Last week, urban designer lecturers Dushko Bogunovich and Matthew Bradbury published an article on their vision for transforming Auckland into a “linear city”:

Instead, we suggest a linear, city-region that follows the opportunities and respects the constraints in the landscape. Its central spine would connect many nodes of density, functioning as centres of commerce and production, with high-rise living. There could be 20-odd nodes between Whangarei and Hamilton.

This is what we call the “working city”. In contrast – the “lifestyle city” would be situated on the glorious east coast. We see it as part of the larger “NZ Riviera”, stretching from Whangarei to Whakatane. Here, the world-renowned qualities of Auckland’s superb suburban lifestyle would mature to the level where Auckland would truly become the “world’s lifestyle capital”.

New infrastructure technologies, such as localised sewerage and water systems, super-efficient solar panels, internet and electric cars, mean that any new urban settlement is not necessarily reliant on expensive centralised infrastructure systems. We no longer have to get our power from the South Island or by burning fossil fuel, and we don’t have to drive two hours to work.

If this sounds a bit like science fiction, that’s because it literally is science fiction. The ur-form for the linear city – and its most complete expression – is a 1975 utopian science fiction novel by Ernest Callenbach: Ecotopia.

Ecotopia imagined an environmental utopia in a future US West Coast that had seceded from the rest of the country. Urban space and economic life have been upended: the new nation has pursued radical decentralisation and sustainable living.

Bogunovich and Bradbury don’t go as far as Callenbach in calling for an end to investment capital, radical downsizing of central government, and a ban on all cars, but they do harp on many of the same themes when it comes to transport and urban form. In the book, for example, San Francisco has been downsized to a mere village, its population spread out into “minicities” on rapid transit lines:

the great concentrations of people in San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and even the smaller metropolitan areas began to disperse somewhat. New minicities sprung up in favorable locations, with their own linkage necklaces of transit lines: Napa, on its winding, Seine-like river, at last pollution-free; Carquinez-Martinez, stretching out along rolling hills dropping down to the Strait; and others throughout the country.

Bogunovich and Bradbury echo Callenbach’s language when they speak of a central transit spine connecting “many [small] nodes of density”. It’s a seductive idea. But, as public transport guru Jarrett Walker pointed out in his review of Ecotopia, it’s an intrinsically unworkable one from a transport perspective:

A gleaming high speed rail system delivers his hero through a transbay tube to an intimate, shrinking village called San Francisco. But real transbay tunnels and high speed rail require major cities to create the demand around their stations. Those cities need the big infrastructure of power and water and transit. That infrastructure may sometimes require cutting down some trees, accepting the impacts of a dam, building densely where somebody already lives, or creating space for efficient movement on a street that could otherwise have been a park, a creek, a kiosk, a gathering place.

The contradictory, fantastical nature of Bogunovich and Bradbury’s vision becomes even more apparent when we consider the real-world examples they cite for Auckland to follow. These places, they argue, combine a low-density linear form with highly efficient rapid transit and natural amenities:

Frankfurt is a famous example of a super-efficient city that consists of more than 70 local authorities. It prides itself on its inclusion of agriculture into the metropolitan fabric, its first class, evenly distributed, recreational green open spaces, and international airport amidst a forest, which serves three major cities.

Other famous models of successful, decentralised and polycentric development are metropolitan Munich and the urban region of the Ruhr. Both cover large areas, include plentiful open spaces, and have managed to contain urban sprawl in the form of a coherent polycentric pattern.

Let’s take a look at these places. Here’s a map of the Ruhr region. According to Wikipedia, the region is home to 8.5 million people – over five times as many as in Auckland. From end to end, the main urban corridor – from Duisberg to Dortmund – is around 80 kilometres long. That’s about the same as the distance from Pukekohe to Silverdale.

So if we wanted Auckland to be more like the Ruhr, we would have to increase the population of urban Auckland fivefold. That’s a level of intensification far, far beyond anything contemplated in the Unitary Plan.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

We run into similar problems with Frankfurt and Munich, which are roughly comparable in population to Auckland but considerably denser. Charting Transport has helpfully published comparative data on population-weighted densities in Australian and European cities. (Population-weighted density is the most accurate measure of density – it measures the density of the neighbourhood the average resident lives in.) According to that data, Frankfurt is twice as dense as Melbourne, and Munich is almost three times as dense. (Auckland and Melbourne have pretty similar densities.)

For the visual learners, here’s a randomly selected neighbourhood several kilometres from the Frankfurt city centre. Observe how this kind of medium density would be totally illegal under existing Auckland planning rules:

Frankfurt neighbourhood

So rather than making the case for a sprawled “linear city”, Frankfurt, Munich, and the Ruhr illustrate Jarrett Walker’s point that population density is necessary to obtain efficiencies in infrastructure provision, including well-utilised rapid transit. Those cities have developed intensively where there is demand to do so, especially in inner-city suburbs. As data on infrastructure costs for low- and high-density developments in Auckland shows, this can save money:

CIE and Arup Auckland infrastructure costs by density

Bogunovich and Bradbury’s problems in distinguishing between science fiction and reality get worse when they start discussing Auckland’s existing urban form and infrastructure. They argue that:

Being located on a land-bridge, Auckland has mainly grown in the northern and southern directions. After 100 years of growth and amalgamation, it has grown into a linear conurbation some 70km long. By 2040 it could be 150km long. This is not bad news; linear cities are famously efficient.

Are they really? As Bogunovich and Bradbury concede, Auckland already has a relatively linear urban form. If this does indeed improve efficiency, shouldn’t we already be reaping the benefits in terms of lower house prices and more efficient transport outcomes?

Or, to put it another way, isn’t continuing to do the same thing and hoping for a different outcome the very definition of insanity?

In response to this concern, Bogunovich and Bradbury say that they want to continue doing the same thing – urban expansion into nodes up and down State Highway 1 – but differently in an unspecified way:

Growth is already happening along this corridor anyway – witness the boom in Te Rapa, Pokeno, Silverdale and Warkworth. However, this development is haphazard, exacerbating traditional urban sprawl and commuting distances. It also relies too much on expensive and vulnerable infrastructure.

This is also very problematic: they don’t provide any specific explanation of how their linear city would differ from the one that actually exists. This has serious cost implications. As Auckland Council found when devising a “Future Urban Land Supply Strategy” last year, urban expansion is expensive. They are expecting network infrastructure costs to rise to $100,000-$200,000 per dwelling for greenfield development.

In Bogunovich and Bradbury’s vision, “distributed, small scale, clean, green and smart infrastructure” would bring down these costs. This, again, echoes the science fiction world of Ecotopia. But without details – or better yet, costed and implementable plans – “technology will transform the way we live!” is an empty slogan. It means nothing.

Their discussion of the transport and labour market implications of a 150-kilometre long linear city “that extends at least from Wellsford and Helensville to Pokeno and Orere Point” is equally unsatisfying. They state that considerable horizontal expansion will lead to lower, not higher, transport costs: “we don’t have to drive two hours to work”.

For this to work, it would require people in the outer nodes to work locally, rather than commuting to other areas of the city. That would represent a significant change from the way that Auckland (and every other large city) works. At present, people who live further out commute longer distances, on average:

Trip Length residential 2013

Previous attempts to decentralise the city have not changed this pattern, because it is intrinsic to the way that urban labour markets work. As former World Bank urban researcher Alain Bertaud observes, normal cities involve people commuting between a lot of different points, which enables the agglomeration economies that make cities work. An “urban village” model, in which everybody commutes short distances to the nearest “node”, occurs in planners’ dreams but never in real life:

Bertaud urban structure graph

This isn’t to say that Bogunovich and Bradbury’s ideas are all bad. Given Auckland’s geographical constraints, there is a good case to build a better rapid transit network focused on key corridors with high demand. That’s exactly what Transportblog has proposed in its Congestion Free Network, and it’s what Auckland Transport is planning to build:

AT Rapid Transit Network 2015-2045

Enabling more housing in areas that have good transport accessibility is also a good idea. In fact, that is exactly what the Unitary Plan’s Regional Policy Statement says should happen:

2. Enable higher residential densities and the efficient use of land in neighbourhoods:

a. within and around centres and within moderate walking distances from the city, metropolitan, town and local centres

b. in areas close to the frequent public transport routes and facilities

c. in close proximity to existing or proposed large open spaces, community facilities, education and healthcare facilities

d. adequately serviced by existing physical infrastructure or where infrastructure can be efficiently upgraded.

But, as I’ve explained above, the vision of Auckland as an exclusively “linear city” simply isn’t grounded in reality. It may be fine as science fiction, but it would fail in practice.

In fact, the examples chosen by Bogunovich and Bradbury make that very clear. Auckland’s low-density, linear urban form has led to our current housing affordability and transport problems. The German cities, which are much more densely populated, have been more successful in avoiding those problems. Emulating them would mean allowing more mid-rise housing to be constructed near the centre, not less!

Share this


  1. When I presented to the Unitary Plan panel, they asked me what I, as a transport engineer, thought of the feasibility of serving a linear city with transport modes. I wasn’t prepped for the question, but noted that sure, you could serve such a city with both motorways or PT – but that either would suffer from the problem of diminishing returns along such a strung-out city. I hope the panels questions indicated they were as sceptical as they should be.

    1. Interesting question to get!. Linear road networks obviously suffer from severe decreasing returns to scale due to congestion, but I would have thought that linear rapid transit networks would experience at least constant returns to scale. I suppose that would depend upon the structure of demand on the network – if everyone was going to a central point, vehicle crowding would get pretty extreme, with resulting diseconomies. But if demands were distributed throughout the network, crowding might not be as bad.

      But even if you assert constant (or increasing) returns to scale for the RTN, you still have the issue of decreasing returns to scale on the roads. And the only way to manage that is to have a land-use configuration which enables a very large share of the population to use the RTN. Which in turn means that both employment and population have to be densely concentrated around the stations, with very little low-density suburbs outside the walking catchment.

      1. I guess I answered it immediately assuming that jobs and key functions would still be concentrated, and only residential string out along that linear city. In that scenario (which, as the whole blog post is about, is the much more realistic outcome), even trains would suffer because they would be too congested close to the centre (no seats left, or not even space to get on board – aka Western Line in 2015), and too empty (to provide the same level of good service at reasonable subsidy) at the outer edge…

  2. Don’t confuse what is with what should be.

    If we didn’t have people with dreams of what might work, we wouldn’t have Paris (which was completely redeveloped),

    Part of all policymaking is not merely to adapt to how people do things, but to force them to do things a different way

    1. Paris was comprehensively, but partially redeveloped, and the focus of that was intensification and centralized infrastructure built to the proven standards of the day.

      The Haussmann scheme built avenues lined with six story buildings, but left the buildings inside the blocks as they were. The went to six stories because that was the most the could practically accommodate with people climbing stairs. They didn’t gamble on a new technology, they based their whole scheme on proven technology.
      Likewise with the avenues, for all the talk of barricades and cannon fire, the real reason they were broad was to give them space to dig trunk sewers. Again, proven and tested technology, they didn’t plan for some future waste management system that may or may not have worked.

    2. Thanks, Early Commuter, for your comment “Don’t confuse what is with what should be.” Indeed, there are things in our article which refer to how things are (the reality), and to how they might or should be (the future). Many comments in this thread seem to ignore this, or confuse the two. Overall, we (M.Bradbury and myself) see ourselves as ‘realistic dreamers’. We argue a vision which in Auckland’s ‘nature’ (or ‘character”). If there was no attempt to plan, Auckland would grow that way anyway. However, it would be an inefficient (or suboptimal) mess. In particular, there would be sprawl everywhere and infrastructure deficit in most new areas. This is what planning is for – to minimise the negative impact and maximise opportunities in a growing city. But, it can do only so much. When cities reach certain size, planning authorities need to be humbler and try really hard to understand the ‘inherent’ shaping forces in that city before they say a word about the desired future form. In our case, sadly, the ‘compact city’ model was chosen without any concern for the fundamental geographical circumstances of the newly declared, super-city, greater grater Auckland (regional Auckland). Had the former Auckland City said it wants the Isthmus to be a ‘compact city’, I would not have had a problem with that. But for the newly amalgamated, regional scale, super-city Auckland to say ‘we want to be a ‘compact city” – that was probably the biggest nonsense in the history of urban planning in NZ.

  3. Bit of a hatchet job there Peter. You say 1/ it’s like a book you thought was stupid so its stupid 2/ the cities they suggest are bigger so it couldnt be done smaller 3/too different from our current land use rules so wouldn’t work and 4/ not that different to what we are doing so it couldnt work.
    My view is that they have missed the whole point of Auckland just as people keep missing the point. Auckland is about its coast, most of us love the coast and aspire to live by it. Every other model will fail as it doesn’t reflect those simple tastes and preferences. Let’s face it we have only built around one and a half of our three harbours.

    1. Actually, I really like Ecotopia; it’s a bit polemical but a great book nonetheless. It’s just that I can distinguish between sci-fi and reality.

      The sci-fi aspects of their proposal come in when they explain how they would make a low-density linear urban form work in the future (it hasn’t so far). They appeal to unspecified, yet-to-be-widely-deployed technologies as the secret ingredient for obtaining large efficiencies. I am suspicious of this.

      Furthermore, as my discussion of German population density shows, they misrepresent those cities to make a misleading point.

    2. “Furthermore, as my discussion of German population density shows, they misrepresent those cities to make a misleading point.” Maybe that was your key message.

  4. I noticed that they were still calling for density in central nodes that they termed the ‘working’ city and contrasted this with the nice coastal areas the ‘lifestyle city’. So are they suggesting that we cram all the poor working class people into high rise buildings that are tucked, away out of sight, so all the elite can live in their coastal lifestyle paradise?

      1. I think the likes of Dushko are genuine in ‘thinking outside of the box’. This is what academics do. Theories do not have to be 100% workable. Challenging accepted thinking can be helpful……

        I am more cynical of the likes of 2040, NZ Herald and Rudman who grab onto the likes of Dushko’s theories, or some other futuristic plan such as driverless cars to argue why they do not have to share space or resources….

        1. But Dushko is not thinking outside the box at all. He’s thinking entirely inside the box and calling for more of the same dispersed suburbia we’ve been building for years. He then dresses this up in cute sustainability buzzwords to try and make it sound radical. But in reality it is anything but.

          1. Well, not quite.

            He is saying we need to (a) intensify where possible while (b) retaining Auckland’s charm.

            Full intensification might destroy (b). So how do we intensify? His suggestion is that a single long linear spine – railway/bus/tram/rocket car – might support intensification close around it, while the ribs could be kept lower-density. This would have the benefits of retaining Auckland’s charm while maximising the use of space in areas where PT is possible.

            What this could enable is 2-minute frequency trains along that spine, probably with feeder buses along the ribs. Rather than messy, foamy intensification in pockets, we can get it done right in the right areas. 16-18 storey blocks replacing caryards.

            What I’d imagine is basically take a Google map of Auckland at 1km scale, draw a line from the SH1 above Ponsonby to the SH1 next to Carbine Road, and build apartments along that corridor

          2. I disagree Frank that Dushko believes in the status quo. He is basically calling for commuter/ inter-city rail from Whangarei -Auckland -Hamilton and Tauranga/Whakatane. With settlements encouraged along these corridors that are self-sufficient i.e. not connected to 19/20th century sewerage, power…. infrastructure systems. I think this is sufficiently different to be labeled ‘outside the box’. I think this article and the various commentators have indicated that their might be some practical problems of this plan….. But at least it has got us thinking…..

            Where I agree with you Frank -is the likes of 2040 and the Herald -they might superficially support Dushko’s plan because they are afraid of change to leafy suburbia -but would they really agree to the government spending their taxes on the more radical aspects of Dushko’s plan -the inter-city passenger rail and self-sufficient settlements? Or is it that they really just support extending motorways from being 70 to 150 km long? So a continuation of the current status quo -path dependency.

          3. So he’s saying we should restrict density in areas where people desire to live most, and somehow force it out to areas where there is no market demand for density. These areas would have independent wastewater infrastructure that hasn’t been invented yet, and be served by high speed rail with no plan for how to pay for it. Then the outer edges of the “linear city” would be so far from the centre that they would need to function independently to offset the huge travel distances, completely undermining the whole reason for cities existing.

          4. Bogunovich and Bradbury’s vision might be different than the status quo that already exists in Auckland… but the practical reality of it would lead to *exactly* the same problems that we’ve got at the moment in housing and transport.

            They assert that we can continue Auckland’s historic low-density linear development pattern up and down SH1 but get better environmental and economic outcomes by (a) applying unspecified, potentially unproven infrastructure technologies and (b) radically reorganising urban labour and transport markets so people don’t commute long distances by car.

            That’s why I described it as science fiction: it’s a pleasant, unworkable utopia.

          5. In effect replying to Early Commuter: Thank you for being one of the few people who have read our article carefully. And for explaining to Frank this:

            “Full intensification might destroy (b). So how do we intensify? His suggestion is that a single long linear spine – railway/bus/tram/rocket car – might support intensification close around it, while the ribs could be kept lower-density. This would have the benefits of retaining Auckland’s charm while maximising the use of space in areas where PT is possible.

            What this could enable is 2-minute frequency trains along that spine, probably with feeder buses along the rib”

            In contrast to Peter Nunns’ comments in this section, full of speculation instead of argument.

      2. We never presented, or represented, or ‘misrepresented’ any population density of the French Riviera (or any other riviera). We just said there is this really attractive coastal belt at the north of NZ – let’s plan its development in an intelligent manner. Before it becomes a ‘mess by thousand cuts’, which is where it’s heading now.

        1. Dushko,

          Thanks for engaging.

          I’m unconvinced by your idea as it fails to consider people’s preferences for where they want to live. Indeed, market potential determine where and when development happens; planning simply enables it to happen. So yes you could zone for intensive residential development around a central transport corridor, e.g. SH1, but would development (on the scale that we need) necessarily follow? I consider it highly unlikely.

          Indeed, your idea is underpinned by an assumption that 1) if we zone for intensification around SH1 (or some other transport corridor) then 2) it will subsequently occur. For example, when describing linear cities in your article you say “They typically have a single transport corridor … In Auckland this corridor is State Highway 1 … this corridor could be also the main public transport spine, as railway or busway, or both. It is in this corridor that most of the intensification should take place. Increasing density in places like St Heliers and Kohimarama makes little sense.”

          This is all well and good *if* people want to reside close to SH1. But they don’t, and for obvious reasons. SH1 – like most major transport corridors – is noisy and polluted and suffers horribly from traffic blight. Air quality is sufficiently bad that air quality experts recommend residential or commercial development that caters for young children are not built close to SH1, and other major road corridors. Basically, I strongly doubt whether there is much of a market for intensive residential development close to SH1, or any other road corridor, especially remote from the city centre. The amenity value attached to such locations is simply too low to make such development feasible. And the absence of a market for linear residential development is not just an “area for further research”, it is a core issue that undermines the whole concept of a linear city.

          I am also curious because the concept of a linear city seems to fly in the face of a large body of urban economics literature (see for example Glaeser’s “Consumer City”). Over the last 20 years or so this literature has emphasised how cities provide benefits in consumption as well as production. City centres provide a range of things beyond specialised work opportunities; they are also home to specialty retail activities, e.g. cafes and restaurants; specialised services, e.g. libraries, universities, orchestras etc; and cultural events, e.g. festivals. Cities also have an important function as marriage markets for young people, and that market functions best when there are lots of other young people close by (see, for example, Gautier et al (2009) “Marriage in the City”).

          In general, the findings of the urban economics literature is conclusive on this point: Many many people want to live close to the city centre for reasons that are intrinsically related to the socio-economic benefits of physical proximity. These benefits attentuate rapidly with distance, and generally decay to zero more than 45-60 minutes total travel-time. In that time you’d struggle to get Albany and Manukau, which is coincidentally the extent of the metropolitan centres proposed by Auckland Council.

          Ultimately I find it very strange that academics working in an urban-related field have not considered critical lessons from the urban economics literature, specifically the related issues of 1) how market potential shapes where/where intensive development happens and 2) how agglomeration economies in consumption attract people to the city centre. These forces are essential for understanding the growth of cities over the last 20 years in particular or more, and are not something you can simply change at a whim.

          At least not without forcing people to develop/live in places that are unattractive. And that ultimately is what you’re doing, which is why your idea leaves me feeling very unenthused.

          1. Hi Stu,
            Thank you for your comments and questions.
            I have time to reply to one only – I think the main one: about how attractive it is to live by a motorway. The answer is simple: it isn’t. But I never meant so close that you suffer the noise, glare, exposure and pollution. By ‘transport corridor; I do not mean 50 m on either side. I mean, about one kilometre on both sides. Of course the locations literally by a motorway are unattractive – but there are land uses and activities – commercial, institution and infrastructural – which are relative happy in such places (power substations, warehouses, etc). The really attractive locations are 100 to 500 m away, where you get good access to on/off-ramps, but minimal amount of the negative emissions.
            And in any case, the zoning close to the transport corridor should be for offices, retail and other commercial uses, not for residential.
            Regarding what you call ‘market potential’, I do not see why the potential should be low, when most people and businesses are attracted to high levels of mobility/accessibility/connectivity.

          2. But the reality over the last century is that city centres in most cities have lost population density. Even Manhattan has 30% less people now than it did 100 years ago.

            The “agglomeration economies attracting people back to city centres” is a nice theory, but because of the way urban land rents work (I mean economic rent) it is absolutely impossible to re-concentrate much of a proportion of your population in the city centre without nationalising land, compulsorily developing it, and giving housing units away to all comers at the “cost of capital” only.

            Glaeser probably understands this but many promiscuous users of his theories do not.

            One of the best one-liners I remember being quoted on this subject, was in an article on people moving out of New York – a guy who moved to Omaha or somewhere like that, said “sure there is less to do – but now we can afford to do it”.

          3. Phil I know New York has lost density due to the emptying out of the 19th century tenements. But New York lowering in density hasn’t stop building up in the centre of New York. The actual floor space in Manhattan is much greater now than in 1900. As people got wealthier they were able to buy more space.

            So the New York lower density argument is not an argument that we shouldn’t have planning policies allowing building up.

  5. I do wonder why the Herald continuely seeks Bogunovich’s opinion as he seems to have no idea.

    1. Because they have the idea that appeals to most Herald readers – lets just move our problem to somewhere else…

    2. A lot of people dissing Bogunovich’s ideas.

      How about you all post your bibliography so we can compare your record to his?

      Peer-reviewed only

      1. Sorry, I didn’t realise arguments from authority were now a valid form of reasoning.

        On a related note, you have previously made arguments from authority while refusing to post under your real name. (Which is strongly encouraged by user guideline 2.) If professional credentials are so important to you, you could start by revealing your own identity (and publication list, if any).

        1. There are two reasons I use a handle
          1. It avoids bias and prejudice; that’s why submissions are peer-reviewed anonymously
          2. It harks back to the better days of the internet, back in the 1990s, when nobody got “SWATTED” or cyber-bullied because people didn’t know who you were

          I wasn’t arguing from authority either. I was saying that perhaps Dr Bogunovich’s work is pretty good.

          As for me, well, a few years back I found some people criticising a journal article of mine online. I told them that if they wanted to make their point perhaps they could submit an article to the same journal, get it peer-reviewed, and see whether they got published. They didn’t. It’s very, very easy to burn down bridges and a lot harder to build them.

          1. “I wasn’t arguing from authority either. I was saying that perhaps Dr Bogunovich’s work is pretty good.”

            No, you weren’t. You were suggesting that people without a sufficiently lengthy bibliography didn’t have the right to have an opinion on his work.

            “There are two reasons I use a handle…”

            Both of which bear no relevance to the user guidelines that govern *this* blog.

  6. Its funny how the anti density folk who I imagine were also anti the CRL and PT a few years back are all of a sudden talking up rapid transport and satellite cities. I laugh every time I hear ‘density should only be near rail stations’ from the same people who were so against Auckland having any rail stations!

  7. Enforcing distributed infrastructure and nodes on Auckland does not consider economy of scale and the need for competition.
    What population should a node represent? Why 20?

    While corner dairy’s are distributed, prices are better at supermarkets.
    Ultimate scale comes down to transport efficiency, and the demand for the good/service.

    Twenty nodes with supermarkets, libraries, bank, clothing stores is fine.
    20 universities starts to spread it a bit thin considering lecture size and the need to offers a broad spectrum.
    Where will company head offices locate, businesses that require staff personnel interaction?

    Ultimately the city needs a CBD with good links in every direction to smaller nodes, not just north & south. Ideally if it wasn’t for Auckland geography this might be a grid, or radial with rings, but it is certainly not just linear. Efficiency demands density should be greatest where travel time is least.

    This then brings the question, why was the council planning on rezoning Blockhouse Bay denser than the areas around the RTN, particularly those nearer the CBD and nearer the LRT routes?

    1. Because the only logic applied to council planning is ‘how many people will complain if we do this?’

    1. There are about 60 million people living in the Boston – NY – DC conurbation today.

    2. Yeah, I love using the Judge Dredd cube-city analogy too. Presumably this is how the “central agglomeration” theory would make things work out in real life if only NIMBYs stopped preventing it.

      There is just a little problem with the fact that economic rent in land is highly elastic to the density at which you can crowd people in. It is so elastic in fact, that the more you crowd people in, the higher the unit cost of housing goes. This is why there are median multiple 3 cities with less than 1000 people per square km, but Hong Kong with 26000 people per square km has a median multiple as high as 17.

      Therefore, you need some form of compulsion to achieve this, denying people any escape from what was commonly known in around 1900, as “the tyranny of rent”. First world people have all escaped this by means of automobile based development adding to land supply by orders of magnitude. A parallel phenomenon in the developing world today, is motor scooters enabling lower density, higher quality slums further away from the city centre.

  8. If this sounds a bit like science fiction, that’s because it literally is science fiction.

    To transition a city to an urban village structure we would price development out of the centre and severely limit natural expansion of the city. At the same time create large expanding exurbs in more remote parts of the region with progressively more affordable costs. Even lower cost developments would be created in adjacent regions. Direct growth to the outer whilst destroying growth in the centre.

    Auckland – city of the future.

    1. Except that cities don’t work like this. The downsides for people and costs would mean that those who can move WOULD move away from NZ.

      Companies and the well-educated (and especially the younger generation wanting jobs and urbanity!) would go to other places that actually WANT to be cities, not a series of loosely connected villages of 2-storey houses.

      The whole concept smacks of retirement home to me. Sure, everyone wants great retirement homes (we’re not immortal), but you can’t do your whole city like it.

      1. You raise an interesting point. Why do the younger generation want urbanity? Desires stem from knowledge; nobody desired the apple until they saw it.

        1. They have for decades. The country boy would go to town (for the movies or pub), the townie would go to the “big smoke” for the “more exciting” lifestyle, then go overseas for the “culture” or variety or excitement. Once the novelty and excitement wore off, when the hustle and bustle becomes clamour and noise, then they gradually head back to the tranquility of the country or beach via the suburbs. Such is the cycle of life…

          1. Everyone talking this way seems to be assuming that “everyone” will be able to afford the rents of the city centre – when the finite number of landlords and site owners have more and more demand for their de facto monopoly resource? Economics 101, anyone?

    2. Effectively that is what CERA/CCDU/ earthquakes did to Christchurch’s CBD for three or four years. It wasn’t beneficial…..

  9. Ah, science fiction. It is laughably easy, even for a layman, to come up with a rudimentary proof of why these ideas are not happening in practice.

    The Urban Village: we already know how to implement that. The union of {Hamilton, Tauranga, Napier/Hastings, New Plymouth, Whanganui, Taupo, Rotorua} works as an urban village. Distance is the key, otherwise those pesky citizens start commuting between our village centres.

    The linear city: let me suggest an improvement. Suppose we have 9 nodes. Instead of arranging our nodes in a line, what about arranging them in a 3×3 grid?

  10. Let’s call this the B&B model because it emulates a bunch of sleepy Bed & Breakfast villages along an idyllic coastline where the need for society to have large numbers of people engaged together in productive work delivering economic surplus can somehow be ignored.

  11. Isn’t Wellington a similar linear model with a central CBD and distributed satellite “cities”, albeit with the Kapiti Coast and Hutt Valley being parallel (but separated by difficult terrain), rather than north and south of the CBD?

    1. Yes, I was thinking of Wellington as I was reading this. I guess terrain might be the key to making the linear thing work, otherwise it doesn’t happen?

    2. There are a couple things that make Wellington work as a linear metropolis that may not apply as strongly in Auckland:

      1. Since the decline of manufacturing in the Hutt, the region’s employment has become more centralised in downtown Wellington, which is constrained and concentrated in a way that Auckland isn’t. It’s much less polycentric, meaning that commuting demands are funnelled into a single place. (Which works for trains.)

      2. Geographic constraints also affect housing location. You simply can’t build houses that far away from the rail lines in the Hutt or Kapiti, because the valleys are narrow and the hills steep. In Auckland, by contrast, there’s a lot more flat land around transport corridors, meaning that a greater share of people will be located further from rail lines. (And hence much more likely to drive rather than take the train.)

      3. Wellington’s transport networks are quite linear, and offer a choice of rail or driving. Rail is quite competitive for a significant fraction of transport demands as a result of (1) and (2), and this prevents congestion from getting out of hand. But the network lacks resilience – as the city found out when a storm shut down the Hutt Valley line.

      It’s certainly an interesting comparison!

      1. Wellington is *very* constrained naturally, and that’s why it’s always been so compact, despite decades of spending money and effort to try to disperse it with transport infra.

        But Auckland is also naturally constrained, it’s just that the constrained area is larger, and now pretty full, so the effect is the same. Auckland’s intensification is inevitable, in a growth context:

        1. Patrick the only thing constraining Auckland is how you have cropped the image above. Auckland Council covers a much larger area than that and most of what you left out could easily be developed.

          1. It’s been cropped this way because the isthmus is the pinch point of greater Auckland – where the CBD is located, and everyone and everything must pass through to get to the other side of the city / country. Any new residential development on one side will have residents who work on the other, and therefore need to traverse the isthmus.
            Even outside of the isthmus (the areas you may wish to develop?) there are natural corridors: Clevedon Valley, Dairy Flat. You could turn back time and relocate the CBD there, and you’d still have geographic constraints.

          2. No Graeme G it is cropped this way specifically to leave out Takanini, Hingaia, Runciman, Karaka, Kingseat, Clevedon, Whitford, Redvale, Dairy Flat and all the rest. It is because he is selling a compact city. Showing the bit he thinks should be developed and saying it is all full is to try and focus the debate on intensification as the only option.

          3. Exactly, if Auckland got a “twin city” to the South with space to burn and low land rents, Auckland’s growth pressures could be relieved. There is an excellent academic paper on exactly this approach, by Alex Anas, with “Systems of Cities” in its title.

    3. Yes, Bryan (and Josh) – Wellington is a linear city. Which really helps in an otherwise really difficult geography. And makes Wellington a pretty functional city, despite its unfortunate siting. Auckland however has more space to grow. But in world terms it is one of the most twisted cities on the planet! (Who’s ‘worse’? Rio. Mumbai and Hong Kong!) Very little of this consideration – obvious to anybody who can read a map – has had any influence what the planners started working on the Auckland Plan six years ago. Incredible.

      1. Wellington is functional?!?

        Its barely growing. Not useful comparison to auckland in this context.

        1. Wellington’s most dysfunctional aspect, is that its TomTom congestion delay at peak is around 45 minutes, approximately the same as Auckland’s, and worse than Los Angeles, the USA’s worst. Cities of 1 million or half a million in the USA, typically have 3 to 5 times as much highway and arterial road lane miles as we do, and their TomTom delays are around 15 minutes (for cities of 1 million like Indy and Nashville and Salt Lake City) and under 10 minutes for those of half a million (Boise, Provo-Orem, Wichita).

          Those who say geography has given Wellington the “advantage” of restricted travel corridors and hence a commuter rail system, fail to reckon that all this congestion delay is far worse for resource consumption and CO2 emissions than any saving due to higher PT transport modes. Plus there is a far more severe “pricing out” effect in the housing market. Philip Morrison (Vic Uni) has an excellent academic book chapter entitled “The Distributive consequences of the creative City: the Case of Wellington”. If employment was more dispersed and the region had more road inter-connections, we would have far more people with a choice of being less than 5 kms from likely employment, and far less “solution” by way of subsidized train trips from 50 km away. The latter is regarded as a “solution” only by thinkers for whom train travel is the primary objective in itself, for cities reason for existence. It is sometimes said as a joke, of come countries like Pakistan and Egypt, that most countries are countries that have an army; but Pakistan / Egypt are cases of “an army with a country”. Most cities are cities with a commuter rail system, Wellington is “a commuter rail system with a city”.

  12. Yes, but does it really work even for Wellington? Been I while since i was there and I doubt Porirua has ever recovered from the loss of the Car Assembly plants. Any blib on the B&B model needs ‘an anchor tenant’ to underpin it’s reason to be and as soon as the anchor tenant leaves, wammo ghost town. I have no stats to back this up only anecdote. What’s Upper Hutt like without Avalon? Will Massey North ever justify the reason for Albany? Yes, we do need our Waitakere Hospitals out of the centre to service their community, but we have only one Starship and all the critical head and heart stuff is sent to City Hospital from the AKL DHBs satellites. The existence of those satellite facilities doesn’t provide evidence of the viability of a linear city, merely that you need so many hospitals per every so many thousand people regardless of how they have arranged themselves.

    1. Porirua is getting some pretty flash new suburbs these days (thinking Whitby). I have friends who live there but work corporate jobs in the Wellington CBD.

      1. Precisely, mostly because they could never afford Thorndon / Kelburn / Wadestown. This reality is the reason why dispersed employment is always more efficient than concentrated. It is impossible to achieve jobs-housing balance with concentration, like it is with dispersion. This is why Los Angeles has a considerably shorter average commute time than New York. In fact LA’s is lower than Chicago, Washington, and several other cities with higher central concentration of jobs.

  13. What a good clear article.
    I live in a distant suburb.The houses are close together.
    Two bedrooms upstairs get a nice view.
    My view is a fence from one window and the back yard from the other.
    Most apartments get a view of the street and the sky.
    That’s fine. Only a few people get views of the water and with intensification around the stations the majority of people wont be affected.

  14. Linear cities date back quite a bit before the 1970’s – the earliest modern examples are the Spanish proposals of Arturo Soria y Mata from 1885 – while his ideas look like tram car suburbs his designs move from the traditional central model of a city to distributing the functions along an axis at a city scale. Interestingly the modern linear city in European Planning theory seems to have been a response to the English garden city movement. I think the difference was the Anglosphere had a strong bucolic/romantic influence seeking to extend the countryside into the city where as the more urban European traditions sought to extend city’s into the countryside.

    It isn’t just science fiction either, they started building one out from Madrid before they worked out it that expanding the city in more than one direction made more sense. The idea came back into vogue in the 20th century with the work of Doxiadis who designed Islamabad as a linear plan and also advocated for interconnected city’s forming an Ecumenopolis super city. Whilst he never got to build it (there aren’t that many people) it did anticipate the lineal conurbations of BosNYWash, California and the randstead. Probebly the most lasting influence of this European lineal city tradition is the Copenhagen Finger Plan, with lineal corridors interleavened with green space.

    Lineal city’s are a rich continental planning tradition, but I don’t think Auckland has the preconditions to make it work properly. To keep it short it does not have the infrastructure or room along current corridors to root the lineal extensions securely to the metropolis without severe Haussmannisation type intervention. Linear city’s also tend to have denser and narrower arms than Auckland, this is because the infrastructure is planned first and then landuse maximised around it, with parks and green spaces furthest from the axis. The closest model New Zealand has is the Hutt Valley and it works there. It’s an interesting model, but it isn’t one for Auckland.

    1. Great comment Sean – thanks for the history behind the concept!

      The Copenhagen finger plan is one that I’m aware of – LSE economist Paul Cheshire espoused it as an alternative to city-engirdling green belts/urban growth boundaries. (Architect Christopher Alexander is also a big fan.) I’ve never been to Copenhagen, but I’d be interested in seeing how it worked in practice.

      Arguably, Auckland is characterised by its “blue fingers” – i.e. the harbours and inlets that divide and enrich its urban space.

      1. Aberdeen has a “network of green spaces” policy too, to replace its green belt / urban land market tourniquet / economic rentiers paradise creator.

    2. Nice context Sean, but surely the ‘linearity’ of the Wellington satellites is simply a function of topography; the Hutt Valley is just that; a fertile valley between rugged hills. And an extreme one at that; were there any viable flat land nearer to the city they would have occupied that first. True the rail line and the deliberate settlements along it are human formed, but consistent with the topography and technology of the day. That’s what’s so bonkers about these silly landscapers’ plan; to wilfully ignore proximate useable land for some other land further away from a centre of value is unknown in human settlement outside of force majeure, e.g.; it belongs to the king or something… which is to say they aren’t in the real world.

      However it’s true Auckland is getting more long and thin, cos it’s on a constrained isthmus so the only relatively proximate land now is north and south. But these guys are trying to claim something more than say -> ‘hey AKL is long and thin!’ They’re dressing that up in some sort of fancy pants, yet non detailed, ideal of length and thinness. Really? What tosh.

      1. That’s what’s so bonkers about these silly landscapers’ plan; to wilfully ignore proximate useable land for some other land further away from a centre of value is unknown in human settlement outside of force majeure, e.g.; it belongs to the king or something… which is to say they aren’t in the real world.

        Ignoring proximate usable land increases costs within the existing centre of value and drives dispersal to external regions. An entirely bonkers idea driven by some very silly people.

        Unfortunately examples do exist in the real world.

        1. To be fair Dushko, as someone who has worked/studied in spatial and transport fields for over a decade I’d suggest that there’s much more evidence supporting Patrick’s positions than yours.

          Of course you’re still free to argue them, but your arguments need to be better than his.

          1. My comments, Stu, were referring to Patrick’s poor manners (arrogant, dismissive tone) and lack of evidence or explanation in that particular post. He may have presented a lot of good arguments in his earlier posts, but how would I know them if I joined the blog only yesterday?

        2. Dushko,

          In case you are wondering Patrick’s rock solid argument is as follows:
          1, eliminate external expansion of a city.
          2, eliminate exurb development.
          3, allow complete up zoning of city.
          4, magic happens.
          5, intensification of city occurs.
          The step 4 is a mystery to us all. Steps 1 & 2 take the land cost of the existing city and shove it through the roof, destroying market potential and pricing intensification into the realms of fantasy – step 4 is going to have to be JK Rowling good. Best of luck countering that.

          1. The land price per se should not affect redevelopment potential as long as the optimal redevelopment is legal. The land price is a function of the value end users place on the developed lot. I think you have causality wrong. I agree that strangling supply will potentially lead to less development but this is not due to prices so much as being due to land banking being seen as such a safe bet. If you increase potential supply to the point where any individual area (greenfield or brownfield) may never need to be developed then there will be much more risk in land banking (demand may be satisfied elsewhere and this may lead to the “centre of gravity” moving away from your land reducing its value).

          2. Matthew W, That is only ever theoretically true in a closed system. There are other places you can invest that have lower cost land and higher agglomeration values (sale price) than Auckland.

            Just sell the land and invest somewhere better.

          3. Angus: When you say “Just sell the land and invest somewhere better”, who do you envisage selling the land to? Why would they buy if it would be more rational to invest elsewhere?

            Also, I’d like to point out that you persistently misrepresent the Transportblog authors’ positions on greenfield growth. To the extent to which a common position exists, it is as follows:

            1. Greenfield growth is expensive from an infrastructural perspective, and so we can’t simply “open up land” willy-nilly. This is supported by analysis done by AT and AC, which Matt has been covering on this blog. In his posts, you will notice an absence of statements like “this is a bad idea; we should stop doing it.”

            2. Greenfield growth is *also* often done poorly from a transport perspective. Better structure planning, including provision of efficient rights-of-way for RTN and sufficient cycle facilities, would be a good idea.

            3. The best way to reduce (but not necessarily eliminate) pressure on costly-to-service greenfield land is to unlock development capacity *within* the existing urbanised area, especially in areas close to jobs, PT networks, and amenities.

            In other words, the blog authors hold a more nuanced position than the straw-man position you continually argue against. Your repeated criticism of us for a view that we do not, in actual fact, hold contravenes user guidelines 4 and 8i. All future comments in that vein will be deleted or moderated.

          4. Peter, Someone who believes there is more up to occur in the Auckland property market will buy the land, the market has appreciated for a while now and may well continue to do so. Land speculation has a long and storied history.

            [The remainder of this comment has been deleted for the reasons described above.]

          5. This is your private blog – ban, delete, whatever.

            But one final thought: I do not care for greenfield development personally, because there is a step 4 in the above 5 step “strawman”. We can subsidise for the cost difference, at current pricing it is $30,000 – $50,000 per unit.

          6. Angus, you seem to mock Patrick’s arguments. This, of course, is a wish-list, not ‘arguments’ or evidence. But I better leave it at that before I actually see his own vision and its argumentation.

          7. You guys obviously havent got any real experience of development. Most of aucklands existing infrastructure is poked which makes brownfields development very expensive and very challenging. Laying nice new pipes through paddocks is easy but having to shoehorn 100 unit apartment into an existing undersized SW network is very difficult especially with council giving no concessions to the problems with the exisiting networks.

            If people are using the argument that brownfields development is cheaper therefor the compact city should prevail havent done their homework and dont realise that councl expects all of the existing infrastrucure to be upgraded by the developers.

          8. Angus is raising the single most important valid point about planning that assumes upzoning as a substitute for greenfields expansion. The UK has been trying this for decades covering many economic / housing cycles and the reality is that “supply” of housing units collapses. The problem is that land in rationed supply becomes a speculative commodity like gold, and “holding” it is worth more than developing it, until each crash comes along, and at that time no-one is in any financial shape to do development. NZ’s own Arthur Grimes and co-author Andrew Aitken had one of the best analytical papers of anyone in the world published in 2010, “Housing Supply, Land Costs and Price Adjustment”. Like other “best” work on this subject, it does not seem to have had much influence at the actual policy making level.

            From the conclusion – this could hardly be more appropriate to the needed understanding of what goes wrong with over-planned urban property markets:

            “…Our calibrated model indicates that housing supply will be more responsive (and house prices less responsive) to a demand shock where land is supplied elastically, so that the land price increase is moderate relative to house price and other cost increases. By incorporating land costs explicitly in our calibrated model, we are able to encompass the case considered by Mayer and Somerville in which a levels q specification for modeling housing supply is incompatible with a standard spatial equilibrium model. This situation occurs when land prices impound all the increase in value arising from a jump in house prices. In that situation, new house supply will not be forthcoming because there is no profit to the developer in acquiring land to build a new house…”

            The kind of standard models referred to by Grimes and Aitken – the Mayer and Somerville one being typical – fail to explain the housing market in the modern price-inflating condition, for the reasons that Grimes and Aitken state. This has not stopped urban planners all over the world continuing to use such models. The British have been experimenting with land rationing and upzoning for decades, and have never worked out the basic reality: “there is no profit to the developer in acquiring land to build…”. The developer has to pay, upfront, all the premium profit in the extra-intensity development, to the site vendor, and probably a premium on top of that to induce the vendor to stop withholding it from the market (and to out-bid other purely speculative buyers). Developers who attempt to continue operating in such a market, tend to be wiped out at a rate of something like “half the existing firms for each property cycle”.

            Of course they have to actually sell the finished properties at exorbitant prices to stay in business at all, and when they are caught with unsold inventory and even undeveloped sites, at market peak, they are toast.

            I recall some British planners declared victory once because their stated aim had been for “60% of new housing supply to be via intensification” (40% greenfields) and in this they succeeded! But only in the context that overall supply was an order of magnitude too low! 60% of stuff-all should not qualify as a success, they should have numbers of units as targets and be held accountable on that basis.

            But then you get nonsense like “The Great Planning Tragedy” (see YouTube) where they achieve “units” by such dodgy slapped-up apartments that half of them end up needing to be demolished as safety hazards within a few years….

          9. The cost of infrastructure for greenfields growth is over-rated relative to the status quo in much of Auckland where existing infrastructure needs expanding if more housing units are to be crammed in. Where is it easier to dig big trenches: on rural land, or on existing congested streets and locations already covered with structures to near saturation point? (Yes, we need to be clear about the relationship between density, coverage of the land with structures, and building “up”. Auckland already has “coverage” – too much of it).

            The decider in this argument needs to be: what is the cost of greenfields infrastructure, per year per household, funded properly; compared to an average housing unit costing 3 times as much as it should, all of which is windfall gain to urban land owners and non-value-added wealth transfer away from all future first home buyers and renters. It is not supported by real life evidence anywhere, that building denser and denser lowers the cost of the average housing unit, in fact the correlation runs the opposite way to this assumption. Why else is the average housing unit in Hong Kong 5 times as expensive in real terms as in Houston or even Chicago? Assuming that cramming will lower the cost of housing is like assuming that rationing food by granting existing suppliers a monopoly along with quotas, will lead to lower household expenditures on food. Just because food consumption will be less. Sure, but at the same prices as when there was superabundance of supply? This kind of economic ignorance is just TOOO convenient for the profiteers.

          10. Phil
            but isn’t there an argument that with ‘mass and widespread upzoning’ (rather than very selective upzoning), there is less rationing potential , and more competition?
            I can appreciate your point if upzoning is very selective, but is it not less compelling when upzoning is widespread (such as advocated for by HNZC in the PAUP process)

  15. hanks, Sean, for explaining to those who need it (Peter Nunns, in particular) where the linear/lineal cities theory comes from. Indeed, Soria y Mata. Nothing to do with Callenbach. (Nor is Callenbach’s genre ‘science fiction’ – but that’s a separate matter.)

    Thank you also for mentioning the landmark Copenhagen Fingers Plan – it is a good example of the principle that linearity (or ‘corridor’ development) does not necessarily apply to an entire city (thus producing a literally linear city), but may refer to several linear formations inside an overall star or cross shape. This, to some extent, is true of Auckland, with its NW and SE lateral extensions towards Helensville and Clevedon.

    Regarding your comment “I don’t think Auckland has the preconditions to make it work properly”, may I both agree and disagree! Agree – because greater Auckland indeed isn’t a ‘perfect case’ – the current spurt of growth in the W/NW (SH-16; Westgate…) is causing me occasionally lose sleep over whether Auckland’s ‘spine’ is running along SH1 and the Harbour Bridge, or will by 2020 shift westward, and assume its new position along the ‘western by-pass’. So, depending on how effective the Waterview Tunnel proves in diverting traffic from SH1 and the Bridge, the ‘Auckland animal’ may turn out to be one with a rather crooked – but probably safer and faster – spine along SH16!

    I do however disagree that there isn’t enough of “infrastructure or room along current corridors to root the lineal extensions securely to the metropolis without severe Haussmannisation type intervention”. It’s not great, but it’s fixable. And would necessarily involve an aggressive, exaggerated widening of corridors a’la Haussmann’s boulevards. For three reasons: one, I expect that some degree of demand management would keep the current volumes of traffic relatively steady, or growing only slowly even as the population doubles; two, the traffic flows which I would describe now as ‘broad’ (rivers of cars and trucks in multiple lanes) could, to a degree, be replaced by ‘narrow-but-fast’ traffic flows (trains and express buses); and three; in some places (the real bottle necks), double-decking should be possible/economic.

    And lastly, I absolutely disagree that the linear model “isn’t … for Auckland”. Auckland is a rare city built on a land bridge; it’s destiny is linear. It has been a linear conurbation for the past 100 years, following the railway in the first half of the 20th century, then motorway in the second half. Not all the ‘beads’ are in one line, but too many are in the central corridor, to ignore the overall lineal alignment.

    1. Dushko, I think this comment highlights a major issue with your analysis that I point out in more detail above. You assume that projects like Waterview may shift the demand for residential development towards the west. At a large spatial scale this may be true, but it doesn’t necessarily result in a linear city as you propose.

      The main reason is because ***people don’t like living next to busy highways/arterial roads***. So while SH20 improvements may shift the balance of residential/commercial development towards the west, it’s very unlikely that the residential component of this development would be aligned linearly with the transport corridor, because the corridor itself is unattractive.

      What is more likely to happen is that something like SH20 makes western suburbs that are somewhat remote from the highway more attractive. I.e. you could see more residential development in the areas of Green Bay and Titirangi, for example. I don’t know whether this is desirable or not, but I do now that it doesn’t really fit the definition of a linear city, because from these more remote places people will have to drive a wee way (through existing streets) to access the highway, thereby imposing externalities on others.

      1. Yes, Stu, I agree, SH20 most likely will make many of the western suburbs more attractive. This should result in a degree of gentle, spontaneous intensification in them, even PAUP ignores them and does not up-zone them.

        1. Ok maybe I’m understanding this wrong, but are you claiming that the Unitary Plan doesn’t up zone the western suburbs?!

        2. Dushko you obviously don’t know much about the unitary plan. Auckland’s western suburbs are where most of the upzoning has occurred.

  16. Has any every really tried using tax-incentives to penalise employers for hiring workforces who have to travel long distances? Obviously it cannot be legislated for on an individual basis (wayyy to many variables affect a person’s employment decisions). But on a population basis, incentives that decrease overall average travel distance by even a little per head could make a large difference to the required transport capacity.

  17. Hello, Peter.

    You have made several errors in your analysis. They seem to be mainly the result of sloppy reading of our piece, but perhaps also of too much attachment to the public transport vision for the ‘old greater Auckland’ – as opposed to the Auckland we got, nilly-willy, six years ago – the ‘greater greater Auckland’.

    Also, I think you should be fair and acknowledge that it is hard – in fact, impossible – for MB and me to explain everything in a 700 words newspaper article, written for general audiences. For you to then improvise and put words into our mouth is at least unprofessional.

    I will address only some of the many misinterpretations or factual errors in your critique.

    First, our piece has nothing to do with ‘science fiction’. Nor with Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Nor is Ecotopia ‘science fiction’ – it belongs to the genre called utopian novel.

    Nor did the linear arrangement have a particular emphasis in Callenbach’s thought (I knew the man and his circle; I lived in Berkeley for a couple of years, so I know what I am talking about.)

    Second, your quote of the “public transport guru Jarrett Walker” does not make sense in this context: we never said Auckland would shrink. On the contrary, we are assuming that central Auckland would grow, that is, intensify. And so would the cores of what used to be North Shore and Manukau City. So in fact there would be three ‘cities’ around to finance – and use – the central high speed rail.

    Third, “The contradictory, fantastical nature of Bogunovich and Bradbury’s vision becomes even more apparent”… only to you – after you have misinterpreted what we said. We said something else were the worthy aspects of Frankfurt, Ruhr and Munich. Our point about grater Frankfurt was about its mixture of urban land and green open space. The ‘decentralized compactness’, if you wish. Which still allows very efficient connections between three cities and over sixty towns, and nobody calls it ‘urban sprawl’.

    We made a similar point about Munich and Ruhr. It is all about the spatial pattern – decentralisation and polycentricity (ideas not very close to our mayor’s, and most of his council’s, hearts).

    That all three German cities have more people and higher densities is irrelevant for our argument. And that they make more money is also irrelevant – if you wish to make the point that it takes a lot of ratepayers squeezed into a relatively small space to achieve the budget for super-efficient transport and other infrastructure.

    Your charts and photos are impressive but I don’t see how they make our argument ‘science fiction’, when we actually do argue densification in Auckland’s central corridor. This allocation of intensification (as opposed to forcing it into Kohimarama) could even match the density of such corridors in German cities – one day.

    Fourth, your point about linearity is another example of implying that we are incoherent, when actually that seems the problem you have. Your commenting:
    “Bogunovich and Bradbury’s problems in distinguishing between science fiction and reality get worse when they start discussing Auckland’s existing urban form and infrastructure…. [AND] …. “As Bogunovich and Bradbury concede, Auckland already has a relatively linear urban form. If this does indeed improve efficiency, shouldn’t we already be reaping the benefits in terms of lower house prices and more efficient transport outcomes? Or, to put it another way, isn’t continuing to do the same thing and hoping for a different outcome the very definition of insanity?”

    …does not make sense. We did say Auckland is already a linear city, but we are drawing attention of planners and the council that this favourable feature is not being adequately exploited. What a waste, we are saying. What we need in terms of public policy is a clear intent to densify that central corridor and invest in serous public transport system, with fast train in the longitudinal middle and feeder buses laterally.

    Fifth, when you criticize us for the cost of our vision … “they don’t provide any specific explanation of how their linear city would differ from the one that actually exists. This has serious cost implications. As Auckland Council found when devising a “Future Urban Land Supply Strategy” last year, urban expansion is expensive…” you are mixing up concepts. We actually are not talking about ‘urban expansion’ but about ‘urban extension’. Surely, the latter is a bit more affordable than the former. That’s our key point – that a city of Auckland’s per-capita-GDP (pretty pathetic in OECD terms) we probably can afford only one super-transit corridor. We are not Zurich – for a number of reasons, but particularly because we are not the home of Swiss banks.

    Sixth, where you argue that people commute in all sorts of patterns across a city, that is in fact true and we are not too optimistic that we can dissuade ‘over-zealous’ commuters from excessive commuting. But we do believe that giving the option of short east-west commutes from the suburbs towards the Spine (the jobs, or shops, being there) AND along the Spine (living in node A but working, or studying, or shopping in node B) would be adopted by hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders as a smarter way of living.

    Seventh, it is generous of you, Peter, to acknowledge that “This isn’t to say that Bogunovich and Bradbury’s ideas are all bad…” But it then mischievous to use that opening to start again promoting that plan how to make Auckland like Vienna by 2045. A city loaded with train lines, having two or three times more population – and all of that inside the same urban boundary! While the city is growing like mad outside that boundary – NOW!

    Taking about science fiction. I don’t call that ‘science fiction’. I call that ‘planning fiction’. That Auckland 2045 vision REALLY has nothing to do with the reality of how Auckland lives and grows. I’d hate to see how bitterly disappointed you will be when, in 2045, you discover that Auckland is from Te Hana to Huntly. No matter what the ‘council fiction’ called PAUP says.

    Your vision also completely ignores some other, bigger realities – the realities of this planet. The infrastructure revolution we are embarking on, or the pace and scale of climate change, for example….. but I will leave that for some other time.

    1. Hi Dushko,

      I’m sure Peter will reply to your comments in due course. For my part I wish to highlight what I find to be the most troubling/unsatisfactory part of the idea you have proposed. Consider the following paraphrased paragraph (emphasis added):

      “We did say Auckland is already a linear city, but we are drawing attention of planners and the council that this favourable feature is not being ***adequately exploited***. What a waste, we are saying. What we need in terms of public policy is a clear intent to densify that central corridor and invest in serous public transport system, with fast train in the longitudinal middle and feeder buses laterally.

      What sort of planning policies do you envisage would enable “adequate” exploitation? And in particular what more than “zoning” do you propose?

      In my comments above I have discussed the importance of:
      1) market potential, which means that residential intensification around SH1, or any other major transport corridor, is extremely unlikely; and
      2) agglomeration economies in consumption, which mean that people place an extremely high value on living close to the city.

      I think the first point is the most problematic for the linear city concept.

      That is, people don’t want to live close to busy highways and railways. Such areas are often blighted by traffic, noisy, and polluted. In this context, what sort of policy levers would Council have to pull to make it attractive for intensive residential development next to a 6 lane highway?

      Personally I think Auckland’s main problem is that the process RMA has been gradually subverted such that people like Auckland 2040 feel they have a right to dictate 1) how other people should live and 2) who should live in their neighbourhood. That was never the intention of the RMA, and the best solution to this mess is legislative change at a national level to raise the bar such that it is more difficult to place regulatory constraints on residential development within the existing metropolitan area.

      That indeed would solve most of these issues.

      Go well. And thanks again for engaging.

      1. Stu, as I have explained in answering your other (similar) question, I think locations by a major transport route have a great commercial potential – it is all a matter of how close you really are to a motor/bus/rail-way. Most household and businesses like locating near motorway exist and train stations, but not to the line itself. I do not see that the council needs to provide any particular incentives except making sure (with government agencies) the motorways, busways and railways work well and look decent.

        1. “I think locations by a major transport route have a great commercial potential…”

          That’s all well and good, but have you actually done any analysis to understand the magnitude of this potential? For example, have you done any econometric analysis of how how proximity to transport facilities affects property prices?

          As it happens, Stu and I *have* researched the determinants of residential property prices in Auckland. Stu wrote his master’s thesis on the topic; I wrote a (peer-reviewed) research report on the topic last year. One of the strongest findings from our separate pieces of analysis was that residential property prices are strongly positively affected by proximity to the city centre and to the coastline. These findings hold true even if you throw in various controls for localised amenities (e.g. presence of heritage buildings, local population density). Other research supports these findings – see my paper for a partial bibliography.

          The logical interpretation of this is that people value being located centrally and located on the coast. These are exactly the locations where *you* say that it would be unacceptable to zone for more people. The value that they get from locating in coastal/accessible places is *not* a function of the existing low-density suburban environment – my analysis controlled for that.

          Furthermore, some other, unpublished work I did at the time indicated that proximity to transport facilities – motorway onramps in particular – was a strong localised disamenity. People don’t want to be near them. So why would you insist that it would be a great idea to force people to live in places they don’t want to live?

          I’m happy to update my view in response to further empirical research, but woolly assertions do not cut the mustard.

          1. But Peter, the value of properties right next to PT stops and motorway on-ramps and off-ramps only represents a tiny fraction of the overall supply of properties. The big economics issue here is what different transport investments do to land rent. I recommend to you Michael A. Goldberg (1970) Transportation and Urban Land Rents: A Synthesis”.

            We have experienced several decades in the past, of supply of land for housing being increased by orders of magnitude, accompanied by falling land rent, the democratization of home ownership, and major increases in consumer surplus in housing; for around the same real cost, housing became more spacious and higher in quality. When we curtail the supply of land from what it used to be, we put this economic process into reverse. Houses incorporate a “monopoly rent” factor in the land they are on, the opposite of consumer surplus. Housing choices for most people entering the market involve trade-offs of quality and space and even location, that 1970’s first home buyers were not forced into.

            This correlation between motorways and overall falling land values is NOT “loss of value”, it is the elimination of a very repugnant form of economic rent. I do not dispute that values will be lower near ramps, but we need to see the big picture – lower value than “what”? $200,000 houses instead of $300,000 – or $800,000 instead of $1,000,000?

    2. Hi Dushko – thanks for coming by and discussing.

      I accept that there’s probably more to the idea than can be communicated in a brief op-ed. And, as I said, there are elements of your proposal that are reasonable. So it was probably a bit unfair of me to be so harshly negative!

      The reason I wrote a sharply worded critique, rather than a gentler dissent, was because I think your “linear city” idea is currently playing a negative role in the public debate over Auckland’s future.

      In general, I support an open discussion about all possible ideas, even if they’re a bit sci-fi. (I love sci-fi.) But right now, Auckland’s having a hard debate over *specific* proposals to enable more housing supply within its urbanised area. Some people don’t want that to happen, and they are willing to seize on any hypothetical alternative, no matter how loosely-specified or unworkable, to oppose change. I don’t want to end up in a situation where we reject a concrete proposal that probably *will* work, so I am inclined to be sharply critical of all vague alternatives.

      Second, I stand by all of the statements in my blog post, and would note further that:

      1. It is extremely bad practice for you to mention the German cities as an alternative *without* accurately describing the fact that they are considerably denser than Auckland. That verges on deliberate misrepresentation.

      2. On infrastructure costs, your article implied very strongly that you assumed that technology changes would bring them down significantly. You were not specific about *which* technologies, and you did not give any cost estimates. If you want to be taken seriously on this issue, you have to provide the numbers!

      Furthermore, when you say “We actually are not talking about ‘urban expansion’ but about ‘urban extension’. Surely, the latter is a bit more affordable than the former”, I’m not sure you’ve considered the phenomena of congestion/crowding on transport networks. This tends to be exacerbated, not improved, by linear corridors without redundancy. See my response to Max above.

      3. Regarding commuting: this is actually a very serious issue for sprawled-out cities, and one that you don’t take seriously enough. While some travel demands (retail, school) are predominantly met locally, others (commuting, social visits, freight) are dispersed throughout the rest of the city. And this is where there would be a real tension between density and sprawl in a linear city:
      * If you wanted to maximise the efficiency of the transport network, you would want as many people on the RTN as possible. Achieving that would mean *highly* concentrated land uses around all RTN stations, and virtually *no* housing or jobs outside of small walk-up catchments.
      * But if you wanted to improve housing affordability / residential amenity, you would want to use *more* land to the east and west of the RTN corridor. The price of that land would tend to support lower-density uses, which in turn would mean that fewer people could access the RTN and more people would be funnelled onto a single road. With predictable outcomes for congestion.

      Once again, there are no signs that you have thought hard about how to resolve this tension. I note that implementing the first solution would require a fairly draconian set of rules – effectively, a hard urban growth boundary in a circle around each individual RTN station.

      4. Stu makes another excellent point, which is that you haven’t considered where people want to live from an amenity / life satisfaction point of view. Indeed, from that point of view enabling more housing supply in Kohi / St Heliers is a *great* thing, because it’s where people want to live! Unlike you, I am not so quick to disregard human needs and desires. If more people want to live in a terraced house on the coast, I think we should let them. And if they don’t want to live in an apartment tower next to a motorway onramp, I don’t think we should force them to.

      1. Hi Peter – thanks for continuing the discussion.

        First about your assertion that my “‘linear city’ idea is currently playing a negative role in the public debate over Auckland’s future”. I do not see it that way. First of all, I do not control the public debate. Secondly, the corner into which the council has painted itself with PAUP and additional, undemocratic rezoning has nothing to do with my alternative vision. I told the council planners five years ago this would happen – local communities would resist an extremist intensification policy – and it did happen. This is not my fault.

        If anything, our alternative vision shows that there is a way to plan future Auckland in balance between growing up and growing out, and that this does not have to result in more sprawl. Te current stalemate is indeed a nasty lockdown and looks like either the council will have to ram its gross intensification target (280,000 new dwellings) down Aucklanders’ throats, or will have to back down and allow more sprawl on all or most edges of the fictional ‘compact city’. I am proposing a reasonable alternative to a plan which was wrongheaded from its start. It is not too late to acknowledge that:
        1) the ‘compact city’ was an inappropriate paradigm (it belongs to Europe, not here);
        2) RUBs are a rather blunt planning tool and in any case have a wrong shape in PAUP’
        2) the target of 70% of all future growth is utterly unrealistic.

        And then start looking for a better urban form paradigm (I say: ‘linear city-region’); better planning tools (flexible, time- and density- related boundaries of development); and more realistic ratio of ‘up’ and ‘out’ development (how about the reverse: 70% out, and 30% in?)

        Again, I am offering an exit out of an impossible political situation. The plan must profoundly to change its philosophy before we can achieve some degree of social harmony and relative consensus over the plan. If we go on with forced intensification we will have years of cases in the Environment Court etc (Christine Fletcher said the other night – ‘two years of civil war’!)

        Again, my proposal is not ‘sci-fi’, as you continue to label it. I do not understand what you see ‘scientific’ in a broad brush vision for a city, or ”fictional’ in a plan which takes into account Auckland’s actual geography, history, culture and economy, rather than trying to turn into Zurich or Hong Kong.

        With all due respect, I actually see this statement of yours as heavily loaded with ‘fictional’ (imagined) enemies and risks:
        “Some people don’t want that to happen, and they are willing to seize on any hypothetical alternative, no matter how loosely-specified or unworkable, to oppose change. I don’t want to end up in a situation where we reject a concrete proposal that probably *will* work, so I am inclined to be sharply critical of all vague alternatives.”

        Very briefly, your points 1 – 4 bring little new to the debate, but let me say the following:

        1. I see no ‘bad practice’ here – or misrepresentation. What’s wrong with using the shape of a city that exists somewhere, to illustrate a point?

        2. By future technologies I mean a complex of clean, green and smart tech-innovation that is coming on board these days and will completely change not only the cost and the functioning of urban infrastructure, but its configuration as well. It also has a lot to do with the rise of the Resilience agenda, in the face of climate change….. Long story, sorry, don’t have time here to explain all of it.
        Also, the crowding/congestion effects you are taking about – they worry me much more in the ‘compact city’, than in the ‘linear city-region’.

        3. The commuting problem would sort itself ‘naturally’ in our linear model. Not everybody commutes long distances. Those who do, should live closer to the Spine. If they don’t, then they’ve created hardship for themselves out of their own will (or they just love their car and do not mind spending hours in it every day – so we should leave them alone). The whole commuting problem has a lot to do with the carbon tax (i.e. the lack of it), so, yet another long story….

        4. I think the best way to enable all those people who want to live in Kohi, is to kick out the current residents. They’ve been there long enough. It’s now time to let somebody else in. An empty Kohi would be able to receive thousands of new residents. Some of them should be from Syria. … Yes, I am being ridiculous! Because I really have not time for suggestions that “where people want to live!” is the way to plan cities!

        Thanks for the opportunity to clarify a few more points about Bradbury’s and my alternative vision.


        1. “I really have not time for suggestions that “where people want to live!” is the way to plan cities!”

          As an economist, I have no time whatsoever for the suggestion that urban planning should throroughly disregard people’s desires and preferences.

          “ram its gross intensification target (280,000 new dwellings) down Aucklanders’ throats”

          You mean *enable* individuals to *transact freely* with landowners and developers to *buy housing* in the places where they’d like to live?

          “the ‘compact city’ was an inappropriate paradigm (it belongs to Europe, not here)”

          Then why did you illustrate your vision by referring to three compact European cities (or regions)?

          “By future technologies I mean a complex of clean, green and smart tech-innovation that is coming on board these days and will completely change not only the cost and the functioning of urban infrastructure, but its configuration as well”

          Science fiction!

          1. Perhaps you can explain, because I don’t get it either. What exactly are these new technologies that are going to change the fundamentals of greenfields expansion?

          2. Nick, they are a bundle of technologies (information+communication; transport; environmental – the energy+water+waste+food nexus) which are shifting the concept and the configuration of urban infrastructure away from the large; centralised; reticulated; energy-guzzling; carbon-intensive; inefficient; inert… systems, to decentralised (distributed); autonomous; self-powered; clean-tech; super-efficient; ‘smart’…. systems. A small, not always visible change, but the chance are, very disruptive and will bring about colossal change in the end in the way we operate cities. Solar power and wi-fi broadband are the best examples, but the real giant in all this is the mix of the ‘green’ (clean-tech) and ‘smart’. It combines the ability to get a resource from nature in a non-degrading way, with the ability to generate and consume it in a super-efficient manner thanks to computer hardware and software. Self-sufficient, super-efficient homes are springing up all over the Great Barrier Island, Northland and Waikato, but nobody is paying much attention. Small signs of that are now invading the conventional suburbia… (solar water and power, most obviously, and the water tanks…).

        2. I see no alternative vision; this is just Ribbon Development dressed up in wishful vagaries.

          I am so disappointed by this; it makes me embarrassed for the standard of our academic discourse. I am always calling for the engagement of the ‘public intellectual’ in our current issues, but if this is the level of offer we get from the academy that is a view I will have to reconsider.

          So unsophisticated, so ungrounded in reality, and so incoherently clung to. Disappointing.

          1. Patrick, your dissatisfaction with academia is noted …. “it makes me embarrassed for the standard of our academic discourse. I am always calling for the engagement of the ‘public intellectual’ in our current issues, but if this is the level of offer we get form the academy that is a view I will have to reconsider.”

            Perhaps what you need to ‘reconsider’ is your inability to offer a well argued critique?

            Statements like ‘wishful vagaries’, ‘So unsophisticated’, ‘so ungrounded in reality’, ‘so incoherently clung to’ and ‘Disappointing’ – just don’t cut it.

        3. Hi Dushko,

          Understanding where people want to live is essential to understanding the development of cities. If you zone development in areas where people don’t want to live, then it won’t happen. You can zone to your heart’s content and it simply won’t happen if there’s no market demand. You can try and create demand, but that is difficult and usually doesn’t work that well. Usually what happens is the government ends up spending more money to get less growth, as many people decide they won’t be shipped off to the regions and instead go live in Sydney, Melbourne, London etc. Yay!

          As an aside, I think your admission that “I really have not time for suggestions that “where people want to live!” is the way to plan cities!” is the moment you lost this debate in particular, and credibility in general. Any social scientist worth their salt has to be interested in what people want as a starting point for further analysis. Yes there’s externalities and all sorts of mitigating factors, like cognitive biases, which create space for policy interventions. But these policy interventions need to be justified in terms of the specific problem they are trying to solve, i.e. why it is people’s preferences need to be over-ruled in this instance. You are not a dictator and I for one will rally against your insinuation that you can simply shove people where they don’t want to live. There’s a word for that starting with “c” and it’s not very pretty.

          Good luck – and thanks again for engaging, but I remain hugely skeptical of your idea of a “linear city”. At best it seems to be an argument for central government to invest in high speed rail connecting Whangarei and Hamilton. While this is something I support, it’s not something Auckland Council has control over and so is not relevant to the Unitary Plan. At worst it’s an ill-considered proposal to forcefully shift people out of Auckland and into the surrounding areas. For reasons outlined above, that is highly flawed from both an economic and a policy perspective.

          Most of the people who are migrating to Auckland simply don’t want to live in Pokeno. People want to live centrally, and I think you need to accept that and work with it as best we can. Fighting it will simply mean running Auckland’s growth into the ground, and then we’d have even worse problems.


          1. Stu, you did not understand my comment ““I really have no time for suggestions that “where people want to live!” is the way to plan cities!” In the context of my post, it means – we cannot plan cities based on what people would LIKE to do in their lives. People have all sorts of aspirations. As planners we must be realistic about the multiple and conflicting agendas and about the constrains in the given physical environment. There are people in Auckland who would like to live in Beverly Hills – I don’t see how we can provide that.

            Also, I have explained (twice, I think) why locations inside the wider transport corridor are actually attractive to a lot of people and to a lot of businesses; I am not going to dwell on that again.

          2. Sorry Dushko, you’re still not making sense. What *specific* constraints in the physical environment prevent us from either:
            * Allowing people to build more homes in inner Auckland, where they seem to want to live, or
            * Allowing people to build more homes in places like Kohimarama?

            Keep in mind that “Existing residents don’t like it!” is not a physical constraint.

            Furthermore, if any physical constraints (e.g. limited transport capacity, lack of stormwater infrastructure) exist, have you considered whether your hypothetical technologies for solving greenfield growth cost issues would *also* be applicable for overcoming these constraints?

          3. Indeed, “Existing residents don’t like it!” is not a physical constraint. It a moral, legal and political constraint.

            It is customary – and often constitutionally enshrined – in civilised societies that those who ‘get there first’ have some rights. In NZ, RMA and LGA are quite clear about the right of affected parties – existing residents – to be consulted.

            You obviously don’t think so.
            Your attitude – and similar expressions of the suddenly very popular anti-NIMBY-ism in Auckland – reminds me of the Ozzy problem of ‘terra nullius’ – the idea that there was ‘nobody owning the place’ when the Europeans arrived.
            So just kick ass and declare ‘intensification’.

            I cannot believe you people…

          4. So to summarise:

            * Your plan doesn’t aim to maximise people’s wellbeing by allowing them to realise their preferences.
            * Your plan doesn’t respond to any specific physical constraints that would prevent development in desirable areas.

            I don’t think we should take your plan seriously. It seems like a bad plan.

          5. Hang on, since when we intensification being forced upon people by an invading empire? Here I was thinking it was a relaxation of regulations that let people do what they want with their own land? Council has zero power to compel anyone to do anything. The only way intensification can happen is if owners themselves decide to build something on their land, or if they decide to sell their land to a developer to do the same.

            I don’t recall the first nations of Australia actively petitioning british colonists to turn up and commit genocide.

          6. The intensification is forced on people’s streets and neighbourhoods, not individual properties. Once they build a 15 m high apartment building 5 m from your house and your street is crammed with tenants’ cars, you are virtually forced to sell or develop. In our suburbs, no property is an independent island.

          7. Dushko,

            Now i think we’re getting closer to the nub of the problem. You seem to value the preferences of existing residents more than new residents. While politically convenient, it has no basis in policy. And socio-economically would seem likely to end in problems.

            You also ignore than in a market economy people are free to group together and buy adjavent properties if they wish to restrict development. In reality what most nimbys want is to prevent theor neighbour from selling to the highest bidder (i.e apt developer), while doing exactly the same when they come to sell. I can understand why people act in such self-interested ways, but it is not the role of policy to support/embed such behaviour. Indeed arguably policy should try to thwart such entrenchment so as to create more equal opportunities!

            Id suggest you take a look at some of the demographic and socioeconomic data comparing millenials to boomers. Then come back and try to argue that policy should favour the latter!

  18. There seems very little discussion of what gives a suburb like Kohi it’s character. No-changers seem to equate this with the housing that’s there (ignoring of course the apartment blocks at one end [which aren’t that nicely done to be honest. Blame the ’80s?]).

    The Kohi most of Auckland loves is the beach, and if Kohi’s housing was full of nicely done terraces and 4 or 5 storey blocks with some apartments on the ridges we’d have twice as many people who loved living there, and just as many visitors who still enjoyed Kohi just as much as they do today. In fact moreso, as there would be some better competition for the Hipmonopoly.

    I’d love someone to explain to me what’s so special about Kohi’s existing houses.

    (Aside- my Mum who lives in St Heliers will need to downsize in a year or 3, and it seems there’s not many options for her to move to- may be forced out of her neighbourhood, local connections etc due to a lack of compact housing. Good on ya Auckland 2040).

    1. Yes, I fully agree! The beach is north-facing, which means that having a few tall buildings over the road won’t shade it or in any way detract from the pleasure of being there.

      Generally speaking, I’m not too hung up about Auckland’s existing buildings. Some are good, a few are great, but they’re mostly average to bad. New buildings constructed today seem to follow the same distribution… it’s just that people notice new things in a way that they don’t notice old things.

    2. There is no discussion because they don’t want to. “Character” is generally just a front for garden variety NIMBYism. Its about status, exclusion and property values.

  19. So if one linear city is good, why not two linear cities at right angles to each other, or three linear cities in an asterisk shape?

    1. Indeed. Linearity inside any overall shape is good when cleverly used to provide dynamic corridors of density and public transport. Multiple radial axes exist in Copenhagen, Moscow, Milan….But in Auckland’s case there are two most likely outcomes – either a ‘skewed cross’ (the 100 km long N-S axis intersecting the 50 km long NW-SE axis), or a double N-S axis (axes?), that is a ‘ladder-like’ pattern made of the stronger SH1 axis, and to the west of it, the emerging Pukekohe-Airport-Waterview-Kumeu-Dairy Flats corridor (SH20/16).

      1. Why does a network not work in your view? A network of high frequency buses. With either exclusive lane use or market-clearing road pricing.

        1. Matthew, I am not saying that network does not work. A network of buses is inevitable in a city of Auckland’s shape and size. However, if you want super-efficient public transport (fast and frequent, comfortable trains), then you can built only so many such lines. In a city of Auckland’s elongated shape (geographically and historically cemented, I’d argue), AND Auckland’s economy (not impressive when compared to Zurich or Vienna, on per capita basis) – I reckon that means only ONE such line. Perhaps two, with the NW now growing real fast – either as a dead end, or loop to Albany/Dairy Flat.

          1. So this is about building rail lines to serve distant commuters? That sounds expensive and not necessarily efficient at all. Rail is perpetually having to be heavily subsidised in NZ even where it runs through Aucklands urban core.

            Ia this just about subsidising sprawl?

          2. No, not ‘lines’ – only one. Well, actually, extending and improving the existing one. The one from Hamilton to Whangarei. Then feeding it with local buses and shuttles. And, park-and-ride facilities.
            This is not about enticing more sprawl. First, the areas around the train stations would have reasonable density (walking/biking distance TODs, etc), secondly the low density areas further out would be planned (‘contoured’) with recognition of the landscape constraints (avoiding the best farmland/soil; sensitive ecosystems; scenic landscape).
            Plus – the more distant communities on this line (Wellsford; Pokeno…) should have a reasonable degree of local jobs and services, to minimise demand for commuting.

          3. But why is it so important to have only 1 line? All the examples mentioned here (Copenhagen etc.) have multiple lines radiating from the centre.

            Suppose we are in the ideal case, a city in the middle of a plane. Then we can have either one line, say 50 km south and 50 km north. Or we can have 2 lines, 25 km in all 4 compass directions.

            In the first case, the ends of our line are 50 km from our centre, and 100 km from each other.
            In the second case the 4 ends are only 25 km from the centre, and 50 km from each other (along our lines). It also appears to be a better pattern to avoid congestion / crowding on that line.

            And OK Auckland is not on a plain but we already have our line to the north, north-west and south.

          4. Because Auckland’s N-S linearity is its fundamental characteristic. To ignore it, is silly – leads to unrealistic=difficult=expensive solutions. Your example would fit Christchurch – an ‘almost-ideal city’!

          5. Sorry you want to develop the city around the rail line that runs up SH16? Fair enough good luck to you.

      2. Yes – if you agree with multiple linearly arranged corridors then you basically have the auckland plan?!?

  20. Nothing like that. I still see the N-S corridor as the overall major ‘spine’. This cardinal corridor is heading towards being 100 km by, say, 2020. With a bit of planning attention, it could reach 150 km by 2030. Which is good for us – if we know how to use this trend to enhance liveability; ameliorate unaffordability; improve sustainability; and strengthen resilience. If no planning, then it will ‘happen’ by 2040 (assuming this planet is still liveable…). The latter is the ‘messy’ scenario, I fear – heaps of sprawl, crawl, creep etc. I am definitely not fancying that one. However, this is the most likely scenario if the council continues to dream the ‘compact city’, and continues to waste time, energy and money on aggressive (70%) intensification. While we are focused on the isthmus, the real party is going on 50 km north and south of it. Not catastrophic yet, but if PAUP gets adopted with its current, naive RUBs – we will see the biggest development orgy in NZ history a few tens of kilometres south, east and north of the ‘planned city’..

    [Can I stress here that in none of the ‘super long’ scenarios above do I envisage continuous urban tissue. On the contrary, I am assuming that the green belts – which actually exist, this is not ‘science fiction’ – will be fiercely protected. NO to an uninterrupted ‘snake’ of endless urban development; YES to the nodes, or lumps, or beads … or whatever you wanna call these planned, contained new and old towns along the main line – such as, say, Wellsford. I am tired of being labeled by people as a ‘sprawl advocate’. You cannot have ‘sprawl’ between Warkworth and Wellsford, even you wanted it.]

    1. It is an interesting discussion, but I also got a few questions.

      First of all, what would be the linear spine of Munich? To me it doesn’t look linear at all, but much more like an old-school city with a strong centre.

      The argument that the “compact city” is fiction would hold a lot more weight if even smaller apartments in, say, Ponsonby weren’t selling for almost a million dollar. And if the land value map wouldn’t have that concentric glow of red and orange in the middle. Many people seem to buy their house as close to the centre as they can afford.

      Finally “ugly terraces and apartments are built in random locations”? That’s a dead give-away that you’re in the end just jumping on the “do-it-somewhere-else” train. You can have a look at Munich (or any other city in Europe) in streetview and count how many streets you can find lined with terraces.

      1. Roeland, I was not using Munich as an example of a linear city (it is obviously a classic radial-concentric city) but as example of polycentric metropolitan development – many satellite towns and villages outside the city proper, and no sprawl.

        1. Hi Dushko,
          Genuine question – are there any examples of realised linear city planning on a comparable scale that support your theory? I’m looking for more than join-the-dots where infrastructure investment links substantial existing cities, as I don’t think we have the luxury of that precondition.

    2. A musing then, what of our existing string of beads between Auckland and Hamilton. There is Pukokohe, Tuakau, Pokeno, Mercer, Te Kauwhata, Huntly, Taupiri, and Ngaruwahia over 100kms. These are linked by a trunk railway and a trunk highway of almost motorway standard for the most part. All these places have lots of cheap land and willing councils for development.

      So why doesn’t this work right now, what do we need to change to make it work?

    3. Bullocks Dushko. The numbers don’t support your theory that most growth is happening on the urban periphery. You’re getting excited over a few hundred houses in Pokeno and ignoring the 13,000 population growth of the Waitemata Local Board area in the past two years.

      People value proximity. Simple as that.

      1. Yes, Brian, people value proximity, but when they haven’t got much money, they will settle for semi-proximity. Such as buying a decent house with a garden in Pokeno for half a million rather than a squashed apartment in Grafton for a million. And people value other things in life too, not just proximity (convenience) – such as privacy, autonomy, deck, bbq, big car, etc..

    4. This cardinal corridor is heading towards being 100 km by, say, 2020. With a bit of planning attention, it could reach 150 km by 2030. Which is good for us – if we know how to use this trend to enhance liveability; ameliorate unaffordability; improve sustainability; and strengthen resilience.’

      This then is not a plan for Auckland at all; Hamilton is 127km away, it already exists and is sprawling outwards drearily, people do live there and commute to Auckland because of planning constraints causing a failure to supply dwelling in Auckland for them to use. These commutes, in cars, are very expensive individually for these people in terms of both time and money. But also the social and environmental costs are also huge; multi-Billions of dollars are being spent on state highways on this route and those within Auckland as well as the local roads are consequently suffering inefficient and unhappy loads of traffic congestion. The environment burden of these ‘super-commutes’ are well known.

      How can the movement burden of this image of enhanced dispersal just be ignored or wished away?

      ‘I am tired of being labeled by people as a ‘sprawl advocate’. You cannot have ‘sprawl’ between Warkworth and Wellsford, even you wanted it.’

      Of course we can; surely you are aware of the unwanted patterns of urban development called Ribbon Development and Leapfrog Sprawl. That in practice is what you are promoting.

      1. No, that is not what I am promoting. But Leap Frog Sprawl is exactly what is happening now. Which begs the question – why?

        Here is why:
        One, Akl Council is planning for development only inside the RUBs; outside this arbitrary line, The Plan is ignoring the pressure and resisting development.
        Two, the Northern Island Initiative (or whatever it’s called, if it still exists) has not done any strategic planning in the ‘hot triangle’ between H, T and W. So developers are being issued consents on an as-you-come basis in north Waikato, west BoP and south Northland. And the mess is growing…
        Three, technology keeps strengthening the centrifugal pull. The combined effect of: – ever more efficient vehicles; – ever larger and more economic logistics/distribution systems; – ever cheaper mobile phones and ubiquitous broadband; – ever more decentralised energy, water and sanitation systems…. is enabling ever more dispersed commercial, residential and recreational regional patterns. This will only get worse – or better, depending how you see it – but is definitely bad news for the advocates on New Urbanism and density…

        So it comes down to the local and regional government not doing its strategic planning job at an adequate spatial scale, AND with an up-to-date grasp of what the hell Technology is doing to Space.

        I am not afraid of Ribbon Development. It is definitely not possible north of Auckland, and rather hard even south of Auckland. With properly planned (designated) reserves in between the nodes (towns on the spine), such development can be prevented forever. The best example of how the local landscape helps define such areas is the 10 km-long gorge and hill range between Warkworth and Wellsford. How could you ever have Ribbon Development between Warkworth and Wellsford??

        To the south, of course, the Bombay Hills are the best example of natural barrier to carpet sprawl. But further south, the landscape is ‘weaker’, I have to admit…

        Our ‘plan’ is not a plan for Hamilton, Auckland and Whangarei all in one bundle. Our plan is for the full stretch from the southern to the northern boundary of Auckland Council. In other words, from Pokeno to Wellsford.

        Again – with generous green belts (or strips) inside the planned ‘urbanisation territory’.

        Yes, the current commuting patterns are ‘expensive’ (economically, socially and environmentally) and should no be encouraged. But forcing massive intensification inside Auckland cannot fix the housing crisis anyway (even if it passes politically). There are intelligent land, regional and housing economists in NZ who have been explaining why you cannot have significantly more affordable housing when you constrain the land supply. But the council has ignored them. The city must grow both ways – up and out – to allow the land and housing market work properly. And getting the ‘up/out’ ratio right is crucial. Because of the technology effect I summarised above, this ratio for Auckland is probably 1:2. That is, 1/3 should be growth by intensification, and 2/3 by growing out (new suburbs; satellite towns; redistribution to the outer region – Waikato and Northland). Sadly, the council, in its ‘compact city’ ideological zeal, managed to get this ratio exactly the opposite – 2:1. The ‘70% fantasy’.

        This is PAUP’s fatal flaw. That’s why the Plan is a dud. And will never be implementable.

        Unless we use the North Korean approach.

        1. I think the difficulty is in the explanation of linear city theory vs ribbon development, most of aucklands development has been ribbon development- like the east coast bays on the north shore (though later engulfed so it is now sprawl with pretty beaches). linear city growth is more deliberate, coordinated and tends to take place over much longer time periods. Linear theory is a European based theory, and so generally more architecturaly/urban design based and publically directive it has been done in Anglo-American urban planning based jurisdictions, the examples of the tube expansions in London come to mind.

          Whilst I respectfully disagree with Dushko on the application of the model, I would point out that his deliberate, linear and infrastructuraly intergrated approach would be preferable to the ribbon development we see stretching along coasts like in Kapiti, the northern shore of the Manakau or as is starting to creep further out along the Tamaki Straight (there are other ways to sort that issue out too).

          I think it is important that we have a stronger debate on these urban planning theories (even the more niche ones like the linear city). Discourse in NZ tends to be based on quite a narrow set of urban design doctrines, and with Items like the RMA up for review we are not going to get a robust and practical urban planning system and the world class city’s our country needs without a good informed debate.

          1. Absolutely agree with this, Sean, thank you for stressing the ‘open debate’ point. You really nailed it here:
            …..”Discourse in NZ tends to be based on quite a narrow set of urban design doctrines, and with Items like the RMA up for review we are not going to get a robust and practical urban planning system and the world class city’s our country needs without a good informed debate.”

            MB’s and my vision were not even debated five years ago when we suggested some alternatives to the ‘compact city’, so were the council planners sure of their New Urbanist doctrine.

            Basically, why the PAUP is now in such deep trouble (and the council with it) is that, early in Len Brown’s mayoral campaign he was sold a nicely looking sound-bite (‘compact city’) by a circle of planners. Then when he got elected, the concept was already an unquestionable dogma. Party discipline had to be maintained.

        2. Dushko in the last few decades 60-70% of aucklands growth has been accommodated in the existing urban area. I.e. the auckland plan and unitary plan is proposing to more or less continue what we have been seeing. Its not radical, and for you to suggest so highlights your lack of understanding of basic socio-economic and demographic data. I’d suggest you go familiarise yourself with this data, refine your ideas accordingly, and then come back with a guest post. Right now im seeing a lot of people who are very confused with your idea and the underlyibg logic/assumptions. Debating in this manner is probably not helping anyone!

  21. Don’t know the detail but presumably it comes down largely to time? Not many people would tolerate commutes of longer than say 75 mins.
    But question – is this where some subsidisation to get those trains a bit faster is a valid option?
    I really think some greater intervention should be considered on some of these issues. I realise ‘subsidy’ is a dirty word for many!

  22. Dushko – we live in a market democracy not a dictatorship. The ability of urban planners to manipulate the urban form of the city is limited to:
    1. planning regulations (like district plans or the Unitary Plan) – which only restrict what can be developed, and
    2. infrastructure investment

    There is no ability to shape the city according to a design on a landscape architect’s drawing board.

    You still haven’t answered what interventions the “linear city” would involve, and what is currently stopping it from happening when we already have SH1, a rail line, and zoned capacity for growth in outposts like Wellsford and Pokeno.

    Theories have value in stimulating discussion and they don’t have to have 100% of their detail fleshed out to be worthwhile. But they do need to have enough detail to understand what is being proposed. The vague linear city theory does not pass this test. What transport investments are you proposing? What changes to planning rules and zoning? How would these interventions bring about a different urban form from to the one currently evolving?

    You also haven’t answered why we should stop people from living where they want to most (proximate to the centre and coast) when we have a viable way of adding more housing in these areas (moderate intensification of 3 storey apartment blocks with taller buildings in centres). Despite the scaremongering we can add these houses without any coercion, force, or destruction. This would also have lower transport infrastructure costs than unspecified exurban “nodes” served by high speed rail and motorways.

    1. Thanks for these points, Frank:

      “The ability of urban planners to manipulate the urban form of the city is limited…”

      “Theories have value in stimulating discussion and they don’t have to have 100% of their detail fleshed out to be worthwhile.”

      On the former: That is exactly my criticism of the ‘compact city’ vision – the council and its would-be-planners are trying to shape Auckland into an object they like (a city with firm boundaries, made of a single large urban territory – both very funny notions in the 21st century!)

      On the latter: Indeed, I cannot explain everything. Neither does PAUP – after an army of people worked on it for five years! So how can the two us, whose full time job is NOT to plan Auckland, elaborate every policy details of our alternative?

      HOWEVER – if you will bother to come to my office I will show you about 3 kilos of paper (maps, sketches, texts…) which, I am pretty sure, will quench your thirst for more detail.

      Now about this:
      “You also haven’t answered why we should stop people from living where they want to most (proximate to the centre and coast)…”
      That’s exactly what our ‘dual’ model of the future city, as a combination of the ‘lifestyle riviera’ and the ‘infrastructure spine’, is trying to address. Yes, basically people (and some businesses) want access (connectivity; convenience), and amenity (view, greenery, nature…). Being close to the two Cs – you call one the ‘coast’, the other ‘centre’. We agree on that. The only difference between your proposition and ours is – you talk of a ‘centre’, we talk of an ‘axis’ (which however includes the centre). We think the axis makes more sense because Auckland has a linear shape, rather than radial-concentric.

      And lastly this:
      “Despite the scaremongering we can add these houses without any coercion, force, or destruction. This would also have lower transport infrastructure costs than unspecified exurban “nodes” served by high speed rail and motorways.”
      Yes, indeed. We could accommodate some of that demand for locations both central and coastal – if the rules of redevelopment are fair, democratic and the overall objective not exaggerated. Too many aspects of the PAUP process and outcome do not satisfy these criteria: the process has been loaded with fake consultation and spin; affected parties have been treated like shit; the target is too aggressive – 70% of all future growth inside the city just cannot take place without trauma. That’s not how cities grow, unless bulldozed into the brave new future. So I am afraid only about 1/3 of the 280,000 new units needed, can be accommodated through the intensification.
      Regarding the lower cost of transport infrastructure, it translates to more congestion. So while the dollar bill is lesser, the quality of life sinks.

      1. “HOWEVER – if you will bother to come to my office I will show you about 3 kilos of paper (maps, sketches, texts…) which, I am pretty sure, will quench your thirst for more detail.”

        So far all that has been publicly written on the linear city is that:
        -it will be 150 km long
        -it will extend 1km either side of a transport spine
        -it will have 20 or so nodes between Wellsford and Pokeno
        -there might be high speed rail

        I know this topic is complicated but you should be able to express your idea in more detail than this. There must be a way of explaining some detail in a few hundred words without wading through 3 kg of old sketches.

        1. Some are ‘old’, others are quite fresh….. but that’s not the point….. regarding what ‘has been publicly written’, there is no shortage of that:

          Also this:

          Bogunovich D. and M. Bradbury. Auckland 2040: A Resilient Urban Region on The Water. The Planning Quarterly, No 184, 2012, pp 4-8.

          Bradbury, M and D. Bogunovich. Linear City – Water City: How can an exchange between landscape and infrastructure generate an alternative Auckland Plan?
          X-Section Journal, Unitec, 2014:

          Bogunovich, D. Alternative Auckland Planning. An edited guest post on the Talking Auckland website:

          Bogunovich, D. Future Auckland: The Case for A Flat Urbanism. PPt presentation at the City Futures Centre Seminar Series. Faculty of the Built Environment. UNSW, Sydney, 8 September 2014.

          Bogunovich, D. Auckland, New Zealand 2040: A Resilient, Liner City-Region. ISOCARP Review No 9 – Frontiers of Planning: Visionary futures for human settlements; pp 110-121. 2013.

          Bogunovich, D. Auckland 2040: Planning A Metropolitan Region for Linearity, Multidensity and Policentricity. Presented at the Regional Studies Association (RSA) & Chinese Academy of Sciences Global Conference “Sustaining Regional Futures”, at the Chinese National Convention Centre in Beijing, 24 – 27 June 2012.

          Bogunovich, D..The City and The Crunch: Contours of A Pending Disaster. Invited paper, presented at the “Contours of the City’ international conference at the University of Bologna, 3 – 5 May 2012.

          Bogunovich, D. Urban Sustainability: Resilient Regions, Sustainable Sprawl and Green Infrastructure. Presented at SC VII symposium in Ancona, May 2012. In Pacetti M. et al, eds. “The Sustainable City VII” Volume I, WIT Press, pp 3 -10.

          Bogunovich, D. City and the Academia in the Era of Climate Change. Keynote address at the IAEC International Congress, Changwon, South Korea, 25-29 April, 2012.

          Bogunovich, D. Eco-intelligent Cities: Towards An Urban Green Economy. Keynote address at the IAEC/UNESCO Regional Symposium, Changwon, South Korea, 15 November 2011.

          Bogunovich, D. Sustainable and Resilient Urban Regions. Chapter in A Deeper Shade of Green – Sustainable Urban Development, Building and Architecture in New Zealand. Bernhardt, J. ed. Balasoglou Books, Auckland, 2008.

          Bogunovich, D. Eco-Tech Urbanism: Towards the Green and Smart City.
          Chapter in The New Urbanism and Beyond: Contemporary and Future Trends in Urban Design. Haas, T, Ed. Rizzoli, New York, 2008.

  23. Pop quiz for Dushko: over the past 30 years what proportion of Auckland’s growth has been accommodated within its urban area (as it was 30 years ago) and what proportion outside?

    1. Pop quiz, indeed. I don’t know. But my guess would be 1:5 to 1:10. Way more growth out than up. And that’s no good. Auckland should grow more up – that is, by intensification – than it used to. But not at the Plan-proposed ratio of 2:1. Impossible. Except by decree.

      1. Dushko youre wrong. You receive an F for fail on this fundamental test of aucklands geographical history.

        Its about 60% in brownfield and 40% in greenfield with the balance shifting towards the former over time as youd expect. I note the council’s plans are broadly consistent with what has been observed in recent decades.

        Why are you trying to develop ideas in this space without first having a solid understanding of how the city has developed over time? I note that this brownfield/greenfiel split has occurred in presence of massive subsidies for sprawl and massive restrictions on intensification.

        P.s. this exchange is a knock out for your argument dushko.

  24. Dushko should be congratulated for his brave challenging over many years of the received urban planning wisdom. I talked to Dushko some 5-6 years and I was on the same page that the Auckland Plan’s 70:30 goal was pure fantasy.
    I do think 50/50 is achievable however – at a stretch.
    I am very much an advocate for density. However I agree that the inevitable result of the 70:30 vision is now happening – it is being forced, and it is not politically/socially sustainable. Some one once said ‘planning is politics’. Planning cannot be divorced from political and social realities.
    5 years ago when I talked to Dushko and wrote conference papers I held the view that we need to plan for the reality of ex-urban development on the front foot in a manner that demands outcomes that maximise sustainability.There is a big risk – as Dushko alludes to – that there will a backlash and then we will get truly ugly and environment destroying urban sprawl.
    I agree with critics that we need to see more detail of the practical realisation of Dushko’s vision. But I for one am not prepared to dismiss the vision at this juncture.

  25. So in the spirit of open enquiry…for me, Dushko’s vision, or perhaps a variant of it (such as several nodes of mini cities north of Auckland) encounters transport as a key issue.
    For me, the idea may fall down if it cannot be supported by a good public transport network – no matter how exemplary the environmental performance of the settlements themselves may be, it’s hard to see how private vehicle-reliant settlements could work from a commuting perspective, even with certain assumptions of decentralisation. So the question for me is – ‘is it at all within the realms of practicality that a chain of new settlements either north or south of Auckland could be supported by high speed bus or light rail routes.’
    Two key questions related to the notion of providing such transport connections:
    1. Are they physically feasible (topography etc)
    2. Are they economically feasible / plausible

    The transport/economic experts in this forum may be able to assist.

Comments are closed.