Welcome back to Sunday reading. This week is the week that the Independent Hearings Panel released its recommendations on the Auckland Unitary Plan, so we’re going to lead off with a few reactions.
First, Hayden Donnell at the Spinoff had a useful summary of the IHP’s decisions. Essentially, the recommendation is to go both up and out, but they’ve pushed a bit harder on up. This is, as they observe, a firm refutation of the idea that Auckland doesn’t need to do more to enable housing:
The original council plan only allowed for 39% of new development inside existing urban areas. The IHP’s plan ups that figure to 64%, even while expanding the amount of land available for development by 30%. That means a more compact city focused around public transport hubs; one where future Aucklanders have a chance to avoid uncontrollably weeping their way through four hour commutes from the Kaipara Harbour every morning.
It’s both a step along the road to creating a city that young people can still live in and a surgical critique of every nostalgic anti-density Boomer that’s eked out a whinging submission to council. Freed of the shackles of groaning ratepayer groups, the IHP did what it thought was right for Auckland – and it mainly sided with the Generation Zeros of the world.
The Spinoff is also running a special section covering the Unitary Plan and advocating for it to be passed.
Economist Shamubeel Eaqub also provides a positive review (on Radio NZ):
The recommended plan for Auckland’s future land use planning is bold, visionary and pragmatic. I love it, so should the champions for Auckland and fairness in society.
A group of independent commissioners have done what the Auckland Council could not. They have planned for over 400,000 new homes by 2041 – the amount likely to be needed. The previous plans had been grossly inadequate, hampered and stymied by local and special interest groups.
This will remove the constraints to housing supply that have disproportionately affected the poor, vulnerable, young and renters. There have been obvious impacts on housing affordability, but also (over) crowding, increased stresses for social and emergency housing providers and homelessness.
Housing supply isn’t a magic cure for these ills, but it is a critical part of it.
Green Party MP Julie Anne Genter puts the issue in slightly broader perspective, looking at the impacts on housing affordability, climate change, inequality, and happiness:
Four – Happiness
The Happy City sums up all the latest research on health and happiness outcomes of cities. What could people want more than health and happiness? It turns out cities can be engines of happiness – but only if we design them for people (not cars).
Again, although it seems boring, part of the answer to achieving this change is getting the rules in the Unitary Plan right.
You don’t need to understand all the implications of the detailed recommendations from the Hearings Panel on the Unitary Plan. But if you want a happy, healthy, fair, affordable and green future for Auckland, let your local body politicians know that the recommendations are going in the right direction.
Others are not so happy. Alleged journalist Bernard Orsman (NZ Herald) has been doing his usual work, going around wealthy suburbs looking for ill-informed reactions. A selection:
Reading his coverage, I get the impression that he doesn’t actually understand how zoning works. He seems to think that rezoning to allow higher-density development *automatically* means that the bulldozers roll in. I also think the viewpoints he’s highlighting are seriously out of touch in a city where housing unaffordability touches the lives of most low-income people and most young people.
Speaking of, Toby Morris (Pencilsword) has put together an illustrated rant on Auckland’s housing affordability:
A final point of view: At Interest.co.nz, urban planner Matthew Paetz makes some technical critiques of the residential development controls in the Unitary Plan, and how the fine details of some rules may make it challenging to implement the plan’s aims:
…the first thing I looked for were density rules, and controls on height, outlook and private open space. It is essential to look at all of these rules holistically, as they interrelate. If one rule is liberal but the other is highly restrictive, then the overall impact on development feasibility and ultimately housing supply may be restrictive. Density rules control the intensity of development, and are usually measured in terms of residential units per area unit of land. For example, a density control of 1 unit per 300 square metres of site area would allow two houses to be built on a site of more than 600 square metres, but not on a site of less than 600 square metres.
My first surprise in reading the PAUP recommendations was that density rules had been done away with. Not that I disagree with this. Density rules can be inflexible and can place a barrier on the delivery of a greater number of smaller units which generally have similar impact as a smaller number of larger houses.
I think the Panel is right to focus on controlling externalities, by way of other development rules which moderate impacts on neighbours – such as shading controls. The variances in rules, such as height and building coverage, between different zones will by default lead to variance in densities between the zones, without applying a density rule.
The problem with the 6 metre outlook space rule
But given this apparent focus on externalities, I was rather surprised with the retention of the six metre Outlook Space rule. I was surprised this was retained, because although well intentioned, it will pose a significant potential barrier to feasible medium density site redevelopment and therefore housing supply…
On a similar note, Anton Babadjanov (The Urbanist) asks whether natural light in buildings is “NIMBY rhetoric or a livability staple?” It’s a fine compilation of the evidence on light, health, and affordability impacts:
So, tower spacing can reduce the amount of housing/office space that can be built by as much as 1/3, significantly affecting affordability in the long run and displacing thousands of people from an area close to jobs. Yet, access to natural light in buildings is crucial for a culture of people who spend 87% of their time indoors. It affects their cognitive performance, psychological well-being and even physiological health.
There are really only two tools at our disposal to solve this problem:
- Zone more land for dense redevelopment.
- Add tower spacing, but only with increased height and FAR limits to ensure that the same amount of housing or office space can be built after the new rules go into effect (e.g. allowing 600-foot towers in a formerly 400-foot zone).
While option two tries to minimize the supply decrease resulting from tower spacing it probably can’t do so perfectly. There is no free lunch, after all. But the point here is that, when implemented with an upzone, the improved human outcomes of tower spacing outweigh the decreased outcomes of the minimized displacement likely to occur.
On a completely different note, two articles on immigration and fast food. First, Alicia Wittmeyer (Foreign Policy) explores “Britain’s extra-crispy class war” – and the immigrant origins of stereotypically British foods like fish and chips:
Fried chicken in Britain — in addition to being a reliable sponge for alcohol — is mainly poor and working-class people’s food. Many of those who consume it come from immigrant communities. (The shops often prominently advertise themselves as halal.) It is hard not to conclude that these associations with class and race have shaped the way the meal is perceived in Britain — at least by the middle-class observers frowning on poorer people’s lifestyle choices.
There is, however, hope for redemption — a chance that the meal might yet evolve from fraught symbol to humble supper. After all, before there was chicken, there was fish…
Long before fish and chips was Britain-on-a-plate, it was ethnic food — Jewish food, to be specific, with all the stigma that entailed. Middle-class Brits turned up their noses at the smell, Panayi writes, which they associated with inner-city ghettos and vicious anti-Semitic stereotypes. References to “hook nosed Jew[s]” and Jewesses working as “dealer[s] in fried fish” litter the pages of 19th-century newspapers…
What finally convinced middle-class Brits of the virtues of their dish was the arrival of competition. It was the Chinese and Indian takeaways of the 1960s and 1970s that elevated chippies from symbols of the slums to British icon. Britons faced with “ethnic” food wanted a speedy, cheap meal that was “theirs.”
Second, Eleanor Ainge Roy (Stuff) profiles Rotorua baker Patrick Lam, the five-time winner of the Supreme Pie Award, showing how an iconic New Zealand snack has diversified:
Patrick Lam, the baker behind Patrick’s Gold Star Bakery in Tauranga, last night took out his fifth Supreme Pie Award since 2003. He has won 56 other awards in the competition. We spoke to Patrick in 2012 about how he went from nine years in a Vietnamese camp to master pie maker.
“Because a Cambodian was winning, it lifted everybody’s game, ” says Kevin Marshall, one of the event organisers. Eighty per cent of the bakers who take part in the competition are Asian, and 50 per cent of the winners are Asian too. Marshall says New Zealand has a “multicultural baking society”, and thinks the influx of Asian bakers has been good for pies and the overall competition. “When Patrick won in 2003 he gave a lot of the other Asian bakers confidence to take part and since then they have dominated the competition. He puts so much effort into his flavours and seasonings and is always working to come up with something new and creative. Pies are not a junk food – they are an art.”
Lam thinks bakeries have become popular with Asian migrants in the last 10 years because there are few employment options for people with limited English skills, and bakeries often function well as a family business. Three members of Lam’s extended family run bakeries in New Zealand, and have won top awards in the Bakels competition.
When Lam moved to New Zealand in 1997, he had no experience in bakeries – in fact he would hardly ever cook. He had been working in a juice factory in Cabramatta, Sydney, for the previous decade, and almost on a whim decided to set up a lunch bar. He was getting on, and knew if he didn’t take a chance on something soon his life would slip by. There is a strong streak of daring in Patrick Lam, which makes him talk of his achievements – and the risks he took – lightly…
Lam is continually experimenting with new flavours, trying his concoctions on his staff and occasionally special customers. At night he and his family usually eat Chinese or Cambodian food, though he eats a pie every day at morning tea with his staff. Although he was 27 before he tasted a New Zealand pie, they have become the greatest passion of his working life.
“The first time we won I didn’t believe it, ” he says, grinning at the memory.
“We are part of Asian people and how can you win other people’s tradition? But we are proud of ourselves and winning just makes you want to try even harder. But I think I have to work harder because I came from nothing, I came from zero dollars. I think only in New Zealand could you achieve this.”
I’ve tried to sample Patrick’s pies several times while passing through Rotorua – no luck, as they always sell out too early in the day!
To close on a separate note – transport for a change! – Vox author Matt Yglesias explains why “transit of the future needs smarter routes, not more gadgets”:
Technology is changing the commuting experience across the board, and politicians looking to present a forward-thinking image are trying to embrace it. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York City Transit Authority, for example, are eagerly touting a soon-to-arrive new bus fleet that will feature “enhanced amenities like USB charging ports and Wi-Fi.”
But a recent nationally representative survey of transit riders from TransitCenter, a New York–based foundation focused on improving urban mobility, indicates that high-tech gimmicks are a very low priority for the people who actually use mass transit.
The future of successful, high-ridership systems may or may not involve USB ports but will definitely include reworked routes that provide reasonably fast and frequent service close to where many people live.