Yesterday Bernard Orsman had an in-depth article in the NZ Herald about new apartment developments on Great North Road. Orsman, to his credit, considers the issue from several different angles and speaks to people with a range of views. He also rightly observes that the developments are a key part of the “vision of Great North Rd being turned into one of the city’s great boulevards with bus lanes, cycleways and well-designed apartments”.
Unfortunately, the article’s positive contribution to Auckland’s discussion about intensification comes to a screeching halt right there in the sub-heading:
Developers and council planners have sidelined the community over building heights for some new projects, say worried residents.
In one sentence, the article frames the issue as a conflict between ordinary people – the “worried residents” – and two spooky bogeymen – the “developers” and “planners”. Readers of a left-wing persuasion will read “developers” and think “greedy capitalists!”, while right-wing readers will read “planners” and think “Soviet Union!”
This framing misleads readers rather than enabling a better discussion about new apartments in the inner suburbs. From an economic perspective, the bogeymen invoked by the sub-heading are nothing of the kind:
- Developers are out to make a buck, obviously, but they can profit off a development if and only if other people want to buy the places they’re building. Developers generally respond to demand in the market rather than creating it.
- Urban planners, who are themselves Auckland residents, are trying to balance out amenity for current residents with the housing needs of a growing city. If no new dwellings were being constructed on Great North Road, it would probably mean that they were failing to do their job.
Which brings me on to one last point: It’s pretty bizarre to imply that relaxing the rules to enable buildings to go to six storeys rather than four is a case of regulations gone mad. From the sound of things, it wouldn’t be financially viable to construct a four storey building, as that would require an elevator and other expensive internal features that couldn’t be recouped without adding additional floors. It’s a good thing that Auckland Council planners are willing to consider applications on a case-by-case basis rather than just mindlessly applying the rules!