by Kylie
by Kylie

I’m an immigrant from the US so the election results have been both disturbing and humbling and have made me reflect on the amount of time I spend both professionally and personally on urban issues. When I first started doing this over 20 years ago, the inside joke was “urbanism can solve tooth decay.” It was our belief our advocacy work at the time- “walkable urbanism”, “land use planning”, “TODs”, etc. could solve an endless list of current concerns including energy supply, air pollution, and farmland depletion. In many ways that debate was largely won. Yay!

We are now in a confounding situation where the most desirable, tolerant big cities are too popular, too successful, both displacing and locking out people. The legacy systems in many cities, including Auckland, have not adapted quickly enough to the unprecedented return to the city or to the wicked challenges of climate change and technological change.

So here are the some of the usual topics I like to write about- housing, density, absurd planning and zoning rules, transport accessibility and options, proximity, and parking, but now with an even greater urgency and focus. Providing access to, and opportunities of the city – the Right to the City – couldn’t be more important.

Laura Foote Clark, “How do we avoid another Trump?“, Medium.

We have chronically under-built housing in and around our booming cities for decades. The effects of this spill out into almost every problem America faces. Culturally, racially, and economically, we have become more physically segregated.

The future is cities. They offer more economic opportunities. They are more environmentally sound. They force us to become more comfortable with difference. Urban migration is a dominant force of our era. And we have been fighting it tooth and nail.

We must create enough housing to make this urban future available for everyone. Either we stop living in isolation with like-minded neighbors or this country will break.

Stranger Staff, “The Resistance: How to Defeat Donald Trump’s Plot Against America“, The Stranger.


Look out the window of your micro-apartment or new town house or aging wood-shingled home. Look at the faces of the people sitting with you in the cafe, or bar, or free clinic lobby, or library. Look across the aisle of the bus, or subway, or light rail train you’re riding. Look at the drivers stuck in freeway traffic with you. Look at the young and old of all colors and creeds who share this city with you, some sleeping, not far from you, under tarps and highway overpasses.

You live inside a machine that has been killing fascism for a long time. Think of the countless refugees from rural America, people who might otherwise have grown up to be Trump voters, who moved to your city and were changed.

Christopher Hawthorne, “Bucking national trend, L.A. voters enthusiastically embrace a more urban future“, The Los Angeles Times.

Still, the idea that L.A.’s core identity is wrapped up in the car and the single-family house — a notion that has been both crumbling and rather desperately defended by nostalgic readings of the city in recent years — took the sort of hit from which it may never recover. This is especially true given the margins Tuesday, with Measure M’s 69.8% support surpassing even the 67.2% that an earlier transit tax, Measure R, gained in 2008 and Measure LV winning just 43.8% of the vote in Santa Monica.

This is perhaps the most important message sent by voters Tuesday: The Los Angeles dominated by the single-family subdivision and the freeway overpass is not some permanent, fixed city. It was preceded by a different kind of city, one deeply reliant on mass transit and active in building cooperative and multifamily housing. The results on Tuesday suggest there is little doubt now it will be replaced by a noticeably different kind of city as well.

This emerging city — which I have referred to as the Third Los Angeles, following the prewar First L.A. of the streetcar and the bungalow court and the Second L.A. of the freeway, the concrete-lined river and the glamorous detachment of the single-family house — will continue to be challenged and even attacked by supporters of what for many powerful people in Los Angeles has been a remarkably generous status quo.

Chris Buntlett, “Six Things City Builders Can Surmise from the 2016 U.S. Election“, Modacity.

2. Think Outside the Echo Chamber

Another conclusion we can reach after this election cycle is that both our personal and professional circles – online and in real life – are becoming increasingly self-reinforcing and self-congratulatory. As we continue to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, and algorithms feed us with the news and ideas that strengthen existing world views, breaking out of those echo chambers has become practically impossible.

Moving forward, the great challenge will be to stop preaching to the converted, and start thinking bigger and more creatively to get outside of our existing feedback loops. Not only will this help to spread our concepts and messages to a broader audience, but also challenge us to think differently about the problems we face as a society, taking a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds into consideration.

Motu research finds that the Queen City attracts the brightest talent allowing it to out-perform most smaller centres in both labour productivity and multi-factor productivity“,

“After accounting for the fact that highly productive industries are over-represented in Auckland, Auckland firms produce 13.5 percent more goods and services with the same labour than firms in other urban areas, and 11.3 percent more than firms in rural areas,” said Dave Maré, Senior Fellow at Motu.

“Reflecting the higher average skills of workers in Auckland, firms there pay 12.1 percent more per employee than do firms in other urban areas. Labour prices are only slightly lower in Wellington,” said Dr Maré.

New Zealand as a place talent wants to live – Paul Callaghan’s vision, five years on“, The Spinoff.

As an immigrant myself, I’m in no doubt that if New Zealand is not “the place where talent wants to live”, it’s certainly very high on the list (and probably rising, after Brexit and Trump). But when that talent arrives they’ll be shocked to find that our clean green image is a fantasy, our rates of infectious diseases are diabolical and our housing market so overheated that families are living in their cars. And despite all the evidence it’s a bad idea, we continue to rely on exporting dairy as one of our main industries. -Siouxsie Wiles

Nathaniel Popper and Guilbert Gates, “Rebuilding Our Infrastructure“, New York Times.

Infrastructure is an appealing cause because it provides a straightforward way for the government to inject money into the economy and build the foundation for longer term economic growth. But some economists say returns from infrastructure spending are likely to be much less pronounced than they were in the past, in part because the highest yielding infrastructure is already in place.

Economists have provided vastly different estimates on how much infrastructure spending can be relied on to generate long-term economic growth. All sides, though, agree that the outcome depends in large part on the particular timing and location of the spending. In an earlier era, for instance, new roads vastly expanded the opportunities available to American businesses. Nowadays, spending on highways appears to come with significantly lower returns.

by Ian Lockwood
by Ian Lockwood

Our friend Kylie’s artwork above was inspired by some awful experiences. Here is some wider media on road hostility and other barriers to cycling. This does not present a very attractive picture of Sydney, in particular for people wanting to walk or cycle.

Gary Maddox, “Tour de France winner Cadel Evans finds cycling in Sydney too intimidating“, The Sydney Morning Herald.

“I’m not intimidated to ride in many places but Sydney is one of them,” he said.

While the narrowness of streets, volume of traffic, poor cycling infrastructure and distance from the CBD to good riding areas were factors, Evans said there was just too little respect on the roads.

Jacob Saulwick , “Heavy fines and stalled bike paths blamed for drop in Sydney cycling rates“, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Until about a year ago, the state government had a target of doubling the number of trips made in Sydney by bicycle. But the government scrapped that target last September – and, in the meantime, cycling rates have remained below where they were in 2013 and 2014.

Jonathan Milne: Attack on boy is why we need to reclaim the streets for our kids“, Stuff.

Since the 1980s, the proportion of children being dropped off in a car has doubled to nearly 55 per cent. With it has come worsened air pollution, greater congestion, and increased danger as more kids are involved in road accidents. Worse, it has undermined community cohesion. Schools can sometimes be reduced to faceless institutions where parents and teachers don’t know each other, rather than the hearts of our communities that they can and should be.

We know people are busy so, with the support of giveaways from Micro Scooters, we’re encouraging families to choose one day a week when they and their kids walk, scoot, cycle, even ride a horse if that’s what works for you!

We’re backing schools to set up walking buses and other solutions, with parents and volunteers helping local kids get to class safely.

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  1. Bernard Hickey over on writes that Trump may impact on NZ’s housing market because he is causing a rise in the bond yields -which is increasing borrowing costs. I recently wrote an article looking at learning the lessons from past Auckland housing market corrections and how this impacts on the post Unitary Plan Auckland housing market. Basically eventually there will be a market correction -whether it comes from affordable housing supply that meets the market demand or comes from some sort external triggered business cycle type crash is an interesting/scary question. Read about it here

  2. Why is Trump so bad? The sky isn’t falling. Furthermore people really need to tone down the use of the words ‘racist, misogynistic, sexist etc before they lose all meaning. I’ve become convinced that we have a new ‘neo-puritanism’ sans religion that is dominating discourse amongst the elite and marginalizing wider society. The worst form of intolerance is ideological intolerance. It far exceeds race, religion, gender as the greatest kind of discrimination in the west.

    1. “The worst form of intolerance is ideological intolerance. It far exceeds race, religion, gender as the greatest kind of discrimination in the west.”

      Sorry, that’s pure bullshit. The US now has a president who was running on a platform of ethnic cleansing – ie deporting millions of people, building a border wall, and instituting a religious test for immigration to the US. His advisors have speculated about setting up a database to track and surveil all Muslims living in the country. Saying that we can’t or shouldn’t describe this as what it is – ie bigotry – is the most egregious form of political correctness.

      1. I agree. It is political correct if there is some sort discouragement/sanction on the public saying what Peter has just said, which is just the facts -these are all policies which Trump has run on. Just because Trump is the President, doesn’t mean we have to agree with his policies or that we cannot accurately describe his policies and say why we do not like them.

        1. im hoping trump speeds up the end of american hegemony.

          the western seaboard states and the northeast should leave jesusland on its own.

          i do fear a pence takeover with the don being purely a trojanhorse for the religiois zealouts.

        1. I dunno, it seems like a fair description of a policy of selectively deporting or refusing entry to people with the wrong ethnicity or religion.

          1. I think you’ll find that President-elect Trump’s proposed policies entail deporting criminal non-citizens following their sentences, and tightening border security against potential terrorists. Both policies are similar to those of Australia and New Zealand. Hardly ethnic cleansing which often (though not always) involves violence and genocide. That some (or even many) of those illegal criminals/potential terrorists may correlate with Mexicans/Islamists does not prove causation.

          2. It’s not a fair description at all. Deporting people who are illegally in your country is fairly standard practice in every single country in the world – including NZ. For reasons that only make sense in the very confusing politics of the US, successive Governments have decided that they will do very little about it. It has been estimated that there are 10-15 million illegal immigrants in the US. Surely, that is a problem. If NZ had a 100,000 illegals here it would be a concern. If a person is illegally in a country then he or she is deported – that’s just how it works. While a good number of illegal immigrants are Hispanic the majority of Hispanics in the US are there lawfully. If Trump was saying deport all Hispanics then yes you would have a point. But that’s simply not the case and is nonsense to suggest otherwise.

      2. It’s been proved to an extent experimentally. People were given a fake biography of people, and they discriminated against people that held different/’wrong’ ideological beliefs far more than ethnicity, gender and income.

        I do respect you greatly, but I it gives me concern that people say that the ‘other side’ is irredeemable or evil. Can you not see how dangerous this kind of position is? Especially so, if the other side thinks of your side the same way.

        1. Yes, I agree. When the result of every US presidential election is that a substantial portion of the country goes home thinking that the end times are nigh, something is horribly wrong. It suggests that American institutions have gone deeply awry.

          However, I also think that it’s important to call a spade a spade (to use another politically incorrect phrase). The Democratic Party, while flawed, is a basically normal centre-left party, with all the good and bad that entails. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is increasingly ideologically extreme and contemptuous of policy compromise and the normal functioning of divided government. They bear the vast majority of the blame for the breakdown of American political institutions, and I do not see any sign that they are moderating their position. Particularly on climate change, which is the #1 global issue right now.

          For what it’s worth, I don’t feel the same about elections and political parties in New Zealand. When elections happen here, I may feel happy or sad, depending on the result, but I don’t feel the same kind of fear and loathing. I generally have confidence that political institutions will function well, and that whoever is in power will generally try to do what’s best for all New Zealanders. I question some NZ politicians’ ideas or competence, but not their motivations.

          1. “The Democratic Party, while flawed, is a basically normal centre-left party” I guess it depends on the lens you are looking through. I have always thought of the USA as having two right wing parties, the Democrats a bit right of our National party and the Republicans as a far right party.

      3. “Sorry, that’s pure bullshit. The US now has a president who was running on a platform of ethnic cleansing – ie deporting millions of people, building a border wall, and instituting a religious test for immigration to the US. His advisors have speculated about setting up a database to track and surveil all Muslims living in the country. Saying that we can’t or shouldn’t describe this as what it is – ie bigotry – is the most egregious form of political correctness.”

        Let’s put aside the laughable “ethnic cleansing” claims. All this is coming from the same Peter Nunns who repeatedly argues that culture and community are disposable at the altar of GDP growth.

        You’re happy to “ethnically cleanse” when it suits your bottom line.

  3. I would like to do some more self promotion on what seems like a quiet Sunday. I recently wrote an article which theme was that if we do not address housing affordability issues. If a significant group of people experiences all the risks and hard work of society and yet sees none of benefits, which is what is happening with Generation Rent vs Generation Own, then the risk for us having a populist revolution like Trump or Brexit rises. I wrote the article before Trump was elected -I wasn’t really expecting him to win -just to do well enough to scare people…. Unfortunately the reality is even more scary than what I predicted.

    Anyway the article is here

    1. Really interesting reading. Another way to understand this issue is this RSA animate: The reason why I bring this one up is the important point he makes that the most costly form of dishonesty is not the few that take a lot, but the large numbers of people that take a little. With respect to housing it is the dishonest gain from the many that is causing the greatest cost to society as opposed to the few that for instance exploit monopolies.

  4. “Reflecting the higher average skills of workers in Auckland, firms there pay 12.1 percent more per employee than do firms in other urban areas”

    Which is why people are better off financially outside Auckland. 12% greater pay in an environment where most things are more than 12% greater in price isn’t that great. Housing alone is 200% greater.

    I read this week that Gisborne has the hottest property market for under-30s, who are heading there from around the country. There are more young new home owners there than anywhere else in New Zealand, per capita. They get it.

    1. Serious question, why do you live in Auckland Geoff? You often post stuff in favour of your hometown of Gisborne, yet you live here. What attracts you to Auckland, or pushes you away from Gisborne?

      1. A young person will move to a place because it offers opportunities, then they develop a career and contacts that are local to that area support the career. As a person gets older it becomes difficult to move somewhere else.

        Auckland for several decades was the place with the highest rate of construction per capita in NZ and the most attractive place to be. It no longer is.

        The young people of today have their own choices to make.

  5. I think the accepted view on infrastructure and growth is that infrastructure doesn’t create growth at all. But if you have a bottleneck that can hold up growth so you need to focus spending on those bottlenecks. The bottleneck might be transport or energy or communications or bandwidth. For example the Waikato was a dairy producing region well before the Kaimai rail tunnel. But that tunnel was able reduce the transport costs associated with Waikato produce. To say returns from infrastructure are reducing is a truism. The low hanging fruit principle requires that outcome. For example the Arapuni Dam had a higher return than the other dams so it was built first. The next dam had a lower return and so on.
    At its most basic the old fashioned Growth is a function of capital and labour (augmented by technology) still applies. If a demand doesn’t exist then infrastructure is just wasteful.

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