The New Zealand Initiative last night released a think piece on the trade-offs of urban form – entitled “Up or Out“. Given the extensive recent debates in Auckland over the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan, plus the ongoing issue of housing affordability, it’s helpful to have further analysis and research in this area. Unfortunately, it seems as though some ideological assumptions behind what the NZ Initiative has come up with mask many of their conclusions – somewhat ironic given that one of the key thrusts of the piece is (valid argument) that we need to step back from assumptions and look at the data.

The general approach of the paper is reasonably logical – it analyses some of the benefits of a compact city approach, questions whether they hold true and then compares those benefits to some of the costs. Firstly, looking at agglomeration:

Part of this debate has centred on the agglomeration benefits that come from urban proximity. This is an important discussion point because agglomeration is often cited by planners as the clincher in their argument for compact cities. We do not reject the economic advantages to situating businesses and consumers closer to one other. After all, people and firms in urban areas tend to be more productive than their counterparts in less well-populated areas.

However, these advantages are only detectable as agglomeration benefits when the positives of proximity outweigh the costs of density. This is a balance that any city, regardless of urban form, has to strike if it is to survive. And yet this report shows that the restrictive planning regulations required to deliver the utopian vision of a compact city often tips the balance towards the cost side of the urban ledger.

You can tell from the use of the phrase “utopian vision of a compact city” that they have started out from an ideological position that density is bad.

It does make some sense that agglomeration benefits would have a limit. Yet if we look internationally there are much much larger cities and much much larger urban cores than Auckland – and we find that often it’s the larger cities and larger urban cores which are growing the fastest. The paper even references the significant agglomeration benefits from the CRL’s business case before going on to counter-intuitively suggest that agglomeration benefits in central Auckland appear to be on the wane.

However, the main argument is that the two main negatives of congestion and higher land prices need to be balanced against agglomeration to work work out whether building “up” or “out” is the right approach. Let’s work through the arguments made by the paper on each individually:

Congestion is one of these costs. Traffic congestion data from the United States shows that the most congested metropolitan areas are often the ones that have chosen to pursue compact development. Additionally, quantitative research into transit investments over a 26- year period using data from 74 US metros shows public transport had no long-term impact on road congestion. This stands at odds with the perception that high transit penetration is the solution, not an aggravator of gridlock.

Digging a bit deeper into how they arrived at this conclusion, it seems as though the same methodological mistakes around the measurement of congestion are being made as occurs with the Tom Tom surveys – focusing solely on congestion severity and ignoring issues like congestion exposure. The key point here is that low density car dependent cities may have less intensity/severity of congestion (because they’re so spread out) but whatever congestion there is has to be experienced by everyone because there are no alternatives. In a place like New York, the roads may be congested but to the vast bulk of people this doesn’t matter because they’re walking, cycling or using the subway.

The other gigantic flaw in the paper placing so much emphasis on the issue of congestion is the inconvenient analysis undertaken a couple of years ago which shows the most congested US cities are actually the most economically productive. While it’s more likely economic success causes congestion than the opposite, the congestion doesn’t seem to be holding these places back.


The key takeaway from this is that while congestion is annoying and perhaps theoretically should hold back economic performance, if we look at different cities across the USA it doesn’t seem to be doing this. It’s also interesting to compare how we view congestion on the transport network to other areas of society. For example people will choose to go to a restaurant that is busy, even if it involves waiting rather than go to an empty one next door. The crowded and congested restaurant is successful while the empty one is not. If we expand that to a city scale, many people would prefer being in a busy and interesting place with lots of other people than an empty city.

Moving on to land prices, this is seen as the other main negative resulting from a compact city approach that should be balanced against the agglomeration benefits:

Another cost is land. From the perspective of local government in New Zealand, compact cities are desirable because they limit the amount of roading, water and social infrastructure that will need to be provided. Yet by limiting the supply of land, city officials are inadvertently putting a scarcity value on housing in this country, which ranks among some of the least affordable in the world. Equally, the onerous regulations and zoning restrictions required to steer development along the compact model add to the scarcity value of housing. This scarcity value is not limited to housing, and businesses facing higher property costs will pass these on to customers in the form of higher prices, and where they cannot, firms will look to relocate to cheaper areas – a process that is already happening in Hamilton, a beneficiary of fleeing Auckland firms.

We’ve covered off this debate many times before in the past few years as the Auckland Plan and then the Unitary Plan were hashed through in great detail. While limiting the supply of land will theoretically drive up its price, when it comes to housing affordability the issue is the cost of housing more than the cost of land. Furthermore, it’s the cost of housing in particular areas that’s the issue – there’s plenty of affordable housing in Papakura, Clendon, Pukekohe, Waiuku and other far flung parts of Auckland. The huge price escalation is happening in the inner areas – and I can’t quite see how it’s possible to create more land in Grey Lynn or Mt Eden (although of course it’s possible to get more housing out of that land through intensification).

Going back to the paragraph quoted above, what’s particularly odd is the sentence “…the onerous regulations and zoning restrictions required to steer development along the compact model”. Given that enabling intensification is about the removal of zoning restrictions so people have more flexibility to do as they choose with their land, I wonder whether the NZ Initiative has completely misunderstood what planning does and does not do. One is not forced to build terraced houses in the Mixed Housing Urban zone – contrary to popular belief!

The other crazy thing that the paper completely ignores is the gigantic amount of sprawl that has been enabled in Auckland through the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan. In one big bang the restrictions on land supply in Auckland have been pushed outwards – even though the result of this is likely to be extremely expensive and not actually what people want anymore. Have the authors been completely ignorant of the Unitary Plan by accident or deliberately?

The paper then briefly touches on health issues – it seems to be cherry picking data and making assumptions based on how cities were in the 19th century to come up with conclusions that seem strangely at odds with what books like “Happy City” suggest. I’ll leave those details to a future post though.

Overall, the paper thinks that it’s come to some grand conclusions:

We have shown through academic research and the historic record that compact cities are not a panacea for the social, financial and infrastructural problems gripping modern cities today. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to urban costs, and the sooner we abandon ideology, the sooner we can start developing nuanced solutions to issues like congestion and skyrocketing property prices.

The aim of this report was not to generate specific policy recommendations but to unpack the highly technical argument surrounding urban form changes for the average citizen to participate in the discussion. Still, it is evident at a high level that overly centralised planning and decision making structures are one of the major contributing factors driving urban costs in New Zealand and further afield.

The conclusions are not completely wrong – in highlighting that cities are complex and any ‘one size fits all’ approach is likely to fail. However, in both key areas of critique (congestion and land prices) the paper has made some fundamental oversights – like ignoring the complexities of congestion and its seemingly minimal impact on economic performance, like ignoring the huge amount of additional land supply provided by the Unitary Plan and like ignoring that a key part of the compact city approach is liberalising planning rules within existing urban areas.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, but certainly disappointingly, the paper promises much but inevitably fails to deliver beyond repeating a simplistic ideological perspective on forms of urban growth – falling into the very trap it so merrily accuses others of doing.

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  1. On all issues the NZ Initiative, like its former manifestation as the Business Roundtable has pushed a neo-liberal ideological agenda, using the claim of being a think tank as a disguise. It is, however, well resourced.

    1. I’d say good on them, they are obviously not in the pocket of the big land-rentier vested interests like most advocates are on this issue. It is absolute nonsense that the vested interests are on the side of sprawl. Any site owner stands to gain 1000% plus from a UGB, and more still on top of that from upzoning. It is perfectly logical for any major property investor to sink money into advocacy for compact cities, and this is all zero-sum gouging that really does drag down the poor, workers, and the bottom few quintiles of society.

      This is obviously why there is money from the likes of the Rockefellers and George Soros in so many studies that advocate compact cities. Are they property magnates? Is the Pope a Catholic?

  2. I don’t understand this “utopian vision of a compact city” palaver from them. On the one hand we are told the motor car freed us from the hell-hole that were the old inner city slum suburbs and gave us the freedom to expand to our own nuclear family quarter acre pavlova paradise, yet on the other we are told that plans to re-inhabit these inner city areas is part of plot to create an engineered utopian paradise? Which is it? Because to me, it seems in historical context both trends were and are responding to different sets of influences… Maybe, just maybe, the move to the burbs was the thing to do in the 50s-70s and now the thing to do is to go back to the inner city in the 00-30s?

    1. Yup this report is short on historical perspective. A great many things have changed from the sprawl boom era, that mean that the ‘return to the centre’ and the ‘return to the local’ causes are more than just whim, or some sort of ‘utopian plan’, but are founded on people choosing rational actions in response to changed circumstances.

      These include:

      The nature of work, a vast majority of jobs now are simply a lot cleaner. The proportion of dirty manufacturing tasks for human workers to what used to be called ‘white collar’ work has fallen dramatically. So while no-one wants to live next door to a heavy industrial plant, and no one is suggesting this type of industry return to downtown, in most cases the idea of mixing living/shopping/playing/learning AND working no longer has the negative outcomes that it did early and mid last century. In fact that problem is now one for the suburbs adjacent industrial zones.

      At the beginning of the sprawl age the distance to the new suburbs was actually not that far, places that are now middle rung suburbs, to head out now to new greenfields sites is to disconnect much much more from both the centre and even more from other new suburbs on the opposite side of the city.

      The real price of oil fell every year from 1946 to 1970. It then spiked and fell back down through the 80s and 90s as massive new supply came on board, especially supply controlled by the major western consuming nations [North Sea, Alaska, Mexico + Gulf of Mexico]. These are now well in decline and there are massive new consumers now driving demand [China India, etc], which means that even sudden new supply [Shale] can’t lower the price anymore.

      The real costs of separating each part of our lives with driving in terms of money, time, and satisfaction, are growing to unwanted levels for a large proportion of the population, so they are looking for a different spatial order.

      Those who can are now paying more to live more connected proximate lives in rebuilt inner areas. In the sprawl boom era those who could afford to were choosing new buildings that were then further out, but connected by shorter cheaper drives.

      People have not really changed; they are still being rational, it’s the situation that’s changed.

      1. “The real costs of separating each part of our lives with driving in terms of money, time, and satisfaction, are growing to unwanted levels for a large proportion of the population, so they are looking for a different spatial order.”

        You have a way with words, Patrick. And I really like the way you’ve succintly and elegantly summarised the changes that are driving the changes. Bravo!

  3. A talk by Tim Williams last week raised an interesting point re the supply/ demand logic pushed out to reinforce the need to expand the MUL and reduce house prices. He basically said that when they tried that in England, what they actually found when they monitored the situation is that it doesn’t assist in reducing house prices as typically 98-99% of the housing resource already exists. The only viable option to reduce prices was increasing supply by 20% in a short period to collapse the housing market (which is obviously politically and practically difficult). The main conclusion was that the supply/ demand theory simply didn’t stack up in the real world with regards to housing.

  4. To be fair all of these types of ‘research’ are biased from the beginning, whether it be pro or anti density.

    1. The individuals that make up NZ Initiative have undoubted skills and talents in their own areas of experience. However, this does not translate into giving NZ Initiative the necessary understanding to offer useful input into city planning discussions. It is a pity therefore that their words are given undeserved “gravitas” among some members of the public.

      Meaning people with knowledge such as Matt L and Patrick Reynolds have to continually analyze, dissect and counter the arguments of these roosters. Great post Matt L.

    2. The NZ Initiative is ideological vehicle headed by Eric Crampton, whose work universally ignores the body of established research in a field (at least in the fields I’m familiar with; health and climate change).

      It would be much more surprising if this report actually aligned with current research about transport and urban form.

      1. This is at least partially incorrect. Eric Crampton is going to be taking up a research position at NZ initiative, but is certainly not “heading up” the organisation. As far as I can see, Eric is very much a data-driven economist rather than ideologically driven, so the appointment seems to me to be a good thing.

  5. Good review, Matt. If you remove the preface and conclusions from NZI’s report, you could easily form the impression that the case for removing present limits on intensification is far stronger than that for going out.

    In addition to all the research and analysis, there’s the intuitive point that none of the great cities of the world looks like Houston. They look like London, like San Francisco, like Tokyo. You can’t define “great” using academic tools, but we all know it when we see it.

  6. Even aside from craaaazy ideas like “not having to drive everywhere”, this focus on congestion is ridiculous. You don’t gain anything by deliberately reducing density to reduce congestion, since you just have to drive farther. What’s relevant are trip times, and thus the number of destinations accessible within X minutes.

    Of course, back to the crazy ideas. The big benefit of walking, public transport, or bikes, are that they allow higher levels of density at a given speed, before they congest. Which means more destinations you can get to within a given time.

    Perhaps instead of measuring density as people/square km, or jobs/square km, we should measure it as people/square minute?

  7. To recap the obvious, which needs to be endlessly repeated:

    1. The purpose of developing public transport is not to end traffic congestion (it’s unlikely to do so). The purpose is to give a greater proportion of people the chance to avoid being in traffic congestion.

    2. The purpose of transport is access, not mobility. A denser city will almost certainly have more congestion (that is, slower car travel) than a less dense city. But if the density brings people closer to where they want to go, to an extent that outweighs the slower travel, it’s still good (in transport/access terms – I’m not discussing here the other goals and choices people make in relation to housing and lifestyle).

  8. A classic straw man set up and knocked down by the NZI. They basically review the costs of living in a dystopian 19th century London or a modern mega city like Bejing, with the congestion free benefits of living in 1950s small town suburbia. The report takes a black and white view of ‘up vs out’ comparing the suburban status quo with the extreme density of a city like Hong Kong without considering that anything in between is possible.

    When it comes to housing and land costs the New Zealand Initiative makes the following fallacious argument:

    1. Restricting outward growth puts upward pressure on housing.
    2. Some smart growth policies seek to restrict outward growth while allowing intensification.
    3. Therefore allowing intensification puts upward pressure on housing.

    This is a ridiculous argument. To demonstrate how ridiculous it is you could use their logic to make the following (equally fallacious) argument:

    1. Restricting housing supply by prohibiting intensification puts upward pressure on housing.
    2. Some suburban sprawl policies seek to restrict intensification while allowing outward growth.
    3. Therefore releasing greenfield land puts upward pressure on housing.

    The mistake they have (it seems quite deliberately) made is to conflate the most restrictive of smart growth policies with intensification in general. Intensification does not necessarily involve placing restrictions on outward growth and the two issues should be dealt with separately.

  9. ” the congestion doesn’t seem to be holding these places back.” How do you know that Mat? Without making an exogenous change to the congestion we can really conclude that GDP isn’t held back because we dont know what it might have been. Minor point its kind of odd to plot log delay on the x-axis if you think it is probably the dependent variable. Mathematically it works fine but its just different to the conventional.

  10. Dear Matt. As an author on the report I would like the chance to respond.

    You critique my use of the phrase “utopian” when speaking about compact cities, but this is exactly what they are. A set of rules created to deliver a highly planned vision of a particular city in the future based on a set of projections (such as population growth). Yet these plans seldom – if ever – include feedback mechanisms that would adjust the plan should these projections change. This leads to perverse outcomes down the track, such as with the height restrictions in Auckland, which the councils is wrestling with.

    It amounts to central planning, and falls victim to exactly the same that always dog highly centralised system, such as the ones above. Indeed, local and international research by leading spatial economists have clearly shown that overly burdensome building rules and unaffordable housing markets are highly correlated – and yet you appear to be advocating for more red tape not less?

    Furthermore, you have mistaken our use of the agglomeration data. We noted that the elasticities used in these estimates for the City Rail Link as an example of how they are used to justify projects, yet we note that the very economists who put these figures together suggested that they be used with caution due to the potential to miscorrelate higher density with higher productivity. We weren’t trying to have it both ways.

    Also, your New York example is questionable due to observer bias. Yes, the teeming swell of people walking through downtown Manhattan got there by public transport or shank’s pony, but as Alain Bertaud points out, they only represent 26 per cent of the working age population. The other 74% work in the suburbs in other parts of the tri-state area, who are underserviced by public transport, and hence are car dependent. In Auckland that figure is 13 – 16% depending on who you speak to. Land prices in NYC are in fact so prohibitive it is only inhabitable by the very rich, the very poor, and single young people who share accommodation.

    You also seem to think our conclusion is car or train, up or out (okay we invited that last one in the title). Why choose one over the other? That is the mistake with compact development but also advocates of sprawled cities (no up). We are opposed land use restrictions that stop development from growing up as well as those that stop development from growing out. We note this in the report and back it up with academic research conducted by Edward Glaeser.
    On congestion, we quote a study conducted in The Netherlands in the mid-2000s where productivity in the regions grew faster than in the three main cities in large part due to urban congestion. Yet all of these cities (Amsterdam was one of them) are all compact poster children. So here congestion has directly affected productivity and the stated benefits from urban proximity.

    Also we note that building roads is positively correlated with congestion. Let me say that succinctly – CARS CAUSE ROAD CONGESTION (wow)!

    But cultural and social factors and that fact that cities have already sprawled (making hub and spoke transport arrangements incompatible) mean public transport is not a perfectly efficient replacement for private transport. And any capacity that is taken out via transit is likely to quickly consumed by more cars – the historical record shows this again and again.

    We are in favour of road pricing where it aims to achieve demand management (such as a levy during rush hour). We are in favour of public transit investment, but are realistic about its impact: a quantitative study of 74 of the biggest US metro over 26 years showed large scale investments in rail had no long term impact across any of these cities.

    We want to see holistic transport policies, not myopic ones that are only geared to getting ideological vanity projects over the line.

    You also completely ignore land prices and the international track record of compact cities. Adjusting for local wages and property prices, the most expensive cities in which to buy a house globally are always the ones that have pursued urban growth containment strategies. This is so repeatable that it is almost a truism.

    Work in the US showed that in desirable cities where there is a constraint on the supply of housing, such as through compact development regulations, growth in property prices outpaces wage price growth. In other word the benefits of agglomeration are outweighed by the costs of agglomeration.

    We chose to talk about land prices because they account for the biggest proportion of new building costs (60%). But let’s talk building costs: on a per foot basis, apartments are twice as expensive to build as single unit housing.
    Our report is a far more nuanced view of urban development that you present. Perhaps we may not achieved an exact centre line, but it is not the ideological beat up you make it out to be. I could indeed point the very same finger at you. You seem to have consumed this report with a dog whistle ear.

    There are other points that I could take issue with in your blog post, such as assuming the release of land in places like Warkworth and Pukekohe is going to have any material impact. It is more efficient to release land adjacent to existing infrastructure. Please read Bertaud, a former World Bank planner, on access to labour markets and why they shouldn’t be fractured, such as the land release under the RUB looks like it might do.

    I’m not saying that compact urban forms are not a valid choice for people living in these cities. Just discuss the trade-offs and realities candidly (something that was not done under the Auckland Plan – at all).

    To conclude, let me quite Arthur Grimes: “You can have big cheap cities, or small expensive cities. Just don’t say you can have cheap small cities.” (he’s talking about foot print not population)


    Jason Krupp

    P.S. Apologies for the rant, but I’m a little irate at the being accused of doing a hatchet job, but too pressed for time to tone it down. Please don’t let this close down the dialogue

    1. Hi Jason
      Thanks for commenting.

      “We are in favour of public transit investment, but are realistic about its impact: a quantitative study of 74 of the biggest US metro over 26 years showed large scale investments in rail had no long term impact across any of these cities.”

      Can you clarify. If you can get from A to B by an uncongested metro and bypass the congested roads in a city, how can that have no impact? Being able to avoid congestion by being in a congestion free PT corridor is a huge advantage for travelling around a city. Trains don’t get rid of car congestion; the provide the escape for individuals from it.

      1. exactly.Jason it’s a pretty simple suggestion: Road traffic congestion does not affect those who are *not in it*. Amsterdam has terrible traffic congestion; but because 40% of trips are by bicycle a big chunk of the population experience little to no congestion at all.

        The other critical flaw in your paper is on agglomeration economies: You (or the NZ initiative) clearly don’t understand how these are measure/estimated. Basically, you measure how productivity (wages, GDP etc) varies with urban density/scale. Most studies find positive agglomeration economies. The crucial point is this: These positive agglomeration economies are *net of congestion*. Put another way, they measure the net positive impacts of density on productivity, i.e. benefits of density > disbenefits of density = net positive agglomeration economy.

        My suggestions are 1) spend less time writing for the NZ Initiatives; 2) spend more time reading the blog; and 3) try again in a year or so.

        1. Some agglomeration papers deal with metrics of productivity vs density of employment (eg Motu’s analysis referred to in the original business case for the CRL used value added per employee), others use metrics such as density of residence. Given the context of the discussion I guess that it is that latter that is under consideration. With a linear correlation of productivity with residential density comparison of claimed agglomeration benefits of fringe development vs densification of existing urban areas is a zero-sum game. On that basis, at a macro level any increase in NZ’s population will result in the same total agglomeration benefits, irrespective of where they live (given that the country’s land area is fixed – I hope). I assume from your “critical flaw” response to Jason K that you are suggesting that there is a super-linear relationship for Auckland. If so, what is the empirical relationship, what is the source of the data and what confidence can we have that it can be extrapolated to future densities?

          As for positive agglomeration economies being *net of congestion* – I am not convinced. While quoted metrics of productivity continue to ignore the effect of travel time and cost to the individual they will continue to overestimate productivity as gauged by the rational person, ie their income net of tax and travel expenses divided by the number of hours per day dedicated to generating that income.

    2. Hi Jason, thanks for stepping up the dialogue.

      I’m confused now. This and the last publication by NZI, Free to Build, seem to communicate conclusions quite different from the tone you take in your response.

      I would take issue with your comment in relation to considering planning strategies: “Just discuss the trade-offs and realities candidly”. It strikes me that neither publication from NZI does this; they both read as selective evidence presented to justify predetermined conclusions, and far from candid discussions of trade-offs. You seem to think that no-one is able to see through the inherent contradiction of a think-piece published by an ‘independent’ (yeah right) organisation like the NZI.

      The saddest thing about this position is that it simply ignores the reality of decisions that increasing numbers of individuals are making of their own unprompted volition. If it was all down to “central planning” pursuing “utopias” that were out of touch with individual preferences, then the distribution of price increases would be far more flat than it is in Auckland. The reality is that across many demographic sectors people want proximity and intensity, and are prepared to pay more for it than far-flung spreading out of a city. Arguably this does affect point-of-sale affordability – but then, so does spreading out a city in pursuit of cheap houses, in ways that you do not acknowledge – time, happiness, family integrity, accessibility vs travel dependency.

      Good on you for responding, but it sounds awfully naive.

    3. Thanks for commenting Jason. Not that I want to put words in Matt’s mouth in his reply to you but a few things to point out:

      Indeed, local and international research by leading spatial economists have clearly shown that overly burdensome building rules and unaffordable housing markets are highly correlated – and yet you appear to be advocating for more red tape not less?

      From what I can see that’s a major misinterpretation of what the post is saying. It seems like it’s arguing for less red tape inside the existing urban area rather than more – allow higher densities, do not require on-site parking, allow higher height limits and so on. Essentially reduce regulation to enable higher densities, more development and easing pressure on housing prices by making it easier to build. It’s always seemed fascinating to me that sprawl advocates hate on regulation when it comes to things that stop sprawl but then love it when it comes to reducing flexibility for what happens inside existing urban areas. Ed Glaeser talks about this a lot in Triumph of the City, how Chicago has stayed affordable by building heaps and heaps of apartments.

      On congestion, we quote a study conducted in The Netherlands in the mid-2000s where productivity in the regions grew faster than in the three main cities in large part due to urban congestion. Yet all of these cities (Amsterdam was one of them) are all compact poster children. So here congestion has directly affected productivity and the stated benefits from urban proximity.

      The much more recent and comprehensive study of US cities cited by Matt suggests the opposite – more congested cities had better economic outcomes. Netherlands is such a small place that regions & cities probably feed off each other economically, making comparisons less viable than the US example.The key point here is “who cares if a place is congested – it doesn’t seem to harm the economy.” Your criticism of compact cities rests a lot on the supposed (but not backed up) evil of congestion.

      There are other points that I could take issue with in your blog post, such as assuming the release of land in places like Warkworth and Pukekohe is going to have any material impact. It is more efficient to release land adjacent to existing infrastructure.

      Oh goodness have you even looked at the Unitary Plan maps? What about the huge areas adjacent to Westgate, Papakura and Silverdale that have been included in the RUB? What about Flat Bush? What about Hobsonville? Takanini? Where else can we even go – reclaim the harbours?

      1. “Where else can we even go – reclaim the harbours?” +1. It’s hard to understand what these people are even advocating. Additional motorway lanes?

    4. Thanks for commenting Jason

      “You critique my use of the phrase “utopian” when speaking about compact cities, but this is exactly what they are.”
      “It amounts to central planning, and falls victim to exactly the same that always dog highly centralised system, such as the ones above”
      Except what is proposed in the the Unitary Plan is anything but a compact city. The UP is a watered down sop to those who yelled loudly. Also you seem to ignore the uptopian drive till you qualify vision pushed on by Auckland that has made it what it is today. You talk about it being central planning however again it was “Central Planning” that forced the current structure of the city on us, that imposed rules like minimum parking, density and maximum parking requirements. We are not suddenly moving from some sort of free market to a central planning system like you suggest.

      “Yet these plans seldom – if ever – include feedback mechanisms that would adjust the plan should these projections change.”
      We could say the same about a great many things. Look at the road building that’s going on with great gusto despite traffic volumes having been flat for almost a decade.

      “yet you appear to be advocating for more red tape not less”
      Perhaps you should have a read through some of our previous posts on the subject. If you do you will find quite the opposite. We want the removal of regulations. A common theme we notice is that those advocating for more greenfield development do so but completely ignore the regulations that hinder more intensive developments (some of which I’ve mentioned earlier). Yes you do mention them in the report but only very briefly. When in Auckland last year Ed Glasser commented that he thought all regulations were bad but that minimum parking requirements were the worst of the lot. I would be happy to remove land use regulations including urban limits if we could also properly implement mechanisms to price the choices that people make in living on the edge of town but that doesn’t seem to be something that will happen any time soon.

      Yes cars cause congestion and I do agree that any capacity taken out by PT would just be replaced by new trips generated from elsewhere. This one of the reasons why using measurements like those used in the TomTom report are so meaningless. Far more important in my view is we measure how many people are moved at any one time and this is where PT has such a critical role to play due to it being able to carry significantly more people in the same amount of space. In my view we’ve exhausted the quick and cheap roading projects and from here on out we’re looking at hugely expensive projects that will comparatively deliver very little gain (and as you agree not solve congestion).

      I do agree with road pricing and will do you one better by saying we should be smarter about how we do it. Make it a revenue neutral proposition by correspondingly dropping fuel prices. From a political point of view it’s then not seen as revenue gathering but a way to more efficiently manage the road resource we have. However any implementation of road pricing in our major centres is likely to increase calls for investment in realistic alternatives.

      Speaking of which another criticism that I didn’t include in the post was this part
      “On the other hand, buses can be regarded as contributors to congestion because they use existing road infrastructure to transport passengers. After all, any infrastructure investment aimed at improving the efficiency of a bus service is
      also likely to benefit private car users, and hence, should be regarded as distinct from light rail, rail and tram projects.”
      Perhaps you should look at the impact of projects like the Northern Busway or even the bus lanes across the Auckland Isthmus. Those investments have seen dramatic improvements in bus usage where they exist and in the case of the busway particularly hasn’t contributed to congestion one bit. It has seen significant mode shift occur though, in 2004 before the busway just 18% of people crossing harbour bridge in the AM peak did so on a bus and in 2012 that figure was up to 41%.

    5. I’d like to discuss another aspect of the report, the claimed lack of correlation of “compact cities” with more active transport modes, especially walking and cycling.
      Acccording to the introduction ‘Claims that denser cities facilitate more walking, cycling and physical activities are typically not true’. Actually reading the section on health, I would say rather that what is said is that the available evidence suggests some effects, but not a great one. However, there are obvious efforts in the section to discredit any studies suggesting a link, by introducing more or less random facts, e.g. Singapore and Hong Kong have a high density and increasing obesity, without actually comparing them with the obesity in less compact cities. This whole section reads as an effort to justify the statement in the introduction, perhaps the introduction was written first, and the report later.

    6. Hi Jason, the two main reasons I am in favour of compact cities are:
      1) There are negative externalities from less compact models on public infrastructure and transport networks, and you do mention this, so thank you for doing so. This is of course something that could be fixed by more accurately ascribing costs to development rather than shifting them onto rates, as you mention. I don’t think there’s any reason why this couldn’t be addressed, although the transport puzzle is a lot harder than sorting out who pays for things like water lines and so on.
      2) Another part of the rationale for compact cities in the 21st century would be that they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and yet you barely mention this in your report, and you certainly don’t provide any evidence to refute it (perhaps because there is a bit of a slant towards climate change denialism in the NZI’s staff, or at least its readership?) I think this is a pretty important omission! These emissions are probably the most significant externality and market failure the world has ever seen. I’m not interested in forcing people onto public or active transport as part of some utopian ideal. I want people to have the choice to do so as it will help to address our much-too-high emissions. Public transport and smaller or attached dwellings all tend to work in the same direction on this.

      Speaking of dwellings, please also remember that there is a spectrum of dwelling typologies in between “high-rise apartments”. And I don’t think you’re comparing apples with apples when you say that apartments are twice the cost per square metre of houses. That’s true for ‘basic’ (in terms of quality and fittings) high-rise apartments vs. ‘basic’ single-storey houses, but that’s an extreme case. And a lot of people will want a more lavish home interior, which of course costs the same whether it’s in a house or an apartment, and that reduces the percentage difference. Furthermore, a lot of homes are two storeys these days, and a lot of apartments are medium-rise and have a lower cost per square metre. And then, of course, there are terraced houses which are fairly similar in cost to two-storey detached homes. Plus you’re attaching a lower land cost and a lower infrastructure cost to each dwelling if it’s higher density.

  11. Rubbish Jason. “We are in favour of public transit investment” is up there with “some of my best friends are gay/black/public transport users.”

    You knew how this report would be read. How it would be summarised and which arguments it would be tendered as evidence for. People don’t write this stuff with such passion to be be seen as merely ‘objective’. You knew the blowback would come and now you’re trying to dodge what you knew was coming.

  12. Disingenuous of Jason to claim he (and NZInitiative) isn’t an organisation promoting a hard right neoliberal ideology.

    1. It is a pleasant surprise to find a pro business think tank not hijacked by the crony capitalists rather than devotion to actual free market principles. Around the world there is massive amounts of crony capitalist money being poured into compact city advocacy simply because these people understand only too well the effects of UGB’s combined with upzoning and so on, on the value of their property holdings. The finance sector is in it up to the eyeballs too, because they make more profit when they get to create $500,000 mortgages than when they create $100,000 ones.

      It is absurd that there is a debate raging about inequality and almost no-one has noticed the major cause of the lot – zero-sum wealth transfers in land and finance costs. Actual producers of goods and services in free markets create value that is then shared around. But landowners and financiers gains on straight-out inflation of land prices is truly zero-sum and impoverishes the poor. But the cry forever goes up, “inequality is increasing, RIGHT! GET THE EMPLOYER OF LABOUR!!! Henry George summed all this up more than a century ago and nothing has changed. The political representatives of the working man are just as ignorant or corrupt as ever. The employer-producer is just as much a victim of the economic rentiers as the worker is. They both get to share out what is left over AFTER the economic rentiers take their chunk.

      Matt Ridley showed his intelligence recently in “The Times”, saying:

      “…..Well, knock me down with a feather. You mean to say that during
      three decades when the government encouraged asset bubbles in house
      prices; gave tax breaks to pensions; lightly taxed wealthy non-doms; and
      severely restricted the supply of land for housing, pushing up the
      premium earned by planning permission for development, the wealthy
      owners of capital saw their relative wealth increase slightly? Well,
      I’ll be…….

      “……..Neither Britain nor the world is especially unequal right now
      compared with most of the past two centuries. If you want to reduce
      wealth inequality in Britain, then the quickest way is to liberalise the
      planning laws to bring down house prices……”

      Behind a paywall, but Ridley has also put it online here:,-globally.aspx

      “The Times” would at one time have been much too “Tory” to print anything like this. It seems as if more and more wake-up is happening, even the IMF is openly and bluntly criticising the UK’s rigged housing land supply racket now.

      It is incoherent to ignore the inequality aspect of this and claim to care about inequality.

  13. The report itself is reasonably even handed, despite obvious dodgy transport stats. However the PR is totally one eyed, raging against claimed compact city policies. As we all know, and have found out with the SHA’s the Unitary Plan does allow plenty of greenfield development, and has lots of restrictions on infill development.

  14. One thing I do agree with the NZI on is that restrictive planning rules are limiting the supply of housing and this is causing unaffordable housing. I also agree that planners should take house prices into consideration in plans.

    The NZI claim to support cities growing ‘up and out’, but they also spend a lot of time fearmongering about density and fetishising suburbia. All while ignoring the fact that the current suburban form is a product of restrictive planning regulation not the free market (and they accuse others of utopianism).

    If they had any consistency they would spend as much time advocating for the abolition of density limits as they do for the abolition of urban limits. If their report does have influence on policy, it would be to ensure the continuation of restrictive limits on density, due to their tirade against the evils of density. Ironically a think tank that claims to want to free cities from the burdens of excessive planning restrictions, is doing an excellent job to ensure that excessive planning regulation stays in place, and their beloved suburbia is protected from market driven growth.

    Also the NZI are wrong to blame ‘utopian planners’ for the restrictive planning system we have. Many planners are pushing for the liberalisation of planning rules, but politicians have the final say on plans and they are too often trying to appease their loud NIMBY constituents. No doubt, these NIMBYs will use reports from the NZ initiative to demonstrate the supposed evils of density to justify their prohibition of upward growth.

  15. I think the NZ Initiative are not strong enough. I think the term “orchestrated litany of lies” fits the “case for urban growth containment” perfectly.

    To take Matt L’s points one by one:

    Aggomeration economies: the density/productivity nexus is due to both being endogenous to the process of evolution of urban economies. It is cargo cult fallacy thinking, to think that you can force density and get the same productivity as dense areas that evolved under the free market. Manhattan did not evolve because New York had a UGB. The UK has a productivity GAP that has only been explained so far by the UK’s growth-containment planning system. Forced growth containment reduces productivity, all other things being equal.

    London is an absolutely unique outlier; it is growing because it is like the entire world’s exclusionary suburb scaled up to a whole city. If you were to consider the entire data set of cities in the first world, there will be a strong correlation between urban growth containment and growth in population and the economy. The stand-outs are Houston, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, Indianapolis and quite a few more US cities. The UK economy has absolutely no equivalent to this phenomenon; in fact probably no other first world economy does.

    The USA’s biggest and most famous cities are not growing much any longer precisely because they are fringe-contained in some way or another and because the opportunity seekers are heading for cities like Houston. Chicago is an exception in not being fringe contained, but its machine politics are borderline risking turning it into a bigger Detroit.

    Other countries in which all cities are growth-contained, like the UK is, generally also have a single “success story” like London; this is because one city might be lucky enough to be based on economic sectors that growth containment harms less. While the UK has London, it has lost an awful lot of industry that might have stayed onshore had the UK had a Houston. It also might have had a Silicon Valley had young whiz-kids with ideas and little capital been able to start up manufacturing ventures in tin buildings on cheap exurban land.

      1. 3 years of slight growth rebound after decades of major decline……?

        One possible reason is that the property is more affordable post the 2008 crash, so some of those previously priced out who would like to live there, have been able to do so.

        New York City’s population is NOT “growing in ways” that are anything like Houston or the affordable cities. New York is not adding anywhere near as many people during those 3 years, as Houston is, or even as many as several other affordable fast-growth cities that are far smaller than New York.

    1. Phil, the point John makes above- that compact is energy efficient- seems to be ignored.
      I think all new development should be compact- on greenfields or brownfields.
      The historical suburban form is just not sustainable in the future. Electric cars don’t help unless we dramatically increase our renewable sources of energy.
      Your thoughts on how we build a low carbon future please. Or is that not a consideration for you?

      1. I made a reply and it never appeared. Moderation?

        It is enough of a sacrifice of time and income for me to comment here as it is, without having my effort at typing comments come to nothing.

        1. Yes we all realise how privileged we are to have someone as rich and important as you come on here and express your modern, enlightened and interesting opinions.

      2. OK, these things happen. Matt Lowrie assures me that there is not a moderation filter problem. I respect him very much for allowing genuine informed debate. Sorry for venting my frustration at the loss of the comment. I will try and get into the habit of copying before posting.

        What I want to say about sustainability and urban form, is that there is massive scope for sustainability measures at low densities. Economists have for decades been arguing that blunt instrument mandates on urban growth do harm via unintended consequences and are not as effective as the right fiscal incentives, which allow people to choose from myriads of options for modifying their behaviour – in contrast to “Thou Shalt Live in an Apartment Block”.

        At low density, you can do a lot of things you can’t do at high density – burn biomass for heating and cooking; you have far more surface on which solar panels can be installed; ditto for home wind turbines; you can use passive solar heating (sunshine) more effectively; ditto with fresh air; you can collect rainwater; you can process and recycle waste on-site; you can produce your own food (garden, chooks, etc); you can have shade trees; and generally you can use more renewable building materials too.

        Dushko Bogunovich at Unitec is on the right track on all this sort of stuff. So are the landscape urbanists in the USA; and Frank Lloyd Wright was an as-yet unappreciated guru on urban form with his absolutely accurate intuitions.

        “Eco Villages” are a growing phenomenon in the parts of the USA where it is possible to build such things – the Auckland planners won’t let you. Ironically, environmentalists 40 years ago were enthusiastic about “back to nature” living – at some point the movement morphed into a theocracy that regards nature as sacred and to be preserved from evil humans who must be cooped up like battery hens to prevent them from profaning it. This of course is a classic Baptists and Bootleggers phenomenon, with the Bootleggers being the “big property” vested interests. Frank Lloyd Wright’s writings on “Broadacre City” and so on, are full of references to “the tyranny of rent” and his desire for the democratisation of urban property, extending even to road grid networks with no radial-pattern hierarchy. Urban economists only today are coming round to understand how effective this can be. FLW said “employment is going to disperse anyway, why not plan for it”?

        It was the big vested interests in CBD property in the US in the 1950’s who managed to get the debate on the form of road networks won in favour of monstrous radial-pattern elevated highways funneling traffic into the main central CBD and hence maximising congestion by focusing it. Mass transit “solutions” to this manufactured problem are only “solutions” to the CBD rentier vested interests, they are useless to the general welfare and the great majority of society.

      3. “Electric cars don’t help unless we dramatically increase our renewable sources of energy.”

        Studies I have read suggest a 10% increase in total generation would cover a conversion of all of NZ’s current private car fleet to electric. You may regard that as dramatic – I don’t.

  16. Congestion exposure:

    This doesn’t matter to the majority of people in New York because they are walking, cycling or catching public transit…….

    Provided they have a job, and the skills to match, that is located in Manhattan, and they can also afford the housing cost at least near to Manhattan.

    Something like 80% of employment in the New York urban area is still outside Manhattan. That means a lot of car dependence and congestion exposure even in that unique superstar local economy. And can every local economy have its own Manhattan? This question is so ironic: if “Manhattan” was spread out across all cities, there would not be a Manhattan in New York or anywhere. It only exists because it is a “global” agglomeration. The world can only have half a dozen or so of these.

    Expecting cities to fit into a mould of a Manhattan form just because it enables more transit use etc, is not a lot more stupid than expecting your farming sector and its workers to also relocate into highrise buildings. In between farming and Manhattan, there are a heck of a wide variety of economic activities with varying requirements for space and ability to pay for it.

    ironically, the concentration of employment that makes mass transit viable, along with a UGB and unaffordable housing, reduces the opportunity for walking and cycling for most people. Manhattan, and other nodes where walking and cycling co-exist with mass transit, are for wealthy yuppies only. Even Ed Glaeser, a Harvard Professor, complains that he cannot afford to live in Manhattan.

    Democratised walking and cycling opportunity comes from dispersal of employment and systemically affordable housing, i.e. a low, flat urban land rent curve. This allows the maximum percentage of the population to afford housing near the maximum number of jobs. “Design” does matter to make walking and cycling more pleasant, but it is nonsense to try and go for centralised, UGB-contained urban form to achieve this.

    Ironically, the walking and cycling you end up foregoing by pricing people into longer commutes because housing in the right location is unaffordable to the most people, would have cost the taxpayer/ratepayer nothing, in very stark contrast to the pitiful mass transit mode share increases that have been won instead.

  17. The most congested cities are the most productive, in the USA, because they are the cities where density evolved through the free market. However, they have lacked free market provision of road space. However, if you made an international comparison between cities that are congested because of free market evolution in their form, and cities that are congested because of deliberate growth containment for decades (eg the UK’s cities), you will find that the latter are appallingly under-productive. In fact the USA’s free-to-grow cities will beat them hands down.

    It is far better for a major economy to have a few locations nationwide that are denser, because the free market evolved them that way; and all other locations evolved under the free market as something other than dense. Even European nations have a far greater range of densities of cities than the UK does, because they have not been run by crony capitalist gougers maximising the economic rent of every site of urban land by inhibiting beneficial free market evolution of less dense parts of the local economy.

    It is perfectly possible to “allow for some sprawl” as you are criticising the Auckland Plan for; but I criticise the Plan because it does not totally liberalise the right to develop land anywhere anyone wants to build a few homes. Because of the Plan as it is, you get the worst of both worlds, you get highly inefficient sprawl anyway and you still get site owners making obscene capital gains.

    “Land bought in 1995 for $890,000 – owner will sell for $112m”

    Nice for some.

    Splatter sprawl is more efficient, this is recognised in ALL the academic literature that has ever looked at the question. This is because the cost of land is kept low and there are more co-location efficiencies because fewer people are “priced out”. Specific types of agglomeration like Silicon Valley, for example, form MORE often when there is space and lower land costs for them. Decisions on the best use of leftover land as splatter has occurred, are far more effective once some uses of land have evolved on their own. Co-location of employment and workforces keeps commute times stable. There is no correlation AT ALL in the global data, between the footprint of a city and its average commute times. People are not stupid. They will not take on job on one fringe of Houston and buy a $200,000 house on the opposite fringe when there are exactly the same housing options where their job is. Nor will they take on a job in Houston CBD and buy a $200,000 fringe home without very good reasons not to simply buy a perfectly decent slightly older home inside the ringroad already, for the same price again.

    It is cities like Auckland, where you have to pay $1,000,000 + to get anything much distance inside the fringe at all, where you get people forced into monster commutes. The reason this happens is that all the inflation is in the land prices. Consider this:

    Fringe home, new, $200,000 for structure, $40,000 for section
    Central suburban home; older; $80,000 for structure, $160,000 for section

    After UGB: Fringe home, new, $200,000 for structure, $300,000 for section
    Central suburban home; older, $80,000 for structure, $1,200,000 for section.

    And the point of the policy package that the UGB was part of, was to “increase housing choice”????????? And reduce average commute distances”?????????

    Hayek will be chuckling up in economists Valhalla, at the further lesson in “unintended consequences” of utopian planning.

  18. If lower density suburban housing is “not what people want any more” why is a UGB necessary?

    Of course when people are asked leading questions, they will respond to a survey that they would like the idea of being able to walk to work, their kids to walk to school, they would like public transport at their door, they would like public transport to also go past their job, and so on. This is simply impossible utopia.

    But as well, when the time comes for upzoning, no-one wants the buildings all around them that allegedly brings this utopian objective a little bit closer. I say “allegedly” because commute times in Hong Kong and Singapore and Tokyo are the highest in the world.

    Interestingly, cities like these also prove that building “up” or denser does NOT “lower the cost of housing”. All that has happened is that site values increase faster than living space is traded off by households even as they stack up on top of one another. It is Hong Kong that has a housing median multiple of around 16 – and NO city with a median multiple of around 3 is anywhere near as dense as Auckland, let alone Manchester, let alone London, let alone Hong Kong.

  19. I am not opposed to intensification; parts of Houston are intensifying as natural free market processes occur and agglomerations of the appropriate kind evolve. Houston has more Fortune 500 Company head offices than any other city in the world. It also ranks around the middle of data sets for tall-building floor space per capita. Should you get a job in the CBD, the cost of decent apartments nearby is among the cheapest in the world. This is because in a city with freedom to sprawl and with a low, flat urban land rent curve, building “up” actually does NOT increase site value, it genuinely allows trade-offs between floor space and affordability.

    With Houston Zip Codes, anything beginning “770” is “inside the ringroad”, and “7700” is right in the centre.

    If you are really aiming at becoming a global city, affordable suburban McMansions and affordable city apartments go along together and are both more of a help than a hindrance. I would argue that New York urban area would have stopped growing long before its current 20 million odd, had a UGB been imposed 30 years ago or 60 years ago. Just as LA stopped at around 14 million when its regulations turned against fringe growth.

  20. I also want to reiterate what I have said before, that I do not say that the USA’s lowest-density cities are optimum; “excessive sprawl” is the result of misguided exclusionary zoning policies that mandate ridiculously large lot sizes.

    The fact that Europe has a range of urban densities going as low as 1500 per square km for some cities (Auckland is 2400) suggests to me that this is somewhere near to a perfectly logical low end for free-market evolved density – although in the case of the European cities this may have been slowed somewhat by deliberate policy.

    Salt Lake City is 1500, which is still double many US cities, but Salt Lake City still manages to work extremely well on all measures. Los Angeles is 2400, the densest in the US, and San Francisco and San Jose I think are not far behind. Only Toronto in the Anglo New World is denser than Auckland and LA.

    The highest-density cities everywhere in the world are associated with those cities have substantial economic weight prior to the automobile era. I can suggest no example anywhere of a city that grew post-automobile into the ranks of major cities, that has got to anywhere near the density of the major pre-automobile cities. And even most of the pre-automobile cities have fallen in their overall density much like New York urban area has. Even Amsterdam is not much denser than Auckland now.

    1. Measuring density by total city area/population is meaningless as the number is distorted by where the boundary is arbitrarily drawn, and large areas of low density with a core of high density. Hence absurd claims like Amsterdam and New York are the same density as Auckland.

      1. The data I am using, is Demographia’s which is based on Google Earth images of actual developed areas, not municipal boundaries.

        I agree that many density figures that are bandied about these days, especially those used by many compact city advocates, are misleading because they are based on municipal boundaries.

        New York urban area is LESS dense than Auckland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose. New York urban area spreads for dozens of miles beyond the municipal boundary of New York City.

        Most participants on this site do not dispute this. Matt Lowrie himself does not dispute it. I accept that there are valid arguments for “weighted population densities” and so on to reflect some cities wide disparities in density inside and outside the core.

        1. “New York urban area is LESS dense than Auckland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose”

          Yes and Peter Dinkalge and Shaquille O’Neal have an average combined height of 5 foot 9 – about the male average. Together they must be ill suited to acting as dwarves / playing basketball

    2. “The highest-density cities everywhere in the world are associated with those cities have substantial economic weight prior to the automobile era. I can suggest no example anywhere of a city that grew post-automobile into the ranks of major cities”

      Hong Kong had about half a million people at the time of World War One, it certainly wasn’t a major city in the pre-automobile era, and nor were many other major modern cities. Density limiting planning regulation is probably the major reason density stayed so low in cities through the automobile era

      1. Many cities outside the first world are “pre-automobile” well into the modern era in terms of economic development – most people in these cities still cannot afford an automobile.

        Hong Kong is an exception, not a rule. It falls into a similar category to Monaco or the Cayman Islands – it was for decades a tax haven, and the major gateway between the British Empire and China.

        “…..Density limiting planning regulation is probably the major reason density stayed so low in cities through the automobile era….”

        You are trying to say that density of cities was not going to fall without regulations to limit density?????

        Have cities like Amsterdam got density-limiting regulations, that their density has fallen? Does not the mere fact that people can travel far more flexibly and obtain their own space at far lower real cost, make a reduction in density inevitable?

        Even in the developing world, densities are falling, driven less by automobiles (which people cannot yet afford) and more by motorcycles, which allow informal slum housing to be lower density and slightly further away from the city. Look on YouTube for “Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City”.

  21. Hi,

    I wanted to comment on this statement here:

    “We’ve covered off this debate many times before in the past few years as the Auckland Plan and then the Unitary Plan were hashed through in great detail. While limiting the supply of land will theoretically drive up its price, when it comes to housing affordability the issue is the cost of housing more than the cost of land. Furthermore, it’s the cost of housing in particular areas that’s the issue – there’s plenty of affordable housing in Papakura, Clendon, Pukekohe, Waiuku and other far flung parts of Auckland. ”

    Living in Auckland, it is quite easy to see that land value in the CV is close to or equal to the improvement value. But this doesn’t make sense rationally because it’s people (builders, architects, draughtsman, plumbers, electricians etc) that should add proportionally greater value to land, not the land itself [that has the same value as the improvements].

    To give an example, I have relatives in the United States living in an unconstrained city. They have just built a new home at a cost of ~250K. The cost to buy the land? 30K. Ho wmuch land? 1/4 acre. Are they miles from anywhere including amentities, employment etc? No. Is it unafforable? No, the average cost of housing to income is around 3. What a win-win scenario.

    While the above is an example, my own research shows me that when you plot city densities vs. the cost of housing relative to income, the greater the city density the more unaffordable it becomes.

    I like to think that in Auckland these days you need an income of around 220K/annum to be able to buy a house at the median price. At this point my mind goes to how many more employers like F&P healthcare could we have in New Zealand if the median cost of housing was around 180K. Such an employer could look at our highly educated population, look at the general stability of the country (vs. say Brazil, apologies, but look at their strikes and protests) and the trustworthiness of its inhabitants, realise they could pay NZ60K-80K vs EUR100K+ in Germany for example. We would be well off, have more career opportunities, grow the GDP (and therefore the ability to pay for all the development in cities, healthcare, and charitable donations to other New Zealanders and to off-shore agencies, etc) and have a high quality of life with housing surrounded by nature rather than high rises. In short we could raise our standard of living and benefit the wider world with greater giving, because such an approach would affect the masses, not just a few individuals like me.

    As an aside, I would like to ask everyone [by that I mean the general public], if they had the choice between a standalone house with some outdoors and an apartment that is half the size with no outdoors and both are at the same price, which one would you choose? I really don’t like the choice between apartments because they are more affordable and houses that are more expensive because that is a choice imposed because of the high density policies.


    1. Nice to see a comment this sensible on this forum. I am in Wellington, so I lack easy access to the local politicians and the letters editors up there in Auckland. Can you comment about whether anyone trying to argue the truth gets a fair hearing from these blatant ideologues?

      1. Then can you please stay out of here and worry about Wellington and leave us to sort out the Auckland we want? Thanks in advance.

    2. Last time I checked you can buy a house in Auckland for ~$350000 in suburbs such as Papakura and Manurewa. No constraints there. In fact I see a 2 bedroom house for $269000 in that Papakura link below.

      This sort of suburb is relatively easy to duplicate all the way into the North Waikato.
      Will building more of these suburbs ease price pressure for houses in Mt Albert or Pakuranga?

      1. Yes, it is possible to buy a house in Auckland for circa 350K and even 275K, as a contributor mentions below. However the median price (which is the price that will be the most common across the housing market) is somewhere between 600K-700K. This means that the median Auckland income is woefully inadequate. If the median income is around 115K, which is what is needed for your cheap houses (and the median income is not that, frankly speaking), or 90K for the apartments, then we will have a lot of people chasing very little housing stock. When that happens, prices go up. In reality though, Auckland’s median income is around 75K, so we need the median house price to be 225K.

        Now let’s all pick ourselves off the floor after such a Tui moment. I recall suggesting this median price to an Auckland Council employee during the draft PAUD. She was aged 24 and I asked her when she planned on buying. Hahaha was all she could muster and I don’t blame her. However her face became more constrained when I suggested the solution to her personal problem was to not vote in the current council. The silence said it all.

        What we really need is median house prices to match median incomes – so most people can afford most houses.

        I do agree with you that building more of these suburbs into the North Waikato will not guarantee an easing of house price pressure in Pakuranga etc. But it would, if not controlled by our Council, provide more affordable housing. Coupled with those areas, we would have employment and amenities so that local-local mix is provided for residents (if they would like that) thus avoiding your (I presume dislike) ‘duplication’ suggestion.

    3. We sold our standalone (on 1300 sq/m) and are now very comfy in a terraced apartment. We don’t need a back yard as across the road there is a near acre park incorporating a pool, big grassed area, a playground, a big stormwater pond that doubles as a RC yacht race course and some 300 year old Puriri trees. All in a street network that is safe for young kids (ours is 6) to ride their bikes, skateboard or walk around. I can tell you that we are much happier here than we were in the stand alone.

      1. Hi Bryce,

        can I ask why you downsized? I understand that you are happy but it seems to me that you actually prefer something smaller. I also understand that your reasons may be private but it does help to gain the full picture of why you did this. I see that there is a park opposite, and parks indeed are great. But not everyone ‘has a park opposite’, unless of course one has a backyard, which is a reasonable compromise on a park because of immediate proximity. You aren’t against that are you?

        Like Phil said further down, I would support unlimited density with no controls anywhere and then see what people choose. I myself up-sized from a smaller property with less land to a bigger property with more land for our young family. And we have a park less than 5minutes walk away. So essentially we cancel each other out. Of greater weight is what the population in general think. In 2009 a UMR pool found that as density increased, people’s satisfaction with where they lived decreased.

        1. Hi Matthew. Part of the reason was location and proximity to the beach. Once we discovered the development where we now live, it was a no brainer. The neighbouring kids here are free to roam and do so. They go to each other’s houses with no parental supervision required for the trip. The streets are 30 km/h streets and quite narrow and (almost) everyone knows this. My 6 year old son rides his bike around these streets and I’m comfortable to let him do so. The key is that the development was planned as a whole, not as a few stand alone or terraced places so incorporates not just the park but garden plots, walk ways etc so it enables this kind of quality living. This is where small developments and a lack of planning fall down. The one thing we miss is the trampoline but surfing has taken over this void :-).

          1. I’m not against backyards. Horses for courses. It’s just that the way regulations and town planning have taken their course, we have replaced these community places with grand centralised places designed to be driven to. Basically in urban design, we have replaced walkability with auto dominated planning. To me, having experienced both as a family, a walkable neighbourhood is miles better. The DUP doesn’t remove having a single house on a large section, it just enables more choices.

          2. Thanks for that Bryce. So it isn’t the smaller property that is the main reason, it is the proximity to nature. In my neighborhood you also have walking and the speed of cars is such that we can ride our bikes in the crescent, as well as have a separate house on its own section. Can I ask, would you choose the terraced apartment over the standalone house if they both cost the same, has a ‘walking centered’ local environment, and access to nature? Or, if the apartment was cheaper than the house would that become a factor even if you could afford the house? (Note, I am not making assumptions as to what you can or cannot afford, these are just questions).

            I think your observation that we have replaced community amenities with centralized places like Westgate for example is an important one. I would far rather less zoning for ‘this’ and ‘that’, and more flexible zoning where the people who own the land can pretty much do anything. There may be tradeoffs in terms of consumable costs (food, household items) in local stores, but I suspect the drop off in house costs would more than account for that possible increase. We may even be able to afford local manufacturing again (if people want to work in that sector) which brings me back to my original comment around salaries.

            My reading of the PAUP is that ~90% of Auckland will become mixed-housing suburban or something of greater density. This to me reduces choice because of the cost of land, inasmuch the developers will want to put as many as possible to make a living.


          3. Happy to answer. We made some good money on our house, having bought during the GFC. We also paid significantly less for our apartment (even so I would class it as a premium level apartment but that has more to do with location than cost to build) so we have reduced our mortgage by quite a bit. This allows us to live a bit simpler and we have made compromises to do so. Personally, I think Westgate is going to be rubbish but Hobsonville Point is quite nice and is where I would have gone were it not for my need to be near a decent beach. Zoning is what has created the auto dominated suburbs we have now. Even under the UP there is nothing stopping a person from buying 2 properties and creating a vast stand alone house (as you can do right now) but what it does allow is for those who are willing to make a trade in land space can get a brand new home at a cheaper price point. Of note is that many people keep comparing buying an old house (such as in Te Atatu) and a brand new house in places like Hobsonville Point.

            Remember, the UP doesn’t force anyone to build apartments or town houses, it merely allows it. An environment with less regulations is better. Most of the added pieces to the UP (like minimum area balconies) were forced in by people who don’t want to live in such places anyway. Everything we do is a compromise of some sort.

          4. OK, that is a sound choice: “We also paid significantly less for our apartment (even so I would class it as a premium level apartment but that has more to do with location than cost to build) so we have reduced our mortgage by quite a bit”. Not that you need my endorsement haha.

            So let’s take this to the next stage: If (and yes it is an if) the median property price was 3 times the median income, so it was circa 225K, then:

            Assuming that the square meters of a property is the determining factor (along with build quality as you rightly point out, but I think we can all make a solid case that build quality should be such that 50 years at least should be the life of the dwelling) then we should take the average property size today and scale your dwelling based on that. I don’t know the average dwelling size, but I think around 150m2 is reasonable.

            If your terraced house was 120m2 then 80% * 225K = 180K.

            mortgage (20% deposit) = 144K or $971/month at 6.49% over 25 years.

            What would that do to your financial situation?

            i.e. put in your own numbers and see what difference it would make. What new choices could you have.

            I do agree that the PAUP doesn’t force people to build apartment or terraces. But then it also prevents development in many areas (I would know, I read all the clauses in that enormous document). This to me, is forcing people to live where Council allows. I wrote to Ms Hulse on this very topic but her response was that we cannot keep building out. As I’m suggesting elsewhere on this blog entry, I don’t think that is the correct way to arrive at her conclusion.

  22. Mathew: Quote: “if they had the choice between a standalone house with some outdoors and an apartment that is half the size with no outdoors and both are at the same price, which one would you choose?”

    Oh but it’s not about what the individual wants! It’s about how everybody else wants the individual to live. The sick premise behind the Densification debate is the idea that your personal lifestyle should somehow be everybody else’s decision – even though 99.9% of the collective will never even see your home let alone reside in it.

    1. Yawn…. if no one wants to live in an apartment or terrace house no one will buy them and developers will very quickly stop building them or go broke trying or both. So some one must be happy to live in these places; you aren’t and that’s just fine. But why are you so angry about other people’s choices?

      No one, by building an apartment, or town house, or other smaller more proximate dwelling is stopping any one else who wants to live in a vast detached house miles from anywhere from doing so. The Auckland region has literally thousands of these already and more are still being built. Fill your boots.

      Bizarrely it is you and that is being proscriptive about how others should live, the rest of us just want to be able to have choice. You sir, are a hypocrite.

      1. You are ignoring what a UGB does to land prices. This forces everyone to consume less space and pay more money, not less, in the process.

        It is like forcing the price of cars up to at least $500,000 and higher, and bicycles being likewise forced up in price to say, $80,000 – and claiming that this was perfectly logical because people were being deprived of the choice of bicycles earlier because cars were so cheap.

        The apologists for the UGB have argued again and again that “there are affordable houses still to be found if you look hard enough”, that is, 30 miles from the CBD, in high crime neighbourhoods, etc etc. These “affordable” houses are still more expensive than the far more decent median option in an affordable city.

        But likewise, can us opponents of the UGB not claim that people who want to live in apartments “can find one if they look hard enough”? Even with all these so-called regulations against them? There seems to me, looking with my own eyes, to be a heck of a lot more apartments in Auckland CBD alone, than there are “affordable” family homes anywhere within the Auckland UGB.

        As I have already explained, the affordability of apartments is a problem and this is because of distorted land rent, which is due to the UGB. Houston has apartments that are even more affordable than their McMansions are affordable. Do you bother to look at the links I provide or not?

        Compare Houston CBD apartment rents with THIS:

        You are NOT going to change this debacle with rip-off rents for CBD apartments by “building up” – when there is a UGB, building “up” only increases the site gain, it does not lower the price of floor space. The price of floor space is only lowered by increased density when there is no UGB or proxy for one.

        People who claim to want “affordability” and “choice” in ANY form of housing but support the UGB, are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, and it is the fat rentier vested interests in property whose hostages they are. I always snort in derision every time I see trendy young students in Wellington grizzling about the cost of rentals near Uni and how more and more of them are having to flat in Upper Hutt and Porirua and travel every day – it would help if they stopped voting Green at every level of government and stopped supporting the very idiocy that is the source of the problem.

        I disagree with the height and density restrictions AND the UGB. If you too disagree with both, then we shouldn’t be arguing.

        If Auckland votes for a policy platform that includes a UGB, on the grounds that a compact city is necessary, then ALL NIMBY rights regarding what can get built next door to you should be immediately suspended. Furthermore, everyone who votes for a Council and a Mayor who wants transport funding diverted from roads into trains, should be banned from driving themselves and made to actually use the train. That would probably ensure the meeting of ridership targets.

        1. ‘Furthermore, everyone who votes for a Council and a Mayor who wants transport funding diverted from roads into trains, should be banned from driving themselves and made to actually use the train. That would probably ensure the meeting of ridership targets.’

          Gosh, you are a bit of a ranter aren’t you.
          Have you actually checked the most recent rail patronage figures?
          The network is effectively at capacity at peak times. The new fleet of electric trains, when they do enter service across the network, will dramatically reduce operating costs and give a much needed capacity boost. Of course anything beyond that needs some of that $30 billion of roading subsidy to be re-invested into the CRL.

        2. And on this principle of anyone wanting to fund trains to be forced to use them and banned from driving; why not make those who want to sprawl to Pokeno pay the marginal cost of the Motorway Capacity they need to commute to Auckland, unless they allow electronic tagging to prevent them heading towards Auckland in peak hours. If you want a figure of the cost, look at what’s happened on the northern outskirts of Christchurch, where it is said (I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the exact figures) that 300 extra vehicles in the peak hour have increased commuter time from Rangiora from 25 to 90 minutes.

      2. Patrick: C’mon. Phil said it all but I’m surprised he had to say it. Making the affordable unaffordable, artificially, is obviously not “choice”.

        I, along with all the other “anti-MUL” guys, have never argued for taking away the choice of high-density living for those who want that option. Not by law or artificial scarcities.

        1. What is unaffordable about 275k apartments in New Lynn [all sold]? Building the missing density into Auckland for those that want it leaves even more of the more dispersed typology available, and at a lower price, for those that want that.

          Atkin and Phil are the one-eyed ideologues here.

          Merchant Quarter, New Lynn

          Here is the exterior. Not for everyone, but plenty are choosing this option. It is clearly affordable and if people are choosing to live here why should even militant suburbanists care? No one is forced to live there. In fact as I say above this reduces the pressure on the detached house market. This is all about choice.

      3. Hi Patrick,

        “if no one wants to live in an apartment or terrace house no one will buy them and developers will very quickly stop building them”

        I would suggest it not so simple as that. People have to live somewhere, so if there is nothing of one type of property then they have to live in another type of property. There are some facts in life: we all need an income and we need to be reasonably close to where we can earn it. Thus come the world of compromises which everyone is aware of.

        “…who wants to live in a vast detached house miles from anywhere from doing so”

        When I read this comment it made me think that this reflects how Auckland is perceived. In Dallas the places of employment are not all in the CBD. They are in fact spread around a lot and so housing is developed in proximity to employment, amenities and schools. So, what we can have in Auckland is detached houses and all of them are close to what we need for our day-to-day living. If I recall a statistic recently, it is that 13% of all jobs in Auckland are in the CBD, so the vast majority of people’s employment is outside – i.e. close to all those detached houses. In Sydney, the statistic is around 12%. I think we have spent as much as possible on getting people to the CBD in Auckland as is reasonable.

        1. Matthew – Myself and my family live in a townhouse within walking distance to the beach, shops, cafes, primary, intermediate and high schools, and ferry berth for city bound ferries. And yes there is a bus stop 100m down the road from our front gate. The townhouse complex was built in an earlier era and by all accounts was the subject of many complaints from neighbours with their standalone houses at the time of construction. The ‘burb as is typical now in Auckland in many locations, is full of high priced houses and there has been a fair bit of sub-division in more recent years.

          The price we purchased the town-house for was way below that of typical standalone homes in the area – all of which would be completely unaffordable to us. Yes we do sometimes grumble about the lack of space, but the trade-offs in location outweigh any minuses – besides, we have a “big shed” in the countryside to store excess belongings and toys!

          The point being that I believe that this sort of choice could and should be available to more Aucklanders. The more affluent suburbs in general benefit from having a more diverse range of people in them and this is facilitated by offering a range of housing types.

          Surely this is the sort of Auckland to build towards, a vision that I think is popular and generally leads to more cohesive, richer and “enriched” communities.

          1. Hi tuktuk,

            “The point being that I believe that this sort of choice could and should be available to more Aucklanders. The more affluent suburbs in general benefit from having a more diverse range of people in them and this is facilitated by offering a range of housing types. ”

            Actually I agree with that. I sat down with George Wood just before the last election and what you are talking about is the focus of our topic. Of course, different incomes can afford different houses sized houses. What I advocated though was for each house to have some minimum ‘what we Aucklanders consider to be a reasonable lifestyle for all” section size. I think 700m2 is about right to start at. I mean, we are a first world nation with educated people and an open relaxed way of life (or so my American colleague told me this week!), so with those benefits I believe comes a certain standard of living. However where you are correct is that some people can afford a 100m2 house, some 200m2, some 300m2 and so on. I know one family with where the married couple have 7 children, so guess what, they need more space. (Please don’t let family size become a topic of debate here, family size is a choice we all make, so let’s not criticize others). BTW they are not beneficiaries.

            I do think that different types of people should mix together. It’s healthy. But let’s provide it at prices that everyone can afford (Low income people can afford a low income house, middle earners etc etc) rather than the state we have at present where intensification means that only the very rich can afford a house now. I mean, a decent house in Auckland I saw auctioned this afternoon was a 4 bed, 2 bath, 2 living with 600m2 of land sold for 885K. Yo would need an income of 295K to make such a purchase. Why should it be that price when, as it is a slightly above average property, should be slightly above 3 times the median income of 75K – i.e. something like 250K.

            The way the Auckland Council’s left leaning policy works is that rich people like me will become richer still through no effort. And that I don’t like. I would never vote Len Brown, based on his policies right now.

          2. OK – a little more info on our townhouse.
            120m2, 2 storey, 4 bedroom plus office area, 2 bathrooms. In other words adequate room for 2 kids plus regular friends staying over + office. There are three other townhouses on the overall section which is approximately 1400m2. One dwelling is identical to ours, one dwelling is substantially larger while the fourth dwelling is a granny flat. Each dwelling has access to a double car-port, single garage plus car-port or similar. The shared driveway is in effect “the yard” for kids playing. Fortunately all dwellings either have children or are very child aware which means that shared driveway makes for a great play space. And of course, the beach, parks and schools are not far away meaning that there is no shortage of spaces for children and grown-ups to enjoy ‘an open relaxed way of life’.

            So – you can see from my comments that we can comfortably fit in 3 townhouses plus granny flat into an overall section footprint of perhaps 350m2 per dwelling.

            Now – to comment on your comment on the ‘decent house in Auckland I saw auctioned this afternoon was a 4 bed, 2 bath, 2 living with 600m2 of land sold for 885K’.

            I think you have already seen from my post above that it is possible to buy standalone family homes in Auckland for ~$300k in suburbs such as Manurewa and Papakura, and it should be possible to duplicate the sorts of houses there into the North Waikato. But at the end of it what have you achieved? Property owners in Papakura and Manurewa will be hardest hit as a glut of similar homes come onto the market. Because the margins will be so low, builders will end up using cheap materials reinforcing the “bottom-of-the-market” nature of the suburbs on Auckland’s periphery – all very Houston-esque.

            What will happen to that 4 bed, 2 bath, 2 living with 600m2 of land sold for 885K that you mentioned? Its value will be maintained, or in fact increase as I suspect it is in a part of Auckland considered “desirable” – amenities, natural features eg proximity to beaches, a virtuous cycle of attracting development and nearby employment. And of course, such a home being considered desirable, and with high demand, and with no capital gains tax, will attract investment buyers.

            Auckland is not shaped like the monotonous sprawling plains around Houston. It is in fact squeezed by two deep and intricate harbours. This creates a myriad number of geographic features, all of which greatly influence the fundamental natural desirability of the various locations, and the sorts of infrastructure that is best suited to service the region.

            I’m going to put to you that a “little up and a little out” is actually a pretty good way to go. I’m also going to suggest that building more townhouses in locations with high demand is going to have a greater effect on the overall average house price than building thousands of low-budget homes on the outskirts of the region. And – yes, a capital gains tax would also go a long way toward re-focusing investment into more productive sectors in the economy. That capital gains tax might also be tapped into to help provide some of the transport infrastructure that Auckland needs.

        2. Matthew you are right, in Auckland there is an overwhelming supply of one type of property; detached houses in suburbia. No sane person can claim that there is such a crazy oversupply of apartments that people are ‘forced’ into them. Apartment numbers are growing but from a very low base, and are clearly being chosen by people who value their proximity over the ‘advantages’ of detached houses [at similar price point] out on the periphery. And let’s be honest here, new detached houses can only be out on the edge.

          The crazed sprawlists above refuse to accept that people do have different tastes and values; they can only maintain their view because they start with the assumption that NO ONE ever would choose to live differently to them. They are, frankly, dishonest about this. Remember that the latest census recorded the Auckland CBD as having the fastest growth of any area in the entire country; it’s population grew by 46.5% 2006-2013. These are people making choices, no habitation by gunpoint is involved. I repeat you can rent or buy whole houses for the same cost as inner city apartments all over the Auckland region, but not in Ponsonby or Herne Bay, you have to be happy to be out in edge city. Many are happy to make that choice, some others prefer to live in a smaller gardenless place but where they want to be. And they may well be a minority, but even if they are only 10% that’s still some 150,000 people and just as deserving of having their choice being met as those who want gardens and a free standing house and a long drive to anything.

          No amount of distant subdivisions will change the cost aspect of this locational issue.

          Additionally the city centre has by far the biggest concentration of employment, and way way the biggest centre of education destinations. But that still doesn’t mean you have live there, plenty don’t.

          See here:

          Below employment in thousands, not quite sure of the year [Matt?]

          Also Dallas? Are you serious? The relevance and Houston and Dallas to Auckland is minimal, why not Detroit? Why aren’t all American cities equally relevant? These examples are just cherry picking unrelated examples from the ether to distract from the observable reality in front of us.

          1. Hi Patrick,

            of course I accept that people live in apartments. But I would suggest that choices are somewhat more nuanced and there are discussions behind closed doors in families who have to make hard choices. No guns involved there. I would repeat again that while you are correct that the CBD is the largest location of employment, it amounts to 13% of Auckland’s employment. That is, 87% of all employment is outside the CBD in areas where we can have housing in close proximity.

            “I repeat you can rent or buy whole houses for the same cost as inner city apartments all over the Auckland region” and ” to be out in edge city”

            Yes, but as I am talking with Bryce further above, I do not yet get the impression yet that he would choose a smaller dwelling if another dwelling was the same price. Would you, if both provided the same travel time to work? So yes your statement above is absolutely correct, but if I can live in a house in suburbs and have a 5 minute commute (because 87% of employment is likely to be in an area where houses are adjacent) and a 5 minute drive to my amenities, then I would suggest that people like more space. Certainly the UMR poll supports my position there. It doesn’t strike me as being on the edge though.

            OK, I’ll leave Dallas and pick another city: Dayton, Ohio. I have relatives there where the ‘typical’ house was 200m2 on a 2000m2 section at a selling price of USD200K. Is it affordable? Yes. Nice lifestyle? Yes. far from work? No, about a 5 minute drive because of course, like Auckland, only a small minority of its employment is in the CBD. Works quite nicely I think. I can pick some more cities if you like, I have about 100 up my belt so to speak. I would leave Detroit alone as that is an unusual case of mass unemployment.

          2. Matthew the dispersed employment argument carries no water because everybody does not automatically live five mins from their work, education, or chosen recreation just because the city is more spread out. The denizens of one edge are just as likely to find themselves working or whatever on another distant edge as near by. It’s simple spatial math. The centre is closer to everywhere than any edge point can be. Especially in a long thin geography like Auckland’s. For every happy Howick dweller, say, who works in a shop in the village there are too many who find their best employment or Uni, or whatever is in Henderson, Albany, or the city centre. And we know this because they all try to drive down the Pak highway at once everyday, because the real alternatives to this option remain unbuilt.

            Furthermore cities have the scale to offer specialised institutions and attractions and these, by definition will not be in miniaturised into little bits and spread around all areas. One Museum, one Art Gallery, one real concentration of head offices, etc.

            On this odd notion that Auckland’s City Centre is minor, unimportant, or small:

            And even apart from people who head off to one place to work there are all those business’s to business transactions that will always be more efficient if they have close proximity and uncluttered connectivity. So one business in say Wiri needs the best widget and it so happens that the supplier (in your dispersed world) is now in Wellsford, or whatever, this going to lead to many more cross town movements.

            What I am describing is the situation that Chch is in today. This is highly suboptimal. Eveyone in that small city is driving past each other in opposite directions all the time; go and look. It is an inefficiency hidden by the vast sums of money being injected into the rebuild. And you’re right Auckland does have dispersed employment, but this is not efficient as you fantasise, and nor is it as marked as you claim, and what’s even better is that the city is ‘re-centring’ after the years of enforced de-centralisation that weakened the city’s economic strength through the late 20thC.

            Which is to say that the revival of the centre is offering the whole city agglomeration economies. Which in turn will strengthen those other employment hubs, especially round the Airport, South Ak, and the Upper Harbour. So thankfully it isn’t the centre or the hubs, but the centre and the hubs.

          3. I do acknowledge that “everybody does not automatically live five mins from their work” but for schools I disagree as we have a locally well developed primary, intermediate/secondary public school system across the city. For recreation you would have to mount a better argument as I think recreation is available right across Auckland and not just in the CBD. I still stand by my fact that 13% of the jobs are in the CBD, so if the vast majority of employment is outside the CBD, then it gives people the option to live somewhere that is not close to the CBD. In fact I would say that this is a strong driver, once residents have taken into account family and schooling considerations.

            You do agree with this towards the end of your comment and I would say that this is what will happen into the future. If I think of the CBD, sending everyone there as a % increase from the 13% today will increase congestion on the roads in the CBD. You only have to look at the CBD roads (not the motorway which will carry some through traffic) to know that it is not possible for them to carry much more traffic at peak hours. In fact you could reduce that congestion by decreasing CBD employment. I like how you say “the centre and the hubs” as it is closer to what I call the multi-centred city. Auckland Airport is growing for example if I believe their promotion video, so this as an example is the way of the future.

            I understand the logic of your argument that getting a widget from one part of a dispersed Auckland to another part would take longer, but I actually need to see some evidence that this is a problem now. I think our transport economy is more about delivering consumer goods to dispersed locations which cannot be changed. We are not about to have one major shopping center in the CBD for all of Auckland. Dispersion is here to stay.

            It is very true that we live on a narrow isthmus and a pity that the original founders didn’t think far enough into the future. That is why I favour the voluntary relocation of the CBD over a long period of time because the land area between Long Bay and Warkworth is not constrained by this geographical limitation; same goes for the area between Manukau and the Bombay hills. The natural harbour imposes a break between the two areas and trying to squash into the land area we have now when there is clear land available on either side is inefficient.

          4. Matthew I don’t think we disagree much here except on your idea that the best solution to constrained road corridors is to ‘restrict employment in the CBD’.

            This idea is based on two mistaken assumptions: that there there is no economic or quality of life costs to diminishing our most important economic centre, and secondly that other movement options aren’t possible or won’t be used.

            You are correct that the numbers of private vehicles accessing the City Centre will not increase. In fact have been flat to failing for sometime. So outside of somehow raising the occupancy rate of this fairly fixed number (car-pooling?) all the employment and education growth in the CC will come from other sources.

            And, this is exactly what has been happening for the last 20 years. In 1994 80% of people arriving in the morning peak to central AKL did so in a car, now about a similar number still do so but they make up less than 50% of the total. This will continue. Growth in the centre is entirely dependent on the much more spatially efficient Transit and Active modes (plus rapidly growing city resident numbers).

            Transit, and especially rail has been growing consistently all this century and will make the private car driver a minority in the city. The CRL in particular will enable a particularly rich resource of humans to seamlessly swamp this concentrated area of work and study. And of course this will enrichen all those outlying areas at the other end of this swift connection.

            Concentrated growth in this centrally located and well serviced place takes pressure off other areas and especially those value able countryside peripheries. A strong city centre is a win/win for the whole region.

            Note 13% employment in the city centre is not accurate! that relies on an extremely small definition of the city.

            And to be clear; the ideal is for the same pattern to occur in all the metro centres too; for Te Atatu, New Lynn, Takapuna, Panmure, Papakura, where ever, to also intensify and offer complete local services and employment AS WELL AS efficient connection to each other and the big centre. For these places to be their own centres of agglomeration effects and local character and value as part of a prosperous whole.

            A week centre does not lead to local strength, and nor does a strong centre cause local weakness. Certainly not in a strong growth environment that AKL clear has and will have. That strong city tide will raise all boats, but not if we try to force everyone to drive everywhere over an ever expanding flat and up intense ‘edge city’.

          5. Hi Patrick,

            So I took the data in that picture above (after taking into account that Parnell/Newmarket/Grafton/Newton) are not in the CBD, the CBD becomes 90K. I also note that it excludes employment in many areas in Auckland’s area (e.g. Silverdale, Orewa, and south of Takanini etc) which probably explains the 13% to 22% gap in your numbers.

            “that there there is no economic or quality of life costs to diminishing our most important economic centre”

            I argue that there is a quality of life decline when you intensify. As I’m sure you’ve read me elsewhere in this comments thread, people prefer to live in a less dense environment. We like to see the grass, trees, sea, hills – in general the natural environment around us. When our Council zones for big buildings (whether we live there or work there) our quality of life goes down. I like to think of it as ‘room to think’ and it happens when I see space outside my window, not when I see buildings which are artificial compared to the natural environment. I believe that quality of life must take precedence over Transit and active modes which reduce it. Riding a bike in a big city with skyscrapers is a far less enjoyable experience than riding a bike in the rural sector. cars, buses, pedestrians and lack of sun come to mind.

            “secondly that other movement options aren’t possible or won’t be used”

            I have always found that the cities around the world with more public transport are more congested, thus leading to decreased efficiency. What should I prefer – a 5 minute commute in Omaha or a 45 minute commute in Auckland…over the same distance and the same time of day?

            You do go on to say that we should intensify in the metro areas and this I disagree because as the CBD has intensified over the last 50 years so has congestion. I don’t want those centers to become more congested too. We need new centers so that the existing ones do not become less efficient for our city – thus replicating what I see elsewhere in cities like Indianapolis.

            I have always found it very strange that I can sell my home here and be mortgage free (instead of in 15 years time) in a better house in…say Atlanta. It is family and my church keeping me here, not Auckland City. I wish that it were the case for all of us to spend less money on our housing – you included. Have you paid your mortgage off? if not, how long would it have taken to pay off if it was reflective of 3 times your income?

          6. So Matthew all you are saying is that YOU don’t like cities. Well that’s fine, but it isn’t an argument about the economic value of intensification.

            Your Atlanta example is very odd: Atlanta suffers from appalling congestion. Go live there.

            And as you don’t understand cities nor do you understand congestion. Congestion is only a economic cost when everyone has to take part in it. When it is optional, ie true multi-modal cities then there are so many unaffected by it that its disbenefits are clearly diminished. How do we know this? Because those Transit rich but still congested cities are thriving.

            You want cheap property and no/low congestion; Why aren’t you discussing Detroit? It’s the perfect city for your values: No congestion; must be heaven, cheap housing, highly dispersed, drivable, and depressed.

            Cities are Intensity. That’s what they are, it’s only a question of degree, and to a large extent how successful they are, ceteris paribus, depends on that degree.

          7. “Congestion is only a economic cost when everyone has to take part in it”

            No it isn’t. I can cite Omaha where there isn’t congestion or Indianapolis where there is less congestion than Auckland. My Atlanta example was in relation to housing affordability. Going back to Omaha, I can say this extremely clearly: Because th[is] [non-]Transit rich city but still [not] congested cit[y] a[nd] thriving. (Forgive me for heavily modifying your quote) Can I ask, what would you honestly prefer:

            – no congestion in a city
            – congestion in a city

            In Auckland we have the second option, in Omaha, we have no congestion. My sense is that you trade off congestion for the economic benefits of living in a city. Meanwhile in Omaha you don’t have to do that. It leads me to say that cities “are not intensity”. Can you take my example of Omaha at my word?

            I didn’t discuss Detroit because unemployment is high. Also in Detroit the median house cost to median income is around 1.5, so there is something unusual going on there, which I believe is unemployment/people moving out to find employment.

          8. Omaha, Nebraska home to fewer than 1/2 million souls on the flat plain of the American West and unconstrained by much in the way of natural impediments, well at least since the Missouri River was bridged, has conditions so different from Auckland’s that you can’t be serious in using it as a model. And this after other inappropriate american comparisons of Dallas, Atlanta…

            Well, there you go, proving you fail to understand cities, economics, and congestion! fuggetaboutit.

            Move to which ever american place you consider ideal in your incomprehension; then we’ll all be happier.

          9. I realise that answering you this is a waste of time but I don’t want you thinking Patrick has no support for his views.

            “I have always found that the cities around the world with more public transport are more congested” – So which cities in Europe have you commuted in and found that? I have lived in a number of European cities and travelled in a lot of others and have never had a problem with congestion – because I always used public transport or cycled. Plus the tarffic was always quieter than Auckland in the central city.

            “people prefer to live in a less dense environment” – That is an incredibly subjective comment. “Less dense” than what? Hong Kong? Yes, OK I would rather live somewhere less dense than Hong Kong. But the idea of living in a low density exurban community (e.g. 1,000sqm per property) like you love would be hell for me. Frankly most of Auckland is too low density for me and many other young people. And yes, I have a family.

            “Riding a bike in a big city with skyscrapers is a far less enjoyable experience than riding a bike in the rural sector” – I am very passionate about cycling (I do 90% of my kms each week by bike) and I completely disagree. I would much rather cycle in a city as a bicycle is the ideal city vehicle – cycling in rural areas is OK but everything is really too spread out to be interesting. You obviously also think that bicycles are only for recreation – also something that I (and my grandparent’s generation) disagree with. A city that is designed for bicycles is the best functioning city. You have obviously never cycled in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden or many German cities (in fact do you cycle in cities at all?).

            “I can cite Omaha where there isn’t congestion” – Really? You have presented no evidence for this other than the example of your family (a sample size of one) in relation to a city with the population of Chch. Here is some evidence the other way:

          10. Hi Patrick,

            aside from the debate, please be aware that the way you present your debate doesn’t respect people. I understand you are entitled to disagree with that statement, but be aware of what others think. After all we are trying to have a debate here. And please I don’t want to hear something along the lines of “well if you can’t put up with reality then clear off”. Telling me to clear off to America says the debate is over. You are a reasonable person and so am I. We both live in Auckland and aren’t about to leave. So I’ll take your suggestion as tongue in cheek :).

            I find your observation of Omaha interesting. OK, so it has half the population of Auckland. I guess then that if Omaha’s population doubles then it will have the same problems as Auckland? I guess then with that logic we can take San Antonio, which has a population like Auckland’s but not the unaffordability or congestion that Auckland has. I would argue that it is not just population that impacts cities but the design of the city. But then you go on to say “on the flat plain of the American West and unconstrained by much in the way of natural impediments” which is where I find your implied characterization of Auckland inaccurate, and possibly New Zealand for that matter.

            So, what % of New Zealand is developed, and what % of Auckland is developed?

            I think the answers to those questions will help produce a broader perspective than just population = congestion.Back to my original question:

            – no congestion in a city
            – congestion in a city

            Which do you prefer? If I understand from your (tongue-in cheek) statement: “Move to which ever american place you consider ideal in your incomprehension”, it is that you prefer congestion. Is that assumption right?

            Hi goosoid,

            ““people prefer to live in a less dense environment” – That is an incredibly subjective comment. “Less dense” than what? Hong Kong? Yes, OK I would rather live somewhere less dense than Hong Kong. But the idea of living in a low density exurban community (e.g. 1,000sqm per property) like you love would be hell for me. Frankly most of Auckland is too low density for me and many other young people. And yes, I have a family.”

            I understand that you have your opinion, which of course is valid. I do find it interesting that you use the term ‘exurban’ because where I live we have houses on sections (at 600 – 750m2 section size) and we have all the amenities – employment, shopping, schools etc around us. That is not what I call exurban. Nonetheless, while you are entitled to you opinion, it is only one opinion. When you take a broader approach of New Zealanders – not just you, me, Patrick and possibly Bryce, you’ll find that most people are happier with a less dense environment. I’m interested in what the majority of people think, not just one or two. We can cater to everyone’s likes, but we cna cater to a majority.

            Now it is a statement that needs to be ut in context, as you correctly say. The research was conducted amongst New Zealanders who live in these four environments:

            – rural
            – small town
            – suburban
            – CBD

            So what I am saying, in context, is nothing about Hong Kong but instead about the four main types of densities in New Zealand. The CBD people were less satisfied than the suburban, who were less satisfied than the small town. Now, to be sure I am not saying we need a farms inside Auckland. But we do need less density than what we have now because the majority of people are unhappy about that.

            “You have obviously never cycled in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden or many German cities (in fact do you cycle in cities at all?).”

            I have cycled in those cities and in Auckland. My point of view that the sun is blocked out is a statement that you didn’t address. I presume you don’t want to live in a city where the daylight is less than it could be? Plus I’ve lived in UK for many years and been in public transport in many European cities: Helsinki, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Milan, Marseilles, Warsaw, and Birmingham and found them all more congested than these American cities I visited: Dallas, Irving, Omaha, Dayton, and Atlanta. I’m speaking here is time to get to the office, go to the shops etc.

            I did read through the reports, but as far as I can see there is one person quoted whose travel time has doubled to 30 minutes. One person. I need a better statistical approach, which I think can be found with INRIX data.


            I guess in the meantime we will continue to grow in congestion and housing affordability will worsen. I seem to be getting the impression that you want people like me to continue to get richer based on my property value, thus making it harder for low and middle income people who do not own a home today (and cannot afford the mortgages). It seems that is your desired outcome. Am I right or wrong?

          11. Matthew, you can’t ignore geography. Auckland is on a narrow hilly isthmus and completely unlike any city of the American west. Period. You want a sprawly more western states city in NZ?, try Christchurch. Oh and Omaha is 1/3 the population of Auckland. And petrol costs are considerably lower everywhere in the States because they under tax it and fund the Interstate system by general taxation.

            The point is that congestion is not the gravest problem in a city. All booming cities are congested, all booming cities of scale have alternative systems so people and things can be moved around without congestion destroying economic life. Congestion is also a self balancing mechanism, a little like high urban dwelling prices; people who get fed up with either or both are incentivised to find the appeal in small quieter places. But remember, if people keep wanting to live in the big, congested, and expensive city then it must have other features they like more than they dislike these things. For me Auckland is still on the small and dull side for a city, but is improving.

            Which is after all you seem to be saying; you want to live somewhere with less congestion [yet not with Transit systems apparently] and cheaper housing. And clearly that means you ought to consider getting out of the big smoke. You seem to like cities in the American west, so….. I’m not trying to be rude here, I’m just drawing the obvious conclusion from your otherwise confused position.

            Auckland is full of roads, the main centre of it is getting no more. Parking is a low value use of land in a city and won’t be growing. I’m ya telling driving is going to only get more boring and more expensive here. The only personal solution to congestion is to arrange your affairs so you don’t have to join in. We are trying to help provide some alternative with our advocacy here.

            Congestion cannot be solved in a growing city by road building. Congestion is simply too many vehicles; not too few roads. And seriously those American cities of the plains are just not comparable physically. Thankfully.

          12. True, geography cannot be ignored. Auckland City, North Shore, and Waitakere are part of this narrow isthmus. But beyond that: south and east of Manukau and north and west of the North Shore there is plenty of land. The map below shows the details.


            So I would be interested in what percentage of New Zealand do you think is developed and what percentage of Auckland do you think is developed, because clearly relative to our area (not only narrow isthmus of developed area) we have plenty of space.

            I appreciate your logic when you suggest I go and live in the American midwest. :).

            I also agree that the main center will get no more roads and parking is a low value (but still necessary at some degree). I wouldn’t debate that. However when we plan new growth, and I argue that there is plenty of room for growth then we should emphasize local living (cf a thread that Bryce and I had above) while of course not forcing it. I still believe however that public transport relies on transporting many people at a similar time, yet I don’t want to restrict when people should have to travel. I think it is also impractical to have public transport everywhere. It is good that you provided a summary of the major areas of employment in Auckland. I counted 20. If we had 20 major places of residential living then to provide PT from each of the residential places to each of the employment locations we would need 400 routes. You may of course mention that we can have transit hubs. But that involves people catching 2 different buses (or trains etc) and I suspect then the car becomes a more desirable choice. Current behaviour indicates that. If there are more places of employment and places of residence then this figure grows in big ways.

            It’s interesting I just watched a BBC report on London where road congestion is getting worse and worse. They have gone for the compact city approach. But noticeably different to us, they have a fully developed public transport system in the form of buses, underground, rail and light rail. All that investment and still their productivity is partially wasted by sitting on the road. So I do not want Auckland to go in the same direction. It is highly likely that it wont, because we simply do not have the capital to replicate London’s PT system. Part of the reason is the cost of drilling underground (labour, safety etc) and building overground and the other part is buying the land, where the houses are. Of course, these houses are extremely expensive because of the reasons I’ve given already.

            I also noticed that INRIX found the top 10 US cities where they measure congestion in the form of “hours wasted in traffic” for 2013. 9 out of these 10 cities have growth containment or UGBs as they can sometimes be called. Actually, Indianapolis has reduced road congestion by building more roads. The stats from Inrix indicate they are 51st in the US for congested.

            Congestion happens when people live in close proximity to each other, that is true. But if we rank cities they I find that those which are growth constrained and with PT have worse congestion than those that don’t.


          13. Just putting a couple of Patrick’s quotes as I did a bit more fact checking:

            “Omaha, Nebraska home to fewer than 1/2 million souls on the flat plain of the American West ”

            “Matthew, you can’t ignore geography. Auckland is on a narrow hilly isthmus and completely unlike any city of the American west. Period. You want a sprawly more western states city in NZ?, try Christchurch. Oh and Omaha is 1/3 the population of Auckland.”

            When you mention Omaha has a population of 470,000 or thereabouts that is the City of Omaha. It is bit like saying what is the population of Auckland pre-the Super City and claiming it is around 400,000 (excluding North Shore, Waitakere, Manukau etc.). Actually the Omaha area (in the same way as you and I understand the Auckland area) has a population of >925,000 back in 2012, so this represents 65% of Auckland’s population

            As you say, Auckland geography is different. Our choice is to go North and South, rather than North South, East and West. So I’ll finish again with the question I raised several months ago:

            So, what % of New Zealand is developed, and what % of Auckland is developed?

            Please answer that before debating my statement that we can go North and South of Auckland’s existing development.


          14. Matthew I see that number repeated constantly by the sprawlistas, and even and most disappointingly by Bertaud, and it’s meaningless. The unoccupied glorious expanses of Southwestland, or even the King Country have absolutely no bearing on the Auckland property market. How could they?, this is a vast over siplification, why not include the Ross Dependency then? it’s nominally part of NZ, I’ve been there mate; there’s plenty of ‘land’ there to sprawl onto, well, there is for now. If proximity to the city had no value then Te Kuiti property would have the same value as Epsom.

            No the only ’emptinesses’ that are relevant to this discussion are the extremely high quality agricultural land to the south, especially around Pukekohe and other bits between the forests and the sea up north. And we have a choice here, we can either expensively and wasteful flatten those areas for endless seas of tacky little undesired detached houses at the end of the motorway and then import our food from even further away, or much more efficiently use the land we have already taken out of agricultural production in Auckland for habitation and employment.

            Or at least do a bit of both. It is incredibly hard to understand how impassioned you lot get in your desire to destroy agricultural land and wilderness areas in your quest to prevent urbanity. It makes no sense.

          15. Hi Patrick,

            “Matthew I see that number repeated constantly by the sprawlistas” – I guess you are referring to New Zealand? Can you tell me the numbers for Auckland and New Zealand, otherwise I am not sure we are working from the same facts. I find this point important because we have to see whether what you are saying factually fits the definition of sprawl.

            “No the only ‘emptinesses’ that are relevant to this discussion are the extremely high quality agricultural land to the south”. I understand that the land is valuable, but again it is a matter of numerical perspective. My sense is that the agricultural land to the south is valuable but then so is all agricultural land in New Zealand. So if we use that land for commercial and residential needs how much less agricultural land would New Zealand lose? I guess we both also understand that the area to the north of Auckland’s urban area is not used as much for farming, so your point has less relevance, although it is of course not completely irrelevant.


          16. There’s something new beginning to happen in the Auckland “sprawl vs intensification” debate, that is largely going unremarked, because it is pretty much beyond Auckland’s control. Waikato District Council is now contributing to Auckland’s development, targeting its northern boundary for urban development for Aucklanders. At this stage, Pokeno and Tuakau are being targeted, with a tentative intention of getting around 30,000 additional people in. And its very much being developed to tradtional New Zealand expectations, with marketing of Pokeno properties often based upon the quarter arce promise.

            It’ll be interesting to see over the long term how Auckland Council responds to having its southern suburbs under the control of another council. Recent history has shown councils can’t get their head around provision of PT across regional council boundaries, just as one example.

  23. There was a letter in the DomPost a few days ago on this subject:

    “In the article Compact city plans queried by think tank (June 17) a report by the New Zealand Initiative is cited, noting that the ”compact city ideology was built on the belief that cities should be sustainable . . . with policies . . . restricting urban sprawl”. The report argues that such policies, of building up, not out, may worsen the problems they are designed to solve, leaving high house prices and traffic congestion untouched.

    The case for compact cities does not rest only on arguments of resource and environmental sustainability. There is substantial research showing that dense cities are hotbeds of creativity and innovation.

    For example, one United States study notes that the denser the city, the more inventive it is: the number of patents per head rises by an average of 20-30 per cent for each doubling of the number of employed people per square kilometre.

    This is a strong argument for Wellington’s and other cities’ development as dense urban areas.

    There are likely to be other arguments too, relating to lifestyle advantages. It should not be beyond our wits to manage any drawbacks of density, such as congestion, by wise investment in upgrading our infrastructure.”



    Below is my response in a letter to the Editor which has not been published – BTW I hasten to add that the DomPost is pretty reasonable with the proportion of my letters they do publish, in contrast to the Herald, who are obviously utterly in the grip of the big property and big finance vested interests.

    From: Phil Hayward
    Sent: Wednesday, 18 June 2014 11:17 a.m.
    To: [email protected]
    Subject: Density equals creativity? Gimme a break.

    Dear Editor

    Neil Plimmer (letters 18 June) argues in favour of “compact cities” because they are allegedly “more creative”.

    But Dhaka and Lagos are not more creative than Paris even though they are much denser. Other factors matter more than urban density. When Silicon Valley started up it was completely exurban, and it is still not dense. The initially very low land costs were a factor in enabling young whiz-kids with ideas but little capital, to get started.

    “Compact city” planning forces up the cost of all land for urban business start-ups, pricing out future Bill Gates’s. The consensus in specialist economics literature over the reason the UK has no Silicon Valley, is because its urban planning system makes it impossible. Of course it has London, but this is mostly about privileged wealth, not creativity.

    The “creativity” in high-density Manhattan and London tends to be finance sector wide-boys cooking up schemes to defraud the public, crash the economy and leave taxpayers with the tab for bailouts. The evolution of densely populated, worthwhile creative locations happens completely independently of central planning. The term “cargo cult” accurately defines the belief that you can copy external “form” to conjure creativity and wealth into existence.

    Yours faithfully

    Philip G. Hayward
    Etc etc

    1. I’d respectfully disagree with your viewpoint on creative industries in London.

      Does a higher concentration of people, lead to a higher concentration of crooks?
      The evidence suggests yes, but I’m sure we can find an exception, somewhere….

      In some respects, the argument over the direction of growth, up or out, or out out, is slightly misleading. Although housing is key, the problems we have, in affordability and availability are possibly down to

      1. A lack of regulation – i.e. If housing is a utility, and vital, then why aren’t profits on unimproved land and property regulated, just like water or power? ( atleast in some countries.) If the only way people could make serious returns from property, was to improve it, we might see a few more apartments on the shore. People are certainly prepared to sell their properties for a heap of cash, I see no reason they wouldn’t develop them, if that’s what’s needed, either.

      2. Entirely logical fear from residents, about the distruction of “their” neighbourhoods, from intensification. One city, right? Adequate compensation, explanation, and grass roots lead redevelopment would go a long way here. I doubt many would take to the streets, singing, if they heard a “shoebox apartment” was about to land next door. In any case, inhuman structures, are strangely, the result of human choices, and not black magic as some might have you believe. There’s a thing called low-rise garden squares, and they seem to have had a few centuries of success.

      Housing itself is only part of the problem anyway, as often , we’re talking about transit, transportation of all modes, and how long it takes to get from A to B, where A is your home, and B can be anything from the beach, the park, the movies, or even work.

      In an ideal world, New Zealand has “loads of money”, and Auckland stretches down both coasts, all the way from Whangarei to The Waikato. Fast rail links the lot, everyone lives by the beach, and it doesn’t matter where you’re heading, you need no car, and you can get there quick. Google also get a move along, make their self-driving pods supersonic, and give them wings.

      In the real world, New Zealand can’t really afford the Christchurch rebuild, has many cities, and towns, some of which are painfully unviable, spends it’s money duplicating roading infrastructure everywhere, as opposed to just leaving vast tracts, as real wilderness, and has to make tough decisions about viable city planning, for the long term.

      This city cannot afford to mow berms.

      Fundamentally, that means density. If only to stop pouring money into poorly utilised infrastructure, and sweating the assets we have. Perhaps the biggest difference between the U.S. and New Zealand might be that they’re a continent, and we’re a couple of smallish islands. That they have hundreds of millions of people, and can cross subsidise a lot of things, where we have just over 4 million, and need to borrow 50 billion to build some freeways.

      The main problem, with letting Auckland sprawl, is the law of physics. The idea of localised housing and employment , throughout the sprawl is appealing. In reality, without timely transit, businesses are limiting their labour pool. The only way to live in Hamilton, and work in Silverdale, is probably bullet train. I’ve not seen Warren Buffet, handing out cheques lately, although you could try and ask those other cars on the motorway, if they wouldn’t mind getting out of the way, as, after all, you are in a hurry.

      By the way, blaming the bankers , entirely, for the mess, is a bit rich. Every crook , needs an accomplice, and I didn’t hear of many turning down all those loans.

      Not a fan of bankers,
      L Herbert

  24. “if they had the choice between a standalone house with some outdoors and an apartment that is half the size with no outdoors and both are at the same price, which one would you choose?”

    …oldest rule of real estate – location, location, location.
    When the comparison is re-phrased as a well designed and space efficient town-house in say, Mt Albert versus a standalone house in a greenfields site in Pokeno, at equivalent price? With no disrespect to Pokeno, Mt Albert wins most times… given typical patterns and locations of employment, education, recreational activities, friends and family.

    The argument offered by Patrick Reynolds and other contributors to this site is for people to have choices within a realistic house budget.

    A refusal to allow strategic intensification forces lower cost housing to the city outskirts leaving the Auckland Isthmus and various desirable locations close to beaches as an exclusive living zone of the wealthy. A desire by many to live within the Auckland Isthmus or close to a beach, and the demand/price pressures that come with it, will not be resolved by building squllions of houses in North Waikato or out Helensville way.

    1. I chose the apartment, because I don’t want to live out the back of Mercer for my $300k, and I don’t much like mowing lawns. Not sure it is half the size though.

    2. Hi tuktuk,

      location doesn’t matter if all your amenities and employment are close by. There seems to be an assumption that Mt Albert is better placed when, if Mercer has substantial zoning for commercial land it becomes an equivalent choice. i.e. both locations don’t matter. In places where I’ve been in the US, location really doesn’t matter because everything is close by.

      And I am not advocating to build lots of houses in North Waikato or Helensville without amenities or employment. That doesn’t make sense.

      Hi L Herbert,

      when I saw your comment that “Perhaps the biggest difference between the U.S. and New Zealand might be that they’re a continent, and we’re a couple of smallish islands.” This pricked my ears because there seems to be an underlying assumption with the phrase “smallish islands” that is “we don’t have much space”. I am representing you accurately there?

      Your subsequent statement “That they have hundreds of millions of people, and can cross subsidise a lot of things, where we have just over 4 million, and need to borrow 50 billion to build some freeways.” is accurate with respect to population, but then makes some sort of unusual statement that we need to borrow 50 billion to build some motorways. I presume this is a figure of speech? I would suggest that we can afford to build the infrastructure we need, if so much of our capital wasn’t tied up in bricks and motor (and foreign banks profits). Assuming our GDP is not going to decrease, what I would like to calculate the the median income for NZ multiplied by the number of jobs there are. Then calculate the median house price for NZ and the number of houses there are and see what would happen if we dropped that NZ median house price to three times the median income. I suspect the difference could well afford to pay for what you’re talking about. Maybe I stand to be corrected, but I think it’s worth examining.

      “The main problem, with letting Auckland sprawl, is the law of physics. The idea of localized housing and employment , throughout the sprawl is appealing. In reality, without timely transit, businesses are limiting their labour pool.”

      The fact is (oops I’m repeating myself here, but anyway) is that 87% of employment has already happened: i./e. we live in an era where business have a limited labour pool. It’s too late to change that. I would welcome some numbers or proposal on exactly how much more efficient we would become if we sent everyone back to one or two (or some number you can pick) locations for work.

      1. Rather than the US model, I would like to see Auckland expand as per the Continental European model. That is where there is a RUB for Auckland itself but at the same time creating ‘want to live in’ towns around the periphery with quality transport links (rail, busway, roads, cycleways) to the main city or at least to the nearest transport interchange. This would allow someone to own a stand alone house in Kumeu but also have easy, relatively quick access to anywhere in Auckland. We need to allow for greenbelts around the city and also around our outlying towns.

        1. That sounds reasonable and I partly agree with it, but I would also allow for employment and amenities to be in Kumeu – it gives residents options. The greenbelts in the UK have created severe unaffordability. Can I ask, how much land do you think we have – are we running out? I ask because your suggestion of greenbelts [where there is no development] implies we have to conserve what we do have.

          1. Employment is quite easy as long as we allow mixed use. More people brings more jobs and in a place such as Kumeu, there is no reason that we cannot have medium density built above or next door to businesses, as opposed to zoning everything.

            As for land use and availability, look at all the prime vege/strawberry land that is being eaten up by the Westgate development.

        2. I still stand by the UMR poll that satisfaction with where you live decreases as intensity increases. So I cannot agree that with no zoning more people would choose to live in an environment with greater density.

          The reference to land use and availability suggests that we are at risk of reaching capacity. Is that what you mean?

  25. “The other gigantic flaw in the paper placing so much emphasis on the issue of congestion is the inconvenient analysis undertaken a couple of years ago which shows the most congested US cities are actually the most economically productive. While it’s more likely economic success causes congestion than the opposite, the congestion doesn’t seem to be holding these places back.”

    These analyses of productivity are heavily biased towards employers and businesses. The productivity metrics exclude the time and expense of workers getting to and from their place of employment and the fact that the expenses are not tax-deductible. If the “productivity” metrics in the graph were recalculated from the standpoint of the workers, taking into account time from door to door and the total costs of travel they would show a different story. Why are the inhabitants of the US not all moving to those cities with greater productivity? Because for many of them living in those cities imposes additional costs on them in money and/or time that are not compensated for by the net income on offer.

  26. Sorry people, but I’m calling fraud on the posters like Phil Hayward and other ersatz ‘free marketers’. I am pro free market so I know a fake when I see one. Dot points.

    1. They make virtues of a free market’s efficiency but also the ideological idea of ‘freedom’ which Tea Partiers always claim. I support the free market coz it works, proven by experience. The ‘freedom’ concept has its limits and there are many socially destructive outcomes of unfettered ‘freedom’ which the USA has demonstrated. ‘Freedom’ without responsibility and without a social contract.

    2. So running the ‘freedom’ line, why then aren’t inner suburban landholders free to develop their land into tall apartment buildings if they wish? (Subject to paying any external costs). Why do they keep preaching the rights of farmers to develop sprawl as their last crop, but allow busybody nimby neighbours to infringe the freedom of the land holder? Interfering in market use of land by NIMBYS is just as big a crime as the banking and financing rackets of the big end of town, ie using government power rather than entrepreneurial skill to make money.

    3. For the same reason I am skeptical of ‘freedom’ as peddled by these Tea Party scumbags, I am skeptical of democracy. Regular elections do help remove corrupt and intolerant rulers, but that is the limit of the benefits of ‘democracy, at least until we get a population who, as per my freedom argument, are socially contracted to vote in the best interests of all, not themselves.

    4. Why do they want socialism in the form of road building, that would make Stalin proud? Let private owners build roads, if they wish, at full cost recovery. As for the price of petrol, continue to use it as a source of government revenue, as it is inelastic in demand and therefore less distorting of demand.

    5. As for subsidising transit, do it up to the level of the priced congestion and pollution. I expect in my world the costs of both road and rail would rise sharply, which would definitely favour a Manhattan Auckland over a Houston one.

    The link to the Market Urbanism blog and some of its linked blogs might help these so-called free market come to their senses.

    1. I’ll quote myself from above:

      “I, along with all the other “anti-MUL” guys, have never argued for taking away the choice of high-density living for those who want that option. Not by law or artificial scarcities.”

      Freedom for the individual must be managed within the boundaries of not delivering unreasonable fallout on others. OF. COURSE.
      We do live in a collective reality. Good luck finding a single anti-MUL guy who does not understand and respect this.

      Height restrictions are another issue. Maybe they are too severe? This issue nonetheless has nothing to do with question of whether we should let the sprawlers sprawl in itself….you know: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

      1. There is no OF COURSE. Civility has broken down and all things are up for grabs. I laugh when I see these protests of being pro-market knowing you support National and Act and would take the pennies of the rentiers and ticket clippers to see these parties elected and thereby continue to rip off the NZ public as they have already done for over one hundred years.

        I don’t see the need for a growth limit, rational pricing of transport and land would create its own. Most people would not be able to live too far out if forced to to pay the full costs. How many billion for the holiday highway? What would the toll be if the road owner had to recover its full costs with no subsidy?

        1. Jesus christ, Richard. This demonisation is in your own head. Calm down.

          Yes I agree….everyone should pay their own way, as much as that can be reasonably exercised. Could lead to a lot of positive innovation too.

  27. At the risk of sounding Anti-American, I wonder how many of our so-called free marketers might be better off learning from Austrians or Swiss or even the Scots on true market economics, which doesn’t have to be guntoting bible bashing government hating tripe.

    1. “socially destructive outcomes of unfettered ‘freedom’ which the USA has demonstrated”

      Hi Riccardo. I would be interested in what socially destructive outcome has happened in a place like Lincoln, Nebraska. And just to clarify on one of your later statement, I do not support National or Act and have never voted for either of them apart from National once in 1993. :).

      “Most people would not be able to live too far out if forced to to pay the full costs”

      If you have time, read the debate further above. 87% of all employment is “out there” and not in the CBD. So I would argue that for the vast majority of people (i.e. 87%) they can afford to live way out because everything else is already way out there. A dispersed city is here to stay.

  28. Riccardo: Everything within reason. The “escape clause” was to stop you from responding with a nit-picking answer. Unfortunately it didn’t work.

    But yes, I think the world would be a better place with me as supreme dictator.

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