-50% in areas of west and south Auckland, as well as the entire Whangaparoa Peninsula. The most affordable areas for their residents tend to be in Auckland’s inner isthmus suburbs.
(Click to enlarge)
I’ve also combined this data into a graph that presents location affordability by distance from Auckland’s city centre. The bottom (blue) line shows housing costs as a share of median household income, weighted across all area units within each 2-kilometre concentric circle radiating outwards from the city centre. It shows that, on average, households spend a similar share of their overall income on housing costs in both close-in and outlying suburbs.
The top (red) line shows that combined housing, car ownership, and commute costs increase as a share of household incomes with increasing distance from the city centre. On average, households that live further out of Auckland spend more on location-related costs, as lower lower rents are offset by added commute costs.
The results for Wellington and Christchurch were broadly similar – although with a few interesting differences related to their urban form and transport choices. However, as this is the Auckland Transport Blog, I’m going to suggest that you read the paper to see those results. It’s long, but it also presents a lot of new data on housing and transport costs in New Zealand.
This blog has often written about Auckland’s 1950s-era motorway development plan, which transformed the city in fundamental ways. New Zealand painter Robert Ellis was one of the first to grasp the significance and character of that transformation. His Motorway/City series, painted in the 1960s and 1970s, shows roads invading and dividing urban space. (As they proceeded to do in real life.)
The Auckland City Gallery is about to host an exhibition of Ellis’s paintings that will run from 9 August 2014 to 15 March 2015. From the press release:
Opening on Saturday 9 August at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Robert Ellis: Turangawaewae | A Place to Stand is the first solo exhibition in a public museum by senior Auckland artist, Robert Ellis in his ‘hometown’. Including many of his most important paintings, the exhibition will present Turangawaewae Maehe 1983, painted in 1983, a gift from the Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery to mark their 60th anniversary this year.
‘Together with Auckland artists Colin McCahon, Milan Mrkusich, Pat Hanly and Gretchen Albrecht, Ellis is nationally regarded for producing ambitious paintings on a large scale,’ says Auckland Art Gallery Senior Curator New Zealand and Pacific Art, Ron Brownson. ‘As a major figure, Ellis’ art addresses many cultural issues. His subjects range over tensions between transport and urbanism, contrast ecology with spirituality and look at the on-going nature of Māori-Pākehā relations.’
Here’s one of the more well-known works from Ellis’s Motorway/City series, which can usually be seen in the City Gallery:
Now, I’m an economist rather than an art historian, but Ellis’s vision of the city seemed to be something new in New Zealand art. New Zealand artists had not tended to focus on cities – think of all the attention Colin McCahon lavished on New Zealand landscapes – and when they did, it was to present vague, idealised scenes. Ellis was different. He showed the city in the process of expanding and mutating, and in the process creating a different New Zealand.
Here’s number 15 from the Motorway/City series. It contrasts New Zealand’s stereotypically bucolic rural space (below) with the encroaching city (above). The latter is dynamic, disordered, vaguely sinister. (What was it that Allan Ginsberg wrote about “Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone”…) And it is ceaselessly growing into the countryside.
In other paintings, Ellis depicts the city not as the invader of a rural landscape but as an invaded space. Motorway/City number 22, for example, appears to show an existing urban fabric, complete with a more or less rectilinear street grid, that has been overwritten by the smooth curves of the motorway. The pre-existing city has rendered incomprehensible in the process – notice how the lines of the motorway draw in your attention instead.
I’m often struck by how quickly artists and writers grasp emerging truths, especially when compared with technical experts of various stripes. Robert Ellis’s art was an especially prescient view of New Zealand cities – painted at a time when New Zealand had barely begun to think of itself as an urban country and when the promise of the motorway was still novel enough to be seductive. I highly recommend going to see the upcoming exhibition.
Transport networks and urban planning can have extremely long-lived effects on society, the economy, and the environment. The government’s decision to invest in an electrified commuter rail network for Wellington in the 1930s led to an early form of transit-oriented development in the region. Wellington’s post-war urban growth has been concentrated in areas served by rail lines – providing the region with long-lasting benefits.
In Auckland, of course, things were very different. After the role that rail played in Auckland’s early development, successive governments decided to:
And, of course, these years of refusal were coupled with a decision in the 1950s to invest heavily in a motorway network for the region. The Master Transportation Plan of the era contains some truly awe-inspiring concept designs, including an elevated Quay St motorway that would have doomed any chance of Auckland’s recent waterfront revival:
Leaving aside a few extremely white elephants, many elements of the plan are quite familiar to modern Aucklanders. The Southern and Northwestern Motorways and the Harbour Bridge were built, kicking off development booms in Manukau, the North Shore, and West Auckland. In a 2010 Policy Quarterly article, Andrew Coleman assessed the effects of motorway development in Auckland and the US, concluding that:
…transport infrastructure choices can have long-term and potentially irreversible effects on city form. A city that chooses to invest in roads rather than public transport infrastructure to improve its transport system is likely to reduce the efficiency of any subsequent public transport investments, by causing population and employment in the city to disperse widely over space. When making decisions to build roads, therefore, the city planners need to take into account the way roads affect the operation of subsequent transport infrastructure investment choices.
So it’s worth asking: Are we valuing future outcomes in the right way? In economese, this means asking about our “rate of time preference”, or the degree to which we value present-day outcomes over future outcomes.
A 2011 NZIER paper by Chris Parker provides a fairly accessible introduction to this topic. (Transportblog reviewed the paper when it originally came out.) Parker highlights how much of an effect different discount rates can have on our decisions about the future. As Figure 1 below shows, an 8% discount rate – recommended by the NZ Treasury – means that we place no weight on outcomes that occur 40 years in the future. (To put that in perspective, the average New Zealander lives twice as long as that. I certainly expect to be alive in 40 years!) A 3% discount rate, by comparison, means that we place a much higher value on outcomes that far in the future.
Last July, NZTA decided to lower its discount rate from 8% to 6%. This change means that transport evaluations now place a slightly greater weight on future outcomes than before. However, as NZTA’s documentation showed, we still discount the future to a much greater extent than countries like Germany (3% discount rate) and the UK (1% to 3.5%).
NZTA’s new discount rate might still be too high to properly account for the long-lived effect of infrastructure development on urban form. As we’ve seen, Auckland and Wellington are still benefitting from, or coping with, with the effects of investment decisions made 60 to 80 years in the past. Under current evaluation procedures, we wouldn’t have considered such long-lasting effects.
A new research paper by economists at the University of Chicago and New York University suggests that people place significant value on outcomes that occur dozens or even hundreds of years hence. The authors measure long-term discount rates using an innovative method that relies upon observing differences between the prices for freehold and leasehold houses in the UK and Singapore:
In Giglio, Maggiori and Stroebel (2014), we provide direct estimates of households’ discount rates for payments very far in the future, by studying the valuation of very long (but finite) assets. We exploit a unique feature of residential housing markets in the UK and Singapore, where property ownership takes the form of either very long-term leaseholds or freeholds. Leaseholds are temporary, pre-paid, and tradable ownership contracts with maturities ranging from 99 to 999 years, while freeholds are perpetual ownership contracts. The price discount for very long-term leaseholds relative to prices for otherwise similar properties that are traded as freeholds is informative about the implied discount rates of agents trading these housing assets. This allows us to gather information on discount rates much beyond the usual horizon of 20-30 years spanned by bond markets.
This analysis suggests that long-run discount rates are significantly lower than those we use for project evaluation – in the range of 2.6%. In other words, people making significant financial decisions today place some value on outcomes for future generations that they will never meet:
We use these estimated price discounts to back out the implied discount rate that households use to value cash flows to housing that arise more than 100 years from now. We find the discount rate for very long-run housing cash flows to be about 2.6% per year. Interestingly, we find similar implied discount rates in both the UK and in Singapore – two countries with very different institutional settings.
The authors suggest that their findings have implications for intergenerational fiscal policy and climate change policy. They’re also likely to have implications for the way we evaluate transport projects. Today’s planners should take care to preserve and improve transport options for future generations, rather than “locking in” a particular urban form.
Finally, with that in mind, it’s worth recalling the findings of the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study, which compared options for improving transport capacity to Auckland’s growing city centre. In Section 7 of the Technical Report, the authors found that when a longer evaluation period (60 years vs. 30 years) and a lower discount rate (5.7% vs. 8%) were used, the benefit-to-cost ratio of the City Rail Link almost doubled. In other words, the CRL looks even more valuable for Auckland if we take a longer-term view.
If our great-grandparents had decided to invest in Auckland’s rail system in the 1930s, we’d still be thanking them for it. Because they didn’t, though, we’re just getting around to electrifying Auckland’s rail network and still debating whether to build the CRL to unlock greater frequencies across the entire network. It is essential that we take a longer-term view on transport investments than we have previously done.
So, what’s your discount rate?
A few days ago I looked in depth into the locations of the Special Housing Areas that have been released so far, allowing for over 33,000 new houses. The locations of these are not spread evenly around the city, or evenly amongst the greenfield areas. Therefore this should cause the council and Auckland Transport to rethink some of their priorities for transport investment. Firstly this should give further impetus to the need for some important Congestion Free network projects, which will benefit existing areas and new developing areas.
There are nearly 9,000 dwellings to be built to the North-West of the city, in areas like Kumeu. This area is currently hopelessly served by public transport. For example it takes nearly 1.5 hours to get the bus into town at peak times, and on weekends it is not much better as bus operates a hopelessly windy route, diverting through Henderson on the way from Westgate to the City! The extra development planned adds extra emphasis to the case for the North-Western Busway, which would provide a very quick link from the North-West into the city. While some would call for a diesel rail shuttle to be provided, this has been investigated by Auckland Transport but found to be poor value for money. The busway would result in a much higher frequency and much faster services than the rail shuttle, which would take over an hour. The proposed frequent bus network only shows 15 minute frequency to Westgate, however the scale of development should mean the frequent service should soon be extended to Kumeu and Huapai. The developments in this area are likely to be low density, so sites for several park and ride stations need to be investigated. These types fringe areas are the right type of areas to expand park and ride, not valuable urban sites. The busway would not just benefit new developments, but also existing suburbs along the North-Western like Massey and Te Atatu.
This 9000 houses also covers areas like Hobsonville and Whenuapai. Again the only route between the North-West and the North-Shore is an infrequent and wandering service that takes well over an hour for a 20 minute car journey. The new network offers some improvement, with a slightly more direct service, however still designed for local traffic rather than trips between West Auckland and the North Shore. This is where the Upper Harbour busway we proposed in our Congestion Free Network comes in. This will also be useful for people living in the Kumeu and Westgate areas as not all these people will be working or want to travel to the CBD, so quality links to centres in the North Shore are important too. Again the form of development is likely to mean that several busway stations with park and ride will also be required at the major motorway interchanges.
Through the southern corridor over 4800 dwellings will be built. 2200 of these are in the Addison area, which hugely strengthens the case for the Addison station that has long been proposed to serve that growing area. Another 1800 of these are in the Franklin area, which further builds the case to ensure the electrification extension to Pukekohe proceeds soon. 1000 of these are at a totally new greenfield site as Wesley, north of Paerata. As this is 5km north of Pukekohe a new station at Paerata/Wesley should proceed here with some urgency.
The 5000 dwellings to be built in the Flat Bush area will further add to congestion is the already car dependent south-eastern suburbs. While Flat Bush is in an awkward location in relation to potential rapid transit routes, the Te Irirangi Drive busway would help connect residents to the closest centre of Manukau with its brand new station and tertiary institute, and also to the mall at Botany.
The need to invest in transport projects which benefit these areas, should also show the need to rethink lower value projects across the city. First of all there are less than 900 dwellings north of the existing urban area at Albany, and these are at Silverdale. Note that means there are none on Whangaparoa Peninsular, Warkworth or Wellsford. First on the deferral list should be Penlink, which has a very high cost, high environmental impacts and low economic and transport benefits. It is difficult to see why this project should proceed when there is little growth in the area. A few extra ferries to the city seem like a much better idea to improve transport for people of this area. Deferring Penlink would free up $200 million to spend on much more high value projects. The lack of new development north of Orewa is yet further ammunition against the need for the Puhoi – Warkworth Highway to proceed. The $760 million required for the project should be reallocated by the government to serve areas of Auckland that are actually growing, rather than further delaying or canceling important infrastructure like busways. Across the city there are various other low value roading projects than should be deferred or downsized to free up money for more transformational public transport investment.