Brady Nixon, the Development Manager at Progressive Enterprises [yup, the supermarket biz] and the force behind the upcoming Vinegar Lane development in Ponsonby has written a very detailed response to key aspects of the Draft Unitary Plan. His approach is particularly interesting because it is grounded in market practicalities and focused on design quality outcomes through intensification. It is also good to see a discussion around the built environment with some visual sophistication. The fully illustrated PDF, Market Responsive Intensification, is available here.
The inspiration for his approach is an urban renewal project from the 1990s on some disused docks in Amsterdam, called Borneo Sporenburg:
At Borneo Sporenburg there are some 2500 separately titled four story dwellings with a pretty handy density of 100 units per hectare. The key to their appeal is the variety of appearance within a consistency of massing of the resultant blocks. This richly textured outcome is a result of each building being designed and built to the tastes of each owner rather than by one developer but all within a very tight master plan and a design control process.
There are also two larger more traditional blocks that throw the regularity of the pattern on each pier and a couple of fancy foot bridges. And of course all the joys of being right on the water, largely car free, and close to the centre of old Amsterdam. Focusing on the ‘row houses’ their defining characteristic is that each dwelling has a relatively small footprint and therefore the whole site offers a comparable density to apartment blocks but they can still be organised more like detached buildings with independent ownership rather than needing systems like Bodies Corporate to operate them. Furthermore by subdividing valuable land into small lots the cost barriers to entry come down, so this is a way to involve ordinary people in development and not just leave it to developers.
Which brings us to Auckland. Nixon argues that the market is more accustomed to ‘Fee Simple’ ownership structures than to more collective models such as renting or co-governing whole buildings.
He has two other observations from local market condition.
One, that we are a nation of small scale builders; our building industry is predominantly structured around putting up one dwelling at a time, with a straightforward builder-client relationship [or builder-architect-client] with relatively small amounts of venture capital . He claims that the proportion of single dwelling construction compared to higher volume builds is 80%. Therefore however the city is to grow then that change must be deliverable through this cottage industry model in order to happen.
Two. He argues that the resultant structures are more acceptable to those fearful of the idea of intensification. He asks:
Where communities oppose intensification the question is not do they oppose intensification but in what form do they oppose intensification?
Going on to use the example of his own development, Vinegar Lane, comparing his new fee simple individually designed but dense small footprint model with the previous developer controled monolith:
The solution engaged at Ponsonby is in fact denser than the previous Soho scheme. But it is lower in bulk, scale and height than what was proposed and it is able to be delivered within the framework of the Mixed Use Zone rules.
So all is good then? Nixon and others can happily offer this typology to the market, and if he is right that sites in developments like this should be lapped up, as indeed they have in Ponsonby?
Not so fast, there are a whole lot of road blocks in the way of this model in the DUP, most notably minimum lot size, but also set-backs, height in relation to boundary, and, of course, those great place killers; minimum parking regulations. In Nixon’s view the DUP primarily imagines two main routes to intensification; large scale apartment buildings, or infill in residential zones [‘garden gobbling’].
The former he claims is often unworkable because of the difficulties of site amalgamation, insufficient numbers of well funded development companies, and a luke warm demand. The latter neither supplies sufficient increase in density nor protects popular old neighbourhoods so is arguably likely to be even less successful.
For the solution to this problem Nixon’s next inspiration is Tokyo, a city with high density but often not high rise, here’s an example:
But only if subdivision is possible, and other regulations that restrict these kind of tight typologies on appropriate sites are removed.
Vinegar Lane will supply about 110 units per hectare, comparable to Borneo Sporenburg, way above the 15-25 that new greenfields subdivisions offer, and even better than the densities of nearby Grey Lynn which is around 35-40.
The sites are all intentionally varied in size and the smallest is 72m^2. So you can see why Nixon sees the DUP’s minimum lot sizes of 200m^2 in urban zones to be a problem
Here’s what the DUP proposes for the very zones that are ideal for more intensive construction, Nixon’s commentary on the right:
Here’s another example, this time from Sydney:
So here is Nixon’s summary of his small footprint argument:
And below are his overall UP recommendations, which are probably best summed as saying that the Council should concentrate on Quality controls and be less proscriptive with Quantity ones. If a Quality city is sought then compact one will follow so long as the barriers to achieving this morphology can be removed for appropriate locations. I would love to see these types of buildings in all their variety going up along Great North Rd as well as apartments and other mixed use buildings. I’m sure the old light commercial parts of Onehunga would be enlivened by this sort of owner built environment.
And the key to achieving it allowing greater subdivision than is currently planned.