Can cities fill up? Has Auckland simply become too populated to accommodate any more people, as some have argued? Do we need to put up the “closed” signs?

In a word, no. There is plenty of room to accommodate more people within the existing urban footprint, although doing so would require us to do things a bit differently. It wouldn’t mean losing the things that make Auckland special – but it could mean that we gain some new amenities.

Emily Badger over at Washington Post’s Wonkblog has put together some interesting graphics showing how cities almost always have the capacity to accommodate a few more people. She writes:

Echoes of a similar suspicion to the contrary, though, are widespread in how we talk about the places where we live. The entire city of San Francisco is “cooked. Done.” There’s no more room in Silicon Valley, either. Brooklyn is at capacity. Boston, too. The nicest parts of Northwest Washington long ago reached the limit. Chicago’s coveted Lincoln Park wants fewer people. Even whole countries now suffer from this condition: Britain just can’t take in any of those refugees because the island, at long last, is full.

Built into these arguments is a powerful but slippery contention: It is possible to fill up a place…

“Economists reject absolutes like ‘full’ and ‘need,'” says Joe Cortright, one of several urban economists I asked. “It’s always about tradeoffs and choices.”

Cities, in particular, are about tradeoffs between hectic streets and vibrant economies, between scarce parking and neighborhoods worth traveling to, between cramped subway cars and the mass of humanity that makes the subway possible.

And so, from an economist’s point of view, there is no such thing as a full place. Especially not in America, where our neighborhoods, as urban planning professor Sonia Hirt puts it, are “astonishingly low density” compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Maybe your particular geology can’t handle the foundation of a mile-high skyscraper. But, for the most part, we can always make choices to make more room, to build taller and denser, to upgrade schools and rethink roads to let more people in.

That we don’t isn’t a limitation of physics. It’s a matter of politics disguised as physics.

Here’s one of their graphics showing how much more intensely urban space is used in different places. (Side note: these figures are based on average density across the urban area, which can be misleading in some cases. Population-weighted density is a far better measure.) If you’re at the bottom end of this range – as Auckland is – it’s hard to argue that it’s physically impossible to build up a little bit.

Wonkblog urban density comparisons

However, points on a map don’t necessarily feel very real. So here’s another comparison between Auckland and San Francisco (via Mikavaa). As you can see, the Auckland isthmus is about the same size as the tip of the San Francisco peninsula:

San Francisco Auckland size comparison

We can see the difference between the two cities even in a satellite map. San Francisco’s urban footprint shows up as a swathe of white and grey, while Auckland’s is largely a mix of green and muddy grey. That’s not to say that San Francisco is all concrete jungle. It’s preserved extensive urban parks – the Presidio, Mount Tamalpais, Ocean Beach, McLaren Park, Golden Gate Park, etc – and reclaimed much of its waterfront for people. But its parks, unlike Auckland’s are situated within a densely-developed, productive, high-amenity urban fabric.

A comparison with San Francisco, a city with similar geographic constraints to Auckland, shows how inefficiently our limited space is used. The tip of the San Francisco peninsula houses around 1 million people. The Auckland isthmus accommodates less than 400,000 people. (The San Francisco figures include San Francisco City, Daly City, and South San Francisco; the Auckland figures include the Waitemata, Albert-Eden, Puketapapa, Orakei, and Maungakiekie-Tamaki local boards.)

Although San Francisco is over twice as densely populated as the Auckland isthmus, it isn’t exactly compromising on aesthetics or amenity. The city is widely appreciated for its beautiful natural settings, which are enhanced by appropriate infrastructure:

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

It’s also known for its historic buildings and beautiful neighbourhoods. Here’s an example of a fairly typical form for a San Francisco neighbourhood – lots of timber-framed midrise buildings close together:

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

And lastly, San Francisco’s always had a vibrant and innovative culture, both in the arts and in the booming tech industry. In other words, the city’s density has supported, not undermined, its natural surroundings, built environment, economic productivity, and cultural vibrancy. Of course, the city’s got some challenges – such as high housing costs resulting from limits to further intensification – but they are largely a consequence of its success as a dense place with high amenity and high productivity.

But overall, what this comparison shows is that Auckland has the potential to use its limited land area far more efficiently – without compromising our natural or urban environments.

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  1. Do we want to be overcrowded? Do we want to be full? Isn’t there value in this modern world of not being excited about massive immigration and the pressures on infrastructure and people? Having lived (not just visited) in many of the ‘vibrant’ capitals of the world I saw that life just wasn’t so flash or exciting for those in the middle to lower rungs. Things will likely get tougher for those in Auckland on the middle/lower rungs as the population increases regardless how clever we get at ‘housing’ them or moving them around. Auckland is already at the mercy of foreign money (over which we can not compete) so all the ‘good bits’ (close to work, etc) are being sold out.

      1. The term “vibrant” is often-used, never defined.
        What does it MEAN?
        The favelas of Brasil are “vibrant” too, I think

        1. I would define it as increased economic and social activity due to a high density of proximity between people, coupled with a relative lack of barriers to movement and exchange.

          Yes the favelas of Rio and the barrios of Bogota, etc,are very vibrant places. But also high crime and low wealth, perhaps in spite of.

          Note though that they have very similar urban form to the Cinque Terre in Italy, or the terraces of Monaco, or the slopes of Montematre. The existence of poor crime ridden but vibrant favelas in Brazil is about as remarkable as the existence of poor crime ridden and not vibrant suburbs in Detroit.

      2. I should take a beautiful photo looking up Whitney street towards New Windsor I saw the other day while on a run… just endless tree-tops above the houses. Almost like the city is a boat atop a sea of green. Beautiful. San Francisco has parks, but parks are like zoos – trees belong in the wild, not chained in a green cage

        1. You could take a photo but it’s a bridge too far to make Whitney St beautiful, I’m afraid – your poetry on the other hand would give Wordworth’s Daffodils a run for its money.

        2. Actually if you climb to the top of the steep hill and look up towards New Windsor Road, it’s rather beautiful – the serpentine hills and all those trees! A better analogy might be a mighty taniwha cloakes in leaves.

          Try that spot!

      3. You could also move yourself to your favorite crowded city. If the majority of people like Auckland like it is then, who are we to force intensification on them. Personally I am in favour of intensification if it is designed right but sadly most of what will be built under the guise of intensification will be pure crap mostly because the planners do not understand good design.And yes I am qualified formally to make that statement

        1. If some people want to build tall buildings on their own property – or live in the resulting apartments – who are we to force low density on them?

      1. Generally, the pro-sprawl trolls really deep down mean ‘too many foreigners’. Or sometimes even ‘too many non-Pakeha’.

      2. The pro-sprawl troll crowd – Riggles, Lord Maths, mfwic etc. – are people who like Auckland just find the way it is, with lovely little suburban islands for the rich and upper middle class and endless isolated blight for those less fortunate. I wonder why they come to this board at all, except to try to sow FUD in the conversation.

        1. Hi Doloras
          I voted John Minto in 2013 for mayor, mainly because he proposed free buses. So how right wing am I? I also voted… Progressives… and before that… Alliance… and before that… Labour in general elections.
          Am I pro-sprawl? No. But I believe that NZ matters more than Auckland, and what matters is that Auckland isn’t turned into an overcrowded dung-heap that is unfavourable for workers. Instead, regional policies that better spread population have the greatest benefits for the working class.
          I am also pro-trees. Nobody should have the right to cut down a tree without a permit.

          I am also pro public transport, because PT benefits workers. But there is nothing worker-friendly about these endless bourgeois hipster wetdreams – workers don’t care about cafes in shared spaces because due to the capitalist persecution in NZ, workers cannot afford to drink coffee at cafes.

          What favours the working class is the ability to own a good house, with a backyard where the kids can play cricket and rugby, that has good links to work via fast and cheap public transport.

        2. Then you should support intensification as it is the only way that we will be able to retain the ability to buy stand alone houses.

        3. I remember playing cricket in the backyard as a child. It was dog: not enough space, elaborate precautions to protect the windows of the house, strict prohibition on hitting the ball too hard…

          Backyards are for growing things, having barbecues and sitting under a tree with a drink; and for kids, playing hide and seek, building dens and getting dirty. None of these things need a lot of space. The local park is for ball sports, and serves that purpose far better than even the biggest back yard. (tbc)

        4. …With better urban design most low density, car-dependent suburbia could be at least twice as densely populated without in any way threatening the separate house and garden that most people want. That would make the better public transport that you want a possibility.

          By ‘better urban design’ I mostly mean, stop wasting so much space on barren, useless front and side setbacks and excessively wide local access streets and nature strips. And design whole blocks in an integrated way so that smaller lots give the same amenity in relation to aspect, privacy and useful private open space.

        5. Sorry John, but you seriously think there will be the same amount of sports if people have to traipse to their local park?

          I used to bat in my backyard every day… taught me to play straight and keep the ball on the ground. The closest park with flat space was 15 mins walk away. Ain’t happening

          The Crowes, Bradman etc. all learned in their backyards too

          Now if you can put a full-sized pitch on every street, then I will agree with you, but there are no local parks that meet that need for me

        6. And John Walker became a champion runner because he had to run 6 miles to the tennis courts every day. Having to walk, run, or cycle a bit further isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

        7. Questions for Maths and friends:

          * How can a future working class person afford a place with a backyard in Mt Albert?
          * Or anywhere for that matter?
          * Where should 1 and 2 person households live?

        8. Clearly they don’t need to live in Mt Albert, because the only reason people ever leave their house is to work. They can live 20km south of Drury within walking distance of the meatworks.

          1 and 2 person households shouldn’t exist, obviously. The only acceptable way to live is with two parents and two to four children in a separate house.

        9. Hi Doloras

          While I tend to agree with you on the negative social consequences of insisting that things stay the same at all costs, I don’t think we should engage in name calling at people who hold different views (“troll crowd”). See user guidelines 1 and 3:

          For what it’s worth, I think that the commenters you mentioned are sincere in their views, and sincerely trying to engage in debate and convince others. I don’t always agree with them, but I appreciate that they’re here having the argument.

        10. Totally agree with this – let’s not forget that the city belongs to to all of us. We Aucklanders are a diverse bunch and our range of opinions reflect that, and we all have a right to have our views taken into account, rather than being marginalized. Disagreement over complex issues is part and parcel of a healthy democracy!

        11. Hi Doloras, since you seem interested in my politics and motivations I am happy to tell you I voted Labour at eight elections right up until they wanted to restrict how much hot water comes out of my shower. My view is that how I choose to wash myself is my business not the governments. At that point I voted National twice despite not really being a supporter. Then last time NZ First as I knew that would upset more politicians than any other choice! I will go back to Labour, my natural home, when they kneecap the Greens and reclaim the centre left. I come here because it makes me think and I like that. I also like deflating pompous BS and there is a lot of that too. Yes I am pro sprawl because people need homes and I say build wherever you can get houses through. There is no point saying “we will have a compact city” and then not having any development because you can’t get it through. That is the old ARC nonsense that got us in this mess.

  2. Peter – have you come across anything in your reading about the process of intensification? For example do large sections with a single bungalow transition to a medium rise apartment and the tall building? What impact does site size play?

    I suspect the short sighted policy of “infill” that Auckland has pursued will limit opportunity for intensification, if not slow it down.

    1. Good point Scott. With infill it means that to redevelop a site to be medium or high density would require the removal of 2 or 3 dwellings rather than just 1 adding to the cost. The only way to make back that cost is to allow mid-rise (ie 4-6 stories) as 3 storey buildings for the most part aren’t economic in this case.

      Would love to see more proper town-houses in Auckland (as in 3 storey plus basement/attic identical buildings side by side along the lines of the famous painted ladies in San Francisco’s Alamo Square. These have the potential to be divided if desired into 2 apartments.

      1. Yes completely agree. From a regulatory perspective we have tended to enable low density infill much more so than higher buildings. The latter tends to preserve more green space and lead to higher quality housing in general. I think all the nimbys should be rallying against low density infill rather than larger buildings.

        1. Agree entirely. My neighbour is building four houses on his property. I despise him for it. I help all my neighbours with petsitting, collecting mail, helping move heavy things. Not him.

    2. I haven’t read any academic studies on the issue – mostly observational studies and the like. This was a quite good take on the issue:

      I think you and Bruce are correct to observe that intensification can be a path-dependent process, and that the first move (i.e. subdivision to 2 standalone houses) can in fact limit your options for further development in the future.

      However, _how_ people intensify sites is quite dependent upon the existing planning regulations. One of the reasons Auckland got so much infill thru subdivision was that the old planning rules didn’t allow you to do anything else. The perverse consequence of those rules is that in trying to preserve “suburban character” they generally encouraged bad urban design.

  3. Hi Pete

    I’d be impressed at the geometric magic you will perform to cram more people in without cutting down any trees or destroying any grassy lawns.

    Please explain the method, as I’m sure it will destroy the fundamental elements of mathematics!

    1. Apparently there have been some technological innovations that allow you to construct more dwellings on the same amount of land by making the buildings taller. It sounds improbable, but my mathematician friends inform me that it does not in fact violate any fundamental theorems.

      But if you mean preserving every single blade of grass and every leaf on every tree, then no. That is not practical.

      1. And if that’s what you intend then I am 100% behind you
        If you are however suggesting the wholesale destruction of backyards, and the cutting down of proud trees that have stood for decades, to simply put up more dwellings, then no, I cannot support it

        1. Glad to hear it!

          Just one comment, though – I’m not sure it’s helpful to use emotive terms like “wholesale destruction” or “cram more people in”. While I agree with your general point that the natural environment has an intrinsic value separate from human calculations, my experience is that it’s easiest to talk through challenging trade-offs if we’re using more measured language. For example, that’s why I don’t like to use the term “NIMBY” to describe people who are opposed to development.

          On the topic of trade-offs, I think Stu’s dead right to say that when we’re protecting open space, we need to think about the unintended consequences of our actions. For example, insisting that everyone in the city must have a backyard will inevitably cause the city to sprawl further, which means paving over much more agricultural land and natural habitats at the edge of the city. This does not seem like an obvious win for environmental values.

        2. I’m not saying everybody needs a backyard
          I support a two-tier Auckland – apartment towers in the CBD/close suburbs, suburban housing elsewhere
          NO TREES DIE
          And Auckland doesn’t have to grow. Population can be pushed elsewhere

        3. Can we please just kill this “piss off, we’re full” mentality from existing residents of Auckland. I like the city as it is too, but i’m sure the residents of 1878, 1922, and 1956 did too, and plenty of changes have happened since those points in time. Native bush gave way to farmland, which gave way to low density housing, which gave way to higher density commercial, industrial and residential development. The same thing that has been happening for 150 years is still happening – nothing new. Change is the constant. If anything should happen, it is that reactionaries move to a lower demand area that has their desired lifestyle – just as the farmers of the 1800s did.

          If you want to halt immigration, then direct your ire at the Central government – they control that tap. But you can’t and won’t stop internal immigration and population drift in a free society.

          Meanwhile Auckland’s planners have to plan for reality, not a fantasy world in which Auckland generates no new residents from the inside or outside.

        4. Can we please just kill this “**** off, we’re full” mentality from existing residents of Auckland. I like the city as it is too, but i’m sure the residents of 1878, 1922, and 1956 did too, and plenty of changes have happened since those points in time. Native bush gave way to farmland, which gave way to low density housing, which gave way to higher density commercial, industrial and residential development. The same thing that has been happening for 150 years is still happening – nothing new. Change is the constant. If anything should happen, it is that reactionaries move to a lower demand area that has their desired lifestyle – just as the farmers of the 1800s did.

          If you want to halt immigration, then direct your ire at the Central government – they control that tap. But you can’t and won’t stop internal immigration and population drift in a free society.

          Meanwhile Auckland’s planners have to plan for reality, not a fantasy world in which Auckland generates no new residents from the inside or outside.

        5. Not to mention the lions share of our growth comes from natural replacement. The ‘F off we’re full crowd’ should take the lead by not having any children, and sending any they have already abroad.

        6. Lord Math – “Population can be pushed elsewhere” – so you are happy to use coercion to move people out of the city but you think that allowing people to build more densely is somehow forcing people to live in a certain way and should be stopped?

          That is a very confused point of view. If people want to live in a big city (and apparently they do because they keep moving to them) who are you to tell them otherwise. And if they want to live in a big city with all its advantages, they will have to accept the realities of that. That is smaller more compact housing.

        7. Even in the most ambitious intensification scenario you have little to fear; most of suburbia would remain untouched (including the trees and backyards). Most intensification and redevelopment would be confined to key transport corridors and town centres – which provide significant opportunities for housing and development while still only accounting for a small percentage of the area of the city. This is where I really think the council could have done better during the unitary plan debates; the media was able to fix the perception that the compact city model means wholesale loss of green space coupled with high rises on sleepy suburban streets. That was never the case!

          It’s a worthy ideal to fight to preserve our green space. But let’s not forget that more intensive housing gives us the option of preserving green space for everyone to use, while spread out, detached housing eats up and privatises all of that land. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; just making the point that intensification does not inherently lead to the loss of green space; it can do the exact opposite! Fundamentally I think it’s about striking a balance – retaining our key heritage and green areas while providing some opportunities for intensification to stem the tide of rising house prices. If we consign ourselves to either end of the spectrum – either discarding all our green spaces in the name of urban development, or implementing intensely restrictive regulations to prevent any development at all – we’ll be left with a city that’s either too expensive to live in, or not worth living in in the first place. As Peter so often alludes to, it’s all in the trade-offs.

        8. Well, instead of paving over Chamberlain Park, what if we put a dozen 16-storey blocks on the Pt Chev rise up near the library

        9. The concentration of development means that it doesn’t get snuck into suburbia. Lack of options mean the 3 bedroom houses in your people’s cul-de-sac will all have multiple adults in them, all with cars etc. When you have 3-5 cars in the house the front-yard is solely for parking.

          Pressure will be on the put in granny flats, or rebuild the houses into 6-bedroom MacMansions. An asset worth over $1 million isn’t something most people can not try to maximise their value on.

    2. Not all green spaces are created equal. More specifically, aucklands urban form lends itself to lots of low quality private green space that not used very well. In my experience amsterdam feels like a “greener” city because the green space within the city is of high quality and well used. Note also that a lower density city must have a larger footprint, so mathematically speaking must destroy more grass and trees in the end. Put another way, when you integrate your green space function, you have to hold your spatial extent constant.

      1. My backyard is not “low quality” green space
        Its value is both to me and also to the entire community as part of a network of green oases that help make AUckland (a) look good and (b) keep birds and other animals safe

        The birds and small animals that use my trees during the day, or eat worms from my lawn, aren’t my property.

  4. Doesn’t that picture of the Golden Gate bridge violate one of the user guidelines of this blog? I mean it is a road after all and you can’t like a road on this site.

    1. Bugger. What I actually meant to say was that it is a hideous car-dependent monstrosity that blights the landscape. Doesn’t even have a rail line!

      1. You can cycle across it. That brings it up to .53 on the Social Media Use Guidance index. 53% SMUG meets the minimum requirement for this blog. Phew 😉

  5. Like Lord Maths, my backyard in Mt Albert is a green space. The four avocado trees planted along two of the boundaries keep me and my neighbours supplied with the fruit, and also keeps the birds happy, with tuis serenading us throughout day – my wife has other much unkinder words when they wake her up in the morning though. Every so often a morepork takes up residence. Magpies are different though, they make a racket and dive bomb the cats, although my dog took care of the last pair when they tried to dive bomb her and she plucked them out of the air for a free feed – huskies are quite adapt at that.

    1. Ewan James, Lord Maths etc – it sounds like you enjoy and value your backyards. Good for you. The good news is that no matter what density restrictions are removed you can still continue to enjoy your backyard. No one can compel you to develop it.

      1. The value of backyards is collective, not just individual.
        The trees that you can see from down the street- the birds that use mine as a nest and then serenade you on your morning stroll – they are every backyard’s gift to the collective

        1. If we need something to perform a public good function then it makes sense to use public resources for this rather than depending on private landowners. We need to make better use of our street corridors to provide a tree canopy instead of relying on private backyards. We just need to wrest control of them back from traffic engineers.

        2. Everybody exists solely for the benefit they give to the collective
          If you think otherwise, you are an objectivist. I assume you voted Libertarianz then Pete?

        3. I don’t see why it matters who I vote for. But since you asked: I always vote to put a price on negative externalities while respecting individual liberty.

        4. oh what a load of old tosh.

          Yes there’s benefits from green space (private and public – more so the latter). Nobody’s denying these benefits, and you’re welcome to procure as much green space as *you* want, and even provide it for other’s benefit if you feel so inclined. Good for you. I’ll support you in that endeavour.

          But there’s also benefits from housing. And these benefits are frightfully enormous. I think it’s fair to say that after food and water housing would be the single most important socio-economic “good”. And housing in Auckland is frightfully expensive by world standards, and this is largely because of planning regulations preventing appropriate levels of intensification in appropriate locations.

          And you’d continue to deny people houses so that you can be “serenaded” on your walks?

          If it’s a vote for houses for families versus serenaded walks – I vote for the former. Guess ours cancel out?!?

        5. *** Note: Normally this comment would have been deleted because it breaks a number of our user guidelines and contains several logical fallacies. In terms of our user guidelines, the comment combines an ad hominem attack with a strawman argument, by implying the previous commenter’s “vision” is akin to slaughtering trees and “making birds homeless.” We also see the “slippery slope” logical fallacy being invoked. Specifically, the comment moves far beyond the issue being discussed (i.e. whether Auckland should allow for more or less intensification), and instead argues against an extreme position that the previous commenter has not discussed (i.e. “bulldoze everything”). Please note that people who comment in this vein will find their comments deleted; our patience is wearing thin ***

          Hi Stu
          Surely if we want more efficient housing we just bulldoze everything and put up warehouse sized dormitory blocks?
          Or is there still a space for spirit, culture, and soul in your vision, that slaughters trees and makes birds homeless for no good reason?

        6. Yes there’s space for trees in my world. In fact, I love trees, especially native trees – because they support native ecosystems. Starting when I was 10 years old I’ve cultivated and planted many 1,000s of trees. I cultivated and planted trees on my parents property, and with other volunteers on islands in the Gulf, e.g. Rakino.

          And there’s obviously space for trees in your world too, and I think most NZers would agree. The more interesting question, however, is how we best provide these trees?

          I support public provision of trees. Why? Well, with public provision of trees, e.g. regional parks, you can ensure there is a critical mass of the right kinds of trees in the right places.

          On the other hand, requiring private landowners to maintain a lot of greenspace (which is ultimately what our planning policies seek to do) simply leaves us with a bunch of steel magnolias interspersed with exotic grasses. And at the same time gives us extremely expensive house. In a nutshell, I don’t think private provision of trees is particularly effective.

          Rather than “taxing” housing, which is what these planning regulations do, we’d be better off (and I mean far far better off) supporting the conservation efforts of local and national governments. And thankfully, with some hiccups, Auckland seems to be doing pretty well. In the last couple of decades, for example, native flora and fauna on a number of gulf islands, e.g. Tiritiri Matangi has improved.

    2. I live in an apartment building with 62 units. We have 10,00m2 of land including: 1800m2 of native bush, beautiful landscaped grounds with fruit trees, vege gardens and birds evereywhere. We are close to the central city (so close we both walk to work) yet feel like we are in the country. In the space that fits 30 “small” sections (333m2) we have twice the population and grounds second to none. And all this for less than 1/3 the cost of a “do up” Ponsonby Villa.

  6. And lastly, San Francisco’s always had a vibrant and innovative culture, both in the arts and in the booming tech industry. In other words, the city’s density has supported, not undermined, its natural surroundings, built environment, economic productivity, and cultural vibrancy.

    San Francisco is a lovely place, but it is a long way from there to Auckland. Comparing Auckland (2600/ to San Francisco (7600/ is very difficult, because of that great geographical spread.

    Luckily there is an urban zone next to San Francisco with a population density comparable to Auckland. San Jose (2,200/ and it’s less densely populated surrounds are collectively known as Silicon Valley. A comparison of development in the booming tech industry, economic performance, average income, innovation and so on – between San Francisco and Silicon Valley can easily be made. I’m sure everybody will be able to form their own conclusions about the relevance of population density.

    1. San Jose and neighbouring suburban cities are being kept at an artificially low density due to regulatory restrictions on intensification. While Silicon Valley certainly illustrates that agglomeration economies can arise outside of traditional city centres, its ludicrous housing prices _also_ illustrate the cost of keeping everything flat and suburban.

      1. According to Zillow the home price in San Jose (highly restricted, suburban) is USD795,000, whilst the home price in San Francisco (highly restricted, urban) is USD1,102,000. The costs of making things urban, would appear to be 25% higher than “ludicrous”.

        1. Yeah nah. San Francisco has higher prices than San Jose in large part because it’s a more desirable location to live and work. In addition to its higher level of amenity, which gets factored into prices, it’s also much more accessible to the rest of the region, especially by public transport. It does not make sense to interpret relative price differences between the two locations without taking those factors into account.

          However, the high level of prices observed *throughout the whole SF Bay Area* is a function of geographic constraints and also regulatory constraints throughout the region. In other words, height limits in SF cause demand to spill over to San Jose, and vice versa.

        2. Yeah, nah? A dense urban hub and an expansive suburban area complimenting each other to create great dynamism – technological peak of the Western world. If you look at one without the other, any conclusions are always going to be wrong.

          So if you want Auckland to be like San Francisco (and why not it is a lovely city), where is our Silicon Valley going to be?

        3. Where will our Silicon Valley be? On RNZ this morning it was the Albany/Rosedale area of the North Shore, centred around Massey University.

  7. See some facts (credit Wikipedia:

    Rank City Image Population Definition Total area (km²) Population density (/km²) Country
    1 Shanghai 24,150,000[6] Municipality[7][8] 6,340.5 3,809 China
    2 Karachi 23,500,000[9] Metropolitan Corporation[10] 3,527 6,663 Pakistan
    3 Lagos 21,324,000[11] Local Government Area 1,171.28[12] 18,206 Nigeria
    4 Delhi16,787,941[13] National Capital Territory 1,483 11,320 India
    5 Istanbul 14,377,019[14] Metropolitan Municipality-Province[15] 5,461[16] 2,633 Turkey
    7 Tokyo 13,297,629[17] City prefecture 2,189[18] 6,075 Japan
    9 Mumbai 12,478,447[19] Municipal Corporation[20] 603.4 20,680 India
    10 Moscow 12,197,596[21] Federal City[22][23] 2,510.12[24] 4,859 Russia
    12 São Paulo 11,895,893[25] Municipality City[26] 1,521.11 7,821 Brazil
    13 Beijing 11,716,620[27] Core districts[28] 1,368.3 8,563 China
    14 Shenzhen 10,467,400[29] Sub-provincial City 1,991.64[30] 5,256 China
    15 Seoul 10,388,055[31] Special City 605.21[32] 17,164 South Korea
    16 Lahore 10,052,000[33] City District 1,772[33] 5,673 Pakistan
    17 Jakarta 9,988,329[34] Capital Region – Five Kota[35] 664.12 15,040 Indonesia
    8 Guangzhou 12,700,800[36] Sub-provincial City[37] 2,089.53 4,722 China
    18 Kinshasa 9,735,000[38][39][full citation needed] Metropolitan Municipality-Province[40] 1,117.62[41] 8,710 Democratic Republic of the Congo
    5 Tianjin 9,340,548[42] Municipality[43] 4,037[44] 2,314 China
    11 Cairo 9,278,441[45] Governorate[46] 3,085.1[47] 3,008 Egypt
    19 Mexico City 8,874,724[48] Federal District 1,485.49[49] 5,974 Mexico
    20 Lima City of Lima 8,693,387[50] Metropolitan Municipality-Province[51] 2,672.3 3,253 Peru
    21 New York City 8,491,079[52] City[53] 783.84 10,833 United States

  8. Speaking of population sizes, according to Wikipedia,, in 2006, the population was over 404,000 people so I am guessing 9 years on it’s probably around 450,000 people or more! So only 1/2 the density of San Francisco. Inner Auckland will probably reach 1 million in about 25 – 30 years if growth (through immigration) and births keep up.

    1. Yeah, that’s about right. It depends a bit on where you draw the boundary around the isthmus. In my calculations above, I excluded the Whau local board, which sits on the boundary between the isthmus and the west.

      You can go take a look at the Census data here:

      Here’s a factoid from that: between the 1996 and 2013 Censuses, the population of the Auckland isthmus increased by around 27%, while the population in the rest of urban Auckland grew by around 36%.

  9. Imagine Auckland now become similar size as Tokyo (13 million). So approximate 10 times the current population.

    Now we have pt network that are 10 times more frequent. Trains comes in every 2 minute instead of 20 minutes.
    Now we have ten queen streets in the CBD with 10 times the number of stores, there are 10 times more clothing styles to choose from.
    Sylvia park now has 2000 shops instead of 200.
    Farmers now 10 times larger and sells 10 times more variety of stuff, we have cups of all styles, furniture of all styles
    We have 10 times more metro quality restaurants to choose from.
    The library stores 10 times different kind of books
    We have 10 large news and magazine publishers that will publish all kind of stuff that suits everyone’s taste
    Vector Arena can house 10 times more audiences, and concert organizer has 10 times more budget to spend, the decoration and band will be much better.
    Our museum will be 10 times bigger with 10 times more stuff to show.
    Supermarket will sell 10 different types of soups
    Rainbow end will be 10 times bigger with 10 different types of roller-coaster.

    And not only this:
    Gadgets will be 30% cheaper because importer can bulk import 10 times more phones at a same time.
    Furniture’s will be 50% cheaper because a ship container can have hundreds of the same style of furniture on one purchase order
    Sky TV subscriptions and internet will be cheaper, because there are 10 more competitors
    Our food we be cheaper, as supermarket can import more stuff at once and sell it quickly so they don’t care about the cost of expired foods

    I think it can goes on and on..
    The main point is, do we want to live a bit more dense, but having all of the above benefits?

      1. Yes: it would be exactly as hellish as Tokyo, Paris, or New York. Absolutely nobody would want to live there.

        Oh, wait…

        I think there’s very little chance that Auckland will grow to ten times its current size, but Kelvin’s comparison is still valid. Larger cities do give people more choices – about how to work, how to consume, how to create, and so on and so forth. People often assume that urban growth only has downsides. That is, in a word, wrong.

        1. Peter, Kelvins comment is completely ridiculous. Will there be 10 times as many parks, beaches, sports fields etc?

          No. They’ll be 10 times more crowded…

          Increasing density has agglomeration benefits (which we never hear the end of here) but also agglomeration dis benefits. Which are somehow never mentioned..

        2. He didn’t claim that there would be 10 times as many parks. In any case, many of Auckland’s parks are amazingly underutilised; it’s not apparent to me that having a few more people in them would be bad.

          If you want to hear about the disbenefits of growth, the NZ Herald will tell you all about that. All based on anecdotes and vague fears rather than peer reviewed research, of course.

        3. Of course he doesn’t claim there would be 10 times more parks, or that existing parks would be 10 times busier- that would be admitting an agglomeration dis benefit which is verboten here.

          See how it works?

        4. agglomeration benefits are normally calculated “net” of agglomeration disbenefits.

          So when a particular study says ” a doubling in density increases productivity by 10%”, then the 10% represents a net benefit, once the disbenefits (like congestion) are taken in to account.

          In a nutshell: The disbenefits of agglomeration are never mentioned because they are already taken into account.

        5. Not “exactly”. Auckland would be like New York without the outer boroughs Queens or Staten Island or the Bronx or Brooklyn ever being developed, just a highly dense Manhattan.

          People often assume that suburban growth only has downsides. That is, in a word, wrong.

        6. I think you’re arguing against a straw man. I don’t really care if someone wants to lead the suburban lifestyle. As long as they’re paying for the infrastructure they need, rather than demanding a rates subsidy to widen their local roads, it’s none of my business.

          My problem is that the suburban enthusiasts insist that *everybody else* has to live like them and vote to *prevent* people from building more urban neighbourhoods. The irony, as I’ve written before, is that restricting building height in the areas where there’s demand for it causes growth to spill over into suburban infill. The fewer tall buildings you allow, the more backyards get chopped off for subdivision:

          If you prefer the suburbs, the most effective way to get what you want is to vote against restrictions on intensification.

  10. Also don’t forget our salary increases because our productivity increases, due to:
    -Companies are 10 times bigger, they can afford more advanced software and tools.
    -Marketing campaign will have 10 times more audience, so their cost to benefit KPI will be 10 times more.
    -Manufacturers will have 10 times bigger market, so business can buy better equipment and scalable process
    -Farmer can specialize a certain type of fruit or animal without worrying there is no market.
    -There will be 10 times more skilled labours to choose from, want a specialized contractor? It is 10 times easier to find one and hire.
    -Your office will be highly specialized, with each stuff focus on an specialized area and be very good at it.
    -PHD who studies specialized area will be 10 times easier to find a job
    -Artist will have 10 times more ideas to look at from their peers.

    1. Uhhh, kelvin, to just take your second last point – wouldn’t the universities now produce 10x more phds thus creating the same ratio of graduates to jobs?

      1. Lets assume NZ only build cars.
        A PhD student interested in bicycles and studying engineering for bicycles will be out of job.

        Now, if our economy is 10 times bigger, we have industry building cars, bicycles, tricycles, quad cycles, hover board… etc

  11. “San Francisco’s urban footprint shows up as a swathe of white and grey, while Auckland’s is largely a mix of green and muddy grey”

    And since people naturally value green space and leafy suburbs, the above explains why Auckland ranks 9th, and San Francisco 27th, on the list of most livable cities. I don’t think living in an environment that is all white and grey and articficial is what most folk appreciate. It’s that greenness evident in the satellite photo that makes Auckland a nice place – let’s not make any drastic changes to that.

    1. People also naturally value proximity to others and social connections. San Francisco’s really good for that. Auckland feels like a ghost town in the evening, unless you’re in the city centre.

      In any case, I don’t think anyone’s proposing cutting down all the trees in the city tomorrow or putting an apartment building on every street corner. Rather, it’s about _enabling_ incremental, market-led intensification.

        1. You’re assuming people had a choice. Auckland has historically had extensive and extremely onerous planning regulations that prevent intensive development. The city centre is about the only place in the city that has had a relatively permissive approach (tall buildings, no MPRs, apartments welcome), and guess what? Over the last 20 years it’s had more population growth than just about any other part of Auckland:

        2. But if people valued the things you mentioned why did they pass those planning regulations?

          That is paradoxical.

          Perhaps, just maybe, the democratic will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives is what they wanted?

          (not saying we can’t then elect representatives to do different things, just that a blanket statement about people’s so-called values that doesn’t align with what actually happened seems paradoxical)

          Personally, I still think a lot of what you espouse comes from a very specific, middle-class, hipster-bourgeois mindset/worldview. That’s me. I also note that much of what the Herald espouses comes from a white, upper-class, conservative mindset. Neither is right, as neither puts the worker at the centre.

        3. They also voted for the Metropolitan Urban Limit, so they obviously didn’t want sprawl for Africa either. It’s not like regulations ever have unintended consequences that people didn’t anticipate at the time they were written.

          “a lot of what you espouse comes from a very specific, middle-class, hipster-bourgeois mindset/worldview”

          I thought it all came from my love of Ayn Rand? Seriously, dude, for someone who doesn’t know me in real life you sure presume a lot about my background and values.

    1. There is an underlying driver to resisting intensification: property is effectively a micro-monopoly, and the micro-monopolists (people who own property in desirable areas) will always have an incentive to resist increases in supply. To be blunt, if these people don’t make way for the benefit of the city as a whole then they will ultimately have to be run over.

  12. Hands up who has been to San Francisco. The centre has some nice parts, Pacific Heights etc, but it has its run down areas as well.
    The very wealthy live in the burbs, places like Palo Alto while the less well off live across the bridge in Oakland. The few that have been to San Francisco will agree with me that you would not want Auckland to be like Oakland.
    Enjoying the wonderful relaxed life we take for granted in Auckland is not easy in San Francisco. China Beach is no where near as nice as any of the North Shore beaches we have, you have to drive to Monterey before you can find a decent beach in San Fran. We have the domain, Albert Park and further afield the Waitakeres. Muir woods are nice, but you pay to get in and anyone that has been to Salsilito can tell you that it is a nightmare of cars looking for places to park. On some days it can takes an hour to get in and out of. I’d take Northcote point over Salsilito any day.Treasure Island is nice for the Sunday flea market. You get great views of the city and the crowd isn’t too bad. Maybe because the locals know it’s a former nuclear navy base?Auckland is a great place to live. It has a nice balance between work and leisure. That is why I brought my family here from Europe. I wanted the kids to be able to walk on grass without worrying about needles and to be able to drive from the office to the beach in half an hour. I grew up in London, we didn’t even have a playground at our school. We played on the street outside the building where our tiny and very expensive apartment was. Sometimes I wonder if Kiwi’s really understand how lucky they are. Why do you want to change all the things the rest of the world is envious of?

    1. Hear hear. As a former Aucklander who just finished a 4 year stint living in San Francisco, I can second this. Yes, Golden Gate Park is a gorgeous amenity, but it’s a destination park, not green space within walking distance of most people’s homes. Ditto Muir Woods, Mt. Tamalpais… There are very few neighbourhood parks you can take your kids to, and very few trees around in most parts. There’s a lot of concrete, and much of that is run down. San Francisco is a great place to visit, but I’d never live there again if I could help it. (P.S. James there are some great beaches south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1 – about 45 minutes south of SF)

    2. From my reading Peter was not making an argument for necessarily “changing anything”, aside from poor planning regulations – which are clearly and demonstrably making all of us worse off, especially first-home buyers and low income households.

      Peter was primarily observing that Auckland could accommodate more people without detracting from its amenity.

      You know, it could accommodate more people like you and your family?

    3. James somewhat ironic as you seem to be a recent immigrant; so we weren’t full till you and your family arrived but now are? Everyone in NZ was a fairly recent immigrant compared to many societies, less so for Maori obviously, but still I think we have to wary of ‘I’m in Jack; close the door’.

      However you do raise the obvious point; if it is NZ’s relative emptiness that many are attracted to then at what point does immigration kill the thing it loves? Though surely we shouldn’t keep Auckland vapid and badly designed just to attract fewer people to want to come and live here? Isn’t that desire, including among ex-pat NZers, a sign of success?

      So what are optimum population levels?, looks globally like we may be entering an age of great migrations; especially as places like Japan and Europe are no longer growing or are falling in numbers, while the viability of other places deteriorate due to conflict and Climate Change causes new movement? We ought to think about it, certainly.

      Also, critically, about how we accommodate more people especially here in Auckland matters enormously for everyone. Sprawl will kill NZ’s spaciousness more surely than balanced growth.

      1. The attraction of New Zealand *is* it’s relative emptiness. THerefore it makes sense to allow the majority of growth to be in Auckland, and the majority of that growth to be in the existing city.

      2. I came to NZ with my young family 8 years ago Patrick.
        As my wife and I are both Doctors I would hope we have made a positive contribution to NZ, especially as the NZ tax payer did not have to contribute towards our medical training.Peter Nunns suggested Auckland was an inefficient use of land space compared to San Francisco and all I have done is point out that while San Francisco is a lovely city (one of the best in the US), it is not a patch on Auckland for life style. Mr Young, who has also lived there backs this up with first hand experience of life in California. Do you want to live in a city where the nearest decent beach is a 45 min drive away?As a doctor I can tell you that it is far healthier to live in Auckland with its small population than San Francisco, London or any other large city you may care to aspire too. How much value can you place on being able to access parks and foreshore?
        Intensification of the city will only serve property developers wanting to cash in on a relaxation of building restrictions. If you want to live a London or New York lifestyle you should go abroad and live in those cities. Auckland is unique in having a wonderful geography, a mostly high standard of living and a healthy environment. My wife and I could have chosen many countries to emigrate, many would have given us a greater income but we chose NZ and Auckland because of the lack of traffic, clean air, free parks and accessible beaches. We would not have been able to have these things in the cities of the US, Asia or Europe. Maybe you need to live abroad for a few years to understand just how lucky you are here Patrick.

        1. I did live for a couple years in London, and do understand its problems and advantages. And we both know that the options for AKL are not between as it is now and it being of the scale and condition of London or NY, that’s a silly suggestion. Clearly AKL can be better and allow in more foreign trained doctors or whatever without becoming the same as these bigger older cities in colder and very different geographies.

          With regard to beach and nature access I agree that’s a tremendous natural condition of Auckland’s geography but if we keep sprawling forever over the countryside we will fuck this up. Push these places further and further away, and clutter the countryside up with inefficient horizontal spread of infrastructure, especially tarmac.

        2. “How much value can you place on being able to access parks and foreshore? …Intensification of the city will only serve property developers”

          This argument I don’t get. Yes close access to parks and foreshore is great for body and soul, and a cornerstone of Auckland life. But intensification allows more people to have close access to parks and beaches.

          If we don’t have people living by the bays and beaches, we have them living in far flung suburbs. Which do you think is better: 1,000 people living in townhouses wrapped around Milford mall and in two towers above it five minutes walk from the beach, or 1,000 people living in a subdivision at the end of the motorway in Pokeno, 45 minutes drive from the nearest beach.

          Those are two actual concepts underway, and a very real alternative.

        3. And then the beaches are overcrowded. You don’t seem to get it.
          It’s not a dichotomy between sprawl or intensification. That’s false.
          It’s whether or not we turn off the effing tap. Then we don’t need the debate in the first place because demand drops!

        4. Clearly that isn’t the argument James is making, because he was happy to migrate here with his wife and children.

          So turn off the tap, OK, I assume you are taking yourself and your children to be sterilised on Monday? Gotta shut that population tap off and births is the main thing driving it.

        5. I’m calling this one for Nick. Statistics New Zealand’s most recent subnational population projections indicate that roughly 60% of Auckland’s growth over the next three decades will come from natural increase.

          We’re currently experiencing a historic high level of net immigration, which means that things are different in the short run. But history tells us that periods of high immigration tend to be balanced out by periods of net emigration.

        6. Thanks Peter, yes looking at the trend not just the blip of the last year which is driven by Australia’s fortune (less kiwis emigrating to oz and more coming come).

          Both natural replacement and net migration have peaks and troughs (Four years ago we lost population to migration!), but the long run is natural replacement.

          Net migration can be seen here:
          Net natural increase can be seen here:

          Over the last ten years the average is 17k net immigrants a year. Last ten years of natural increase average is 32k per year. So people having children is twice the problem of immigration, and accounts for 2/3 of population growth.

        7. Hi James (and David)

          While my family’s from New Zealand, I spent my teenage years and bits of my early 20s in the Bay Area. I’ve still got many friends in San Francisco and visit every year or two. So I know the place well and understand what’s great about it and what’s not so great.

          Auckland’s also got its advantages, of course. There’s a reason I live here. I like its natural settings. I like the career opportunities it’s offered me. I like its diversity and openness.

          And I like the fact that it’s changing before our eyes. I’m optimistic that Auckland can change in a way that gives its inhabitants more choices and opportunities, without overwriting its good bits. I think intensification is an opportunity, not a curse, if we’re willing to facilitate it.

        8. “Do you want to live in a city where the nearest decent beach is a 45 min drive away?”

          As a matter of fact, I do! That’s why I live in Auckland, where it’s a 45 minute drive to Piha, Muriwai, or Bethells.

        9. Proximity to beaches would be *helped* by intensification. We could have 100,000 people within 2 km of Takapuna Beach quite comfortably.

  13. Peter Nunns, November 6, 2015 at 8:55 am:
    “I think you’re arguing against a straw man. I don’t really care if someone wants to lead the suburban lifestyle. As long as they’re paying for the infrastructure they need, rather than demanding a rates subsidy to widen their local roads, it’s none of my business.”

    You should care, if you want your city to be anything like NY or Tokyo or San Francisco suburban expansion is of critical importance. To be encouraged.

    “My problem is that the suburban enthusiasts insist that *everybody else* has to live like them and vote to *prevent* people from building more urban neighbourhoods.”

    That’s NZ politics, a pervasive negativity pointing out the poor choices of others. We’ve hindered all suburbs and we hinder all apartments and have just started to restrict rural sprawl. It is our nature to clobber shit down. Pretty soon someone will start complaining about infill housing.

  14. Full, full of foreign property speculators running those kiwi’s that can’t afford a home out.
    Nice housing bubble you created govt.
    The new housing policy will cram and jam removing restrictions for developers and the bankster$ (profit and cram) still middle class working kiwis can just dream while they pay the corporations and feudal landlords.

    1. Seem to be pretty of kiwi property owners happy to sell to the forign buyers, Mary, or enjoy the increase in the value of their properties as a result of this.

        1. I’m in two minds as to whether this is market failure. On the face of it, the market is functioning correctly with the usual shortage of resources contributing to inelastic supply and contributing to an imbalance. Definitely the lack of restrictions on foreign ownership, which many other countries have in place, and is government intervention, is causing demand issues, and NZ sellers are lapping up this situation. It’ll turn around.

      1. So you blame the flood of foreign buyers( and foreign owned property trusts) allowed to purchase where we cannot buy in their country” the fault of the seller”.
        The bankster generated housing market -they overvalue and will loan more than what the house is worth.
        Remember its not for the overvalued land as the Crown owns the land( Crown valuation creates value for the land) and you are a just a tenant .

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