The Productivity Commission has put out a paper calling for submissions on Urban Planning, here. It’s a very wide ranging, going right back to first principles where they have discovered that:
Yet even among planners, there appears to be no agreed definition of “planning” or “urban planning”, and writers have struggled with whether a definition can be provided.
Despite this lack of theoretical certainty I think we all know urban planning when we see it, or perhaps more accurately its outcomes. Pleasingly the paper begins with a short history of Petone which is used to illustrate the accretive and accidental nature of city forming:
The changing nature of urban areas
Urban areas are dynamic, complex places. Land uses and neighbourhoods can change dramatically in response to economic, technological and demographic forces.
One example of this evolution comes from Easterly, Freschi and Pennings (2015), who explored how a single stretch of a New York City street changed over four centuries of development. Easterly, Freschi and Pennings concluded that it is “difficult for prescriptive planners to anticipate changes in comparative advantage, and it is easy for regulations to stifle creative destruction and to create misallocation.” (p. 1)
The town of Petone in Lower Hutt illustrates the diversity of influences that shape urban areas. [Below] provides an outline of its history, although inevitably many important details and events are overlooked. The transition of Petone – from a Māori village, to the intended site of a major colonial settlement, to a working-class industrial area, a run-down town, at various times a retail destination, and a desirable residential neighbourhood – show how unpredictable the evolution of our urban areas can be.
Given this surely accurate observation, shouldn’t any attempts at controlling the form of our cities in fact shy away from control but instead aim for incentivisation? Won’t nudging the direction of individual impulses be likely to be more effective that prescriptive programmes? And much less likely to result in unwanted unintended consequences, like out of control dwelling inflation. After all it appears that even the most egregious of city ordinances are well meant, no matter how much damage they do either indirectly or to other aims. And city building is full of contradictory impulses; for example nothing allows more retention [if not preservation] of older building than economic stagnation, yet surely it is fair to say there are few if any councils that would consciously pursue policies of economic ruin in order to bolster their worthy desire to preserve their city’s built fabric?
Another example is the whole history of auto-priority of the last 60 years across the developed world; so often expensive road and parking infrastructure was built with the very aim of reviving or maintaining the economic life of places, yes these investments simply reinforced their decline and unsuitability of these places for the brave new world of driving focussed city. For example Auckland’s City Centre only really began to recover from the flight of the motorway/sprawl era once Minimum Parking Regs were inverted- replaced with Maximums instead. Thereby nudging development and use of the city towards walkable proximate-focussed more intense land use. In fact MPRs must rank very high up the list of the most destructive yet well meant influences on city development, see this disastrous example from the sadly much governance-abused city of Christchurch; so prioritising ease of parking that the actual destination become untenable and disappears. Mandated parking oversupply is a form of urban self-harm so ubiquitous in mediocre conurbations that it’s become invisible: it’s the teenage cutting of city-management.
The question next becomes what scale of nudge is required to incentivise more productive city building and city using; nudge or shove? Denmark for example, has a 180% tax on new cars and one the highest bicycle usage rates in the world. These two things are surely not unrelated [see here for context, however]. Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong all have the most widespread and financially successful urban, and in Japan’s case, inter city, Transit networks and all also have significant barriers to car ownership and use, as well as planning rules that enable more efficient land use. See here.
Here is the ProdComm’s quick history of the urban development of Petone:
The evolution of Petone
Prior to European settlement there was a large Te Āti Awa Pa at Pito-one. The New Zealand Company’s surveyor, Captain William Mein Smith chose the Heretaunga (Hutt) river valley for the site of their planned settlement “Britannia”, and the Company ships began arriving in January 1840. Relations between Māori and the settlers were positive in large part due to the hospitality and mana of local chief Te Puni. The grid street plan drawn up in England was soon abandoned. In March the river flooded the settlement, and a fire and earthquake followed in May. Britannia was largely abandoned by the end of 1840, with the settlers having moved to Pipitea/Thorndon, which Colonel Wakefield had long favoured for the settlement.
In 1847 there were probably no more than 20 settler households left, and it remained almost wholly deserted until 1875. The land was poor quality for grazing, and the Hutt River flooded at least annually. Pito-one Pa, with a population of 136, remained the largest and best-fortified pa in the Wellington area. In 1855 a major earthquake lifted the area, draining a portion of the lower valley.
In 1874 the Wellington-Wairarapa train line opened. A large railway workshop was built in Petone. That same year a butcher, James Gear, began to purchase and lease land around the Petone foreshore for a slaughterhouse. It was attractive for the cheap flat land, proximity to the harbour and railway line, and the small size of the local population to be offended by the waste and smell of the facility. In 1883 the company built a 380m long wharf, demolished in 1901. A large wool mill was established in 1886.
Petone grew rapidly, and was gazetted as a town in 1881. A series of factories and breweries were built. Schools, churches, newspapers, sports and social clubs were established in the 1880s, many of which survive today.
A local farmer, Edwin Jackson, sold portions of his land piecemeal with unsurveyed rights- of-way. The result was that by 1885 there was local concern that Jackson Street was an embarrassing series of dog-legs, of varying width along its length. Jackson Street was extended when the land was bought by the borough solicitor on behalf of the Crown in 1888. Blood and offal went straight into the harbour, attracting sharks, so Jackson built a swimming bath near the waterfront. Plans for a gasworks were abandoned in 1897, and the land that had been earmarked for this use was purchased by the council as a recreation ground. But the council declined to buy Jackson’s baths, and a ratepayers poll in 1901 also decided against a purchase, so they were closed.
By the early 1900s Jackson Street was the hub of Hutt Valley commercial activity, with notable stores such as McKenzies, McDuffs and Liebezeits. The Grand Theatre opened in 1916. But Jackson Street’s haphazard alignment was still a problem and between 1927 and 1938 the council widened and straightened Jackson Street, with buildings shifted back on rails or demolished.
New Zealand’s earliest state houses were built in Patrick Street from 1906, although they were sold in the 1930s. Council chambers were built in 1903 and a town clock in 1913. A new wharf was constructed in 1907. Industrialisation continued: Lever Brothers factory opened in 1919, Sunlight Factory in 1924, and a number of car plants in the 1920s and 1930s. Three out of every four cars in New Zealand were said to come from Petone up until the 1950s. The town produced many successful sportspeople and the Petone Rugby Club numerous All Blacks.
Petone, by local standards, was densely populated and heavily industrialised, ugly, grimy, lively and close-knit, more like an English industrial town than a New Zealand one. (Butterworth, 1988, p. 13)
But from the 1950s the area began to decline, as some industries closed and residents moved to the new suburbs of the Hutt Valley. A number of state housing flats were built from the 1950s to the 1970s on the eastern part of Jackson Street. The Borough Council designated an area north of Jackson Street as an industrial zone, and
[t]he result of this was that no one was allowed to improve their properties, which meant many fell into disrepair and were sold off to developers. It was impossible for young Petone people to get a loan to buy property in their hometown so many left for Wainuiomata or Upper Hutt. The town become a place of rented properties owned by absentee landlords. By the mid seventies and eighties Jackson Street was pretty much derelict. (Johnston, 2015, pp. 93-95)
The Council proposed building a ring road around central Jackson Street, to create a mall in the centre of town at a cost of $10 million and the demolition of 80 houses. But significant local opposition stopped the project, and many councillors were voted out.
Petone wharf took its last cargo in 1976. The Gear meatworks closed in 1981. Long- established stores closed and the council chambers were demolished in 1986. Deregulation of the New Zealand economy resulted in many of the remaining factories closing. Developers who were demolishing and rebuilding in Wellington regarded Jackson Street as a place of little commercial potential, so its old buildings were left untended. In turn, “this stagnation ironically preserved the historic CBD as a desirable social and economic centre” (Johnston, 2015, p. 177). Petone recovered in the 1990s as industrial land uses gave way to big box retailing in the west of Jackson Street. Petone again became a retail destination, and this benefited the smaller shops along Jackson Street. A burgeoning bar, café, gallery, and retail sector followed. In 1996 the Historic Places Trust recognised Jackson Street as an Historic Area, but this had no regulatory force. There were a number of battles between local heritage groups, developers and the council over the next decade.
The “character homes” of Petone and its proximity and transport links to Wellington made Petone a desirable residential neighbourhood. A number of apartments were built or converted, consistent with council design guidelines. In 2014 it was announced that many of the state housing flats on the eastern part of Jackson Street were to be demolished, but the Patrick Street cottages survive and are protected. The Grand Theatre, which closed in 1964, was used as an electrical shop, furniture business, and in the 1990s was converted to an apartment complex with boutique shops below. Today, the site of the Gear meatworks is a supermarket, and Petone wharf is a popular fishing location, with fewer sharks than in the past.
Source: Butterworth, 1988; Johnston, 1999, 2009, 2015.