This is a guest post from John Polkinghorne

I really enjoyed Matt’s post on why he wants intensification in his neighbourhood. I thought I’d write one on why I love it in mine. First off I should explain that I live in a CBD fringe apartment.

1. Work is a ten minute walk away. This is hard to beat, and you can believe me when I say that I don’t miss long commutes. This means more time to do the things I want, and less money spent on petrol. It was also great to be close to the university when I was doing postgrad (again, pretty much a ten minute walk).

2. A slightly longer walk takes me to Britomart, Wynyard Quarter, Queen St, the movies, you name it. There are 650 cafes, restaurants, takeaways and bars in the CBD, there for the taking (subject to budgetary constraints).

A short walk from the finest eating destinations
A short walk from the finest eating destinations
A slightly longer walk may lead to spontaneous singing of The Lonely Island songs
A slightly longer walk may lead to spontaneous singing of The Lonely Island songs

3. I’m a five minute walk from the supermarket. Sure, it’s a Countdown and pretty expensive, but it’s good for top-up shopping. We try to do bigger shops out at Pak N’ Save, and this is one of those situations where the car comes in handy.

4. In summary, we are very well set up to do a lot of walking to places, rather than driving. This is presumably good for my fitness level.

5. This all means that my partner and I get by very well with one car between us. We’re thankful we’ve got the car, it gives us a lot of options and we wouldn’t want to be without it, but we don’t need two. This is probably saving us at least $1,000 a year.

6. There’s always something happening in the city. Lantern Festivals can break out at a moment’s notice.

World Cups also just come out of nowhere
World Cups also just come out of nowhere

7. My apartment complex has a tennis court, a gym, a lap pool and a sauna. I don’t use these facilities as much as I should, but it’s nice to know they’re there! If I go for a run, I can take in Princes Wharf, Victoria Park and other enjoyable locales. Or I could head the other way out to Tamaki Drive.

Tennis court provided. BYO coordination.
Tennis court provided. BYO coordination.

8. There’s better security. You need a swiper to get in the front door of the complex, and then again for each floor, and you’ve only got access to your own floor. Plus there are surveillance cameras at the main entrances. It’d be pretty hard for people to get robbed here.

9. Higher density living is low maintenance. There’s no worry about mowing the lawn, less outside area to clean up and so on. I actually enjoy the small amount of cleaning up I do get to do outside, but looking after a whole house would stop being fun pretty quickly.

10. This apartment is the warmest place I’ve ever lived, including my parents’ houses and any number of flats. The best insulation you can have is another dwelling attached to yours. In my case, the only surface exposed to the elements is a single wall. I’ve got a little fan heater which I put on now and again in winter, but I can’t even tell the difference between my power usage in summer and winter (I’m the kind of person who records this). On average, we pay $90 a month for power, water and water heating combined. Which includes my share of the water used in common areas and the pool.

11. I’ve got friends living in the same building as me, and I can go and annoy them any time I want!

Sure, there are down sides. If other friends come round, it can be tricky for them to find a park, and of course this is even tougher in the centre of town. But you’re always going to get that in the CBD, and if friends want to take public transport – perhaps it’s a Friday or a Saturday evening and driving home doesn’t seem like a good idea – then it couldn’t be any easier.

Soot and black dust builds up in the courtyard and, to a lesser extent, inside. I’m not too sure what the air quality is like but it’s probably a bit worse than, say, a lifestyle block in Karaka. Our neighbours tried to grow some lettuces in those ready-made potting mix bags that you get from Mitre 10, and that stuff actually built up inside the lettuces as they grew. So growing stuff you’re going to eat is a no-no here. This situation probably has a bit to do with cars and a lot to do with the trucks from the port, but hopefully cleaner vehicles will make it better over time.

At this level of density, it’s not practical (or allowed, in the case of my building) to have pets like cats and dogs. But renters struggle with this everywhere in New Zealand. For medium density, side-by-side townhouses and so on, I can’t see there being any problem with cats and dogs.

I’m also lucky to live in a fairly large one-bedroom apartment (60 m2 plus a sizeable courtyard). It’s not a shoebox and I wouldn’t want to live in one, but some people do and I’ve got no problem with that.

On the whole, high-density living isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be. This is a point which has been brought up on this blog time and again. People aren’t going to be forced to live in apartments, or even townhouses. But there should be choices available. For me, right now, high-density living is great. I’ve been here three years so far and I could be here another 3-5 years easily.

After that, maybe I’d want to start thinking medium-density, somewhere with a little more space where my hypothetical kids can run around and be closer to schools (which the CBD is not well endowed with). If there were more good 2-3 bedroom apartments available in town, and if there were better facilities for kids, maybe I’d stay in the CBD instead. But low density? Big house, big backyard, long commutes? Not for me.

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  1. Enrique Peñalosa:
    “The inadequacies of the suburbs are well known. They are high-energy-use environments: homes are large and thus consume much energy for cooling and heating; occupants’ mobility is dependent on the automobile; distances to reach jobs, shops, and recreation areas are long; and low-cost and high-frequency public transport is not viable in such a low-density environment. Suburbs severely restrict the mobility of vulnerable citizens—youngsters, the poor, and the very old—who usually lack access to a car. Because most destinations are unreachable on foot, suburban public spaces tend to be devoid of people—making them boring in their almost eerie silence interrupted only by the sound of cars that sporadically zoom by or lawnmowers with their maddening engines. Suburbs are not propitious for diversity: Russian literature courses or Afghan restaurants require high concentrations of people nearby from which to draw the small percentage who are interested.”

  2. Nice post. In regards to the savings advantage of using one car it seems like you may be underestimating the figure. How much does it cost to store your car for the year? Recent estimates in the US say a maintaining and operating a car costs $9,000.

    1. Hi Kent,
      For a couple of years or so we rented the carpark out for $50 a week, or $2,600 a year – this seems to be about the going rate in our building. Although these days there seems to be a slight oversupply so you might have to knock that back to $45. We parked the car a few streets over on a side street in Parnell, with free all day parking. This was good for us since we don’t use the car that often.

      More recently, we’ve been slack (and you have to pay on our street on Saturdays now, whereas it used to be free) so we haven’t rented the carpark out again.

      The costs of owning a car depend heavily on its age, etc, and I’d like to do a guest post on that when I get round to it! But I’d imagine the fixed costs if we did have a second car, assuming it wasn’t anything special, would be another couple of grand in addition to what we might be paying for it in parking. For a fancy new car, I’m sure costs could easily go above $9K a year once you factor in depreciation, but fortunately most of us aren’t throwing our money away that easily!

      1. I own a fuel efficient car, and can store it for free, it costs $3000 a year if I don’t service it, or have to do any repairs.
        I don’t think anyone could own a car and spend less.

      2. The AA reports NZ car costs, based on 14k km/y, at about $7.5k for a <1500cc car, $9k for a 1500-2000cc car. That does not include the cost of parking. Driving it less will save a little, getting a cheap car will take, at most, a few thousand off that.

      3. Really? Maybe I’m quite far out of the ordinary, but when we had two cars (ie when I had a car) I was paying rego $300 a year, WOF say another $100 a year, 3rd party insurance which I can’t remember how much it cost, and it was only worth $1500 by the time I sold it so depreciation would have been minimal. Those are the only fixed costs I can think of, I mean once you start driving it you need to add in petrol, maintenance, tyres etc, but I still think for a fairly old car – and the average vehicle age in NZ is 13 years – the fixed costs would be pretty low.

        The AA look at much newer cars, of course, and they also include interest on the purchase price. Certainly this all shows that there can be very large differences in the ongoing cost of cars, based on vehicle age and so on.

        1. 300 rego, 100 wof, insurance is 400 usually, so that is 1500, but then you are realistically looking at 40 a week per car is 4,000 a year for both.

        2. Yes, like I said, you can save on depreciation if you buy an older car. But that is not a pure saving as running costs increase with age.

          Also you can’t really count no insurance as a saving — there is a risk your car will be damaged or stolen in which case you are left with nothing. The cost of insurance quantifies those risks (reduce them by 10% or whatever to account for the insurer’s profit). Your line of argument here is common to car owners who typically underestimate what their car costs them, or bring up the old $2k car that someone had. Depreciation matters, even for older cars!

  3. I thought I would counter your points with my pespective. I live in Weymouth (manurewa) – 20km from the city.
    1. Its a 25 min commute on my motorbike, 50 on my bicycle – both are just long enough to be enjoyable, stress relieving, fitness inducing rides.
    2. Not all that interested in bars, cafes, etc – but there are plenty 5 mins away, if I want them. What I do have is open space, parks, pets, trees, ocean, gardens, etc.
    3. I’m 5 mins walk from New World – it usually works out cheaper to shop there than countdown or pak n save because the size of the shop is smaller and there is less of the Gruen factor.
    4. I’m 400m from the beach (and live in a house that costs the same as an apartment). I have rugby fields and 5kms of beachside, dog walking/running/cycling area, yacht clubs, sea scouts, fishing, swimming, canoeing. My daughters school is 1km away, and we ride our bikes there every day.
    5. We have one car, 1 motorcycle (couldn’t live without it even if I was living next door to work), and 7 bicycles. Dont know how much it saves me, but in time, petrol, parking, and doctors bills.. its huge.
    6. There’s always something happening where I live, street fights, car chases, school galas, touch rugby, rugby rugby, cricket, soccer, people cycling, walking their dogs, fishing, swimming, helping out with community projects etc. Went for a run a few weekends ago along the beach and found about 50 or so volunteers out cleaning up – awesome.
    7. Think I have already got everything in other replies. Although – I can go to a free (new) pool – 1km away. Cycle out to the airport – mangere bridge, or to clevedon, or maraetai, or waiuku, etc.Squash club and cricket/rugby fields (heaps of them), by the pool. No shortage of stuff here.
    8. I’ve got a big black hairy dog and good neighbours. Havent been robbed in 8 years, touch wood. KNow several people who live in apartments in the CBD who are terrified to go outside after dark though.
    9. I love mowing the lawn, fixing stuff, making stuff. It relaxes me.
    10. Have fire – have warmth 🙂
    11. I dont want to be too close to my friends. I spent many years flatting with them, and now I am quite happy to catch up when I can. It makes it all the more special.
    I have kids, and having somewhere they can play safely, where their friends parents can drop them off without having to worry is awesome. We have a trampoline, a lawn, bicycles, water slides, places to make huts and forts, fruit trees to pick fruit from, animals of all kinds in our yard, birds, mice, rats, dogs, cats, possums, rabbits, you name it.

    But then.. I was born and raised on a farm, and I find even a 1/4 acre section inhibiting. If I could live in the country, I would. I dont think it is good for people to be packed in together, people need space to breathe, to relax, to “tend their land” – its our nature. There might be a few evolutionarily challenged people who prefer otherwise, but hey, when the revolution comes, and the fence needs fixing, who’s gonna be the one who knows how to do it? 😛

    1. Hi Geoff, you don’t have to be “countering” my points, we’ll all have our different places to live and that’s cool. It sounds like you’ve got it pretty sweet where you are as well, so let’s e-clink our metaphorical drinks and be happy!

    2. And every place is different, I mean not every apartment has tennis courts and pools, but they don’t all have trucks rocketing past them either, so it’s all different strokes for different folks. High-density living will only ever house a small part of Auckland’s population, but I just wanted to put myself out there as a case study. It’d be interesting to hear from some people in medium-density since that’s probably more the way we’re headed…

    3. Aaarrrggghhh I don’t mean to dominate the discussion by commenting three times in a row, but I also just wanted to say that I didn’t mean your thoughts weren’t interesting Geoff, because they are, and also good on ya for biking around.

      And thanks for getting the discussion going cause that’s exactly what I wanted :-). I’ve learned over the last few years that people are endlessly fascinating and live in all sorts of different ways, some of which might never occur to others of us, so it’s interesting to learn more about what other people are doing and get a fresh perspective.

      Who’s out there who can give us a perspective from medium density living? Although of course this has just been published

      1. Agreed John, you like density, Geoff likes suburbia, neither of you are wrong, you just shouldn’t ignore the desires of others.

      2. I am guessing from your pictures that you are in The Landings complex of apartments off Ronayne Street? I would guess that a lot of the black soot you see if from the trucks as you say, but more than likely a significant amount is coming from the diesel trains – the removal of these should make a big difference. Up on Shortland Street where I live I don’t find I have any soot building up and happily grew the odd vegetable and herb on my balcony with no problem.

        1. I got a lot of soot on the balcony when I lived in Emily Place/Customs St. The herbs didn’t last more than a couple of months, and they didn’t look too edible before that. I’d expect the diesel buses are a big factor. But maybe the exhaust vents from Britomart were contributing? I’m not sure exactly where that exhaust comes out.

        2. The herbs a friend grows in their suburban Ellerslie house also looked pretty unhappy, so she gave up. She just sticks to buying the fresh herbs from the supermarket. So in reality the number of suburbanites with vege gardens is probably barely higher than the number in apartments.

        3. I live in the Docks, top level, facing the harbour. Couldn’t be happier. Great weather and sound insulation, don’t need to warm up or cool down the place. Just a blanket on the couch does it.
          I have an enclosed balcony that works a bit like a glasshouse and I grow tomatoes basilicum and mint all year round (I don’t get the black soot, but then the balcony has sliding doors) so in case of zombie invasion I have a safe supply for my pastas and mojitos, like any respectable Italian should. We own a car, a motorbike and a bike. We have a 10 minutes compounded commute time. Sometimes I go to work by motorbike just to piss off my neighbours and it takes me longer than cycling.
          The drawbacks? To go shopping (countdown) I have to cross a 4 lane highway 200m long and risk my life, there are way too many trucks going to the ports, they should use the mechanics bay entrance only.
          They should ban engine braking to trucks as well, as they do in villages with 200 people but not where there are 1000 people in an apartment block. I don’t hear them much because I live in the top floor but I know that for people downstairs it’s a pain. And you don’t need engine braking in a flat road, muppet!
          Hey John, I love that Vietnamese place!

  4. John, you make a solid case for higher density living in the CBD. Two things you don’t mention though: a) noise – what is the level of noise like from neighbours, people centric businesses (e.g. bars, Vector) and street noise etc? and b) my understanding is the body corp fees in apartments with pools and/or elevators is high, plus many apartments in the city are on leasehold land. Do you own or rent? Renting seems to make a lot of sense in this situation.

    1. a: I can’t hear my neighbours at all
      b: Body Corp are nazis, and a 59 sqm apartment (not mine) pays 13500 incl leasehold per year plus rates. not worth buying it.

      1. Yes leasehold can be expensive but you are of course paying significantly less for the apartment than if you bought a similarly sized one freehold. Personally my body corporate is less tnan 3000 a year and that covers all the long term and ongoing maintenance of the building. I would never buy into a complex that didn’t have one, it’s the only sure way that money will be spent keeping the whole complex in good order long term. Otherwise I am significantly better off owning the apartment I am in, I pay lot less than if I rented and can make changes to the apartment etc etc. Again each to their own but I freestanding houses also have a large ongoing cost that also needs to be taken into account if you don’t want it to collapse.

      2. Oh and I can’t hear my neighbours either but it comes down to how well the building was constructed not whether it is am apartment per se, and unfortunately a lot of developers cut corners in this area in Auckland.

    2. Hey Steve, noise varies a lot from place to place… a bit like living in a detached house on a main road vs in a cul-de-sac. Where I am is good, but if you live at the west end of The Landings (which is indeed my pad) you get noise from the trucks along Beach Rd, and at the east end you get noise from the trains as they go around what I believe is the sharpest turn anywhere on the rail network.

      Neighbours is probably the thing which is inherent to higher density living, and it really depends on your neighbours. Good soundproofing means I can’t hear my neighbours inside their apartment on any side of me – when they’re making loud noise on their balcony, that’s a different story. I haven’t lived above bars but I don’t think that would be a very good idea: noise + late nights does not make for the best neighbour.

      I was quite disappointed when I moved here to find out that you can’t hear any noise from outside Vector. I’d thought I’d be able to hang out outside and listen to bands who I was sort of interested in, but not enough to pay the ticket price for. As opposed to Western Springs – that worked a treat for AC/DC.

      I’m a renter, but will certainly be looking to buy in the future. Body corp fees can include a lot of things – for me and Gian, they include the ground rent. I consider this to be a fair payment given the value of the land so I have no issues with that, and it would be the biggest component of the fees. Body corp also includes maintenance of the buildings – a major item, especially over time, but you’d also be paying that for a detached home. It will cover cleaning of the common areas, mowing lawns, gym equipment, pool water heating and cleaning, etc. These are all things that need to be paid for some way or another, so I’m philosophical about it. It doesn’t mean owners shouldn’t be vigilant to ensure they’re getting value for money, but in most cases I don’t think people are being rorted. I hope.

      Things do get complicated with leasehold property, and I hope the Auckland Council is coming up with some good ways to address this at Wynyard Quarter when apartments start going up there. But, assuming leasehold apartments are reasonably priced, they can be a way to become mortgage free earlier. At which point I could diversify any future savings so I don’t have all my eggs in the property basket. So it’s not all bad.

      1. Saves you $500 minimum on gym, some more on pool and tennis access, 3000 in house maintenance so not bad I gues..

        1. Still, out of the 13.500 fees I mentioned before, 6500 is leashold, 7000 is Body Corp. No facilities at the Docks, only lifts. Not even a bicycle rack.

        2. i wish it was an error. I went to see an apartment for sale and that’s what the agent told me. I should still have the printout somewhere.

  5. Loves me my suburban paradise. A garden, lawn, birds of all sorts and three beehives. Good neighbors either side. I wouldn’t trade it for an apartment (not yet anyway). However each to their own. I generally support intensification, my main concern being that fast buck developers will dump a whole lot of shabby high rises around the suburbs.

    1. Landlord, it’s factored into the rent. No different to if the landlord had bought the land with a mortgage.

  6. Yesterday I visited a dentist at Britomart [The Tooth Company Customs St- very cool interior] and asked the receptionist, as I am want to do, about her commute. Well it turns out she lives in the Strand, in a townhouse, so it’s a short and pleasant walk. But then she said how her previous job was in Mt Albert and she took the train there. Counter-flow commute. Nice example.

    Everyday now there’s a letter in the Herald saying that decentalisation is the answer to transport problems; what nonsense, as if every transport project is about getting workers to the CBD…. sigh…

    1. Spoke with a guy the other day who moved to Drury and set himself and his family up near work in Papakura, so far so good. Couple of years back job moved to Henderson. Did he up sticks and shift house, family and community? No, he started driving Drury to Henderson every day. Didn’t ask about the wife and kids, wouldn’t be surprised if they work or study in the city or somewhere else in the region. It’s just naive to think that households who live in one area will will always all work, study, play, shop etc in that area.

  7. Have a friend who lives in Waimauku, worked in Newmarket, enough of a commute, but lost that job, next one; Takanini. In the middle of a big reno on the house and determined to live in it, 130km daily commute. Yeah decentralisation is sure gonna solve all out transport issues.

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