Last year the Auckland Plan set a target for 70% of intensification to happen within the existing metropolitan urban area (note that includes greenfield land out to the imposed urban boundary). This was seen as a too radical step for many, something completely different from what Aucklander’s were used to and that would result in people being forced into apartments. The council ended up chickening out on the target and so included a fall-back position 60% intensification.

The debate on intensification heated up again earlier this year during the discussions on the Unitary Plan with again some people claiming that most people want to live on the traditional mythical “quarter acre paradise”. However I’ve always been a bit sceptical about just how much sprawl has been occurring and back in January I looked at the building consent figures which showed that over 70% of the consents issued occurred within the existing urban area.

The first batch of detailed census data was released last week and as you would expect with the information, there is a lot of interesting results hidden within the figures. The first response of many when the data came out was understandably to look at where most of the growth has occurred – the answer to that was generally the CBD and some of the greenfield developments to in the Northwest and Southeast. The seemingly strong greenfield growth caused some to immediately question whether the councils compact city model was really the right direction for the city should be head – despite the compact city model being a forward looking plan and the census being a backward looking exercise.

However looking at where growth is occurring it can be very easy to overlook some key points. In particular a lot of low level growth across the suburbs may not look that important but it can easily add up to a significant amount when combined together. With that in mind and thinking about the intensification targets that were set I thought I would go have a look at what has happened population growth in a slightly different fashion to what has happened so far. To start with for each of the Auckland Census area units I have put them in to one of the following categories.

  • City and Fringe – CBD, eastern Side of Ponsonby Rd, Newton, Grafton, Newmarket and Parnell.
  • Metro Centres – e.g. Albany, Takapuna, Henderson, New Lynn, Manukau, Papakura.
  • Suburban – Rest of the urban area.
  • Mixed – Had some suburban development in 2006 however has also seen some greenfield development.
  • Greenfield – Most of the population growth has through greenfield development.
  • Rural – should be fairly self-explanatory.
  • Rural towns – Settlements outside the existing urban area e.g. Pukekohe, Huapai, Warkworth etc.

Now admittedly it isn’t perfect and we really need the meshblock data to do this exercise properly but still it’s a useful indication. The results in the table below shows that while the suburban areas saw the least growth as a percentage increase figure, they did see by far the most overall growth and accounted for 51% of all the growth that did occur within the region. On the whole population growth within the existing urban areas of Auckland was 64% of all the growth that occurred while greenfield developments accounted for just 24% of the population growth. Perhaps unsurprisingly these results are similar to the building consent ones.  What it does mean is that a target of 70% intensification is not only realistic but not that different from what has been happening in recent years.

Census - where growth occured

Further, as you would expect this growth is having an impact on the density of the city. For each area unit I have rounded the density to the nearest 500 people per square km and use that to create a density profile for the region. The graph below shows that density profile for the entire region based on the percentage of people living in each of the density buckets. It indicates that the density curve is shifting higher while also flattening out with the change generally being less people living at lower densities and more people living at higher densities.

Population Density Profile Percent

However the question is not just whether there are more people living at higher densities but whether the suburbs themselves are getting denser. To help answer this, the graph below shows the density profile based on the total number of people living in each density bucket. What this shows is that there are actually less people living in some of the lower density buckets. For example in 2001 almost 285,000 were living at a density of roughly 2500 people per km², by 2006 that had dropped to 247,500 and in 2013 is at just over 218,500.

Population Density Profile Total

What this suggests is that the density is changing due to the suburbs getting denser. It is important though to point out that at this stage that it’s unknown whether that is due to there being more dwellings, more people in each dwelling or less vacant dwellings. We will need to wait for future census data to come out before we can tell that.

One thing that is really noticeable is that there is an almost complete absence of people living in the medium-high densities. Something between the really high density seen in places like the CBD -which reaches over 10,000 people per km² and the low-medium densities in the suburbs. We should really be seeing a lot more people in the 4,500-6,000 range however we will need to address that in a separate post.

Based on what we know so far it is pretty clear that Auckland is getting denser and when you consider the change since 2001 the impact is quite substantial. One useful way of measuring density as a whole is to look at the weighted density which measures density based on what the average density that people experience rather than a simple calculation of total number of people divided by total land area. One of the reasons for using this metric is that otherwise you get some very odd results like that Auckland is more dense than the urban area of New York due to the large amounts of low density housing in places like New Jersey and Long Island. Based on the weighted density measure, the Auckland region comes in at roughly 2,650 per km² which is an increase of 17% over 2001.

One last point that is worth mentioning in all of this. Census area units are very broad and include parks, industrial areas and other pieces of land that can have negative impacts on density calculations. As such the figures in this post are very rough and we will need to wait for the more detailed meshblock data to emerge before giving more accurate results however it does mean that the density calculations are likely to increase. That more detailed data will also eventually allow us to look more closely at how we compare to other cities in NZ and overseas.

So Auckland has been getting denser already and the sky hasn’t fallen, someone should tell the residents of St Heliers and Milford that it’s ok to come out of their single storey houses now.

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  1. “So Auckland has been getting denser already and the sky hasn’t fallen, someone should tell the residents of St Heliers and Milford that it’s ok to come out of their single storey houses now.”

    Can someone pass that on to the Manurewa Local Board as well please. Removing the THAB from the southern end of the Manukau Metropolitan Centre and placing back into Mixed Housing Suburban just seemed daft…

  2. Hi Matt,
    I think that you left a not out of “What it does mean is that a target of 70% intensification is NOT only realistic but not that different from what has been happening in recent years.”

  3. Hi Matt,
    I don’t see the point in being divisive about people being concerned about their neighbourhoods and potential intensification. As you have impressively shown, intensification is possible with both parties being satisfied. Surely this is the real story here?

      1. No Geoff, there is an adverse reaction to Residents’ Associations claiming to represent the residents of an area when they all fit into a very narrow demographic, and weilding power as if they did.

        1. “Sailor- you got me hotter n Georgia ashphalt”

          But seriously. You’re right, how crazy that residents of an area form an association to represent the residents and then call it a Residents Assoc. That makes no sense.

          Better to have some anonymous person on the internet tell us what to do?

          Say “mob rule”, I dare you… Fauxbanists are barely worth arguing with.

          1. Geoff I think the problem is that residents associations tend to only represent the interests of those on the associations which is usually only a small subsection of the entire local population. Sure anyone in the area could join up but most probably don’t want too and those with different views are often forced out/sidelined.

            Further just because someone lives in an area it doesn’t mean they know best and people often make decisions that aren’t in their best interests.

          2. Matt- there’s a reason the phrase “local knowledge” exists.

            Top down planning got us into the mess we are in. Do you really believe that more of it is the answer?

            Trying local planning from the grass roots might be a better way. You never know til you try right?

            It may even get more people voting in local elections which I’m hoping you are in favour of..

          3. Residents associations are moaners clubs joined by people who have an axe to grind. Whether their gripes are valid or not is beside the point, you certainly can’t call it resident decision making when it doesn’t involve almost all of the residents in an area.

          4. By your logic we should have no Council at present. After all- most people didn’t vote. Are the few that did representative. Careful how you answer..

          5. Except Geoff the residents assiociations that we’re talking about weren’t advocating for any planning. They just wanted to freeze the area in amber and prevent change. And no I don’t think we can’ say that top down planning failed as that isn’t what has happened over the decades, we either had a complete lack of planning or the type mentioned before of locking an area in amber.

            Something to think about, the two places in the entire city right now that are the most interesting in terms of what has recently happened or is happening right now – the Britomart precinct and Wynyard Quarter – have been the outcome of meticulous planning.

            However to be fair, I’m interested to hear how you/locals would propose changing the planning in Grey Lynn/Ponsonby to enable the area to take a fare share of the future population increase.

          6. Some Res Ass. are like that, but you’re acting like all of them are. The only way to beat that sort is to join in numbers and take it over. Of course that takes effort. Most people can’t be bothered.

            Re Grey Lynn Pons- while a lot of it is very dense already, there is still room for more. Sleepouts and digging under the existing house have been being done for years, split villas, adaptation and reuse of existing buildings, sympathetic new developments, sailor boy even mentioned 200m2 sections… There are lots of options and we have pitched these to the UP folk.

            The “Independent” commissioners at Council will soon approve th Bunnings warehouse on GNR against the wishes of the locals who want multi story apartments along that ridge.

            That’s a weird sort of nimby ism isn’t it?

            Your meticulously planned developments are not to everyone’s taste, but I’m glad you enjoy them. Others enjoy other types of areas.

            If everything was all the same there’d be no point going anywhere would there?

          7. Residents associations are primarily run and supported by people who care about their community. If you see that as moaning, perhaps it is just an opposing view. Every single person where I was had only the community’s well being in mind. A blog of like minded people intent on change in their community / city is every bit the same kind of organisation as an R&R group just in a modern iteration.

          8. Geoff, voter turnout for the council elections was, while low, still 33%. One third is a pretty good sample, and pretty damned far from ‘almost all’ not voting.

            What proportion of Grey Lynn’s 11,000 residents are part of the Grey Lynn Residents Association, not even 3% I assume? I know the St Mary’s Bay nimby club has about fifty members, hardly representative of a suburb of 3,000 residents, when 98% of residents aren’t a member.

          9. In reply to Matt’s comment about Grey Lynn / Ponsonby as a local resident. I’m mystified why so much of this area has been moved into the Single Housing Zone. Pretty much everywhere in these areas should at least be in the MHZ suburban zone. Using overlays and other tools is a much better way to protect heritage, no need to down-zone all of Williamson Avenue for example.

          10. “residents of an area form an association to represent the residents ”

            I would argue that this is not true for the enormous majority of RAs. I think that the associations are formed out of self interest in an effort to manipulate elected bodies into acting in a way that benefits members of the residents association. Given that most of the RAs are allowed to block membership to residents if they disagree with the majority view, and all of hem are actively hostile to this group I think my claim may have a touch of backing.

        2. As a very recent member of a Residents Association, this assertion that members only represent a narrow demographic is incorrect as a blanket statement. Sure, some may appear that way but other residents are welcome to join and residents associations have been responsible for some significant community action (good and bad) in the past. There are also other organisations that are able to contribute to community discussion as well and should put their case forward as per R&R associations. This is a democratic country and I hold that as a very key part of the countries stability.

          What does irk me is when people refuse to listen, learn (especially true of the DUP process), lie or make false statements (3 storys is not high rise Cr Klum), participate and finally, to find compromise. This is how we humans interact. We don’t always like each others opinions but we must compromise.

          However, in relation to Auckland’s population and the UP, there need to be reminders that, in areas where population growth is expected to expand significantly, there will also be a requirement for significant infrastructure spending. Those areas that resist further intensification will end up on the other end of that spending in the same way Auckland is getting significant govt support as the majority of the population is here. There is no point putting in commuter rail for Bluff.

          1. @Brce, I never claimed that all RAs acted that way, I simply stated that I (and many others here) take issue with those who do.

            You say other residents are welcome to join, I sure wasn’t made to feel that way when I was at the UP meeting in Milford, there was an us and them mentality inj that group that was far from welcoming.

            Regarding various groups having input, I agree that it is good for democracy, but some RAs are trying to claim a monopoly on democracy.

            Agree with the rest of the post though.

          2. Hi SB. That wasn’t aimed at you directly. It was more a blanket assessment on how R&R assoc have been viewed in various posts. As for changing R&R Assoc, that’s where you get more like minded people to join. R&R elections (AGM) are there for a reason. If you don’t like something, instigate change. Don’t wait for others to do it.

  4. I have one suggestion in terms of population rise in New Zealand before granting New Zealand Residence can immigration include to have psychological test, it’ll clean up the rotten eggs, i am pretty sure they can as they charge 1810 as a residence fee 100 – 200 bucks more wont hurt the cost, by the way i am non resident lol

  5. nice job Matt. Just to have an idea, what kind of buildings would give that 4000 to 5000 people per kmxkm? Terraced houses maybe?

    1. Assuming that you need 20% for roads and parks which tends to be about right, you can get it with stand alone houses on 200m sections (just). Probably a mix of Terraces, Apartments, and Houses like we have zoned for on Te Atatu Peninsula.

    2. good question. To provide you with two examples of which I am most familiar …

      Edinburgh achieves approximately that level of density though quite a diverse mixture of 4-5 storey tenements, 3-4 storey townhouses, and even some detached dwellings.

      Amsterdam reaches a similar level of density with a different built form: Near universal adoption of 4-6 storey apartment buildings. I believe this typology was adopted by the (many not-for-profit) organisations involved in housing development.

      I’m not sure which model I prefer. While Edinburgh is probably more like Auckland in terms of property ownership and development industry, I will say that Edinburgh does seem to suffer from a lack of “micro” green space.

      In contrast, Amsterdam’s built form seems to be both relatively dense, while still leaving enough space for a lot of 1) green space and 2) transport functions. On the latter point, many of Amsterdam’s major arterials have median tram/bus lanes and separated cycle lanes on each side. Such street width is rarely available in Edinburgh, from what I could tell.

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