There were quite a few transport related stories from around the Internet that caught my attention yesterday that I thought readers might like. Here is a summary of them
Truck Blind Spot
This video comes from Transport for London showing the blind spot of a truck
Stupid Scaremongering on the Shore
Some locals on the North Shore are trying to drum up fear about four storey buildings (note: that is not high rise) being built by Ngati Whatua
People on a North Shore street where up to 100 new residences could rise are worried about building height and traffic issues and want the community to rein in the developers.
A flyer distributed along Ngataringa Rd asked locals if they knew three- and four-storey apartment blocks could rise on the empty Wakakura block owned by Ngati Whatua o Orakei above Ngataringa Bay.
Flyer writer and resident Petra Heemskerk wants people to try to stop the intensive housing estate because buildings up to four levels or 14.5m could rise in the centre of the site, up to three storeys or 11m along Ngataringa Rd and up to 8m or two storeys alongside the Lake Rd and Wakakura Cres ends of the site.
“The issue is not the development of the site in itself. I think it is fair to say that most residents here are not opposed to the land being developed,” she said.
“The issue is intensive development. The streets near Wakakura Cres are all dead-end streets with one- or two-storey houses and it is hard to see how apartment blocks will fit in with the character of the neighbouring area.”
Only problem is the stupid residents haven’t bothered to check what’s allowed there and the Unitary Plan pretty clearly lists the site as Mixed Housing Suburban which limits buildings to two storeys in height
A 3d version of Streetmix
You remember streetmix right? this guy is building a something similar but in 3d. It’s fairly limited at this stage but hopefully he is able to give a lot more options as would be superb to use to help show how we can make out cities better.
I must say, I’ve long wondered why we can’t use some of the technology employed to make games to help better visualise making out city better.
A Stroll Around the World
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek is taking on a pretty epic journey, he’s retracing the paths taken by the first humans as they colonised the world and over a 7 year period is walking from Cape Horn in Africa to Tierra del Fuego in South America. In this piece in the New York Times he writes about it and his observations about how we view and interact with the world when behind the wheel of a car, something he calls Car Brain.
“Why did you leave the road?” one Saudi friend asked me, puzzled, when I improvised an obvious shortcut across a mountain range. “The highway is always straighter.”
To him, the earth’s surface beyond the pavement was simply a moving tableau — a gauzy, unreal backdrop for his high-speed travel. He was spatially crippled. The writer Rebecca Solnit nails this mind-set perfectly in her book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking”: “In a sense the car has become a prosthetic, and though prosthetics are usually for injured or missing limbs, the auto-prosthetic is for a conceptually impaired body or a body impaired by the creation of a world that is no longer human in scale.”
I just call it Car Brain
Cocooned inside a bubble of loud noise and a tonnage of steel, members of the internal combustion tribe tend to adopt ownership of all consumable space. They roar too close. They squint with curiosity out of the privacy of their cars as if they themselves were invisible. In Saudi Arabia, this sometimes meant a total loss of privacy as Bedouins in pickups, soldiers in S.U.V.’s and curiosity seekers in sedans circled my desert camps as if visiting an open-air zoo, gaping at the novelty of a man on foot with two cargo camels. Other motorists steered next to my elbow for hundreds of yards, interrogating me through a rolled-down car window. (Not to pick on Saudi Arabia, which is no worse than any other Car Brain society, but exactly one driver in 700 miles of walking in the kingdom bothered to park and stroll along for a while.)
The whole thing is definitely worth a read. The Atlantic Cities piece on the article is quite good too.
You know things are really auto-dependant when….
Two stories from different parts of Tennessee:
The first a dad who walked to pick his kids up from school gets arrested for refusing to wait in a line of cars.
And the second a lady is being threatened with legal action by the council for letting her grandchildren ride their bikes on a quiet residential street.
Charlotte Mayor Bill Davis said it was “absolutely” true that in Charlotte kids can’t ride their bike on roads owned by the town; a resolution passed by the town in 2003 states that no one can “ride an all terrain vehicle, skateboard, roller blades, and roller skates or conduct similar activities on the city streets, in the city park or on the Court Square of Charlotte.”
A law that doesn’t allow children to play outside on rollerblades, skateboards or bicycles interferes with basic play, according to Mathis, who said she was “stunned” when she got the letter from the city. Mathis has lived on Old Columbia Road in Charlotte for 13 years, the first she’s heard of illegal biking.
And even though bikes are not included specifically, Davis said it’s implied in the language “similar activities.”
To both of those cases I just thing Wow
One can’t help but feel that the debate over the Unitary Plan overlooked one very important question: Should we look to increase the minimum car size in Auckland? We suggest that Auckland Council should act now to protect the Kiwi way of life and stop unscrupulous vehicle investors from crushing their traditional family cars and downsizing to “shoebox” hatchbacks, even if it leaves them better off.
Such vehicle down-sizing is, obviously, “anti-family” for anyone else who may, at some point in the future, unwittingly decide to steal and/or buy the shoebox hatchback.
International experience states that the minimum standard vehicle size should be four seats plus 3m3 of luggage space for a sedan or station wagon, and five seats plus 5m3 luggage space for all other vehicles. Leather interiors, heated seats and drop down DVD players are considered the minimum acceptable standard overseas, and these are all features of large cars. For this reason we suggest that hatchbacks, two doors, two-seater cars with small boots, and motorcycles are given “non-complying” activity status, and banned from all areas – except small parts of the CBD where immigrants live.
This minimum car size would ensure the average kiwi family could choose any car in the city to load up for a family barbeque. Peer-reviewed research has conclusively demonstrated that BBQs are in intrinsic part of every Aucklanders lifestyle. Making small cars non-complying would ensure that everyone has access to this default lifestyle, and this lifestyle only.
This from the Council’s Unitary Plan website:
We want Auckland’s new cars to help make the city more attractive, and for future generations to look back with pride on the vehicles from this time. The feedback we’ve had from a number of people (n = 7) that Aucklanders don’t oppose cars … they simply oppose small cars. And we agree. That’s why we need to set a minimum size, to prevent them being ugly. Yeah.
Our own survey of AC staff shows that large cars are enjoyed by families (n = 3) who have a longer-term connection to their city, because they are immobilised by the fear of disrupting their children’s lives. In Auckland we are committed to strengthening our communities and locking people down into family sized cars – we think it’s an essential part of creating the world’s most liveable city. We need big cars.
We agree. The recent history of cars in Auckland clearly demonstrates just how bad small cars can be. Cramped conditions, noisy, poor ventilation and bad access to natural light. Students drive them, especially international students, and we don’t really want them in our city. Quite obviously these issues are caused by the small size of the car, and making small cars illegal is the most obvious and logical way to solving these design issues.
Small, cheap, and nasty cars are also commonplace in slums. You can see them out rusting on the unmowed berms. We don’t like slums so the fact is a minimum car size is necessary to stop slums occurring.
Beyond the slum issue there are many other reasons for regulating minimum car sizes. Health and wellbeing is number one. We don’t have any research on this topic but of course everyone knows that small spaces are bad for your health, and a small car limits your ability to engage with the outdoors. Consider the psychological trauma of driving so close to the person next to you. I mean yuck, nobody could live a happy and healthy life with such “chicken coop” driving conditions.
That’s why we supply the Council enacting policies to safeguard people from injury or loss of amenity caused by inadequate vehicular activity space.
And the traffic. Smaller cars take up less space, which means more of them on the road at the same time. QED small cars equals more traffic! Preventing gridlock is another great reason for banning small cars. After all, it has been confirmed time and time again that gridlock costs Auckland one billion dollars p.a. Enacting a minimum vehicle size in Auckland would almost one billion dollars a year; it must be worth it – even if we have to trample on people’s freedom of choice in the meantime.
People who advocate small cars are obviously childless and hate families. Have they ever tried putting a toddler into a carseat in the back of a two door Corolla? How can you load up a Suzuki Swift with all the luggage for a family camping trip? It’s impossible, so we have to ban these sorts of vehicles to protect our families and our way of life. Of course some people don’t have families yet, but they will soon. The only appropriate way to live is with Mum, Dad and two or three kids. Every car needs to have enough room for a large family because people only every own one car their whole lives and we all have a family sooner or later. Changing cars to suit changing needs is simply not an option for any real New Zealanders. You only get one. Ever.
Do you want this for your children’s future?
Now some of you may say “but wait, small cars are affordable to buy and cheap to run, and some people only need a small car”.
Well you are wrong, it is a false economy. Real affordability isn’t about the purchase price or the running costs, it’s about the emotional value other people place on the car that you drive. Allowing our poorer citizens to cram themselves into tiny shoebox cars isn’t real affordability. Even those on a fixed budget deserve to be forced to pay for car-space. Really no one like us in their right mind would ever choose a compact affordable hatchback, so banning small cars won’t negatively affect anyone.
While I’ve never owned a small car or even been in one, I do have a number of friends who have small cars. And I can tell they want a bigger car. Who wouldn’t? I also read The Herald and I know the truth about small sized vehicles and the damage they do to society. I would never drive one, so nobody else should either. I don’t care what they say, we need to act now. Heavy regulation is essential to protect our freedom to enjoy our lifestyle without other people (usually immigrants) choosing what’s best for them.
Anyone who wants to let you purchase the right size of car for your needs in an open market is a freedom-hating socialist.
A couple of articles in the Herald the other day about caught my attention.
First up is this piece on the environment court proceedings in relation to the proposed residential development above the Milford mall. It seems like his is a battle that has been going on for forever and the article covers of the views of one long-time resident that appear to be fairly common in not just the Milford community but elsewhere – as we saw with the Unitary Plan. I’m going to give my views on some of the comments
The spectre of more than 500 people living in a cluster of towers rising up to 16 levels around the North Shore’s Milford Mall has dismayed an opponent.
William McCandless, a Milford resident since the 1950s, told the Environment Court on Tuesday that he was “gobsmacked” developer Milford Centre would propose 64m-high towers when the height trigger was only 11m.
“I am not comfortable with 500-plus new residents living on the same site as the shopping mall that is closed at night and in a town where there is no entertainment, sports fields, infrastructure or a police station to police them,” he said.
Bronwyn Carruthers for Milford Centre told the court the suburb was identified as a prime location for intensification, developing 250 units was appropriate and negative effects could be managed.
To me this highlights quite strongly one of the key issues with the debate about intensification and that is some see more people as just a problem, not an opportunity. Almost certainly the extra amenities that Mr McCandless quotes don’t exist due to there not being enough people in the area. The comment about the mall is especially intriguing as these residents will be living right on top of it so there is probably a much greater incentive for the mall to be open later. I do find the police station comment a bit odd though, it perhaps suggests a bias that he thinks the only people who would live in apartments are trouble makers. Moving on.
Mr McCandless said the apartment scheme contained nothing for the community and potential adverse effects were plainly obvious and would be significant.
Milford Centre is appealing against Auckland Council’s rejection of its plan.
Mr McCandless said if surrounding shore suburbs had many two- and three-level apartment buildings, he might be convinced of the need to go higher at Milford. But until then he could not see the need for such tall towers on the site.
“I definitely do not support the huge quantum leap to five, eight, 12 and 16-storey as proposed by this plan change,” he said, raising concerns about wind effects on houses nearby, the spectre of flooding and aesthetic issues.
“There will be significant adverse effects. Good Lord, it is 16, 12, eight and five-storey buildings crammed on to one allotment. You can’t screen such buildings out with 64m shrubs. Visible is visible as far as I am concerned, no matter what design it is,” he said, challenging the very concept of intensifying Milford, which he described as a flawed strategy.
“There are other ways of preventing traffic congestion and carbon pollution without giving up our business land and airspace above it,” he said, decrying residential uses for business land.
Once the area was rezoned, it was “gone for good” and so were the potential employment opportunities, he said.
The part that most intrigued me was the suggestion that if there were more low level apartments around the area that it might justify higher height limits in Milford. This is an issue as these types of developments have largely been prevented from being able to occur either because the zoning requirements that mandate single houses or that the zoning hasn’t been sufficient enough to make developments commercially viable i.e. a developer might need three or four storeys to be able to make a profit so if he is limited to two storeys there is no point in doing the development in the first place.
Sadly this will continue as the unitary plan primarily only allows for single houses or Mixed Housing Suburban, both of which still only have two storey height limits. There is a small amount of mixed housing urban in the town centre but I think there isn’t enough to make much difference. There really should have been some THAB in the area like what was originally proposed in the draft. In effect what Mr McCandless is saying is this development shouldn’t go ahead because there aren’t lower level developments in the area but then the local community have also prevented those from happening too. Further as I think Stu pointed on of his posts (can’t find it sorry), the more we restrict more widespread but lower level intensification, the higher and more concentrated any developments will have to be in areas that do allow intensification.
I think his comments also hint at another major issue that I have had in general with some of the arguments surrounding the Unitary Plan. I remember hearing both local board members and councillors talking about progressing upgrading to the city. By that I mean suggesting that they can zone an area for the two storeys Mixed Housing Suburban zone then upgrade it to the three storey Mixed Housing Urban later when needed. Same again in going up to the Terraced Housing and Apartment zone. The issue is that in market desirable areas the best development sites may still have some viability and so the developer will maximise what he can on a site. Once that happens the site (often split up) becomes unavailable for upgrading to a higher density as no developer is going to be able to afford to buy all of the properties and undo what has happened. As such it’s important that we get the zoning right based on how we want the city to look and feel in the future than getting a half arsed and compromised solution.
There are more images from their website however here is one of what one of the towers may look like.
The second article that caught my attention was this one which talks about the future of the city and how it may look with Ludo Campbell-Reid. The first part talks a lot about how the city may feel in the future
The Auckland City of the future is no Blade Runner fantasy, says Auckland Council’s urban design guru Ludo Campbell-Reid. It’s not all gleaming glass towers and sky-high elevators; technology and vertical living.
“That’s an unimaginable city, it’s an horrific city where people are part of the machinery,” he says. “I like a bit of chaos. Chaos is more exciting. People like intimate spaces. People like to walk. People want to see the church at the end of the road they are walking along. They want to see the city around them. They want the city to be about them. That Blade Runner type of modern city scares me.”
What is planned for Auckland over the next two to three decades is more Back to the Future than Brave New World, he says. A place where pedestrians and public transport rule. Where alleys and open spaces take precedence over cars. An inter-linking set of walkways lined with shops and restaurants, joining old and new city parks, creating people spaces above our motorway junctions and evolving a Kiwi urban lifestyle where residents can see the beautiful buildings and distinctive surroundings that give Auckland its character.
Difficult to imagine? The beginnings of this Auckland City of the future is around us now. Take the shared pedestrian/car spaces of Fort Lane and Elliott St. The family-centred parks and promenades of Wynyard Quarter, the rebuilt Auckland Art Gallery, Britomart and Te Wero bridge with its steps enticing children to dangle their toes into the Waitemata Harbour. Auckland City has been undergoing a transformation over the past seven years. Expect to see more of the same over the coming decades.
That sounds great but the reason why I’ve associated with the first article is the end of be next bit:
There are plans to transform the inner-city roads already housing whole communities into narrower traffic lanes with green spaces for children, such as Hobson St which is already home to 10,000 people. He would like to see a new downtown school, Quay St to become a tree-lined boulevard on the waterfront, with room for some cars and light rail heading up Queen St.
He points to the Vinegar Lane project, currently underway in Ponsonby, as a game-changer for urban living. Built with a supermarket below, surrounded by individually-designed terraced homes and apartments with rooftop gardens, courtyards and offices, it is a village of its own all in the same block.
“In many cities now the space above the ‘big box’ stores and supermarkets are filled with apartments. Those big retail stores need people in them, and we need space.”
In a way, malls are a kind of big box type development and building above them has a lot of potential which is exactly what is proposed to happen at Milford. While most of us probably aren’t huge fans of big box type developments they may end up being hugely important from a land-banking situation. Particularly if we can deal with the minimum parking requirements.
The comments about some of the changes in the CBD are very interesting too. Narrowing Hobson and Nelson St has been on our list for a while a downtown school will likely be needed with the increasing number of people choosing to live in the CBD. Catering for children in the city centre is probably going to be one of the most important and essential things we can do to make the area liveable for everybody.
As for Quay St, it has been talked about for a while now so surely it’s time for Auckland Transport to get some sort of design out to the community so they can see what’s planned. The comment suggests there will still be cars on the street and I don’t have too much problem with this providing AT reduce the number of lanes from what we currently have as we don’t need 6 -7 lanes (when you include medians and parking). Fewer lanes along with upgrades to make it easier for pedestrians to get around will make a huge world of difference to how people use and perceive the street.
As for both articles, let’s just get on with it.
The Herald today has a large amount of op-eds on what is being called Project Auckland which is looking at how Auckland is going to develop and as you would expect, housing and transport features very heavily. Op-eds include
Now I’m not going to comment on every single article but rather some of the general themes within them, although I will pick out a few individual comments that have annoyed me (as I seem to be in a grumpy mood today which is quite unusual).
The really positive thing about all of the pieces is that in general people think the city is heading in the right direction and considering how much has had to be done by the council over the last few years to merge all of the various council plans and policies together. Things could have easily gone quite wrong and so the council staff (from all organisations) and the politicians need to be congratulated for that.
Of course not everything has been plain sailing and there have been (and still are) a number of issues that haven’t been handled ideally. The Unitary Plan is one of those where the lack of clear enough information about what was proposed led to the development of groups like Auckland 2040 that used misinformation and scare tactics to oppose the plan. In the article about the Unitary Plan I wanted to highlight some of the positive comments in relation to it. First from Penny Hulse
“It’s not about cramming in another one million people but having timely infrastructure, so people moving here are not shocked by bad planning. If people don’t arrive as we thought, then the houses won’t get built as fast. That’s life.
“But we can’t let Auckland languish with a housing crisis, and we can’t let shoddy design continue and building take place in the wrong places,” she says. “I’m comfortable where we have got to in the Unitary Plan process, and we can keep building trust about the whole concept of intensification.
“There are huge benefits about being able to walk to the shops and work, and live in a vibrant community. Some people see intensification as frightening but if it’s done well then it can be transformative.”
And from Chief Planning Officer, Roger Blakely
So the traffic problem is resolved within 30 years?
“Yes,” says Blakeley.
“We will have high quality, high frequency rail and bus services. We will have lots of dedicated cycling and walkways. They are more cost- effective than building more roads, and cars are an inefficient way of moving people around the city.
“The city rail link will be finished, and there will be rail to the airport and North Shore (via the second harbour crossing). Bus services will feed into the rail, and the Skypath on the existing harbour bridge will link up the cycling and walking network.
“The 1960s saw cars take over cities around the world with large freeways and parking lots. But the cities lost their human scale,” says Blakeley.
The residential plans are designed to bring a new face to Auckland. “We have to have a flexibility of choice in housing that meets different needs and different budgets. This need is with us now,” Blakeley says.
“Soon there will be more one or two person households than three persons plus – our present housing stock is not geared to meet that need. We need a mix of terraced and town houses, apartments and single houses on a section.”
Hear hear but how we get our transport agencies and the government to understand this is a different story. And this:
“What we noticed in the debate was the generational gap,” Blakeley says. “The older people who went to the meetings organised by Auckland 2040 objected loudly to the intensification.
“But the younger people who were active on social media wanted to live in a more intensified city – they wanted to experience the extra vibrancy that comes with that, including cultural, retail and recreational activity.
“We are talking about international best practice, here,” he says. “Vancouver has done it, and Copenhagen and Vienna are also following the quality, compact city strategy. As the Danish architect Jan Gehl (he’s an adviser to Auckland) said in his book Cities for People, ‘you can’t keep sprawling outwards’.”
Blakeley says “we saw a lot of Nimby (Not In My Backyard) during the Unitary Plan debate. I’m convinced that when more and more people see examples of housing development that embodies flexibility of choice, quality and affordability, they will become comfortable with the idea of intensification.”
He names developments by Hobsonville Land Company at Hobsonville Point and Ockham Investments at Kingsland, Ellerslie and Grey Lynn as examples of future living in Auckland. He says they have a range of sizes and types of housing, ensuring it’s quality at a price people can afford.
“We didn’t get all the intensification we hoped for in the proposed Unitary Plan this time, but it will be reviewed perhaps every five to 10 years, and there will be the opportunity to change the zoning of some areas.”
The generational issue is a serious one. Most of the older people who are objecting to the plan aren’t the ones who will be around in 30 years-time having to live with the outcomes of scaling back the Unitary Plan. We’ve also talked before about how the plan will need to be revisited in the future due to the downscaling that occurred. Once again Auckland 2040 has been allowed to spout a pile of rubbish in the article.
During the Unitary Plan debate, Takapuna neighbours Guy Haddleton and planner Richard Burton formed Auckland 2040 which finished up in an alliance with more than 70 residents’ associations and other groups, including Character Coalition.
Auckland 2040 was opposed to intensification in the suburbs.
Burton says Auckland 2040 “got 70 per cent of what we were after. The rest is detail in the Mixed Housing Suburban zone – that is still very intensive.
“Originally, the draft plan allowed unrestricted apartment building of three or four storeys over 56 per cent of the residential land in Auckland. That has come down to 15 per cent, and from that point of view there’s a degree of rational thinking in the council.
“Their desire is to focus higher intensity development around the town centres and along arterial routes, and I think that’s appropriate.”
Burton is concerned that rules for height to boundary, coverage and yards have been relaxed too much, particularly when they are applied to existing built-in neighbourhoods.
“They will have quite a significant impact – for instance, adjoining rear yards will be one metre each rather than 6 metres and there will be no room for plantings.
A couple of glaring errors in here, first 56% of the residential land in Auckland wasn’t allowed three or four storey apartment buildings, that figure was the amount of land covered by the centres, terraced house and apartment (THAB) zone and the Mixed Housing Zone (MHZ). The MHZ made up the vast majority of that and had a height limit of 8m which is roughly two storeys. Developers would only have been able to go above that with resource consent and even then only to 10m. As a result of the feedback the MHZ was split into two zones Urban (MHU) and Suburban (MHS).
The second major issue is the comment that backyards will be one metre from each other. While the rules for each of the Mixed Housing Zones have a 1m minimum setback on the sides and rear of a house, they also have a requirement for an outdoor living space off the main living area with set conditions i.e. if the living area is on the ground floor there has to be an area with a minimum of 20m² and no dimension less than 4m in length. So while there is technically a minimum of 1m other requirements also need to be taken into account to understand the full picture of what is proposed.
As mentioned the other major theme is transport and as we have come to expect from transport discussion in the city, most of the talk is about how we need to rapidly invest in infrastructure to “catch up”. However as Lester Levy notes, AT also need to improve the way it deals with it’s customer – us the general public.
The other half of the “walnut” essential to making Auckland’s transport system world-class is what I describe as the “software”. This is the mindset and culture within which Auckland Transport needs to deliver a customer-sensitive transport service, which means providing services that are characterised by precision (reliability and punctuality) and responsive service – we and our partners (the providers of our bus, ferry and train services) have much work to do in this area and I have made it my highest priority to finally get this fixed.
The HOP rollout has been dealt with shows we still have a long long way to go on this.
On the infrastructure side though there is a very clear push through quite a number of the pieces about the East-West Link. The project is one that came from obscurity to be ranked one of the most important in the region in The Auckland Plan a few years ago and there has been a strong indication that the council’s support of it was the price to pay for the business community supporting the CRL. It is now being moved well ahead of the CRL in the overall timeline and the government is expected to agree to a funding package for it next year despite there not having even been a business case completed for it yet, let alone a confirmed route – although I’m also hearing that option 4, the route that is the most destructive, most expensive and that has the least benefit for freight is the one that is now the front runner. It makes me wonder if all these mentions of it is part of a concerted effort to soften up the public on the need for it.
I also want to once again highlight one of my biggest bugbears of Auckland Transport underselling the benefits of the CRL.
CRL will mean Britomart becomes a through station, opening the way for 10-minute train services in peak times to Panmure, which in turn will be able to connect with more frequent feeder bus services to suburbs further to the east such as Pakuranga, Howick, Ti Rakau and Botany.
How many times to we have to remind AT that the frequency being talked about in the article is possible in the next year or two and that the CRL allows for double that i.e. 5 minute train services at peak times. It might not sound like that big of a deal but the way people perceive the difference between even 5 and 10 minute services can be quite substantial. The reason AT keep underselling it is they are afraid to promise anything in case they aren’t able to deliver it but they fail to realise that if they keep underselling the project then it risks losing public support.
As I said at the start, the good thing is that we are generally heading in the right direction but we do need some tweaks to get the best outcome.
Some of the houses in Renall St in Ponsonby. These would be impossible to build in the suburbs today, even with the Unitary Plan. Among probably many other reasons, the houses are on sections less than 200m², there is no setback from the boundary and there is no off street carparking. Yet due to their position on the site they actually have quite decent sized back yards, probably bigger and more usable than houses on sections twice their size.
Photos is copyright to Sydney
While in most areas it seems like the notified version of the Unitary Plan was a disappointingly watered down version of the March draft plan, in the area of parking it actually seems like the notified plan might generally be an improvement. Two important changes are:
- In the Mixed Housing Urban zone the minimum is only one space per unit, whereas 2 spaces per unit were required for anything of two or more bedrooms in the March draft’s Mixed Housing zone.
- In the Mixed Housing Suburban zone the “two spaces per unit” requirement only kicks in for dwellings or three or more bedrooms, rather than two or more bedrooms.
In the Mixed Housing Urban zone maximums have also been applied, which is potentially quite useful although not as important as simply the removal of minimums.
However, throughout the parking controls section of the Unitary Plan there are still some weirdly precise controls over parking requirements – especially for business activities in areas outside centres zones. An example below:
What particularly caught my attention was the requirement for Taverns to provide at least one space per 20 square metres of floor area. Of course many Taverns will be located in centres and therefore subject to a maximum parking restriction rather than a minimum, but I’m sure many will end up in the zones where minimums apply (zones other than centres, THAB and Mixed Use zone).
One of the reasons why we tend to dislike parking minimums is that they provide a significant subsidy to those who choose to drive. Parking is a cost to provide (because it uses up space that could be used for something else plus the physical costs of construction) but it isn’t paid for by the people who use it – it’s paid for by everyone who buys something from the Tavern. This effectively means that people who drive to the Tavern are being subsidised by those who don’t – a pretty weird outcome.
In previous discussions about parking minimums for Taverns it has been pointed out that the parking might be more for staff, rather than for customers. However, the rules above require a greater amount of parking per square metre for Taverns (1:20 m2) than for other kinds of retail – including other food and beverage retail activities (1: 25m2). In other words, a 500 m2 Tavern will be required to provide 25 carparks while a 500 m2 restaurant next door would only need to provide 20 spaces.
This all leaves me with two questions:
- Where on earth do these numbers come from and why are they so illogical?
- Why is the Unitary Plan effectively encouraging people to drive to Taverns to drink by requiring the provision of so much parking?
Even more weirdly, in areas where parking maximums apply they are more restrictive for Taverns than for other retail activities.
Former City of Vancouver Chief Planner Brent Toderian was in Auckland last week and spoke at a very well attended Auckland Conversations event on a range of planning issues that Auckland has much to learn from. We will elaborate on some of the key messages for Auckland coming out of this event during the next week, but for now here’s a different presentation given by Brent back in 2012 which touches on many of the same issues:
While the Unitary Plan does enable some level of increased intensification and certainly places a far greater emphasis on requiring good urban design, the jury is probably still out on whether it truly enables the future that Auckland desperately requires.
Most regular readers will probably know that I haven’t been all that impressed with the stupid berm debate that cropped up a month or so ago. I said at the time of my post on the subject that it would be the one and only post on the matter and that is still the case however I do want to pick up on a comment made in the article today about the issue as it relates to the Unitary Plan rather than the berms as such. The part in bold is the bit that really caught my attention.
But Waitemata councillor Mike Lee, one of three from areas of the old Auckland City who opposed the decision, said the council should not take the findings as vindication of it.
He said the council should heed discontent from the central district, where residents’ rates had paid for berms to be mowed, given that it was earmarked for the greatest intensification. “It would seem the council is relying on people in intensified housing to go out and buy a lawnmower to mow the berm that the council owns,” he said.
To me this shows that either Mike hasn’t actually read the plan or that he is trying to score political points over it. Sure there will be intensification in the CBD and perhaps some in the fringe suburbs but they don’t tend to have berms anyway. For the rest of the isthmus area there is very little intensification allowed for other than a few patches around town centres in the lower value areas. Almost all of the isthmus area has been locked in amber as what exists today by either imposing the single house or mixed house suburban zone thus preventing intensification. This was scaled back from the earlier draft.
Here is the legend
If Mike really wants to see the area that has been zoned for the huge intensification looks like then he should look to the west which has been zoned mostly Mixed Housing Urban or Terraced Housing and Apartments.
Oh and I doubt any of the people out west are also whinging about berms.
The Unitary Plan is definitely far from perfect but is a start in setting out how the city will develop in the future. I say a start as we will likely to need to be revisit the plan in a few years time to allow for more development as in the current version much of the city suffered the fate of elected representatives getting nervous and trying to appease the NIMBYs as the local body elections loomed (with the exception of the West Auckland local boards who thankfully went the opposite way). This was a point also made by Patrick Fontein at an event I attended a month ago at Construkt.
One of the biggest issues facing the plan is that it contains lots of technical details that most of the general public are simply not going to be interested enough to read about it. So for most the only experience of the plan has been the largely boiled down sound bites from the likes of Bernard Orsman which amounted to scaremongering that massive apartment buildings were about to sprout out of the ground like grass on berms after a few weeks of uncut spring growth.
So yesterday it was interesting to see Herald have run a poll about the unitary plan however in typical herald fashion they have completely misrepresented the results.
A sizeable section of Aucklanders appear to prefer more urban sprawl to higher buildings, despite Mayor Len Brown’s goal of a compact city.
A Herald-DigiPoll survey of 500 people has found more of them deeming the proposed Unitary Plan rule-book unnecessary than those prepared to give unqualified support to more multi-storey buildings and smaller average section sizes.
Only 18.3 per cent believe the plan is the best way to deal with population growth, and will make Auckland a better place to live.
That compares with 28 per cent who said the plan was unnecessary, and that the Auckland Council should let the city grow outwards instead of allowing more high-rises.
But 23.4 per cent supported the plan in principle while believing some proposed changes were going too far.
And 28.6 per cent were undecided, saying they didn’t know enough to comment
So what this is really telling us is that only 28% of people actually favour sprawl. The rest either support the plan as is, support the ideas behind the plan or are unsure. Also note that the figures given don’t add up to 100%, who knows where the missing 1.7% is. The issue of how the numbers are interpreted is picked up on David Gibbs from Construkt.
Urban designer David Gibbs, director of Auckland architecture and master-planning firm Construkt, said the combination of strong and conditional support for the plan, totalling 41.7 per cent, was “not too bad over a very complex issue” but called on the council to do a better job of explaining what was at stake.
“What people are struggling to understand is we are going through quite a societal shift in which almost 50 per cent of our households are one or two-person households,” he told the Weekend Herald.
“So we’ve got a need for 50 per cent of our housing to be for other than nuclear families.”
Mr Gibbs said the type of accommodation suitable for small households, either apartments or terraced housing, were unlikely to be built on city outskirts, where an Australian study calculated the environmental and economic costs of providing new infrastructure and transport links were two to eight times higher than building inside urban limits.
“I think the people of Auckland aren’t getting their minds out of their own suburban situation by thinking: where are our children going to live, or where in fact am I going to live if I become widowed or when the children move out.”
I think David makes some extremely good points. The plan is about setting Auckland up for the future and the big growth that is happening is in one or two person households and many of those may not want the mythical ¼ acre section and big house. Something Dick Quax seems to think we all want.
But councillor Dick Quax, who opposes the Unitary Plan, said the poll provided more evidence that Mr Brown’s claim that Aucklanders loved the idea of the compact city was “a great exaggeration”.
“As it becomes more clear to people what the compact city actually means, they are deciding that really, they don’t want that.”
I guess someone should tell the developers of all of the apartments and terraced houses coming onto the market that they are going to be building things that people don’t want, despite many apparently selling quite well.
It’s also interesting to compare the discussions about the unitary plan and the extremely restrictive zoning with what is happening in San Francisco as pointed out in this article by The Atlantic Cities.
My friends keep moving to Oakland. Gone from San Francisco for greener pastures and cheaper rents, because it’s just gotten too hard, by which I really mean too expensive. Their move signals that something has gone terribly wrong in this most progressive of American cities.
In some ways, we came by the problem innocently. San Francisco had the good fortune to be one of the very few 19th century industrial cities to successfully make the transition to a new, post-industrial economic base. It wasn’t just bohemians who set up shop here—all kinds of entrepreneurs and creative business people decided to call San Francisco home. As wave after wave of older industrial jobs moved out of town, new types of work were created to replace them.
At the same time, San Francisco was a great place to live. Partly from historical inheritance and partly from the work of activists who chose to make the city the focus of their activism, the city remained a walkable, urban paradise compared to most of America.
A great quality of life and a lot of high-paying professional jobs meant that a lot of people wanted to live here. And they still do.
But the city did not allow its housing supply to keep up with demand. San Francisco was down-zoned (that is, the density of housing or permitted expansion of construction was reduced) to protect the “character” that people loved. It created the most byzantine planning process of any major city in the country. Many outspoken citizens did—and continue to do—everything possible to fight new high-density development or, as they saw it, protecting the city from undesirable change.
Unfortunately, it worked: the city was largely “protected” from change. But in so doing, we put out fire with gasoline. Over the past two decades, San Francisco has produced an average of 1,500 new housing units per year. Compare this with Seattle (another 19th century industrial city that now has a tech economy), which has produced about 3,000 units per year over the same time period (and remember it’s starting from a smaller overall population base). While Seattle decided to embrace infill development as a way to save open space at the edge of its region and put more people in neighborhoods where they could walk, San Francisco decided to push regional population growth somewhere else.
Whatever the merits of this strategy might be in terms of preserving the historic fabric of the city, it very clearly accelerated the rise in housing prices. As more people move to the Bay Area, the demand for housing continues to increase far faster than supply.
This all sounds eerily similar to what is happening, particularly in the city fringe suburbs.
We have been very disappointed with the result of the outcome of the unitary plan after it was thrown under the bus by the short-sighted local board members who got scared of a couple of old ladies with a tint of blue in their hair. The changes have cut down the potential for growth across much of the city and while people may want their berms at bowling green height, having an entire city’s building heights like that does nothing to help make the city the most liveable in the world – especially as we as a society keep saying we don’t want the city sprawling across the countryside.
I expect we will see a number of developers challenging the zoning’s through the hearings process however I also expect the opponents of the plan will also be fighting to make the plan more restrictive, especially in places like St Heliers and Milford – after all who needs a bowling green when you can just grind it down to dirt. Overall I expect each group will have some wins and some loses but that overall we won’t see that much change. In my view we will likely be left with a plan that is goes completely against the high level development strategy the city agreed to just over a year ago.
While it has been incredibly disappointing, the cutting down of the unitary plan has raised a couple of interesting questions that it seems only a few people might be starting to realise – and those negatively affected likely won’t wake up till it’s too late. The two key issues relate to population and development and are:
- Political structure of the city
- Public investment
So lets look at these a bit closer.
Political Structure of the city
From memory, when the royal commission recommended the super city structure, they suggested the political set up be that there were 13 councillors elected in wards across across the city and another 7 elected at large, people who would stand for council not representing one specific geographical patch but who would have to get a lot of buy in from the entire region. One of the downsides mentioned at the time by opponents to the super city was that only people with large campaign budgets would likely be able to afford to mount a region wide campaign and that it would lead to mainly only wealthy people of a set political ideology standing in those seats.
When the government released its plan, it instead decided to go for the approach we now have which is 20 councillors elected from 13 wards with the major downside being we still often tend to get disagreements about geographical issues and patch protection going on. The latest example of the stupidity being the arguments over the mowing of berms in the old Auckland City Council area (seriously stop complaining, it’s not a big issue). The wards and local boards were set up as per the map below.
But not all wards were created equal. As mentioned there are 20 councillors spread across 13 wards so we have ended up with some wards (and local boards) with more than one councillor. That’s not such a problem when those wards with two councillors also have a lot more population to represent. But even with the set up things weren’t even. The table below shows the wards and their estimated population when the boundaries were created along with the number of residents per councillor there are.
What you can see is that the ward with the single largest population happens to be Waitakere which comprises mostly of the old Waitakere City Council area and even though it also has two councillors it also has the second highest population to councillor ratio. But as we have shown, the under the Unitary Plan West Auckland is also where the most growth has been allowed to occur. While it is unlikely all development will occur to the level allowed for, we are still likely to see a significant increase in the population in the west and north-west as a result. If that significant growth occurs while other areas of the city stagnate due to the more restrictive zoning it will really start to raise some fairness and representation issues. Long term it could even require the ward boundaries to be redrawn and that could see West Auckland picking up a councillor or two at the expense of other parts of the city.
In short the long term implications could see potentially significant shifts in the political power of the council. That’s not a bad thing if the power is shifting in your direction but if it is shifting away from where you are it probably isn’t ideal.
Perhaps even more concerning for some could be the implications the plan has on public investment – in particular transport investment. Most of the projects proposed are on the Auckland Plan list are to supposedly to help address problems that stem from predicted growth. If that growth doesn’t occur due to the absurdly restrictive zoning in the Unitary Plan then there is also likely to be little need for additional infrastructure meaning the money planned to be spent can be focused on those areas where growth is actually occurring.
As an example the massive upzoning in the west combined with the future greenfield growth in the north-west – which will now likely be needed sooner due to the shutting down of development elsewhere – means that both the City Rail Link and a North-west busway will become absolutely essential and needed sooner. By contrast the greatly reduced growth potential on the North Shore means that travel demand isn’t likely to increase by the levels predicted, reducing the need for projects like an additional harbour crossing or an upgrade to Lake Rd. That is unlikely to be palatable to many on the Shore but it is surely a reality that needs to be made clear.
This doesn’t just cover transport investment either, investment in new or upgraded parks, town centres, street scrapes as well as council facilities like libraries and community buildings would also need to come under similar scrutiny. Additionally improved services would also need to fall into this funding change group. , want a more frequent bus, train or ferry, then more people need to be living in an area
One way to look at this would be to say that if no growth is allowed then there is no investment of public funds other than maintaining the status quo. Another way to look at it would be to say that the council would be encouraging intensification in locations where the public accept it by providing sooner the public amenities needed to make the intensification viable.
I have heard – although I haven’t checked it – that incentivising communities to allow for intensification through improvements to public infrastructure and services is an approach being taken by Seattle right now and it is supposedly helping to break down the usual barriers and concerns that many residents have. I imagine it would also help to make plainly clear what communities will miss out on by locking down their suburbs. Something that perhaps the Auckland Council should have done already.
Based on the Unitary Plan so far, perhaps this map shows where the spending focus should shift too (green) and where there should move away from (red) – I can hear the howls of protest now.
As mentioned, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the councillors and the local boards to realise what they have done but what do you think? Should the council use infrastructure and services a leverage for intensification. Perhaps our friends at Generation Zero could make a little graphic on this, something like “Not intensification, no investment”.