Former City of Vancouver Chief Planner Brent Toderian was in Auckland last week and spoke at a very well attended Auckland Conversations event on a range of planning issues that Auckland has much to learn from. We will elaborate on some of the key messages for Auckland coming out of this event during the next week, but for now here’s a different presentation given by Brent back in 2012 which touches on many of the same issues:

While the Unitary Plan does enable some level of increased intensification and certainly places a far greater emphasis on requiring good urban design, the jury is probably still out on whether it truly enables the future that Auckland desperately requires.

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  1. I heard the Auckland 2040 guy got totally slapped down at the Auckland Conversations event. Look forward to hearing more about that!

      1. Ah that question (from Richard Burton, Auckland 2040 from about 97:00) seemed to have been asked and answered across purposes. I believe Richard doesn’t understand “mixed-use” well, and didn’t think that high density done well also involves the construction of local shops (butcher, fruit and veg etc) within a walkable distance of higher density residences, if those shops aren’t already there.

        The context of this is that Auckland has over-done zoning in some of its 1990s-built areas (think Albany, Botany and surrounding areas for the most extreme examples, but also true of the majority of outer suburbia) where there are miles of housing with zero walkable amenity – you must drive to the large retail clusters to get anything. No corner dairies, no nearby sources of food etc.

        I think that when this is “normal” from the point of view of the person worried about density (such as Richard Burton), they think that high density is that amplified – their context is skewed. Brent’s point is that is density done badly – but his answer wasn’t framed well in the context of Auckland’s over-zoned suburbs as an example of how not to do it.

        1. And something Matt and myself will pick up on in our own respective posts over the next few days.

          In saying that Andrew it is something I have noticed with “newer” urban developments here. We just don’t like or seem to like sprinkling some light commercial in the residential areas so Dairys and maybe a larger General Store can pop up to service the local area.

          Need to follow up from Council on how the Neighbourhood centres are meant to work

          1. That is a very valid point. There appears to be too much focus on larger footprint ‘shopping zones’ (Stonefields) than supplying the basics or at least leaving a piece of land in a central location suitable for developing into mixed business / residential. Live above’s?

  2. Would it be fair to say that it is because of Ludo Campbell-Reid’s direction that we have these shared spaces in the CBD now, such as Elliot Street?

    1. Not sure. But if there are any UFC fans out there, do you agree that Ludo looks like a slightly less cut George St Pierre? Uncanny I think – I imagine that is what GSP will look like after he retires!

  3. I think intensification in Auckland is always going to be a dirty word because of the likes of Hobson Street. The architecture is awful – and it doesn’t work as it’s all mostly leaking – there are virtually no amenities, nothing ‘gentle’ about it at all. No ‘singing’. Although we aspire to a well designed city and the benefits of Eco-density we are gun-shy of greedy developers and the toothless bureaucrats who are charged with defending our communities and the quality of life of its citizens.
    As Brent Toderian says, the first thing they had to do in Vancouver was to have the conversation about intensification and back it up with good design principles, examples and ideas. Here in Auckland we’ve been given the Unitary Plan as a done deal – although open to consultation. (It’s a bit like the Airport trial for the new, so called, Smart flight-paths. All done the wrong way around). Then it becomes the kiwi bashing machine of ‘if you’re not with us then you’re against us’ mentality of diversity bashing. This polarisation is unconstructive.
    My view is that good design, working examples and tangible realities will ultimately change peoples perception of intensification but for every poor or outright appalling design build, there will be justified and predictable animosity to the process.
    Ultimately it comes down to the outcomes the various parties are seeking. The planners want more livable communities, the citizens want security their homes and neighbourhoods aren’t going to be destroyed and the developers want to make money. There is a tension in this equation that needs to be well managed to provide successful outcomes to all the parties. Unfortunately Auckland’s history does not provide much confidence of this happening and therein lies the rub.

    1. +1
      There has been a real lack of leadership at the top.

      One thing many folks miss is that the Unitary Plan is only part of what needs to be sorted; the other, possibly more important part, is “the process”.

      Currently the process involves “Independent” commissioners deciding on notified projects. The person that picks the Commissioners seems to pick them to gain a specific outcome…

      Unless the Process is fixed, the UP may never accomplish its’ goals.

      Watch when the Commissioners approve the Bunningsmegastore on the GNR ridge.

      1. Thank god for that Bunnings, about time we had some anti-sprawl development in the inner fringe. I can’t wait to be able to pop over to there instead of having to organise a car to drive out into the suburbs to go to a hardware store.

        1. If only it had an apartment building on the roof. Seems a bit of a waste of a prime intensification site otherwise.

        2. A 100 sqm Hammer Hardware store would likely meet your needs Nick. I use our local one (I ride there generally). If I need timber or bigger stuff, I get it delivered, as I would with large pieces of furniture. The proposed Bunnings store, in my opinion, is oversized by a large factor.

          1. No they don’t meet my needs Bryce, that is the point. For example labour weekend I needed to pick up a certain type of toilet outlet valve, some 120mm flexible ducting (but not the usual 100mm or 150mm size) and browse for a heated towel rail that was the right fit but also had the right look according to my partner. For that I need a bigger store that stocks a large range. Sure if I needed something larger I would get it delivered, but I’d still need to go to the store to find what I needed and check sizes, finish and fit. The biggest bonus for me will be the gardening section, its also a big hassle for me to get to a garden centre to pick up a few pots or whatever.

            Saying a little 100sqm Hammer Hardware will do is like saying that the central area doesn’t need any supermarkets, because you can just go to a little convenience store for all your groceries instead. Sure I use the dairy at the top of my street for some items as needed, but I do most of my shopping at the supermarket for the range and price.

            Strange that people are so keen on intensification of residences and office jobs, but the second it comes to retail a large intensive site in a centralised location is suddenly a bad idea.

      2. Geoff Houtman – The commissioners are chosen by Councillors. I think its pretty paranoid to think they do this with a fixed outcome in mind. Just because a project you don’t agree with is probably going to be approved does not mean that the whole independent commissioner system is broken.

        What is your alternative, to have elected commissioners? That would lead to candidates running on populist platforms, pro-development at one extreme and NIMBY at the other. We would end up with some terrible outcomes. Some parts of the US have elected judges, and they often run on populist platforms such as “tough on crime”. This has led to a politicised court system and many bad decisions.

        1. Problem is Frank,
          Those Independent Commissioners often had/have no actual design/architecture/building experience.

          I recall discussing this point with one of the (3?) Independant Commissioners who sat on the Scene Apartments planning hearings.
          He told me that he had no idea what the thing was going to look like in Context and they weren’t ever shown mock ups of the design in true context and he said he would have decided differently if he had been presented with that information.

          This person was a member of old Tamaki Community Board in the old ACC. He was open about this and said he often sat in on hearings like these where the facts were so technical and arcane that the design simply got lost in the process.

          So it begs the question, who job is it to show the context of the development and ensure it fits in?
          The developer certainly won’t unless its in their interests to do so, and with the Scene building they were so obtrusive that no developer was going to let it be known how much of the waterfront views they would block out.
          They just focus on how nice the views will be for the residents of the apartments only.

          And yes, I think the whole independant commissioner system is broken still.

        2. Frank- seeing some of the nutty decisions they make you’d be naive if you weren’t paranoid.

          Maybe elected commissioners would be a good idea? Or some Local Planning as was successful in Vancouver…

          However it works it’s gotta be an improvement on the current model.

  4. Well it is going to have extra shops on the frontage, and it does have all the parking and servicing underneath. It can’t all be apartments with cafés at street level, to intensify properly you need to build the stuff the people living in apartments need too. A large retail/employment unit on a small footprint is good intensification, although sure having apartments on top would be more so.

  5. It does seem comparatively well designed. However surely there are better sites in the inner isthmus. How about around the Miserable Dominion Road/New North interchange or Khyber Pass Road? Issue is it is in such a good site for apartments, and if it wasnt for depressed credit in the last few years it would have become apartments. There is also of course a Mitre 10 at West Lynn, there is a Bunnings right near Panmure station and soon to be one near New Lynn. A 20 minute train ride will be just as easy for most people.

    1. “there is a Bunnings right near Panmure station”

      A relative term I’m sure.

      Its a bit more than **right** near, in fact Google Earth says its 600m from the EP Highway outside Panmure Station to Bunnings, and you have to cross a very busy 4 lane road (which does have a Ped crossing near Bunnings but which from memory takes ages to activate for Pedestrians, not so for cars existing Bunnings carpark though).

      But, can you envisage anyone carting their trolley load of building supplies from that distance to the train station at Panmure and then again from the station to their home at the other end of the journey?

  6. 218 carpark spaces. Let’s assume 150 are available after staff parking. Based on what I’ve seen at other stores, most people would be there for 1/2 hr. That’s 600 additional traffic movements on / off GNR every hour if the carpark is full. Based on other busy stores (and Bunnings will be basing the development on being busy), I feel these numbers are a reasonable assesment. Also, we need to add truck deliveries. Yeah, a nice piece of urbanisation right there. Pretty much counts out any chance of cycle lanes on GNR and probably puts a lot of pressure on any chances of having 24hr bus lanes along there.

    1. Those 300-or-so people-per-hour aren’t just going to disappear if the Bunnings isn’t built, though. They still need hardware from somewhere, and they’ll be even more likely to be driving, and they’ll be driving further, out to New Lynn or wherever. Quite a few of them will still be using Great North Road…

      People need hardware, they need to get it from somewhere, and the Bunnings site is a perfectly good location. It’s a reasonably good design by the standards of what’s on GNR currently, and especially by the standards of major retail. It may slightly inconvenience you personally, but that’s life in the big city.

      In any case, I don’t think it’s likely to change the maths of traffic on GNR. Most Bunnings customers will be in and out during the day or on the weekend, not during the peak.

      1. It’s not the building I have an issue with or it’s use. It’s the parking, the traffic and flow on effects to GNR and surrounding streets.

        As for timing, off-peak PT travel along GNR is pretty haphazard and I believe this will only make matters worse. This could well affect AT’s plans for the NW busway route.

        Also, the local board were pushing for cycle lanes along GNR. As it leads to many places it seems like a very good idea. Putting more traffic onto GNR will further push this kind of planning down the pecking order.

        I suggest you go and sit outside the Mitre 10 mega, on Lincoln Rd, during pretty much any working day or weekend to see what I mean.

        It’s funny how there is opposition here to car yards that are seen as low priority due to their land use and parking but somehow a Bunnings with over 200 car parks is somehow better?

        1. It’s because car yards are low density, low value, low activity places. They’re one step away from an empty lot in my view, they do basically nothing.

          This Bunnings will be much higher density, higher value and high activity. Higher use and activity in the same place is very definition of intensification.

          1. Isn’t a Bunnings (or a Mitre10) basically a 21st century Lumberyard?
            And isn’t the very inidcation of low-value land use the presence of lumberyards (or for a modern equivalent, a car yard)?

            So aren’t Bunnings and a Car-yard not that much different in nature – one stores steel boxes on wheels, the other stores piles of building supplies in a large tin shack. Admittedly the tin shack is stacked to 8+ feet tall.But then again so were the lumberyard sheds of yesteryear.

            And doesn’t the definition of “high activity” in your case here simply mean lots of vehicle movements?

            And when you say higher value do you mean more $ in sales to the retailer or more “value” to the community of having the Bunnings as opposed to a car yard?

            I’m not saying Bunnings shouldn’t go there, but I am saying that I see car yards and Bunnings’ and Mitre10’s as shades of the same thing, not two different things.

          2. And a car yard, in the case of quite a few along GNR, is more than just a yard of cars. They also incorporate servicing and parts supplies. Most big yards (like John Andrews) reply on the ‘whole’ of the business to survive. Is this piece of road the right place for businesses such as car yards and, parking required, big box retail? If the answer is yes, then by all means, go ahead and support these kind of businesses but don’t pick one above the other because one suits. These decisions will also affect any future mixed use development along GNR.

            After all of the discussions on here about parking minimums and the easy availability of parking in town creating additional traffic, it is amusing to note that a store with >200 spaces is ok.

          3. Greg, no, a Bunnings has a lot more in common with a Warehouse or a Farmers than a lumber yard. Visit one and look who is coming and going for the most part, it is consumers, not construction workers collecting bulk materials.

            Bryce, removing parking minimums won’t prevent businesses from providing as much parking as they want. They are about not forcing a minimum, not setting a maximum. You’ll note that the Bunnings has far fewer carparks per floor area than the minimum or any of their other stores.

            Not pick one above the other because one suits and one doesn’t? Er, picking the suitable land uses for an area is the very definition of planning. I’m sorry but saying no we can’t have any large format retail because there are car yards there is a pretty weak argument.

          4. That’s not what I said. If large retail is going to be a good use of the strip of land along GNR then I think there can be no argument against car yards, or indeed any other large land use development, such as The Warehouse or a Harvey Norman store. GNR could be Auckland’s newest strip mall. I’m not saying it will happen but picking and choosing large lot businesses would be tough. They all have customers and employees.

          5. Yes Bryce, if the warehouse or Harvey Norman proposed a building like this with reduced parking underneath, an intensive three level form and a diversified active street frontage with other retail then by all means. Or a supermarket, or a medical clinic, or whatever. Intensification isn’t just building apartments everywhere, it’s building cities in an intensive form, including the retail and services.

            I wonder if you’ve actually seen the plans if you refuse to draw any distinction from the caryards that are there now.

          6. It’s interesting to see the opposition to the Bunnings and what they’ve “latched onto”. As I noted above I think the problem with it is that the development is not intense enough – this seems a waste of a prime site for a few hundred apartments or a really good mixed use development. Yet most of the opposition relates to things like car movements and generated traffic.

            Heck this is a busy arterial road and over time it will become much much busier because of all the intensification that happens along it. Yes a lot of those people will walk, cycle and catch the frequent buses but many will continue to drive.

            What I want to know from the opponents is whether they don’t like the Bunnings because it is too intense or not intense enough or just because they don’t like Bunnings generally. If you’re worried about things like too much traffic then stop pretending to support intensification along Great North Road, stop pretending to support a compact city model, just stop being disingenuous.

          7. “Visit one and look who is coming and going for the most part, it is consumers, not construction workers collecting bulk materials.”

            Yeah, if you only go in on the weekend maybe. I work at a job at the moment that requires regular trips to bunnings and during the week there are basically only tradies in there.

        2. Bryce:

          All of this hardware is going to be sold, somewhere. If not on GNR, then it’s going to be in places like where you mentioned on Lincoln Road. Those car movements are going to happen, one way or another, but if the Bunnings isn’t built they’ll be travelling a whole lot further.

          For bus lanes, I can see your concern, but I don’t think that logic really works. The Bunnings isn’t going to cause more off-peak traffic than there is right now at the peak, when there are already bus lanes. More traffic off-peak should justify extending the bus lane hours, if anything*. We should be getting bus lanes on the busiest routes, not the quietest.

          As for cycle lanes, I can’t say whether more traffic is going to make them less likely to be built. But if it does, then refusing to allow Bunnings to locate on GNR means that all that extra traffic heading out to Henderson and Panmure is going to be preventing cycle lanes being built on a whole lot of other streets in other areas (perhaps Lincoln Road, again).

          1. We’re not going to agree but I’ll leave the conversation with this, from Brent.

            1) Pedestrians (all ages and abilities – my 2c).
            2) cyclists
            3) PT
            4) Freight
            5) private motor vehicles.

          2. And based on history, I do not trust AC, AT or developers to do the right thing by pedestrians. There are countless very recent examples where developments of this type, no matter how the plans say they take pedestrians into account, provide vey poor pedestrian amenity.

          3. That is a much better design. A) there are no driveways on the frontage so it maintains a pleasant pedestrian place b) it incorporates dwellings c) the setting is quite different as it doesn’t back on to residential (I could mention the cycle lanes but it just gets me annoyed again :-))

            What that Vancouver link does show is that due to opposition in Grey Lynn to increased heights, density, the UP as it stands will not allow a similar situation in Grey Lynn to that pictured in Vancouver. Pity.

            I also await to see how the pedestrian / cycle paths at the new Countdown being built off Lincoln Rd will look. My expectations are very low and, if recent completed developments are anything to go by, they will be met.

          4. Also, due to it’s location as part of a grid, the traffic around the Vancouver example can disperse. The Grey Lynn location does not allow this.

          5. Bryce:

            A city isn’t all trendy apartments and street cafés. People need to buy hardware from somewhere. You’ve pointed out many reasonable ways that car traffic is bad, as though we didn’t know, but you don’t seem to have responded to my point – this traffic is still going to happen, if the Bunnings isn’t built. It’s just going to happen to some other sucker’s neighbourhood.

            And if hardware stores are built or expanded somewhere else, they’re likely to be way more anti-urban than this design, which is frankly pretty good for the area as it exists today. You can’t oppose every resource consent on the grounds that the one single project you’re looking at today hasn’t transformed your entire city into central Paris overnight.

            As for your priority list, it’s very similar to mine. But wider footpaths, bus lanes and and especially bike lanes are questions of political will. They’re in no way dependent on car traffic levels.

  7. Now returning to the topic of Density Done Well.

    The Guardian posted this piece over the week about what makes the Worlds Happiest cities.

    Which Brent Toderian and others have tweeted about over the weekend, (which I’d read myself before I saw his tweet)

    Some interesting facts.

    1. Commute times correlate with degree of perceived happiness (shorter = more happy) ad to compensate for longer commutes you need approx. 40% more money. And longer commute times correlated with higher divorce rates in some countries.

    2. Stress level of morning commuters (whether by car or PT) in the UK was measured by HP in 2004 as being higher than either a Fighter Jet pilot or a Police Officer facing angry mobs.

    3. Walking, running or cycling for commuting even though it takes longer and requires more effort is very beneficial and promotes satisfaction and well being.

    So this means that making the Urban environment completely PT friendly and encouraging walking/cycling/running for commuting will improve the communities well-being longer term. Of course, to have that we need Density done well.

    And as Brent said in the piece above it does not mean “High Rises for Africa”. And you need every kind of density (low-rise, mid-rise and high-rise) to be all equally important.
    you also need to prioritise your modes, with walking the #1, cycling #2 etc down to cars at #6. Not cars at #1 like here.

    And lastly, while Bogota got the poster Boy image for how changing PT priorities changes everyones lives for the better.
    The article does point out this update about Bogota in the final paragraph:

    “Bogotá’s fortunes have since declined. The TransMilenio system is plagued by desperate crowding as its private operators fail to add more capacity – yet more proof that robust public transport needs sustained public investment. Optimism has withered. But Bogotá’s transformative years still offer an enduring lesson for rich cities. By spending resources and designing cities in a way that values everyone’s experience, we can make cities that help us all get stronger, more resilient, more connected, more active and more free. We just have to decide who our cities are for. And we have to believe that they can change.”

    And this in a nutshell is what Density Done Well is all about – deciding who the city is for, and changing the priorities and decisions accordingly to bring it about..

    1. Bob Poole points out in his newsletter “Surface Transportation Innovations”, October 2011:

      “……..The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data on commuting in 2010 recently appeared. They put the average U.S. commute time at 25.3 minutes. Worst in the nation is the New York urbanized area at 34.6 minutes, with the Washington, DC region second at 33.9 and Chicago fourth at 30.7. The notorious Los Angeles/Orange County urbanized area—with the largest aggregate amount of congestion—didn’t even make the top 10 in commute time, coming in at #17 with 28.1 minutes. It’s worth noting that the longest trip times are in places with traditional central business districts and relatively high transit mode shares……”

      When it comes to international data, the appendix “Table 8” beginning on page 36 of this paper is quite comprehensive and enlightening:

      It actually appears that lower urban density cities tend to have the shortest commute times. Dispersed employment helps too. No wonder people are moving to Texas in their droves. The housing is super affordable too.

      1. Except that the LA/OC area is at higher density than the NY area.

        Yes, single downtowns lead to higher PT share, and longer commutes, but as every NIMBY will tell you Auckland is a collection of towns.

        1. You’re onto it. I am glad you know LA is the USA’s highest density urban area. I am new to this forum and don’t know whether facts like that are generally known. Is it generally known that Auckland is the same density as LA too? Which makes Auckland and LA second equal densest cities in the Anglo New World, after Toronto.

          Auckland actually does have reasonably decentralised employment too. We have TomTom Congestion Index data to show that Auckland has very bad traffic congestion delays, the only US city that is worse, by a couple of minutes, is LA. But what I would like to know is whether trip times in Auckland are, like LA’s, surprisingly competitive due to jobs-housing balance.

          It has seemed to me for a long time that there is too much focus on transport “modes” and not enough on “travel time” and/or distance. One perverse consequence of strict zoning to try and increase densities and increase public transport use, is that young people are “priced out” to remote locations for their housing.

          Philadelphia USA interests me very much because it is low density overall, housing is almost as affordable as Houston, and yet it has very high mode shares for cycling and walking and respectable mode share for public transport. It also has low traffic congestion delays and a respectable average commute time for a city its size.

          Here is what I think is the reasons why. It has plenty of old, pre-automobile high density nodes, much of which has not yet “gentrified”. It also has affordable low density suburban development, and has not yet had a UGB or other zoning measures imposed that drive up the price of all urban land and hence housing. This means that there is minimal “pricing out” of anyone from anywhere they might locate advantageously. Close to the CBD; or right on a commuter rail route; or close to a job they can walk to or cycle to; or in an “urban village”.

          If you ask anyone in Auckland, or Wellington, or Sydney, or any typical unaffordable Australian or Canadian city, or any city in the UK, “why don’t you live at a more efficient location”? the answer will always be “we can’t afford the price of housing there”. It is not that anywhere is affordable in these cities, it is just that the only locations most people can afford, are the inefficient ones. It can be seen in such cities, that “housing” is unusually high density at the fringe and in exurbs and other inefficient locations, compared to cities with systemic affordability, which affordability is always because fringe land is cheap, which is always because “splatter” development is permitted and no land owner has oligopoly powers to hold out for this sort of gain:

          Why is this sort of thing not an absolutely indefensible scandal, and why is its central role in housing affordability and perverse unintended consequences for urban efficiency so seldom admitted? Instead of growth boundaries and wishful rezoning, we should be compulsorily acquiring property at the locations we want people to live at higher intensity and redeveloping it with no “planning gain”.

          1. “One perverse consequence of strict zoning to try and increase densities and increase public transport use” – Strict zoning is the antithesis of efforts to try and increase densities and increase PT use. Strict zoning is what causes sprawl and auto dependency.

            The draft UP was trying to reduce zoning restrictions to allow higher densities, not increase them. It was also trying to allow more mixed use zoning so that commercial and residential can co-exist in the same area. That reduces distances to shopping and access to services.

            Exclusionary zoning rules like minimum lot size, minimum set backs, excessive height restrictions and minimum parking force inefficient use of space for housing units.

            Dispersed employment also disperses agglomeration benefits and leads to lower salaries and less productive cities.

          2. How many public transport users have a TomTom…. Of course how many people overall have a TomTom, surely there is a serious socio-economic bias. Potentially even an age bias, as many people with a smartphone won’t have a TomTom.

          3. Actually Phil the density measure you use is the average urban density which actually means very little as a lot of people living in high density areas can be balanced out by large areas of low density. Take the image below for example, each square has the same number of dots and they have have the same average density but if they were cities they would look and feel very different.

            This is the case with New York and LA. In New York the high density areas like Manhattan are balanced out by the really low density areas like New Jersey. The same effect is likely to happen with trip time calculations. The really long and congested trips of those further out balance out the the really short trip times of many others.

            As for this forum. Yes facts are a key part to what we do. We have discussed density and how it is calculated (and often misused) numerous times.

          4. “One perverse consequence of strict zoning”

            Glad you agree that we need to liberalise zoning rules to have a more free market based system.

      2. Of course what anti PT people talk about all the time is that cities and travel patterns are dispersed, and the in-out commute is less of an issue for transport investment. All very well having a 5 minute shorter commute, but if you have to drive 20 minutes to your grocery store, cafe or any other service that is another matter. Surely much better to have lower overall commute times. I have a 20 minute commute time, however that is a lovely relaxing walk through the Domain. Is much preferable to my former 20 minute commute which was a 20km drive. The walking is much cheaper of course too, as well as giving me daily exercise.

        1. That just proves what the guardian article said – that self-propelled journeys are always better, perceived better and contribute more positively to your well-being than the same journey done in a car or PT, even if the times are the same.

          I do enjoy cycling to work over driving the same route even if take me a little more time and effort – its like the old “Fresh Up” ad “Its just got to be good for you”..

        2. That is nice for you, but ask a young couple who commute from 30 miles away if they can afford the housing where you live.

          1. @Phil, again, glad to see that you support the construction of affordable terraces and apartments in inner suburbs to allow young people to move in.

          2. Do you think I live where I do in the first house I ever owned? (Do You?)
            No I do not, and I worked my way up suburbs like a lot of people have done here in Auckland and elsehwere.

            If your young couple expect a right to own an expensive stand alone house in the inner city “as of right” then they need to reset their expectations like a lot of millenials I come across – these guys sense of entitlement is quite breathtaking.

            What they also need (besides a reality check) is housing choices to enable them to live near their work, without having to pay through the nose for the privilege. Thats where density done well comes into play. They don;t actually need a 3 bedroom standalone house when a 3 bedroom apartment will probably be just as good – and more affordable.

        3. Actually, people in suburban locations more often locate closer to shopping and schools and other common trip destinations, than they do to jobs; but on balance employment dispersion works to reduce trip times, just as school dispersion does. A multitude of suburban shopping centres helps too. I have lived in suburbs all my life and have never even thought about the fact that I have never been more than 10 minutes walk away from a Post Office, a supermarket, a butcher, a bakery/cafe, a chemist, a medical centre, and a primary school. Nor have I ever been more than 10 minutes drive away from a secondary school, a swimming pool, accountants, lawyers, specialist retailers, a movie theatre, a big-box hardware, and so on.

          But buying a first home now is a different story because the entire urban land rent curve has been pushed upwards, and the only option for many people will be way out on the edge of somewhere, ironically crammed in on a cross-leased 1/10 of an acre or less, which is conditions that people would in more reasonable circumstances be expecting at a more central location.

          In the “Handbook of Creative Cities” (Edward Elgar Publishing) there is a chapter by Prof. Philip Morrison of Vic Uni, in which he states that the price of housing in Wellington increases in absolute terms “per unit” the closer to the city centre it is located, in spite of its reduction in size the closer to the city centre it is. This is the absolute opposite of what happens in cities with a low, flat urban land rent curve; in such cities it is always possible to obtain low cost high density housing near the city centre.

          1. Phil, you realise that all of your arguments about urban form support density right. Density allos more shopping centres per area, and allows the cheap rents closer to the city. Employment dispersion needs density away from the urban centre, density breeds employment as busineeses need customers and suppliers nearby which only happens with density.

          2. Density at the right locations – not density at the wrong locations.

            There is no city in the world with a growth boundary or a proxy for it, where higher density housing is “affordable”. Please tell me of one if I am wrong. I think Singapore comes closest, but good luck trying to sell NZ-ers on Singapore property rights and NIMBY rights.

            The right way to go about this would be to keep land costs low, and achieve Houston’s low costs of apartments without Houston’s rate of consumption of land. I recommend Mason Gaffney’s 1964 appeal for “Containment Policies for Urban Sprawl”. Not UGB’s – targeted land taxes, special assessments, zoning for high density, correct pricing of infrastructure use, no taxes on structures.


          3. Agreed on that. I would like to see rates completely redone. A building cost part, a land cost part, and a transport subsidy part that depend on the area.

            But, we also need to allow people to move into cheaper buildings on smaller sections, in convenient and cheap (for council) locations. I am actually happy to see the MUL go if many of the density limits go along all frequent transit routes, and local centres. If someone want to build a 40 storey towere in Taka, then it should be easy, as it is cheap for council to service, if someone wants to build 7,000 houses at Long Bay then they should pay for all of the access, roads, sewerage, water, mains electricity, and a portion of the trunk upgrade costs.

  8. The thread up above has got too skinny, so I would like to respond to separate points with new comments.


    “……Strict zoning is the antithesis of efforts to try and increase densities and increase PT use. Strict zoning is what causes sprawl and auto dependency.
    The draft UP was trying to reduce zoning restrictions to allow higher densities, not increase them. It was also trying to allow more mixed use zoning so that commercial and residential can co-exist in the same area. That reduces distances to shopping and access to services.
    Exclusionary zoning rules like minimum lot size, minimum set backs, excessive height restrictions and minimum parking force inefficient use of space for housing units…..”

    Yes, you and I are talking about two different effects of two different types of zoning. Actually, Auckland does not have anything like the low density zoning measures that make many US cities 1/3 Auckland’s density. And so many people do not want their location intensified any more; and quite honestly, it is not like any of them live on an acre of section unlike parts of the inner suburbs in Portland which the planners have been unable to touch for 30 years. I agree that regulations against intensification have their own negative consequences but I believe these consequences are over-rated. It is not true at all that lower density cities have higher traffic congestion and longer commute times, or that their infrastructure costs are higher. The real life data does not show this. It is popular myth only.

    “……Dispersed employment also disperses agglomeration benefits and leads to lower salaries and less productive cities……”

    Agglomerations come into existence on their own. It is not rational to think that “agglomeration economies” will be increased just by squashing all urban activities into a smaller space. Nor do all types of agglomeration benefit from being located at the same spot. The factories are all gone from Manhattan. Why do you think this is? Some cities still have factories, and they don’t have a Manhattan – and why would every city be expected to have one? There are only so many jobs in financial trading that a national economy needs.

    I quizzed Ed Glaeser about this when he was in NZ. He agreed that the correlation between density and productivity IN THE USA did NOT mean that the direction of causation was FROM “density”, TO “productivity”. Manhattan is dense and productive as the end consequence of a long period of path dependent economic evolution that produced both. Detroit was once the most productive city and this had nothing to do with density. Silicon Valley is second only to Manhattan today and this is nothing to do with density. Wolfsburg is still Germany’s most productive city and this has nothing to do with density. There is also the inconvenient reality that the “productivity” of Manhattan and London and Hong Kong is not wealth creation, but transfers and economic rent extraction out of the productive economy. The fact that Germany does NOT have a strong “rentier sector” city is to its benefit economically. The USA would be better off without Manhattan.

    The UK economy is the perfect illustration – all its cities have been growth contained for decades. So is it the world’s most productive economy? Strangely enough, it has a “productivity gap” of 20 to 30% compared to comparable economies. And there is a strain of economic research that is being more and more established, that shows that this productivity gap is BECAUSE OF the growth containment urban planning system.

    The USA is the world’s most productive large economy precisely BECAUSE agglomerations have been allowed to form wherever market forces put them. They are hindered from forming in the UK’s cities because no sooner do they start to form, potential new participants in them are “priced out” and/or there is no spare space at the location anyway. In an attempt to duplicate Silicon Valley, some UK urban planners have designated “technology zones”. Years later they remain mostly empty, with potential businesses “priced out” by the expectations of the land owners. The real Silicon Valley got going on cheap exurban land that undercapitalised young whizz kids could afford.

    1. Oh snore, not another Houston acolyte. Once you’ve finished calculating the billions spent on subsidised freeways in Houston come back and let’s have a real discussion about the free market and planning.

      1. I didn’t mention Houston in the comment you replied to, but yes I think there are things we can learn from Houston. Such as; if you want to live in a higher intensity home close to your job, here is where you start:

        Young Aucklanders looking at this would be like guys in prison looking at girlie mags.

        What is the cost of highways compared to everyone paying several times too much for housing? Who benefits from everyone paying too much for their living space? Hmmmmm.

        People gotta travel somehow. Where is the data that shows that every person mile traveled on public transport is subsidised less than every person mile traveled on roads? The dilemma here is that public transport riders are subsidised for the cost of the vehicle, the energy, the repairs and maintenance, the staff, the structures, etc etc – and most of this is ongoing. Build the road, and a couple of decades later the cost is less than a cent per person mile being traveled on it.

        The famous “Costs of Sprawl 2000” paper provided some impressive-sounding aggregate sums for the USA as a whole, but if you do the maths, it comes to $50 per household per year. I would gladly pay another $50 per year for the infrastructure necessary to get me Houston house prices.

        But other literature suggests that initial infrastructure cost advantages from higher density are eroded by the cost of access and disruption and land acquisition later on. And local fiscal soundness would seem to be eroded by the effects of growth containment on economic growth and on local discretionary income. The UK’s cities are not shining examples of productivity or fiscal soundness or social stability after 60 years of growth containment.

        1. It is illegal to build thos types of apartments in almost all of Auckland, so encouraging young people to buy them is a bit thick.

          1. But what price will they be anyway, if they are allowed to be built? I agree they should be. But they need to end up a lot cheaper than what they are so far. I think the Fine Grain Analysis done by Jasmax Consultants a couple of years ago suggests that the cost of sites in the first place is so high in Auckland that redevelopments of almost any kind would be unaffordable.

            If a shack in Grey Lynn is selling for $1.2 million, how much would 3 new rowhouses built on that site, end up selling for?

            Do you suggest that a shortage of apartments in central Auckland due to restrictions, is responsible for THIS:


          2. I think that a shortage of viable sites for apartments is responsible for that outcome. If more apartments can be built then they end up being of a higher quality as there is greater competition.

            That said, those shoeboxes aren’t inherently bad. I will probably be moving into a 20-30sqm apartment next year. It is comfortably enough for a young single person.

          3. Is there a growth-contained city anywhere in the world where allowing “building up” of apartments, has resulted in ones that are more affordable than the Auckland example? Singapore manages a median multiple of around 6.5, and all land is leasehold there and there is no “planning gain”. No comparable city without such total government involvement in the land market, comes close.

          1. That is nothing like as comprehensive and expert a report as “The Costs of Sprawl 2000”. The Costs of Sprawl 2000 Report at least had a chapter discussing how transport costs capitalise into Real Estate values, so no-one is ever any further ahead by “buying at a more central location and saving on transport costs”.

            This is the intellectual achilles heel of many advocates – they do not understand this.

            “The Effect of Lower-Cost, Outlying Land on Housing Costs” is on page 448 onwards of the Costs of Sprawl 2000 report:


            Dr Kara Kockelman of the University of Texas, some of whose research is referenced in the “Costs of Sprawl” study, has done further research since with the same outcomes.

            Anthony Downs, one of the contributors to the Costs of Sprawl study, makes a lot of the point that the more expensive houses are relative to incomes, the more incentive there is for households, especially first home buyers, to locate further away from CBD’s, because the savings on housing costs are greater than the additional cost of travel .

            For example; Anthony Downs; “Can Transit Tame Sprawl?” Jan 2002:

            “…..In “The Costs of Sprawl 2000″, a recent study conducted by Rutgers University, the Brookings Institution and several other organizations, part of the research examined how housing prices vary with distance from the regional downtown of each metropolitan area. Although only a few areas were analyzed, the study showed consistently that prices of similar homes tended to decline about 1.2 to 1.5 percent per additional mile from the regional downtown, except where proximity to the ocean had more influence on prices—as in Southern California.
            Meanwhile, longer-distance commutes added to fuel and travel-time costs by about the same amount per mile in every region. The study also found that per-mile housing-cost savings from added commuting distance were much larger in regions with absolutely very high housing costs than in those with absolutely low housing costs. Therefore, it was more likely to be economically worthwhile for households to move further out to gain cheaper housing in high-housing-cost regions such as the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, than in low-housing-cost areas…….”

            Unintended consequences?

            It is all very well to suggest that a household might be able to do without a second car, but the suggested cost (to be saved) of $10,000 per year is absurd for a “second car”, and families that need a second car are not going to be able to afford the space they need in an efficient location in a sadistically expensive housing city like Vancouver. They can still save money, in Vancouver or Auckland, by living in an exurb. If they moved to an affordable US city, they would save an immediate several hundred thousand dollars in housing principal alone, AND would most likely be able to locate MORE efficiently relative to jobs, schools, shopping etc.

            Overall “living costs” tend to suggest quite an advantage to the low density, affordable cities, in this comprehensive US city data base:


          2. Actually, 10,000 is pretty reasonable. $5k a year in depreciation and $2k on rego, warrant, insurance and a couple of services. $500 on repairs and $50 a week in fuel.

          3. Oh come on, who buys a second car that will cost them $5K a year in depreciation?

            There is a very useful chart in this article that suggests that the bottom 20% of income earners in the USA, get by with vehicle costs of an average of $3,210 per year.


            I recently bought a used Honda Fit that I expect to cost me about that much by the time I dispose of it and do all the sums for per year and per k cost. A previous car, a Toyota Corona, came in at under $5,000 per year for me.

          4. My ex-girlfiend’s parents, all of the neighbours on the shared drive I live on, half of the houses on the street.

            Also, you buy a new corolla which is a cheap car, sell it in ten years probably for 3k, even that is the best part of 3k per year. If you depreciate any less than that then you have an old car and the repair costs will be higher. YOU just choose to ignore them because you consider them to be a cost of living.

  9. LukeC:

    “How many public transport users have a TomTom…. Of course how many people overall have a TomTom, surely there is a serious socio-economic bias. Potentially even an age bias, as many people with a smartphone won’t have a TomTom.”

    The TomTom index measures not trip times, but traffic congestion delays. We have no trip time data in NZ but some other countries do have it. Public transport trips are on average always longer than car trips. It is common knowledge that New York has higher average commute times because the public transport trips drag the average upwards. The very high proportion of travel in New York urban area that is “suburban” and by car, helps pull the average down.

    The point made by Bob Poole is also partly that high public transport mode share cities generally also suffer from very high traffic congestion. There is probably no example of a city where high public transport mode share actually reduces congestion. The reason is that as urban density grows, while public transport mode share rises, there is always an addition to car travel as well, and it is not until densities of 30,000 people per square mile are reached that there is potentially a reduction in car use for each added person. At the lower density increments, the split of “added person trips” is more like 10% PT/ 90% car.

    See pages 17 to 21 of:

    Certainly the UK’s cities, which are about double the density of most European ones (and LA and Auckland), and five times the density of typical US cities, also have the worst traffic congestion delays, which is one of the reasons their economy is so unproductive.

    1. Lodon seems really unproductive aye. Economic powerhouse of Europe and all, the problem with the rest of the UK is that it is dense and all transport spending has been put into cars for decades.

      1. I explained already why London is “productive”. It is not the economic powerhouse of Europe, and nor is Manhattan the economic powerhouse of the USA. Both of those local economies are gigantic leeches on the global economy, and neither could exist at all without the real “heavy lifting” done in the myriads of actual “producer” cities. Of which the UK now has virtually none.

        It is worth noting here that the main opponents of any proposed international financial transactions tax in current international crisis negotiations, is the Conservative government of the UK. They are well aware of what this would do to the economy of London. Oliver Hartwich in the “Business Spectator” 14 Dec 2011, comments:

        “……Merkel and Sarkozy could not have been under any illusions that Cameron would pave the road towards curbing the power and profitability of the City of London. Finance is the only major industry left in post-modern Britain. Besides, anything that weakens London’s position would automatically be a promotion of its closest European rivals in Paris and Frankfurt…..”

        A financial transactions tax is one of many of the initiatives that are popular in the current mood for reform of the international finance sector. Do advocates of this reform realise what the implications of this are for the few examples of “sustainable” high density cities that they might actually be fans of?

        1. You are confusing “London” with “The city of London” they are different things, although your points are incredibly accurate on The city of London.

  10. MattL:

    “….Actually Phil the density measure you use is the average urban density which actually means very little as a lot of people living in high density areas can be balanced out by large areas of low density. Take the image below for example, each square has the same number of dots and they have have the same average density but if they were cities they would look and feel very different…..”

    I agree. We need to get a better handle on the interaction between planning, “the market”, transport modes, economic land rent, and “centricity”. That is, “monocentricity”, “polycentricity”, and “dispersed”. It seems that the computer models used by most urban planners are complete failures so far, in actually working out why real life outcomes are occurring. There is too much disconnect between the computer modelers and the urban economics literature.

  11. MattL, a few days ago I emailed you a data collation exercise on cities; density, housing affordability and traffic congestion. Any comments yet?

    It was drawn to my attention that someone on this blog had attacked a letter of mine that was published in the “Herald on Sunday”. This is why I firstly emailed you a collation of the data that my claims were based on, and secondly have commenced participating on this blog.

    I am impressed with your decency at allowing my comments through moderation, as the NZ Herald (weekday edition) editors obviously do not wish these things to be aired, for whatever reason. I have my suspicions, and I trust that your forum is not affected by what I think the Herald is. People on the Left who like urban growth containment, would do well to read some of what the people at “AudaCity” in the UK have written about the role of crony capitalism in this. For example, here is Ian Abley attacking the “free market” advocates at “Policy Exchange” (Oliver Hartwich’s old haunt) for getting it wrong about the UK’s planning system and who is guilty:

    “……Far from being a socialist project today, there is far more at stake than jobs for the large number of bureaucrats and the many consultants they deal with on a daily basis….

    “…….Government needs the planning system to sustain the inflated housing market, falling
    presently in large areas of the North, but still inflating generally in the South. The 1947
    law sustains planning gain as the difference between £10,000 for a hectare of
    agricultural land, and the millions that a planning approval makes a hectare of land worth
    under conditions of artificial scarcity. As conservative thinker Roger Scruton says:

    ‘There are few success stories in environmental politics. But the 1947 Act is one of them.
    And its success is due to one fact above all, which is that it removes the default position
    from the developer… The Government justifies its new proposals as instruments of
    economic growth. The 1947 Act has certainly been an obstacle to economic growth…
    Thank God for obstacles to economic growth.’

    The Council of Mortgage Lenders, backed by every environmentalist and heritage organisation aligned behind The Telegraph in their promotion of Scruton’s understanding of the importance of the 1947 planning law, seriously oppose repeal…….The CML will
    not want the £2.4 to £2.8 trillion of equity in the housing market even partially
    destroyed, and the likes of Scruton don’t want the workforce liberated to live in the
    countryside. The last thing this coalition government – any British government – will ever
    do is put all that at risk in a housing market collapse precipitated by a repeal of the 1947
    Town and Country Planning Act. That is a real problem for British capitalists. They cannot
    afford to denationalise the development right the State denies to private owners of land.
    That is why it is so important that we, the depoliticised workforce, are clear about the
    predicament they, the owners of capital, are in over a piece of post-war legislation which
    today protects unproductive capital. We need industrial advance and better standards of
    living for a growing population more than The City needs economic growth in building…..”

        1. It is shallow assumptions, plausible catch phrases and sound bites that have led us up the garden path. This subject is complex.

          People who present arguments as succinct as those of the growth containment advocates, only taking the opposing point of view, get condemned as “ideological”. Therefore one needs to drill down to the real life data and point out the failure of the “succinct” assumptions on which “compact city” planning is based.

          There are better ways to go about it, but these do not deliver zero sum capital gains to anyone. This might have something to do with the policy choices that always do get adopted. Growth containment advocates should be raging Georgists, not “Baptists” in a classic “Baptists and Bootleggers” racket (with the major property investors and the finance sector as the bootleggers).

          1. Then you need to learn to summarise your argument in one paragraph, explaining each point in subsequent paragraphs and write it as a guest post, not a comment. I agree that it is complex, but you are making your argument far more complex than is necessary for the forum you are using.


    The longer urban growth containment planning is perpetuated, the higher the cost of urban land is forced up, with the consequences seen in those links.

    Even in a 1986 study by Cheshire and Sheppard, it was found that land prices in a UK city were 240 times as expensive at the centre as those in a non-growth-contained US city of comparable population and income level. This is why even small apartments in a growth contained city can cost more than a separate family home in a non-growth-contained city. Vancouver, where Brent Toderian comes from, is a classic illustration of this. And as I point out above, CBD apartments and condos in Houston are as cheap as chips, which is ironic given that the planners in Vancouver and Auckland talk about “increasing housing choice” with their policies.

    1. 1986 study? Hmm interesting timing, noting serious bubbles around about then. Of course London dominates the UK, the same way Auckland dominates NZ. Attractive cities such as these cannot be compared to the USA where dozens of cities are competing against each other and winners and loses change decade by decade.

    2. Would you be happy with a city where there were no restrictions on housing – up or out? Therefore no exclusionary zoning and no artificial growth constraints. After all, that is how cities were formed pretty much until after WW2 when zoning started to be used. That is why you have such great dense housing close to the centre of Auckland like Ponsonby and Herne Bay – housing that would never meet the restrictions of the draft UP in the vast majority of Auckland.

      That is what I would like to see and then people will really be able to decide what they want and it will be a true free market. All the examples you give of cities that have been successful with sprawl, have in place massive restrictions on density – Atlanta and Houston being the best examples. They are starting to be freed up but it is a slow process stymied by NIMBYism.

      If people choose to live 30kms from the centre in a big Houston style suburban house which require a lot of driving – when they have the true option of living in smaller townhouses or apartments close to the centre and access to amenities – then we can say that sprawl has been a real choice. I dont know of any developed world city that allows this as all have restraints on .

      What you are asking for though is the release of the growth constraints but not the density constraints. That is social engineering every bit as much as Smart Growth strategies.

    3. “CBD apartments and condos in Houston are as cheap as chips”

      Do you have any proof of this? I have read completely the opposite in a lot of places because the restrictive density rules have really restricted the amount of such housing that can be built in the Inner Loop.

      This article is talking about prices of $800,000 for house in the Loop and also the popularity of these houses because of their proximity to the city – sounds just like Auckland’s inner suburbs.:


      Anyway, there are very cheap apartments in the CBD in Auckland. Quality and size is questionable but price is low.

      Chicago is one city that has been able to supply affordable housing without sprawling wildly. It may not be suburban huge houses but it is affordable housing.

  13. Phil and Sailor Boy please stop. I doubt anyone is bothering to read all the comments and it just puts people off. Phil you are welcome to put your views along with the information supporting it into a structured guest post which is probably better than battling it out in the comments.

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