Welcome back to Sunday reading. By the time you read this, I will be waking up in a tent on the Coromandel, hopefully having had a spectacular walk up to the Pinnacles.

This week, I want to start off with an article that a talented friend of mine, Oliver Chan, wrote on The Spinoff: “Restoring the house that Jack built: how the lessons of the past can help solve the housing crisis“:

The story begins with Jack. During the 1930s generations born during the late-Victorian era, who had started life in urban slums and rural huts for itinerant labourers, embarked a bold rethink of housing. Leading the charge was one of their own, John A. Lee, commonly known during his heyday as ‘Jack’. Born into a Dunedin slum in 1891, the teenage Lee was convicted of petty theft and sentenced to Burnham Industrial School for young offenders. After he successfully escaped, Lee spent years on the run working as a swagman in farms, butcheries and factories – experiences that informed his political outlook: practical, bold and with a lifelong penchant for rebellion. After a year in Mt Eden Prison for bootlegging and theft, and service in World War I in which he lost his left arm, Lee was elected a Labour MP in 1922. Political rival Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage refused to appoint the charismatic, popular radical to cabinet when Labour was elected to government in 1935, instead giving him the minor post of Parliamentary Undersecretary with responsibility for housing. Naturally, the Victorian survivor turned political gadfly had a plan.

Highlighting housing conditions during the Great Depression, Lee used his position to end the hardship endured by slum-dwellers, swagmen and the newly destitute alike. He proposed a large-scale state housing plan beyond what the cautious Savage deemed necessary, but the PM was ultimately convinced. With Government as the procurer of materials and land and Fletcher Construction as the monopoly builder, over 30,000 state houses were built between 1936 and 1949 housing the urban poor, middle class and eventually returning servicemen. Though the rebellious Lee eventually fell foul of Savage and was ultimately expelled from Labour in 1940, he deserves credit for affordable, accessible housing as a human right, with the state serving as a guarantor. The house was built.

New Zealand politicians used to be characters, eh?

Talking to my forebears about housing reminds me that they didn’t necessarily have it easy – and that BYO (build your own) was a common solution. Perhaps we should do more of this?

Down on the South Island, two Canterbury University students are building their own tiny house to escape damp flats. Cherie Sivignon reports in Stuff:

Fed up with living in a cold, damp, mouldy flat, university students Christoph Riedel and Anna Naygrow have spent their summer holiday building themselves a tiny house.

Tucked away on flat land behind the main building at Menzshed Waimea in Richmond, near Nelson, the couple’s first home is almost ready to be towed 400km to Christchurch for the start of the academic year at the University of Canterbury.

“We’ll live in it this year,” Riedel said.

Anna Naygrow and Christoph Riedel started building their tiny house in mid-November.

“It’s a warm place. We’re going to get a fire put in, it’s very well-insulated, everything’s double-glazed, we’ve got lots of light so the idea is just to have a warm place to live and study.”


Speaking of Kiwis doing clever DIY, University of Auckland statistician Thomas Lumley (StatsChat) has set up a Twitter bot entitled @tūreiti (te reo for ‘late’) to report the real-time performance of Auckland’s buses at 15-minute intervals. It’s pretty clever:

Lumley explains the Twitter bot here.

And now for some cleverness from the other side of the world. In Politico Magazine, Colin Woodard explains “How Mormon principles and grassroots ideals saved Utah“. It’s a rare happy-ending story in 20th-century land use and transport planning:

Imagine getting 90 municipalities in 10 counties in one of the nation’s fastest growing regions to get on board for a 20-year land use planning effort intended to conserve water use, promote clean air and avoid the destruction of open spaces by slashing housing lot sizes, encouraging higher-density development and imposing new taxes to build a light rail network and commuter rail system from scratch. Imagine that it worked so well the effort expanded statewide.

You might assume it must have started in a liberal bastion like Portland, Oregon or Burlington, Vermont, where people are proud to be tree huggers and planning isn’t a dirty word. But the most ambitious and successful long-term land-use planning effort in American history is happening in ultra-conservative Utah, a state with powerful ranching, mining and energy interests and a reflexive distrust of top-down government solutions. And it was led not by state officials, but by a bipartisan alliance of business, industrial, religious, political and civic leaders, working from plans crowd-sourced from tens of thousands of Utah citizens and executed on a completely voluntary basis by their local governments.

“Our purpose is not to lead somewhere, our purpose is to let the public see their choices and let them lead,” Robert Grow, president, CEO and a co-founder of Envision Utah, the public-private partnership that put the planning questions on Utahns’ agenda 20 years ago and helped keep them there ever since. “They are going to chose the future, so we’re empowering them by letting them see what their choices are and helping them implement those choices.”

The results have been impressive: Per capita water use has been cut by more than a quarter and air emissions slashed by nearly half, while 300 square miles of rural and open land have been spared from development. Automobile use has actually dropped slightly in terms of vehicle miles travelled, even as the region’s population has increased by a third, thanks to what is one of the largest transit transit rail systems per capita in the country. Taxpayers have saved billions in avoided infrastructure spending and maintenance and Envision Utah has been feted by city planners across the country as a model for how to do things right.

I highly recommend reading the whole article. It’s interesting to me (in part) because coordination problems between neighbouring councils tend to defeat good planning in many places. It’s too easy to succumb to “beggar thy neighbour” policies or scupper worthy problems due to failure to agree on funding or timing. Salt Lake City’s example shows the value in having a regional public-private forum for discussion.

Also from the US, a cautionary tale of how to get it badly wrong with policies that seemed good at the time. Ana Campoy (Quartz) explains how “the origin of your TV set is a simple lesson in the dangers of ignoring globalization“:

The color-tube TV industry was the US’s to lose, but the US never really owned the flat-screen TV industry. The inventions and discoveries that enabled it originally came from the US. But in those early days, the ultimate application for them, flat-screen TVs, was deemed to be too far off to be worth investing in by US companies, according to Stefanie Lenway, who co-authored a 2003 book examining the demise of the US’s TV industry.

The Japanese, however, had less grandiose aspirations. They started using the new flat screen technology in wristwatches and calculators. By doing so, they got a jumpstart on a technology that eventually transformed the whole TV industry. The change wasn’t solely in the way the final product looked and worked, but also in how it was conceived.

As Lenway and her co-authors argue, the flat-screen display industry thrived on the cooperation of researchers and companies from all over the world. Suppliers on one side of the planet learned from sellers in another, competitors from different countries formed alliances with each other, and bought and sold one another’s products.

Most of the learning took place in Japan, because companies there had been experimenting with the technology for longer. But it wasn’t closed off to companies from other countries. US-based Corning, for example, set up in Japan and participated in the knowledge exchange. Today, it remains a key producer of glass, among the highest-margin TV components.

That’s not the model that other US companies adopted. Together with the government, they tried to reproduce what was going on in Japan on US soil. But they couldn’t catch up because they didn’t have the same expertise. In pursuing a “Make-America-Great-Again”-like strategy, they lost sight of the “humility and openness” of the globally interdependent nature of the business that, according to Lenway and her co-authors’ analysis, were required to succeed.

One by one, American manufacturers pulled out of the business, while more sophisticated manufacturing plants kept popping up in Asia.


Are other incumbent industries likely to be buffeted by global forces like trade and technology? Most likely. David Roberts (Vox) lays out the case that change is coming faster than expected to the oil industry as a result of electric cars:

So EV forecasts range from modest to revolutionary. What should we make of this?

It seems to me that we don’t come to these questions with a clean slate. The very kind of models this study critiques are the ones that have consistently underestimated the growth of solar and wind. They use baseline scenarios that assume no further cost and policy changes when, in reality, cost and policy changes are both rapid and inevitable.

Multiple drivers (pardon the pun) are lining up behind EVs — rapidly falling battery costs, rising range, synergy with other new energy technologies, widespread international policy support, growing consumer interest, and (my pet dark horse) wireless EV charging.

Experience shows that markets at the center of this kind of interest and activity do not continue to grow on a steady, linear path. They take off, lurching into exponential growth. That shift is impossible to predict in advance with any precision, but at this point, we ought to know that it’s coming.

By now, we need not be neutral toward this range of projections. History has taught us that for new, distributed, consumer-focused technologies, unexpected explosive growth is … to be expected. Big oil companies and investors would do well to prepare.

I hope he’s right about this. The last thing we need at this point in time is to burn more coal and oil.

Lastly, I’d just like to say a word about immigration policy – ie Trump’s decision to ban people who were born in seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. This is a terrible policy. It is hurting a whole bunch of ordinary people, many of whom are now cut off from their families or in limbo trying to leave dangerous situations like the Syrian civil war, without helping anything except possibly ISIS recruitment drives. I believe it’s important for New Zealand to stand up against this kind of nonsense, both by speaking out against it and by doing our bit to accommodate refugees from the wars that America has started in the Middle East.

This isn’t just the right thing to do: It’s likely to benefit New Zealand. The NZ Initiative’s Eric Crampton makes the case:

America has long been a magnet for the world’s most talented people. And America’s most advanced industries rely heavily on foreigners allowed to work in the United States on H1-B visas. America’s universities are the best in the world because they attract top scholars from everywhere. Foreigners on H1-B visas or with permanent residence teach foreign students on F visas, making education a massively successful American export industry.

New Zealand should announce a new visa category for people who were legally entitled to live and work in America until the Executive Order broke things. If the New Zealand government has wanted to attract more highly skilled migrants, there would be few better bets than trying to help those who have been hurt by American policy.

Canada has been talking about similar moves. Canadian universities are rushing to accommodate students bumped from American universities. Canadian tech companies have asked their government to implement an immediate targeted visa providing temporary residence to those displaced by the Executive Order; Canada’s prime minister has been active on Twitter, signalling openness.

New Zealand is running a trial of a new way of supporting refugees, modelled on Canada’s sponsorship regime. Canada supplements the government’s refugee quota with a private sponsorship arrangement, under which more refugees are allowed in whenever Canadians are prepared to sponsor them. The bulk of the financial cost of supporting refugees then shifts from the government to those Canadians who are willing to help. And those sponsors also do an excellent job of helping refugees integrate into Canadian communities.

New Zealand could expand its sponsored refugee trial to accommodate those refugees with whom America has broken faith. This need not be at any particularly large cost to the Government. All the government needs to do is let caring New Zealanders help.

In the NZ Herald, Lincoln Tan takes a look at the impact of migration in New Zealand, based partly on the NZ Initiative’s new report on the topic:

The report said there was little evidence to support the perception that migrants stole jobs from New Zealanders born in the country.

“That is because the number of jobs in an economy is not fixed. Migrants also contribute to job growth by increasing demand for local goods and services,” it said.

[…] “On balance, the available evidence suggests that New Zealand benefits from migration, or at the very least the country is not made worse off,” the report concluded.

To conclude, I’d recommend reading a piece that Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy wrote in The Spinoff in response to Trump’s visa ban: “We will not let racism and division poison our New Zealand“. It’s short and to the point. Frankly, I’ve been impressed with Devoy – when appointed, she admitted that she didn’t have a huge background in the area, but she’s been willing to get out and stand up for New Zealand values of tolerance and inclusion.

Elderly New Zealanders, our own Holocaust survivors told us they never thought they’d witness a return to the politics of hatred, division and racism in their lifetime: but it’s happening. As we gathered in front of the Holocaust Memorial in the Jewish Cemetery out at Makara, they urged us to stand up for the rights of refugees, Muslims and minorities targeted by the powerful.

And they know what they’re talking about. Because people like Wellington’s Inge Woolf and Vera Egermayer remember the swastikas, the Nazis and the marches. They also remember that in the midst of that storm of hate: millions of everyday people stayed silent and looked the other way. They remember that instead of standing up for others – neighbours and fellow citizens chose to be bystanders.

Right now so many of us are feeling helpless but the one thing we can do is let our own decision makers know that we will not allow hatred and intolerance to spread and become normalised here at home: Not in our New Zealand.

Onya x2. Enjoy Waitangi Weekend.

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    1. Unlike yourself, Peter doesn’t believe a single mode of transport is the answer to everything.

      And FYI yes there is a ferry from Auckland to coromandel.

      1. I’ve always wanted to try this, but there’s not a lot of info about regular services on the Peninsula itself. Things pop up in the funniest places though; my favourite place to eat out there will often give people lifts to the surrounding bach havens at the end of the night so they don’t have to drive.

  1. Was a good post until you started talking about immigration policies of USA politics – relevance? Nada.
    At least you got it right in saying that it was people from seven countries (which happen to be Muslim countries 7 out of 40 Muslim countries… which by the way is 9 less banned countries than the number of Muslim countries that ban Israelis -16).
    Out of the 7 the only country that shouldn’t be on it is Iran, the other 6 are there for very good reason!

    Susan Devoy can go and take a running jump! She is undoubtedly the worst race relations commissioner we have ever had! Not once have I heard her stand up for anyone that isn’t Maori or an immigrant (where it got tricky was when it was an issue between Maori and immigrants – she either sat out that or found a way to blame someone else). She flip flopped a lot also (see the Peter Leitch saga where she supported him but then flip flopped to condemning him despite Peter being in the right about the whole situation just a poor choice of words to express himself – if you are not aware of the story he saw a Maori woman drunk driving on Waiheke and told her that she shouldn’t be doing that to which she responded saying she was tangata Whenua so could do as she pleased! Instead of saying that doesn’t make a difference he said it was a white mans island rules in a joking manner to dismiss her inappropriate comment).

    1. Totally agree – Transport blog should stick to transport and not discuss the temporary ban of people to the US from 7 countries. If we want an immigration debate let’s have one but about immigration here in NZ.

      1. Firstly, I’m pretty sure the rules (guidelines… even better, designed for unarbitrariness) say don’t talk about the blog’s editorial direction… or if you want to do so, do so on your own blog/elsewhere.

        Secondly, what does the discussion about the ban or immigration actually say? What else is “This isn’t just the right thing to do: It’s likely to benefit New Zealand” but an attempt to start or contribute to “an immigration debate […] about immigration here in NZ”? Furthermore, earlier in the post Nunns talked about globalisation with the line “globally interdependent nature of the business,” which I put to the reader as being generalisable to “what happens there influences what can happen here”.

        Another way of looking at this is Word gives the immigration part of this Sunday Reading 790 words. Adrian chose to focus on 113 criticising a policy or maybe, if we’re kind (by lying through our teeth) and say Devoy’s comments have nothing to say about immigration in NZ, that’s still only 285. So, apparently Adrian’s inviting us to believe that 15% or 36% of a post’s words contain 100% of the meaning?

        Thirdly, if we want to take AKLDUDE’s point of view which seems to specifically isolate those 113 words as a problem (rather than ignoring the rest), it’s not irrelevant unless AKLDUDE wants to convince us that immigration has nothing to do with what transportblog’s about (urban form & transport). Now, I disagree with that and was hoping maybe they’d bring up the “migrant levy” to fund infrastructure argument based on previous discussion of immigration, but even if we assume it’s true, those 113 words still provide the context for the proposal to pursue “opportunistic immigration policy” discussed in the reading excerpt. While I suspect pretty much everyone who reads this post will be aware that Trump’s banned some immigration, but it is still good practice to include a little introductory spiel because it helps maintain/create flow and gives us more information on Nunns’ perspective and, therefore, helps us arrive at the point he tried to communicate. Or, put another way, it’s relevant.

        This reminds me, I sometimes wonder if recent immigrants, used to more established public transport traditions, are more likely than those indoctrinated (sorry, enculturated) in Auckland’s PT tradition to catch public transport?

        1. I never said the entire post was wrong or inappropriate so I am unsure what your are actually referring to. I think what makes this blog great is that it is not left-wing, right-wing, or any other political faction. I think this blog and the associated groups, such as Greater Auckland, focus on great transport policies and does not conflate other issues such as US immigration policy.

        2. There are 790 words that are specifically limited to immigration at the end of the article. 119 of those are /superficially/ unrelated to what you “wanted” i.e. a discussion about immigration in NZ. If I later managed to, say, refer to the “post” when I clearly and very obviously meant the 790 words and should’ve said section, I would expect that someone responding would pay attention to the substantive rather than error. Wouldn’t you? The substantive point being, of course, that Adrian missed that there was an attempt to talk about immigration in New Zealand.

          Indeed, I would go as far to say that it is entirely clear what I am referring to and I would hope that you would be courteous enough not to pretend otherwise. On the other hand, the means of saying otherwise is by focussing on one word, which is mechanically the same as focussing on 119 words, rather than everything else (which in the original instance was the 790 words in the “immigration section”… and those percentages only work with 790 as the denominator; please read what I say if you’re going to respond) so I shouldn’t be too surprised, eh? My bad. Wait… why am /I/ apologising?

          The worst thing, though, is that you are still spouting the same nonsense about how that post’s immigration section was about US immigration policy. It was not, and no matter how often you keep saying it was, it remains that you have not explained why 15% of 790 words determines the entire meaning and why introductory spiels are irrelevant. Do you ask us to believe that Peter Nunns is an utterly incompetent writer incapable of maintaining a coherent point? (Doesn’t line up with the evidence.) Do you think that meaning is entirely constructed by the reader and the author doesn’t guide it at all? (In which case, /you’re/ the one who created the debate about US immigration but at least you explain the 15%=100% and irrelevance of introductory spiels, huh?) Or is it that you were just looking for anything, anything at all, you could pretend was the reason why talking about Trump’s policies (which you won’t even call such: why?) shouldn’t be done and damn the reality if it gave you an opportunity to “speak out”? (Well… it /doesn’t/ not fit the evidence.)

        3. Hey, an advisory; if there’s ever any link or discussion here that doesn’t interest you, skip it. Problem solved. Someone else may be interested it, but then also not so interested in what you like. Live and let live. There’s plenty of room for everyone.

        4. “Lastly, I’d just like to say a word about immigration policy – ie Trump’s decision to ban people who were born in seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. This is a terrible policy. It is hurting a whole bunch of ordinary people, many of whom are now cut off from their families or in limbo trying to leave dangerous situations like the Syrian civil war, without helping anything except possibly ISIS recruitment drives. I believe it’s important for New Zealand to stand up against this kind of nonsense, both by speaking out against it and by doing our bit to accommodate refugees from the wars that America has started in the Middle East.”
          That’s about Trump’s policies is it not? I don’t see why it is necessary to discuss such policies here. What does the Islamic State have to do with transport polices in NZ? But what would I know.

        5. I’m sorry that you find these comments so distressing. However, I believe in standing up for my values rather than giving in to misguided political correctness, so I’m not going to retract them.

          See below for an explanation of how immigration (and the backlash to immigration) is relevant to urban policy in NZ.

        6. Stick with it Peter. To be quite honest after 29 years I find most aspects of transport boring. I enjoy reading all the related and unrelated posts on one of the few blogs that that allows free debate.

        7. I have twice now explained the idea of an “introductory spiel” to you and suggested that you read beyond those 119 words. You have not done so. The first time around I also mentioned the idea that maybe what goes on in one part of the world has policy implications here (as an example, you may have missed a common explanation for why the exchange rate was staying so high some years back… the relatively high OCR, relative to what? Well, for example, the USA’s version). This has also been ignored.

          Furthermore, Peter Nunns, the thought criminal himself so maybe you don’t believe him, has explained how immigration is related to the “remit” of transportblog.

          If you’re not going to read but are going to respond…

          And, if anyone is unclear, Trump’s policies are not mutually exclusive with NZ. This shouldn’t need explanation. It wasn’t so long ago that people were wondering if NZ citizens could be affected by said policy, after all. Even pretending that nothing more than those 119 words were written, that those 119 words were the only known trace of Peter Nunns’ opinions, the suggestion that we increase our (very low) intake of refugees gives us room to independently think up Nunn’s aforementioned explanation. And, to be honest, I hardly think that is too intellectually challenging a proposition. (Although whether a Whirlsler-generated attempt would have the same coherency is another matter.)

          There’s an author out there on the internet called “Less Wrong”… this is… just wrong.

    2. Bit of an “alt-fact” in here. Nobody was “drunk driving”. They were all sitting in a bar and drinking. Some nosey old git decides that with no evidence of even an intention to drive, it was his business to call them out.

    3. First off, I usually include a few non-transport-, non-urban planning-related articles in every Sunday reading post. It’s intended to meander a bit. I trust that readers are capable of skipping over the articles that don’t interest them.

      Second, immigration *is* a quite important issue for cities. Large cities tend to attract people from all over – both from within and across national boundaries. This has implications for how we plan our cities (to efficiently accommodate a diverse range of needs and preferences) and how our society works (to enable and encourage people to get on with each other, even if they have different skin colours or accents).

      In order to do this, we must start by *respecting* other people, even if they’re different than us. That means resisting and speaking out against other people’s disrespect, whether it takes the form of crass “jokes” or outright bigotry.

      Finally, I understand that talking about these issues may be challenging for you. That’s fine – it’s an uncomfortable topic. But rather than requesting a safe space, perhaps it would be better to reflect upon *why* the subject makes you uncomfortable?

  2. I don’t want to rain down on the cutesy “Tiny houses” project underway, (I’ve seen another article with a budding entrepreneur in Kapiti doing likewise but for $80K a hit, land not included), however if an overpriced caravan is the answer for housing that all Gen Y and Millennials can aspire to, which is essentially what this bullshit is, then there is something monumentally wrong with the question!

    1. Agreed – the furore over tiny houses overlooks the biggest issue we have with affordability.

      Now, show me a bunch of tiny houses that are easily stackable and would meet earthquake standards and then we’ll talk.

  3. Nice work Peter.
    The only way we are going to get on top of the housing problem is with a mass govt sponsored house building programme for first home buyers ie. Labour’s Kiwibuild.

    1. Id agree to that provided the houses are going on the open market ( auction). I’d completely disagree if these houses are given away cheaply to some people while everyone else has to pay market price.

      1. Completely disagree. All that will happen, then , is that prices will get bidded up and up, usually by speculators.
        PS. I will let you in a secret…I too once, wrongly, believed that the market could solve the issue with minimal govt intervention.
        But it can’t / doesn’t…. especially in a small country like NZ where the market cannot get the economies of scale
        (PS my view does not mean I endorse all forms of intervention in the housing market often promoted by ‘the left’. For example, I think ‘inclusionary zoning’ is really flawed)

        1. So who do you give these cheap houses too? If you earn <100k you get a cheap house, otherwise you pay twice as much at market rate? If I earn $101k I'm significantly worse off than someone who earns $1000 less?
          There is no fair way other than market prices. I'm happy for the government to build houses and sell them if the market is failing, but less happy for some people to be advantaged over others.

        2. Matt there are only speculators in a rising market, if Labour’s Kiwibuild actually has the effect you think it will there will not be any speculators.

        3. Would these people who qualify to purchase one of these houses then be able to cash it in at the full market rate at some point in the future? If so then like Jimbo, I’d be completely against it.

          Regarding speculators, I’m not sure they will be flooding in to buy these properties if the Government was adding 100,000 homes to the housing stock, I think this would likely depress values rather than raise them, which is not generally what speculators are looking for.

        4. No – controls on resale.
          Don’t agree lack of controls would not lead to speculation – in my view the appetite for speculation is almost insatiable, especially when this country has such few restrictions on foreign investment in housing.

        5. Matt – What would be your controls on resale, especially given people have legitimate reasons for selling, such as moving to a different part of the country for work or family reasons.

          Speculation only happens if prices keep going up, which is never guaranteed, especially if you significantly increase supply. Just because people are foreign investors doesn’t mean they aren’t sensible and wouldn’t pull out if the market was no longer rising.

  4. Funny how you have to put wheels on your tiny house, otherwise you would be restricted to either 10m2 or building consent. Building consent would probably cost more than the entire cost of the tiny house after you factor in an architect, geotech, etc. And you can’t build it yourself unless you are a registered builder
    But as long as you put wheels on you can do what you like. Don’t you just love regulation?

    1. Consenting is definitely a large issue for anyone seeking to build their own house in New Zealand. For people building a one-off tiny house, it can be huge.

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