Follow us on Twitter

ACT Party spokespeople tragically born missing sense of irony

There are many great contradictions in politics, and there’s never enough time to explain them all. Certainly one of the greatest contradictions, though, has to be what some people associated with the ACT party have to say about intensification. The supposed ‘free market party’ seems quite scared of landowners’ rights to develop their land in the way they see fit – something you’d think would be more likely from the Conservative party.

Quoting a recent speech by David Seymour, the new ACT candidate for Epsom:

The people of Epsom do not want more traffic jams and a city closing in on them under Len Brown’s intensification plan.The funny thing about Epsom is that it was built well before modern urban planning.  Nobody planned the organic mix of streets between Mt Eden and Dominion roads.  The character villas were not part of a grand plan.  Ditto the crescents backing onto Cornwall Park, the historic Parnell Village, or roads that wind over the slopes of Remuera.

Len Brown and the central planners can’t stand the thought of a spontaneous urban form.  They must make their mark with apartment towers all over the electorate.

If irony were made of strawberries, we’d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now (thanks, South Park). One of the major barriers to intensification is the zoning restrictions in inner-city suburbs, and yet David is appealing to his audience’s fear of an “organic mix” or “spontaneous urban form” arising in Epsom. Perish the thought.

Dick Quax, former ACT parliamentarian turned councillor, is also a chap who spends quite a bit of time raising concerns about intensification.

Don Brash, former ACT Party leader, has also gotten a lot of mileage arguing that we should remove urban limits, and conspicuously ignoring the restrictions which exist inside those limits. When pushed, he points out that he doesn’t have a problem with intensification… but that’s certainly not the message he’s chosen to focus on publicly.

As some of the other bloggers have pointed out before, the usual left-wing/ right-wing divisions that occur at central government level seem to break down, or behave in unexpected ways, when you get to the local government level. And I’d call this is one of the unexpected ways.

People at the supposed ‘right wing’ end of the spectrum often go on about the need to remove planning restrictions at the city’s edge, and how that will help housing affordability. They sing a different tune when confronted about restrictions inside the city boundaries. This ranges from the kind of rhetoric used by David Seymour above, to the more nuanced views held by Don Brash (but which he certainly isn’t at pains to publicise).

And yet, when urban economist Edward Glaeser was asked which the bigger problem for Auckland housing affordability was – urban limits or zoning restrictions in existing areas – he pointed the finger at zoning restrictions. Hmmm.

On the other hand, Penny Webster, another Auckland Councillor and former MP for ACT, has tended to vote with Len Brown on most issues, so it’s dangerous to generalise between different people. The general impression that we get from people most closely (and most currently) associated with the ACT party itself, though, is that intensification is a bogeyman to be feared, and – from David Seymour above – that it occurs because of council planning, not in spite of it. I leave it to you to consider whether, if we removed all planning restrictions  in both the inner suburbs and at the city fringes, Epsom and Remuera would stay the same with no intensification occurring.

Transportblog Unitary Plan Submission

Today is the last day, if you haven’t already, please make a submission before 5pm

Submissions for the Unitary Plan close at 5pm this afternoon so if you have been thinking about making a submission then you need to get on with it. I’ll be finishing our submission today however here are the key points we will be raising.

Specific Suggested Amendments:

Section Suggested Amendment Reason(s)
Chapter I – Future Urban Zone Zone should be split into two sub-zones, one which relates to areas suitable for development in the next 10 years and another suitable for development beyond that date. Zones could be referred to as “Future Urban (short term)” and “Future Urban (long term)”. 

The specific controls for the zoning, especially in “Future Urban (long term)”, would reflect the direction of some future urban zoning developing earlier and some later.

This change would give clearer direction about which parts of the Future Urban Zone are intended to be developed sooner and which parts later. This will enable infrastructure providers to plan with greater knowledge about the sequencing of land for development. 

This change would also minimise the risk of ‘leap frog’ development through private plan changes and enable the provision of quality transport infrastructure at the same time as development occurs.

Chapter I – Residential Zones Front yard setback requirements should be removed or reduced, particularly in zones where intensification is anticipated. Front yard setback requirements take up valuable space that could otherwise be used within the main area of outdoor open space (generally to the rear) and undermine high quality urban design outcomes where interaction between the dwelling and the street is encouraged. 

Front yard setbacks are likely to undermine achieving the ‘quality’ urban form the Unitary Plan seeks to achieve.

Chapter I – Residential Zones Density limits should be removed for development of four or more dwellings in the Mixed Housing Suburban zone. 

Density limits should not apply to the Mixed Housing Urban zone.

Density limits are an overly crude way of managing built form that undermine many of the goals of the Unitary Plan – particularly the provision of affordable housing, the provision of a variety of housing types and promoting a quality built form. 

Other development controls, particularly height limits and site coverage limits, adequately control any adverse environmental outcomes. Density controls are therefore superfluous and counter-productive to the goals of the Unitary Plan.

Chapter H –Parking Rules Removal of parking minimums from Mixed Housing Urban and Mixed Housing Suburban zones. 

Removal of parking minimums for Tavern activities.

Parking minimums undermine many goals the Unitary Plan is trying to achieve – especially in zones where intensification is proposed. Negative impacts of parking minimums in the Mixed Housing zones will include undermining the ability to intensify, adding unnecessary cost to the consenting process, undermining the ability to achieve quality design outcomes, acting as a hidden subsidy to private vehicle travel and undermining investment in public transport.
Chapter I – Business Zones (Mixed Use Zone) Some areas zoned for Mixed Use development should have a significantly higher height limit to reflect their location close to high quality public transport infrastructure (e.g. Morningside, Newton). Some areas zoned Mixed Use (e.g. Morningside & Newton) are suitable for higher density development than the rest of the Mixed Use zone. This is because they are close to strategically significant existing or proposed railway stations and other amenities/services. 

Enabling higher development densities in parts of the Mixed Use zone will enable best value to be achieved from significant investment in projects such as the City Rail Link.

Maps – Morningside All areas between Morningside train station and St Lukes Shopping Centre proposed to be zoned “Light Industrial” should be rezoned “Mixed Use”. Morningside station is a strategically significant station on the rail network once City Rail Link is completed. The station will be less than 10 minutes journey time from the city centre and the area surrounding it is generally not constrained by heritage/character, plus has a number of large site sizes. 

This is an area suitable for significant residential development due to its proximity to rail and to other amenities such as St Lukes, Fowlds Park and Mt Albert Primary School. The zoning should enable this development, which has already begun to occur over the past decade.

Maps – Mt Roskill The area bounded by May Road to the west, Mt Albert Road to the north, SH20 to the south and Mt Roskill Grammar to the east should be “upzoned” to Terraced Housing & Apartment Buildings This area has excellent access to high quality public transport (Dominion Rd buses & possible rail along Avondale-Southdown Line) and is close proximity to Mt Roskill shops. A good location for intensification that would support many of the high level outcomes in the Regional Policy Statement such as providing housing choice and minimising adverse impacts on special character (as this is not a heritage area).
Maps – Grey Lynn The sides of Great North Road between Ponsonby Road and Surrey Crescent should have an “Additional Zone Height Control” overlay applied to enable a higher height limit. This area has high quality public transport options, is on a ridge line and is relatively free of heritage constraints. It provides an almost unique opportunity for significant intensification in the Grey Lynn area.
Maps – Meadowbank Areas within an 800m walk of Meadowbank train station should be upzoned to either Terraced Housing & Apartment Buildings or Mixed Housing Urban (or a combination). Meadowbank train station is one of very few stations that has not seen upzoning around it – which is anomalous and inconsistent with various objectives and policies to enable intensification in areas with good access to rapid transit. This area also overlooks Orakei Basin, which provides good natural amenity and further increases the suitability of the area for intensification.
Maps – Central Isthmus Areas zoned Mixed Housing Suburban within the area bounded by New North Road in the west, the city fringe in the north, SH20 in the south and Great South Road in the east should be considered for rezoning to Mixed Housing Urban. The central isthmus has the best public transport accessibility of any part of Auckland, plus a gridded street network and frequent centres of various scales. It also has significant market demand for development. 

Rezoning areas from Mixed Housing Suburban to Mixed Housing Urban would enable a wider variety of housing typologies in an area suitable for growth because of its public transport access and other amenities. Mixed Housing Urban would still retain the broad character of the area.


Mixed Housing Suburban area generally avoid places where Special Character overlays are applied.

Maps – Greenlane Along both sides of Gt South Rd between Greenlane East/West and Main Highway proposed  “Light Industrial” should be rezoned “Mixed Use”. This area has excellent access to high quality public transport, has good access to other amenities and is free of heritage constraints.

 Areas of Support

Section Specific Matter Supported Reason(s)
Chapter I – Residential Zones 3.3 – conversion of a dwelling into two dwellings This is supported as it is a way of providing affordable housing and allowing intensification in areas where growth is otherwise very difficult (e.g. heritage or character areas).
Chapter I – Business Zones 1 – Activity Tables The strong restrictions placed on retail & office activity outside centres zones is supported. Out of centre retail & office activity results in areas very difficult to adequately serve with public transport but quite often have high concentrations of destinations.
Chapter H –Parking Rules Support not having parking minimums in the various zones listed in Table 3 of Transport: section 3.2. Parking minimums undermine many goals the Unitary Plan is trying to achieve – especially in zones where intensification is proposed. Not applying parking minimums in these areas is supported.
Maps – General General support of zoning areas close to rapid transit or high frequency public transport to zones that enable intensification – particularly Mixed Use, Terraced Housing & Apartment Buildings or a centre zone. Enabling intensification in areas with good public transport options will support the increased use of public transport and enable those living in higher density environments to be less car dependent in their lives, reducing the financial burden of transport on them.

Notified UP - Central

Bill English on Intensification vs Sprawl

Bill English has provided a fairly blunt but accurate explanation of the issues with urban development in Auckland. reports

With respect to so-called urban sprawl, I think that’s a nonsense. If you’re against urban sprawl and that means lower to middle income Kiwis can’t buy a house and you can’t build an apartment in the middle of Auckland for less than NZ$600,000, then that’s too high a price to pay. And if it means driving up house prices in a way that wrecks the economy then that’s too high a price to pay,” he said.

“Funnily enough the people who are most worried about urban sprawl live in the middle of the city. They don’t get to see it. How much time to they really spend out the end of the Western motorway or Botany? None actually. They think you should be able to walk to the countryside. Well…welcome to Gore. If you’re really mad, that’s where you should go. But they don’t. They stay in Auckland Central,” he said to laughter from the audience.

“What’s actually happened is that the local authorities were keen for a denser city, but the inhabitants weren’t, so they’ve jettisoned a fair bit of the densification aspect,” he said.

“So if Auckland wants to grow now, it has to grow out because you don’t want it to grow up. Now that’s a fair choice, but please don’t stop it from growing out as well, otherwise we’ll get another few years of 15% house price growth and you get a real mess when it crashes,” he said, adding the special housing areas agreed under the Housing Accord with the Auckland Council “do spread the city because the planning rules don’t let you do anything else.”

“We’re indifferent as a government as to whether you grow up or out. But you said don’t grow up, so we expect to help you grow out.”

I don’t think that all government ministers were indifferent as to whether Auckland develops up or out but from I’ve seen Bill didn’t seem too concerned with either option. As for his other comments though, he is quite correct, if intensification isn’t allowed then the only option would be to sprawl. I think it’s a message that many of those opposing intensification completely ignored.

What I don’t agree with him on is that an apartment can’t be built for less than 600,000. Many of the projects on our development tracker are certainly well under that price.

Don’t forget to make a submission on the Unitary Plan if you haven’t already they close tomorrow afternoon.

Unitary Plan and Public Transport

As outlined in my post yesterday the Unitary Plan submission period closes this Friday 5pm, so I am writing posts that discuss major points from the Generation Zero submission to help readers make an informed submission.

Over the next decade we are likely to see a major revolution in public transport in Auckland with new EMU’s, the frequent bus network, City Rail Link, and more busways in the various parts of town. This should result in areas with excellent public transport access becoming more attractive to Aucklanders for living. We should learn lessons from Vancouver where areas along the new Skytrain lines have been booming with residential development. The Unitary Plan should therefore ensure areas within the walking catchment of railway stations and other high quality public transport are generally be zoned to allow intensification. In some areas the plan has done an good job of this. Centres in the Isthmus with good public transport accessibility such as Glen Innes, Panmure, Avondale and New Lynn have been up zoned, usually to allow 8 or more stories.

However there are also some other areas that are mysteriously missed out from up zoning, and other prime locations where Light Industrial or Business Zones apply instead of zoning which allows residential development. The clearest example of misapplied zoning appears to be Morningside.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 11.39.07 PM

Proposed Unitary Plan zoning for Morningside


The darker purple colours are the large area of land zoned Light Industrial. All these areas are less than 750m from the Morningside station. Already the train is an attractive option for commuters with a 21 minute journey time to Britomart. However the City Rail Link will cut this to about 15 minutes, with the cut even greater for thus who currently bus to the Midtown/Aotea area. Therefore this area of Light Industry should be zoned Mixed Use to allow intensification. Also importantly there are no Volcanic Viewshafts here so heights of 10 stories or more would be acceptable, though there would need to be a little graduation at the east end where light industrial abuts the Single House Zone. While the Unitary Plan tries to protect industrial land, this area is generally not being used for industrial purposes but business use such as indoor sports, small scale offices and retail. With quality residential high rise development Morningside could become a buzzing and connected area, much like what we see along the Skytrain lines in Vancouver.

There are similar issues along Great South Road between Greenlane and Ellerslie, with a corridor of Light Industrial. However in reality these are largely low value office and retail use, including many car yards. This should be zoned Mixed Use to allow some residential development, especially where this backs onto other residential streets. Again this whole corridor is within the 10 minute walking corridor of Greenlane and/or Ellerslie stations so are prime places to take advantage of investment in the rail corridor.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 12.02.51 AM

The area around Newton will undergo substantial change as part of the City Rail Link, both through the construction of Newton station and demolition of low value for the southern tunnel portal. Newton station will only be an 8 minute ride from Britomart, so this area will really become part of the CBD proper. Some increased height is anticipated, but application seems uneven.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 12.10.46 AM

The bold Pink is zoned Town Centre with a height of 4 stories, with is justified to protect the heritage buildings along the streets cape here. The rest of the light purple areas are Mixed Use which is great. However the Height Limit is 8 stories north of Newton Road, but only 5 stories south of Newton Road. The whole area should be zoned Mixed Use with a height limit of 8 stories. Construction of the City Rail Link tunnel portal will result in the purchase and demolition of a large number of properties between New North Road and the railway line. On completion of the City Rail Link this will result in a large parcel of land with excellent public transport access, and ripe for a major integrated development. This will be one of largest pieces of City Fringe land that could be redeveloped comprehensively. Therefore a more permissive height limit of 8 stories could result in a better outcome.

So please submit to ask for more intensification along public transport corridors and ensure the Unitary Plan takes into account planned public transport investment. Submissions can be made on the Auckland Council site here.

Unitary Plan and Minimum Parking Requirements

The closing date for submissions on the Unitary Plan is coming up fast, with the cut off being 5pm this Friday. Compared to the major publicity that erupted around the first stage things have been very quiet so far. However it is still imperative that positive submissions are lodged in support of the good parts of the plan, and also suggesting improvements. Submissions can be made on the Auckland Council site here and the Council also have several documents that help submitters write their submissions. Note as this is a more legalistic process submitters are encourage to reference parts of the Unitary Plan they would like to keep or amend specifically and they have produced a guide to help with that as well.

One of my other roles is I am one of the writers of the Generation Zero submission, so each day this week I will write a post about the main points we are submitting on,  these are based on the 6 main points of our quick submission form from May last year. I will also include the provision numbers to help readers identify the correct areas in their submission too.

One of the major issues that came up was around Minimum Parking Requirements. There have been numerous posts on this blog outlining the negative impact these requirements impose on housing affordability, urban design and housing choice. The Draft Unitary Plan made some good strides in this area and the Notified Plan was improved further still. Under the old District Plans, Minimum Parking Requirements existed everywhere apart from the CBD. In the notified Unitary Plan, Minimum Parking Requirements can be found in PART 3 – REGIONAL AND DISTRICT RULES»Chapter H: Auckland-wide rules»1 Infrastructure»1.2 Transport»3. Development controls»3.2 Number of parking and loading spaces. 

Minimum Parking Rates have been removed from the City Fringe Zone (Parnell, Ponsonby, Newmarket, Newton), Metropolitan Centre, Town and Local Centre (except Rural Town Centres), Mixed Use, Terrace Housing and Apartment Building Zones. Instead of Minimum Parking Requirements, Maximum Parking Requirements apply instead. This a huge improvement from the existing rules and will allow developments to proceed that are more affordable, have better urban design qualities and better fit the needs of tenants in this area, so this should be supported.

However on the downside Minimum Parking Requirements still exist in the Mixed Housing Urban and Suburban Zones. These are the proposed rules in the notified Unitary Plan.

Mixed Housing Suburban zone Dwellings - studio or 1 and 2 bedroom 1 per dwelling
Dwellings - three or more bedrooms 2 per dwelling
Mixed Housing Urban zone Dwellings - studio or 1 bedroom A minimum and maximum of 1 per dwelling
Dwellings - two or more bedrooms A minimum of 1 per dwelling
A maximum of 2 per dwelling
All other areas Dwellings - studio or 1 bedroom 1 per dwelling
Dwellings - two or more bedrooms 2 per dwelling

The rules are still much too strict in these Mixed Housing areas where major intensification is planned to take place. No minimums should apply in these areas.

Binthemins-FB-01 copy

Generation Zero graphic from September Unitary Plan stage

Minimum Parking Requirements also apply across the city (outside the zones identified above) for a range of activities such as Offices and Education facilities. There are still a few especially strange ones in there too. The favourite crazy example is of course Taverns, which still require 1 park for every 20m2 GFA! Ideally these Minimum Parking Requirements should be removed as well. In car dependent areas of town developers will still provide carparks where necessary, however over time as public transport improves, developments will be able to occur with less parking.

If you are interested in writing a more detailed submission on parking requirements, an excellent report was produced for Auckland Council by consultants MRCagney outlining the costs of Minimum Parking Requirements, and this is included as part of the Section 32 reports which provide the justification for proposed Unitary Plan provisions. Interestingly enough this report recommends against Minimum Parking Requirements in the Mixed Housing Zone, and also includes the Costs of Minimum Parking Requirements in centers such as Takapuna and Dominion Road outweighed the benefits by 6 to 1.

Why we like heritage areas, and how this could help the rest of Auckland

This is a guest post from reader Liz

I have to start by saying that I grew up in Ponsonby/Grey Lynn, a ‘heritage’ area, and count myself as very lucky to have had this chance. I have stayed involved in the area even since moving to other, less expensive, parts of Auckland. In particular, I attended the Waitematā local board Unitary Plan meeting last year, and was frustrated to see it hijacked by a few loud people arguing that density and the Unitary Plan would damage ‘heritage’ areas.

Since then I have wanted to write a post about WHY we like ‘heritage’ and ‘character’ areas, and how focusing on the real reasons could actually benefit the rest of Auckland. I’ll be using the Ponsonby area as an example, although this will be a rough area and some of my examples or pictures may show parts of Freemans Bay, Grey Lynn, etc.

We all know that Ponsonby is desirable and unaffordable. But WHY is it desirable? Why did people want to live in old, cold, run down houses? Before the houses were renovated I can assure you that many were freezing and damp! Why do people pay millions for a small house on a small section? Sure, the neighbourhood looks nice these days, the houses are pretty, cafes are everywhere and Ponsonby Road is booming. But that came with gentrification, it wasn’t the driving force behind it.

The real reason can be seen in the pictures below. Ponsonby, and most other heritage areas, are WALKABLE. They are real, mixed use, functioning neighbourhoods, and this came about by designing neighbourhoods around the needs of people as pedestrians.

Tram built suburbs

The main aspects of this are not confined to Ponsonby, but can be seen in all the thriving and desirable heritage areas of Auckland.

  • Walkability
  • Availability of amenities
  • Ease of connection to other parts of the city.

There are secondary characteristics that fall under these:

  • Walkability and availability of amenities
    • Housing/building density
    • Permeable grid street network with small block sizes and pedestrian walkways
    • Easy access to local shops, services, parks, and other amenities
    • Safe pedestrian environment (footpaths, narrow streets, fewer driveways)
    • Activation and interest at street level (house fronts instead or walls and garage doors)
      • This last point is where the look of houses comes in, as part of the overall look of the neighbourhood. As you can see, it’s much less important than the other factors.
  • Ease of connection to other parts of the city.
    • Proximity to CBD
    • Good bus/train/ferry routes (assisted by grid networks)

It is frankly hypocritical to campaign against any densification in heritage areas, as density is one of the main reasons that heritage areas are so lovely to live in now. What we should be aiming for is ‘density done well’, and seeing how we can allow more people to enjoy the benefits of these areas.  We should also be taking the good examples set by heritage areas and applying these to other parts of the city.

Terraces Norfolk St

Terraces Norfolk St, Ponsonby

Six Sisters John St

The ‘Six Sisters’, John Street, Ponsonby

Raycourt apartments

Raycourt apartments, Jervois Road, Herne Bay

Cottages Summer St

Cottages, Summer Street, Ponsonby

These are what we should be embracing and expanding to the rest of Auckland. The sad fact though is that it’s currently ILLEGAL to build a neighbourhood like Ponsonby. Our zoning regulations enforce low density areas, wasted space around houses, mandatory parking whether or not you have a car, single purpose zones that require you to get in a car to go to the shops or to a café or to work. I find it funny that we zone for all this unnecessary space around houses, and appear to have a phobia of density, and yet places like Ponsonby are the ones where the property values go through the roof – not the new spacious suburbs on the edge of the city. We should be concentrating on fixing our zoning regulations to prioritise people as pedestrians.

Tui Lodge

Look, no setback! (Tui Lodge, John Street, Ponsonby)

John St

No off street parking (John Street, Ponsonby)

Anti-density arguments are often also hidden in campaigns against demolition, change or development in heritage or character neighbourhoods. I do understand that there is a genuine desire to protect neighbourhoods, and that campaigning is seen as the only option because our heritage protection seems almost useless at times. But I worry about scaremongering and about residents’ concerns being co-opted to prevent ANY change or development.

I have to state now that I do not believe that old is always good and new is always bad. It’s not that simple. And I have a degree in Ancient History, for goodness sake. I LOVE old buildings, I love seeing the history in the fabric of a city. The problem is that if we get caught up in the old=good vs. new=bad dichotomy, we forget the reasons that those heritage areas WORK in the first place. We also forget that cities are all about change, and no development means no vitality or renewal in that area.

Terraces George St

Terraces, George Street, Newmarket

The Issac

It is also a mistake to talk only about the type of and ‘look’ of buildings. You could take the nicest villa and set it in an auto-dependent suburb like Howick, and I doubt it would be as desirable as an ugly house in Ponsonby. The fact is that although the heritage and character styles are nice to have in a neighbourhood, they are never going to do the trick if the neighbourhood isn’t functional and walkable already.

Ponsonby Mixed Use

Botany Unmixed Use

It’s also important to remember that the desirability of house styles changes, whereas a walkable, functional neighbourhood can be desirable independently of the house styles within it.

Renall St

Renall Street, Ponsonby. Once considered a slum and was planned to be demolished.

The draft Unitary Plan included increased density allowances and suggested mixed use zoning in many parts of Auckland, focused around town centres and transport links. Most local boards voted down this density, under the misapprehension that it would damage their neighbourhood and ‘heritage’ areas. We need to change this attitude, and encourage neighbourhoods that make it possible and safe for residents to walk to the local shops, walk to school, walk to a café and bump into their neighbours. A neighbourhood wiWe need to allow other parts of Auckland to be desirable through walkability, not just confine this desirability to a few inner suburbs.

We can make submissions to the Unitary Plan until 28 February 2014. Mine will be arguing in favour of walkable, dense, mixed use neighbourhoods for all Aucklanders, not just those who are rich enough to afford Ponsonby.

Can construction profiles help communities understand the impact of new buildings?

During the unitary plan debate last year I felt there was a lot of unjustified scaremongering about the height and bulk of buildings that the plan allowed for. Even if the Unitary Plan is passed I suspect we will still hear howls of protest from some people who over estimate just how much impact proposed developments greater than a single storey might make. One way to help solve this could be a planning policy from Switzerland known as a Bauprofile (construction profile). This is described by The Guardian.

Clusters of spindly antennae poke up from rooftops and strange boxy frames project from walls. In the distance, a line of balloons hangs improbably in the air, describing a perfect square. This surreal panorama of rods and wires, which form the ghostly apparition of an alternative skyline, is a common sight in any Swiss city, where planning policy requires the erection of the profile of a building before it is granted permission to be built.


Constructed from metal rods or wooden poles, fixed in place by wire guy ropes, the Swiss baugespanne or bauprofile are usually erected for a month, outlining the full height of the proposed development, with protruding markers to indicate the angle of the roof and direction of the walls. For taller buildings, tethered balloons can be used, and helicopters have even been employed to hover at a specified height for the tallest towers. Underground structures are not let off the hook either, usually having to be marked with wooden stakes at their corners.

Here’s some examples of what they look like.

This one is one I found from the blog Urbanizit

The idea is about to be trialled in the UK however I wonder if it is something we should be thinking about too. I don’t necessarily think it should be something required for all construction – although it doesn’t seem overly onerous – but perhaps it could be a useful tool for especially contentious developments to help locals understand what is proposed. I suspect for many projects it would show proposed developments are not something to fear and may help get buy-in from locals on the project or at least less opposition.

What do you think; could it help address issues with those campaigning for no change in our suburbs?

Conservatives & Smart Growth

We’re increasingly seeing two of the biggest urban issues – housing and transport – unnecessarily turned into “left/right” debates – most significantly in the USA but also in New Zealand, particularly in recent times it seems. Over the next few days I’m going to be looking at how this is playing out and how when you actually look at the arguments being put forward that traditional left/right ideology just doesn’t fit.

Today I’m focusing on housing – or perhaps a better description is urban development. There are generally two extremes talked about when discussing how the urban area should develop, one is that allow unlimited urban growth on the edges of cities – commonly known as sprawl, and the other is that we should intensify the existing urban area often through policies that seek to contain the urban area – in the US this is commonly called Smart Growth. In a political world that likes to see things through a “left/right” lens sprawl is associated with the right while smart growth is with the left.

Asking the question of why Conservatives seem to hate Smart Growth - James Bacon explores this issue in a useful article that also touches upon some of the hypocrisy in many of the positions taken.

Why is conservatism’s intellectual elite so hostile to the idea of smart growth? I hoped to find out why.

The answer, I discovered, is pretty simple: Conservatives equate smart growth with intrusive government intervention in the economy, with regulations, subsidies and boondoggles. They look at out-of-control spending on mass transit projects that will never pay their own way, and they see smart growth. They look at urban growth boundaries in Portland, and they see smart growth. They look at California land use plans designed to substitute single-family houses with apartment complexes, and they see smart growth. They listen to environmentalists who want to re-engineer the economy to stave off global warming, and they hear smart growth. They listen to “social justice” advocates who want to use urban planning to redistribute wealth, and they hear smart growth.

If spending big bucks on environmental and social engineering is bad, then the opposite must be good. Conservatives find themselves defending auto-oriented development patterns in suburbia. What other people refer to derisively as “sprawl” they see as the American dream.

I guess this makes some logic – although it’s a bit strange to see people from the right-wing side of the political spectrum who supposedly dislike government intervention proposing very restrictive land-use planning rules in existing built up areas or opposing the removal of other intrusive rules like minimum parking requirements. It’s this double-standard that the article then picks up on:

 But I part ways in two important regards. First, while conservative intellectuals are spot-on in their critique of mass transit subsidies, they are blind to subsidies for roads and highways. While they hit the bulls-eye in their critique of land use restrictions, they ignore the systemic subsidies for green-field development. Their critique runs only one way. Second, I take issue with the way they identify intrusive government policy with smart growth, rather than calling it what it is — intrusive government policy.

We have extremely intrusive government policy in the form of planning rules that restrict building heights, require setbacks from boundaries, require the provision of parking even when people don’t want it, apply maximum site coverage restrictions, minimum site sizes for density, minimum sizes for houses and even minimum sizes for particular rooms of houses. Pretty intrusive stuff that we generally see otherwise anti-interventionist politicians completely lapping up.

Furthermore, while some proponents of smart growth and what we might call a more “balanced” approach to transport may be pushing particular liberal of leftist agendas, many aren’t. This is further explored:

There is no denying that many leftists and liberals have hitched their agendas — from saving the planet from Global Warming to redistributing wealth from affluent suburban jurisdictions to poverty-stricken inner cities — to the smart growth wagon. But smart growth covers a wide spectrum of views. Take, for example, the New Urbanists who espouse compact, walkable human-scale development reminiscent of the early 20th century. New Urbanists have suffused the broader smart growth movement with much of their thinking. Yet they are agnostic about where to build — the suburbs, exurbs, inner city, wherever. As architects, builders and developers, they’re all in favor of growth and development. Building stuff is how they make their money and how they see their visions fulfilled. Their prescriptions apply to inner cities, aging suburbs and green-field development alike.

Andres Duany, one of the leading lights in the movement, is perfectly comfortable with the idea that a third or so of all Americans have no interest in New Urbanism communities. He is happy to let them live their lives in peace. What he asks for is a roll-back of zoning codes and other restrictions that prevent him from building the kinds of communities that other people want. Sometimes, he sounds remarkably like a conservative complaining about intrusive, regulatory government.

Conservatives make a strategic error by conflating the smart growth movement with leftist social engineers. They arbitrarily classify potential friends as their enemies. Instead of attacking the smart growth movement, which includes many like-minded people, conservatives should direct their scorn to wasteful subsidies and counter-productive regulations, wherever they may be found.

We’ve made the case repeatedly that when it comes to planning, we probably over-regulate on balance. Like the reference to Andres Duany notes, Smart Growth is as much (or more even) about the removal of bad planning rules as it is about adding in additional rules. So it often is surprising how this is opposed by the very people you would think should support it.

Similarly with transport, the balanced approach that we suggest is about giving people greater transport choice or in areas like parking creating a more market focused system. I’ll be talking much more about how this “left/right” issue is affecting transport tomorrow.

Small can be good

Something strange seems to be happening at the Herald. Recently we have started to see an increasing number of stories that talk about the positives of apartments and higher density living which is completely opposite to the scaremongering we saw during the draft Unitary Plan debate last year. This one was in the herald yesterday – yes it’s the Herald on Sunday which is technically a different publication but we have seen it in the normal herald recently too.

Welcome to your new home. Step inside the flexible living space, which converts into an extra bedroom for guests and a home office during the week.

The two bedrooms also morph into multi-use spaces as needed – an office, a TV room, a studio or workroom. The walls are double insulated against the sound of the high-speed trains passing nearby, and the big, north-facing windows provide passive solar heating.

There’s no garage but you can hire a car just down the street and park your bike in the lock-up.

That aroma? Your neighbours are firing up a welcome barbecue down in the communal courtyard. Grab a lettuce from the rooftop garden for a salad and tuck in.

That’s one vision for how we could be living in 20 years. As demand grows for scarce city land, the population grows and property prices soar, it could well be a reality.

It’s not just a vision of our children’s future, either. It’s already the urban way of life in some parts of the world and has been for generations.

For some the idea of this won’t be appealing but for many others – like many in our younger generations – it’s an idea that doesn’t concern them and for many may even be desirable. in 2012 Patrick put together this wonderful post highlighting people who choose to live in an apartment.

Not everyone wants to live in apartments – and not everyone wants them next door, either. Submissions are open on Auckland Council’s proposed Unitary Plan, the planning document that replaces the region’s 13 existing district and regional plans. Much of the public reaction has been opposition to medium and high-density residential developments in the suburbs.

Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation focused on climate change, found itself aligned with the Property Council and developers in their support for more intensive housing. “The current housing stock doesn’t reflect the changing attitudes of young people in terms of what housing they want,” says spokesman Carlos Chambers.

“There’s certainly a willingness to take hits on things like having your own private garden or section.”

He says new housing models have benefits like healthier lifestyles, less traffic congestion, people walking more and feeling more connected to their communities.

One of the comments we frequently make when discussing density is that it is important not just to put lots of dwellings in but that access to amenities is key; otherwise it’s just amplifying the really negative aspects of the lower density development that is so common in the suburbs – especially those built after 1950. It’s a point picked up well in the next section.

Ingrained ideas may not be easy to shift. Auckland University professor of urban design Errol Haarhoff and lecturer in urban planning Lee Beattie studied developments in New Lynn, Onehunga and Albany. Residents felt they were a good place to live and raise children but half still aimed to one day live in a stand-alone house on a full section.

Haarhoff is sceptical of this aspiration, which he says would be unrealistic for many. “If you then went on to explain that if you had a house in Botany Downs or Orewa or one of those urban fringe subdivisions, your kids would no longer be able to walk to school, there would be no amenities, there wouldn’t even be a dairy within 5km, I imagine the response would be more considered.”

He says the key to creating quality apartment developments is thinking outside the home as much as in it: Where are the shops, parks, schools and cafes? Can you walk there?

“You’ve got to design viable neighbourhoods and communities,” he says. “You can go out there and build 3000 houses but you have to deliver the schools, shops, cafes and connections.”

Good examples of medium density housing exist, often in inner-city suburbs like Freemans Bay, Kingsland, Ponsonby and Mt Eden. The amenities in those neighbourhoods – cafes, shops and parks – help negate the need for more space at home. “The cafe downstairs in the apartment block is the extension of the living room,” he says.

“You go to my local park (in Grey Lynn) and it’s full of mums and dads playing with their kids, meeting each other. Those spaces are there to be used to create a sense of community instead of coming inside and closing the drawbridge. We’re going to reach a point where those big 200sq m houses on the edge of the city are going to start not finding a market.”

One part that did catch my attention was about the change in the size of dwellings over time.

Why, then, are Kiwis still so firmly attached to living big?

If you’re building a new house today, it is probably at least 50 per cent bigger than what your grandparents would have built.

On an international scale, New Zealand’s houses are huge, and keep getting bigger. The average floor area for a new build last year was 197sqm -in crowded Auckland it was 203sq m. Nationally, that’s up from 135sq min 1990 – equivalent to a couple of extra bedrooms.

The size of new-builds was steadily climbing until 2010, when a stutter in the property market saw a drop. In Auckland, it peaked at 217sq min 2010, then dipped to 209sqmin 2011 and to 203sqm last year.

That’s perhaps because the number of apartments built in the region took a steep upturn last year-from 616 in 2012 to 1059 in the year to November.

But even the apartments are roomy – the average size last year was 113sq m. Compare that to the 45sqm average dwelling size in Hong Kong, 76sqmin the UK, or 95sqmin Japan.

Bigger dwellings have been a trend in not just NZ but other countries too. Seeing how much I like charts, I thought I would show just how much the average dwelling size has changed the result is below.

Average Dwelling Size

The big dip in 02-08 period ties in with when larger numbers of apartments were being built. The graph below shows the size of Auckland houses and apartments compared to the rest of New Zealand. Due to some apartments averaging well above 100m² I assume the figures must be including the likes of terraced houses.

Average House Sizes

What I find most interesting is the average house size in Auckland was roughly identical compared to the rest of NZ from about 1999 through to mid-2004 before getting substantially larger just before the GFC. I’m guessing there are multiple reasons behind the trend and that one of those is due to a desire to get more out of the land which is generally more valuable in Auckland than other parts of New Zealand.

The data also includes information about subsections of Auckland based on the old council boundaries providing some very interesting information at a sub-regional level. The next graph shows the average dwelling size consented for the different areas of Auckland (I’m not sure why the North Shore is so spiky at times).

Auckland Dwelling Size

As would be expected, Auckland City saw the lowest sizes for some time which was primarily due to it being where the majority of apartments were built. As apartment construction dried up, the average size of houses increased.

The next graph shows the average house size. What I find interesting is how house sizes in the old Waitakere City Council area have been consistently lower than in the rest of Auckland while in the last 5 or so years the area with the largest homes being built has been on the North Shore.

Auckland House Size

Unfortunately while the data is available, it isn’t really possible to show apartments at this granularity clearly and the graph just looks like an even bigger mess of colours

It will be interesting to see where average house sizes go in the future.

How off-street parking is hurting our neighbourhoods

Brent Toderian has written an interesting piece on Planetizen about the massive impact that garages (or perhaps more specifically off street parking) – has on just how walkable neighbourhoods or auto dependant our neighbourhoods are. The piece is quite timely with formal submissions on the Unitary Plan closing at the end of next month.

Many years ago, a suburban ward councillor in the city I was planning for, asked me for some unusual advice. Residents had been calling about speeding on the roads in their neighbourhood, and the councillor was wondering if posting lower speed limits might be a way to address the problem.

After looking at the circumstances, I told the councillor that the root problem was too many front drive garages.

What do garages have to do with speeding? In suburbs all over North America, front drive garages are causing ripple effects that change the design and nature of our neighbourhoods in many ways that we don’t initially realize.

Think about it. When you have a two, or even a three car garage in the front of your house, that usually creates a large “curb cut” driveway out to the street. That makes it hard, or even impossible, to park cars on the side of the street, because you can’t block driveways. Thus many suburban streets have little, if any, on-street parking.

How does that lead to speeding? Municipal streets are designed with a “design speed” in mind – a sort of rational speed that a reasonable person would want to instinctively drive at, based on the width and other conditions of the street design. I’ve heard it suggested by transportation experts that the actual design speed of most streets is actually higher than the posted speed limit, leading to an instinctive urge to want to drive faster than the speed limit. This has led in part to the growth in recent decades of the “traffic calming” movement, where new street designs or alternative design standards seek to create “friction” that slows down speed more effectively than the posted speed limit does.

But in these garage-filled suburbs, it gets worse than this regular design speed challenge. That’s because the width of streets across our suburbs is based on the assumption of on-street parking, usually on both sides, or at least one. So the streets are wide enough to accommodate very comfortable drive lanes, plus the on-street parking room. But as I’ve explained, the front drive garages and related driveways prevent that on-street parking, leading to extra-wide driving lanes with even higher design speeds. So its not surprising that people speed on these roads – the design is essentially tempting them to!

Of course many of the newer suburbs in New Zealand have exactly the same issues as being described above and it’s worth remembering that the outcome of garages and off street parking is not just something that was purely about people choosing it but that off street parking was enforced through minimum parking requirements.

In my suburb the prevalence of off street parking means that very few people ever park on the street itself leaving many roads very wide and conducive to speeding (which many do). Luckily in my suburb the frequent curb cuts that do happen are not the style where the footpath suddenly drops in a bid to make it easier for cars but makes for a quite uneven footpath and definitely not one friendly towards people in wheelchairs.

Perhaps one upside of the unused parking spaces is it should be fairly easy to implement the likes of cycle lanes on many streets – although probably not protected ones due to the need to allow for frequent driveway access.

But it’s not just speeding that is an issue; it’s never nice to hear about kids that get run over in driveways by family members who didn’t realise they were there. Safekids NZ says:

Every two weeks a child is hospitalised with serious injuries received from a vehicle driving on a private driveway in New Zealand. A further five children are killed annually, on average, in the same way. Most children injured in driveway incidents are toddlers, aged about two years old and when death does not occur, the injuries they receive are often severe. The driver is usually a close family member. The devastating impact of these events upon families cannot be overstated.

But the off street parking often creates additional problems with how our houses and streets are designed. Brent continues:

On top of the speeding, multiple garages mean that the house is set back deeply from the street, usually at least 6 metres with no (or at best small) porches, separating the house from any easy social interaction with the sidewalk. The setback and blocking garages (often referred to as “snout houses” if they pert rude closer to the street than the actual house) also mean there’s no “eyes on the street,” which makes the street less safe and social. Such houses even fail the “trick-or-treat test” at Halloween! Can you find the door bell, or is it hidden from street view? It can sometimes feel like there’s no house at all, or at best that it’s a house attached to a garage, rather than a garage attached to a house.

Actually the interaction with the sidewalk may be moot, as there likely isn’t a sidewalk anyway…that’s another thing the curb cut often replaces. No continuous sidewalk, no landscape green strip, and often most disappointing, no street trees! Add to these losses the previously discussed absence of on-street parking, which can actually play a valuable role as a buffer separating pedestrians from moving cars, and you have a significant impact on the quality of the walking experience, the walkability, of the neighbourhood. When the walking experience is less inviting, more people choose to drive, with all of the health, expense, environmental and social/quality-of-life implications that come with that choice.

In many things it’s often what seems like small insignificant issues that can end up causing massive problems. Off street parking in itself isn’t the only cause of auto-dependency but it certainly contributes towards it. Further as Brent points out these issues are ones that can get significantly worse with a greater density of housing unless the building/neighbourhood is well designed to deal with it.

Parking Curb Cuts - Stonefields

At the roads in Stonefields have been narrowed down

Back in Auckland the Unitary Plan will be setting the rules about parking and garages in the future. It’s generally an improvement over what exists now as the plan removes parking minimums from most Metropolitan, Town and local centres (some rural ones excluded), from the Terraced house and Apartment and Mixed Use zones and from the City Centre Fringe Overlay area. However they will still apply in single and both mixed housing zones which are the ones that make up the majority of Auckland. There are no controls proposed to deal with the issue of how off street parking interacts back with the street and the only requirements around garages is to try and reduce the visual dominance of them in dwellings.

ADM Parking issues

I’ll leave the last word to Brent

Obviously garages aren’t the only issue and challenge effecting our suburban street designs, or even the biggest. Outdated engineering street standards, designing for fire truck sizes, snow storage expectations in winter cities, and the whole underlying disconnectedness of typical subdivision design, all play huge roles in our history of car-dependant sprawl. But don’t underestimate the role that garages have played. As we strive to build smarter, more walkable suburbs, while undertaking “sprawl repair” on those we’ve already built, it’s time for a more candid and thoughtful discussion about the ripple effects of, and alternatives to, all those front drive garages. They matter a great deal to the design and enjoyment of our neighbourhoods, well beyond that garage door.