Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here is a collection of stories I found interesting over the week. Add your links in the comments section below.

Here’s another study that quantifies the health benefits of cycling – “Bike lanes are a sound public health investment“, Fox News Health.

Every $1,300 New York City invested in building bike lanes in 2015 provided benefits equivalent to one additional year of life at full health over the lifetime of all city residents, according to a new economic assessment.

That’s a better return on investment than some direct health treatments, like dialysis, which costs $129,000 for one quality-adjusted life year, or QALY, said coauthor Dr. Babak Mohit of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York.

Per person, bike lanes created an additional cost of $2.79 and a gain of .0022 quality-adjusted life years, according to the results published in Injury Prevention.

“For bike lanes the cost per QALY is $1,300, a little bit higher than vaccines but way lower than most medical interventions that we have in healthcare,” Mohit said. “We’re finding more and more of these social interventions are not directly medically related but have an extremely positive effect on giving us more life years.”

Confederation of Workshops of Architecture Projects Via New York Times
Confederation of Workshops of Architecture Projects Via New York Times

One undeniable trend is how big and growing cities are limiting car traffic in their city centres. Here Barcelona takes a leap forward past its peers in Europe by applying a new traffic system on top of its famous Eixample district block patterns. Other cities aggressively reducing car access include Madrid, Paris, Helsinki, and Copenhagen. And look for New York City to make some major changes during the L Line (subway) construction project. Winnie Hu,”What New York Can Learn From Barcelona’s Superblocks“, New York Times.

Beginning in September, city officials started creating a system of so-called superblocks across the city that will severely limit vehicles as a way to reduce traffic and air pollution, use public space more efficiently and essentially make neighbourhoods more pleasant.

The strategy has propelled Barcelona, a city better known for its soccier team and it Gaudi architecture, to the forefront of urban-transportion experiments and has attracted intereste from transportation officials, urban planners and advocates in many cities paralyzed by gridlock.

Here’s Elinor Chisholm responding to a news article about the lack of housing activism in New Zealand, “Renter activism in New Zealand and the United States“, One Two Three Home. Elinor will be hosting a forum about housing in Auckland on 20 October at the University of Auckland – Facebook details.

Why aren’t renters more vocal, or more active? After all, renters make up a third of New Zealand’s households and half the population, but in the conversation about housing, they don’t get half the airtime. It’s one of the questions I looked at in my PhD thesis, and that I’ll be writing more on in the future. Some answers come from looking at New Zealand’s hundred-year history of renter activism. From there, we can learn about some of the key challenges to renter activism – as well as common methods and key achievements.

People may wish to come along to an upcoming seminar in Auckland, organised by the Fabians, which looks at some of these issues. I’ll be talking about the history of New Zealand renter activism, touching on some of the groups active today. Milo West, of Save Our Homes, will be presenting on her recent trip to the United States, where she met with a number of housing activist groups and learned about some of their achievements and challenges. We’ll discuss what renters in New Zealand today can learn from the past and from the American experience.

Sally Schoolmaster via New York Times.
Sally Schoolmaster via New York Times.

When the dust settles from the Unitary Plan it should be much easier to build a second building on a single-family zoned site. Accessory units are considered a low hanging fruit to inserting housing supply and diversity into growing cities. Here’s a good article on Portland’s granny units. Zahid Sardar, “Portland’s Small-House Movement Is Catching On” New York Times.

This $175,000 house, one of the smallest she has lived in, will allow her to age in place if she chooses. It feels larger, thanks to the indoor/outdoor design solutions…

In 2010, during the economic slump, when many building plans were being shelved, Portland presciently began to allow homeowners the right to develop accessory dwelling unig units on standard 5,000-square-foot residential lots for the first time. The city also elimiated development charges of up to $15,000 for new accessory dwelling units to spur homeowenrs to build.

More incentives followed: Homeowners could build and even rent out a unit that did not have off-street parking; any design not visible from the street could be built without input from neighbors; and new height limits – raised to 20 feet from 18 feet – encouraged two-story units, like Ms. Wilson’s.

Here’s some more research on how urban design influences our well being. “Can Urban Environments Be Designed for Better Mental Health?“, American Psychiatric Association.

One area of substantial research is the benefit of natural environments or green spaces which can provide a calming atmosphere, evoke positive emotions and facilitate learning and alertness. Experiencing nature helps people recover from the mental fatigue of work. Some research has found that activity in natural outdoor settings can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children. Research reported in the journal Scientific Reports used satellite imagery, local tree data and local health data in Toronto, Canada to quantify the benefits of trees in urban streets. They found that trees along streets are associated with a significant health benefit and that even small increases in the number of trees along streets can improve health.

A group of researchers set out to study the complex functioning of the urban built environment and its impact on mental health. They gathered data on the structure of the city, service (e.g., libraries, transportation, sports facilities, entertainment, etc.) and looked for connections between this data and use of antidepressant medication in the cities’ population.

They concluded that the key factors contributing to reduced risk of depression were accessibility to public transportation and a more dense urban structure (rather than sprawl). This was particularly true for women and older adults. Women and older adults who lived in places more accessible to public transportation and in more densely populated areas were prescribed fewer antidepressant medications. While this population-based study cannot identify cause, the researchers suggest that both of these factors could reduce stress by increasing opportunities to move around the city and to participate in social activities.

The design of streets is being democratised with open source tools like Streetmix and Counterapp. Increasingly, people are also resorting to fixing streets themselves using paint, posts or cones- “Bike Lane Posts Installed By Safety Vigilantes Can Stay, Says SFMTA“. Here’s a new tool/app that is designed to stop illegal parking in NYC by allowing people to publicly document cases of people parking in bike lanes. John Metcalf, “New Yorkers Are Publicly Shaming Cars in Bike Lanes“, City Lab.

The map invites cyclists who see motorists parked or idling in bike lanes to snap a photo and send it in, where it’ll be geolocated, time-stamped, and sometimes annotated with a comment like “Complete logjam all at this twerp’s convenience.”

The map is supposed to function as a public record of drivers behaving badly, but it functions equally well as a record of frustration in New York’s cycling community. “I’m sure he was only waiting here for a minute,” writes one person. “You know, only enough time for me to die 60 times over.” Chimes another: “The reason the guy in the white shirt had to park his car in the bike lane right below the busy Fulton St. intersection? Hot dog break.”

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  1. Kent here is a another link for Sunday reading. “Where do Upzonings Happen”

    There is some good economic analysis of LA and the concluding paragraph is as follows. I suspect those findings could be replicated in Auckland.

    “If the housing markets were at all efficient, a nice neighborhood would be upzoned as demand rises for its specific set of amenities. Nice neighborhoods should be growing denser than less-nice neighborhoods. In reality, the opposite is true. A desirable amenity such as good beach access or a good neighborhood school just makes neighborhood owners more determined to fight off any sort of increase in the quantity of housing. Clubs must be exclusive to be expensive.”

    1. For this reason it is important NZ has planning rules that are less dominated by exclusive clubs of snooty neighbourhoods. As Kent says -secondary housing units should be low hanging fruit. But even that is too much for some politicians -Gerry Brownlee and Bob Parker (CCC Mayor) could have easily instituted this as an earthquake response -some Canterbury economists -John Fountain and Eric Crampton were keen on it -but the political establishment were too worried about the exclusive club of snooty Fendalton types. I think reciprocal intensification should also be an easy sell and would increase intensification/moderate house price rises. This being a rule where two neighbors can simply agree to drop the shade plane and setback rules on a common adjoining boundary. I discuss it in part 2 of this article http://www.interest.co.nz/opinion/83082/brendon-harre-and-david-lupton-set-out-case-more-and-more-variety-intensive-housing

          1. It would benefit clever/hard working farms who are more productive than their neighbours and penalise lazy farmers. Land value type rates do not penalise the productive.

          2. How does increasing the fixed cost of owning land benefit anyone producing food? The highly productive could attempt to decrease the disbenefit by intensive agriculture or horticulture – more cows per hectare, more irrigation, more artificial fertilers and pesticides, more food grown hydroponically. Is that what we want? (because that is what the “clever” producers will do).

            Why would a grower invest in tree crops (eg. avocados) that take a decade to produce returns? The increased financial risk is going to make locally-produced food more expensive. I guess we can just import more cheap food.

          3. Farms only have value in land already and are not zoned for development. A hectare of farmlands might pay the same as a hours on 200m2 in papakura.

    2. Regarding mental health and the environment. There is an interesting discussion regarding drug abuse and addiction. Is the cause -chemical hooks or the environment -especially aspects of the environment that allows people to bond with others. There is a great TED talk about it.


      There is also another really interesting TED talk about the importance of social connections by Nicholas Christakis MD, Phd.


  2. Re: Elinor Chisholm statement “After all, renters make up a third of New Zealand’s households and half the population”.

    I think this statement is true. The Eaqubs make the same assertion (about adults over the age of 15) in their book “Generation Rent” and they are not the sort of people to make statistical mistakes. But for a layman like myself it is incredible hard to confirm through StatsNZ.

    I note that Labour and Green party MPs on twitter and facebook comment on the declining number of owner occupied households, but I would have thought the more relevant data-set changes would be about the number of people renting not the number of rental houses.

    Also if you look at Elinor’s statement it show a massive inequality dividing renters from owners. One half of NZ lives in rental accommodation -being one third of the houses, whereas the other half of NZ lives in owner occupied housing -being two thirds of the houses.

  3. The big news this week isn’t the election. We got basically the same Council as before and very little will change. New Zealand ratified the Paris Accord. That is the news. This will affect us all. I think the most interesting idea is the white roof project from the US summarised here http://www.houzz.co.nz/ideabooks/73682411/list/white-is-the-new-black-in-eco-friendly-roofs . They have estimated if 30% of NZ roofs were painted roof white it will have the same effect as taking 70,000 cars off the road for 20 years. It certainly seems to have more going for it than planting trees. Every tree will die at some point and release its carbon in some form as it decays.

    1. “Every tree will die at some point and release its carbon in some form as it decays.”

      Unless we put it in a building. And seriously. Storing 1000s of tons of carbon in trees permanently after they suck it up for a couple of centuries seems like a good idea right now

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