The Dominion Post had some great coverage on Wellington’s growth patterns in June this year. They put together an interactive site, which seems to be having some clunkiness issues (as most of them do)  but has some really interesting information.

Firstly, property price trends in Wellington since the 2007 peak. Many areas have actually fallen in price, and are shown in blue. The areas which have increased (shown in red) are almost all in Wellington City itself, i.e. they’re more central – closer to the Wellington CBD, which dominates regional employment and retail activity.

Wellington property prices

The Dominion Post also had some good articles which used case studies of CBD or suburban residents to illustrate their different lifestyles. This article talks about living in the Wellington CBD:

The place [in the suburbs] was simply too big for them after their children had moved out. “It was great. But you had to heat it all, and you end up turning one or two rooms into junk rooms,” Clark said.

Clark relishes the city lifestyle. Everything is an easy walk, and there is no need to plan if you want to do something.

The Clarks lived in Rome for a year in 2003, and were impressed by the inner-city lifestyle enjoyed by many Italians. “It makes a community. In a block of flats in Rome, a palazzo, you have shops all on the ground floor, and most have got a garden or courtyard. They all hang their clothes in the courtyard and talk to each other.”

In New Zealand, we build big outward-facing apartment blocks without a thought for interaction, she says, and that should change.

More low-rise apartment blocks built on a liveable scale should be welcomed, she says – and with them should come an influx of new young professionals and families to the city centre.

“Why aren’t we building for those people?” Clark asks.

Another article talks about the “quarter acre dream” in Porirua.

When [Sue Grazier] moved back from Melbourne with husband Michael last year, she wanted to get away from high-stress life in a sprawling city.

They believe they’ve found the dream: a modern house on a big section with a great view and thriving community spirit, and they are there to stay.

Though Sue’s family have all moved to Auckland, there was never any chance she would follow suit, and not just because of house prices. “It’s like Melbourne. You live only in a little area, spend your life in the car . . . [while] Wellington has a heart.”

Their 800sqm section is large by today’s standards and Sue knows she has been lucky to find it. Increasing intensification is unattractive, she says. It’s a reminder of the downside of Auckland and Melbourne, where people get piled on top of one another. “You get your neighbour’s toilet [next to] your kitchen.”

But it is the reality younger people will face as they grow up. “It’s going to be shocking for them . . . people need affordable places to live. Life’s stressful enough without a huge mortgage. But that’s what future generations are going to have to do.”

A couple of paragraphs in there strike me as being a bit ironic – e.g. the first, talking about moving out of a ‘sprawling city’ only to move into… a sprawling city? Likewise, in Melbourne you apparently “spend your life in the car . . . [while] Wellington has a heart”. There may be some context that makes this makes sense, i.e. perhaps the family works in Porirua as well, or they’re talking about central Porirua as their local ‘heart’, or they’re happy enough catching public transport into the Wellington CBD. I’m not sure, and I don’t really mean to pick holes in the story: suburbs will always be a big part of New Zealand cities, and some people will always prefer living there, while others will want to live centrally.

I agree that the suburbs really come into their own if you really do value having a larger section, or when you find yourself only a short distance from your local school, park etc, and not too far from work; the downsides are when you’re isolated from those and other activities, and have to drive to get anywhere. Likewise, there are pros and cons to living in a CBD or other built-up areas.

Also on the subject of Wellington’s growth patterns, it’s interesting that the city has achieved a ratio of 40-40-20 of CBD: infill: greenfield for its new housing in recent years, and this pattern is likely to continue in the future.

That’s for just Wellington City, mind you, not the overall region – and the city itself is constrained by having whopping big hills around it, and not much greenfields space remaining. However, Wellington City is the main growth node within the Wellington Region: the latest projections from Statistics New Zealand suggest that the city will account for around 70% of region-wide growth in the next 20 years. No doubt Auckland can learn some valuable lessons from Wellington, but Auckland also faces a bigger challenge as we’re growing much faster. To achieve meaningful levels of intensification, we need to see a real uplift in development – which we’re starting to, by the looks of things.

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  1. I’d have to question their experience in Melbourne if they stay in one area yet spend their life in the car? Where did they stay, a house and land package dormitory suburb half way to Geelong? My experience was a strong CBD and a dozens of interesting local centres all linked by a reasonably efficient rail network, neither staying in one place nor driving much at all.

    I suppose if you are focused on a very suburban lifestyle with big sections etc, then you can find that on the edge of any city.

  2. More than a quarter of Wellington City’s growth from the 2006 census has been in Te Aro alone, a former light industrial area (roughly the equivalent of Eden Terrace, or Auckland’s CBD west of Nelson Street) that’s been rezoned for mixed use, with an 8 storey height limit, and no parking requirements. I think that’s perhaps the biggest single thing that Wellington has done better over the last couple of decades than Auckland. The Unitary Plan is a lot better, but even then lots of this city centre fringe land is still zoned for 4 or 6 stories when it should really be more.

    Of course, Wellington is on track to make the same mistake (on a smaller scale) with the Basin Reserve flyover that Auckland made with the Hobson Street viaduct, and a lot of Te Aro is still a wretched big-box car sewer hell. It’s also totally committed to a one-way pattern, which it keeps fiddling with, try to move a few more cars at huge cost to the amenity of most of the streets that aren’t on the Golden Mile. Cable and Wakefield Streets and the various Quays are pretty much the equivalent of Hobson and Nelson, here, except that they also cut the city off from the waterfront.

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