This piece was originally written for Fightback magazine and published online in March.

As an economist specialising in urban issues, I spend most of my time analysing and debating how transport and housing policy can make society wealthier, healthier, and happier. But it’s important to keep equity, exclusion, and politics in view as well: When the average person’s fortunes rise, is everybody better off, or are some people left behind? And if some people feel excluded from society’s good fortune, will they react by building up an alternative, or by tearing down what’s already there?

In this article, I want to step back from purely economic concerns and ask how we can build a city that is more equitable and inclusive, rather than simply more efficient. However, in saying this, I don’t want to give the impression that we must sacrifice economic outcomes to improve equity, or vice versa. On the contrary, many of the housing and transport policies that will benefit us economically will also contribute to a more equitable society.

The problem of scarcity

Urban space is fundamentally limited. A person on a bike cannot occupy the same space as a truck – or, at least, it would be very unwise for them to try it. Two people cannot build houses on the same plot of land – unless they stack their homes and call it an apartment building. Consequently, access to many urban amenities, like coastal views or convenient commutes to a range of jobs, are also limited to those with the right and the means to occupy desirable places.

In a market economy, access to these amenities is usually rationed by price. People with the ability to pay for a nice location get to enjoy living there, and others must go elsewhere. This isn’t to say that non-market allocation systems will necessarily produce a fairer outcome. For instance, in the Soviet Union the best dachas, or holiday homes, were reserved for political and technical elites. However, it does suggest that, to get a more equitable outcome, we need to overcome the scarcity of housing in nice locations and the scarcity of good transport choices throughout the city.

Good urban policy can overcome scarcity. For instance, survey evidence shows that Aucklanders value their natural environment, including beaches, coasts, and public parks. However, a piece of research that I led last year found that home-buyers in Auckland pay substantially more to live near the coast but not to live near regional or local parks.

The difference is that coastal locations are in scarce supply, while parks are not. Because councils chose to build many neighbourhood parks and preserve major green spaces like the Waitakere Ranges and Maungawhau / Mt Eden, very few homes are more than a kilometre from the nearest park. Because there are many parks, access to them doesn’t have to be rationed by price.

Capital accumulation and Auckland’s housing affordability crisis

In Limits to Capital, geographer David Harvey observed that capital tends to seek a ‘spatial fix’ through investment in urban housing and infrastructure that promises a deferred (but potentially large) return. While we could debate aspects of Harvey’s narrative, it is clear that house prices have experienced a structural increase in most places since the 1960s. This reflects increasing allocation of capital to housing, and in turn results in rising wealth inequality.

This is happening in Auckland, too. Capital has flowed into Auckland’s housing market for a variety of reasons, including falling global interest rates and tax preferences for residential property investment. By and large, the money hasn’t been put to work building new homes. Instead, it’s bid up the price of existing housing. As Stu Donovan pointed out in an article on Transportblog[i], we’re living in a topsy-turvy world in which the best way to make money off housing isn’t to develop it, but to own it and speculate on future price increases.

Rising house prices may be appealing in the short run, but in the long term they add up to a social catastrophe. For one thing, the benefits of rising prices aren’t shared equitably, as home ownership is falling and wasn’t evenly distributed to begin with. Effectively, rising house prices represent a transfer of wealth from young people to older home-owners and investment property owners. If this persists for generations, young people without inherited wealth may never catch up.

For another, rising prices compel people to do a range of undesirable things to economise on housing costs. For some, this means staying in overcrowded or unhealthy accommodation because there isn’t anywhere else to go. As a result, Aucklanders suffer unnecessarily from preventable diseases like rheumatic fever and asthma. For other people, it may mean saving money to buy a home rather than starting a family or a business. You can see the effects of these pernicious trade-offs throughout society.

Fixing Auckland’s housing problems

David Harvey also points out, in The Right to the City, that it is possible to enlist capital inflows to benefit society, rather than to benefit private speculators. He focuses on the role of taxation in reallocating capital, but I’d like to generalise the point a bit further and discuss a few ways that current capital inflows can be put to work to overcome Auckland’s problems of scarcity.

As discussed above, when nice things are in scarce supply, prices tend to rise until some people give up and go elsewhere. We can see that effect clearly in the market for coastal property, but it’s also very real for housing in Auckland in general. We don’t have enough housing to meet the needs of the people who are living here, or who would want to live here. So prices have risen, which has induced a few people to leave, either to elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas, and forced others to cram into overcrowded or unsafe housing. Some people have no home at all.

Scarcity of housing in Auckland isn’t immutable, like a physical law. It’s true that land is scarce in Auckland, as the city sits on a few narrow strips of land in the middle of a large ocean. But if we do things differently, we can house more people in the space and break our vicious cycle of housing speculation.

The first and most important step is to ensure that urban planning rules allow more housing to get built, in the right places. Some people have sought to build walls of rules around neighbourhoods or entire cities, to keep them from growing and changing. But there is another way to achieve good urban outcomes: planning rules that enable more to be done and ensure that what’s done is done well, with good attention to the interface between buildings and the street and the long-run quality of neighbourhoods.

Design is important, but location is even more important. In Auckland, there are a number of amenities that are concentrated in a small number of locations. For instance, people value coastal living and they value the consumer amenities and good employment accessibility that are concentrated near the geographic centre of the region. Rules that limit new housing in these areas will result in an inequitable city, in which nice locations are the exclusive preserve of the well-off.

Auckland’s urban planning rulebook has come a long way in recent years. As I wrote on Transportblog last year[ii], the final Unitary Plan has roughly tripled the number of homes that could be built in Auckland, which gives us room to ease the housing shortfall.

With luck, this will change the property game in Auckland, tilting the incentives away from speculative investments (i.e. buying and holding for capital gains) and towards socially beneficial investments in new housing. But it may not be sufficient on its own, because private developers aren’t going to continue to build homes if prices start dropping. The data on building consents and house prices makes it clear that they, too, are in a boom-bust cycle: When prices fall, or stop rising as rapidly, developers pull back the number of homes they build.

consents

This is where state housing, a long-standing progressive solution to housing equity issues, can play a vital role. The government (or the council) doesn’t necessarily need to build most of the new homes, or even more than a small share of them, to improve the fairness of the housing market. If it simply commits to stepping forward when private developers step back, it will help to stabilise boom-bust cycles in home construction. This will in turn ensure that the people at the bottom of the ladder don’t fall off the ladder when the next boom comes around.

Inequalities in Auckland’s transport system

So far I’ve talked mainly about housing, but transport is the other side of the urban equation. This, again, is an area where Auckland has a number of inequalities that could be addressed by redirecting a bit of the capital that’s sloshing around.

I want to focus on three specific aspects of transport inequality. The first is cars. Due to a set of choices that we made over the last 60 years, Auckland has a transport system that is heavily reliant upon cars. It’s possible to get most places in the city, most of the time, by car, but not necessarily by public transport or cycling.

This has its benefits, except when everyone’s trying to drive at the same time or when there’s a crash on the motorway, but they aren’t evenly distributed. Census data shows that over one in five low-income Auckland households lack access to a car, meaning that they face significant difficulties in reaching destinations.

This is linked to unequal levels of accessibility to jobs and education from different parts of the city. This measure reflects the combination of where people live and work and how easy it is to get around. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project recently looked at this, as shown in the maps below. Over the next decade, working-class suburbs in West and South Auckland are expected to experience declining accessibility to jobs by car and, with the exception of areas around Auckland’s rail network, relatively modest gains in public transport accessibility.

This reflects the scarcity of non-car transport options in these parts of the city. Where it exists, Auckland’s rapid transit system plays a key role in supporting accessibility by all modes. Busways and rail lines speed up public transport journeys, benefitting those who do not own cars. And by giving people the option to get out of the car if the roads are stuffed, they also moderate traffic congestion. But unless we take measures to reduce the scarcity of rapid transit options, these benefits will not reach all Aucklanders.

Finally, there are serious inequalities in health outcomes related to physical activity. Although obesity rates are an imperfect proxy for physical activity, they point to some serious differences in the accessibility and safety of walking and cycling options between different parts of the city. In North and Central Auckland, obesity rates are below the national average. In South Auckland, obesity rates are 26% higher than the national average for adults, and 70% higher for children.

People living in places where it is easier and safer to walk and cycle tend to walk and cycle more. In addition to saving people money, this can reduce the burden of preventable illnesses for individuals and communities. But this will not happen if walkable neighbourhoods and safe cycling facilities remain in scarce supply.

Abundant access for Aucklanders

To fix the inequities in Auckland’s transport system, we must move from scarcity of transport choices to an abundance of choices. We can build a city that has what public transport expert Jarrett Walker calls “abundant access”, in which:

The greatest possible number of jobs and other destinations are located within 30 minutes one way travel time of the greatest possible number of residents.[i]

Jarrett’s concept of abundant access focuses on accessibility via public transport, but similar goals could be outlined for all transport modes. For instance, we should also aim to ensure that:

  • It is safe for all Aucklanders to walk to school or the shops
  • People of all ages, from 8 to 80, feel comfortable cycling to a range of destinations.

Delivering abundant access will not necessarily be easy. It will require us to make some hard choices about how to deploy scarce resources, ranging from transport budgets to road space. It may require some capital to be reallocated towards infrastructure development. But it is possible, and, if we want Auckland to become a more equitable city, it will be essential.

Space for new politics?

This article has been primarily focused on policy, not politics. However, it is often the case that new forms of politics are needed to deliver policy change.

As I’m an economist rather than a political organiser, I won’t pretend to know how to catalyse new political movements. That being said, I hope that this article has offered some useful suggestions for shaping a progressive political agenda. First, it’s important to recognise that many of Auckland’s social and spatial inequalities are driven by scarcity – in particular, scarcity of housing, especially in desirable locations, and transport choices.

Second, we must react to scarcity by building bridges, not walls. In an urban context, progressive politics must respond to scarcity by delivering abundance. If people don’t have places to live, build more homes. If people can’t get around, provide them with abundant access. In a city, we are all citizens – we have a right to the place where we live.

[i] http://humantransit.org/2013/03/abundant-access-a-map-of-the-key-transit-choices.html

[i] http://transportblog.co.nz/2016/07/29/developer-profits-and-capital-gains-on-housing/

[ii] http://transportblog.co.nz/2016/08/31/zoning-reform-is-the-unitary-plan-any-good-2-of-n/

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63 comments

  1. Great post, and a good reminder of the basics which underpin a lot of what is talked about on this blog.

    There are many negative outcomes of high housing costs which you’ve mentioned (especially homelessness, poor health etc which I in no way mean to value less), but the one which really annoys me is the opportunity costs which we all face because of it.

    It just limits us all so much – the ability to start a business which may lead to employing others as well, the ability to spend money on things which are important to us (not just necessary to survive), the ability to make choices with what we do with our capital knowing that we’ll really struggle to build it back up again (e.g. take time off to start a family, go on a long holiday, take a career break, start that business (and maybe fail) but build up your capital again quickly to try something else, its just so frustrating. That old maxim about renting being “dead money” seems to apply to owning property as well these days – once its gone to pay for mortgages it can’t be used for anything else. Sure there will hopefully be a pay off one day, but to live a life which is constantly limited just so we might get that dividend at a later date, hoping that its not going to be affected by the cycles of the market is somewhat depressing. Especially when doing so makes many of us make inherently bad public choices to protect that ‘investment’. Sigh.

    1. Excellent points that I will try to remember when faced with people who seem to only see things from the point of view of keeping their property values high.

      1. For the record, I own property, I just detest being limited in my options because the majority of income goes into servicing the debt… the alternative is to sink the same amount of money per week into substandard rental accommodation. Would much rather it cost less in the first place and I could direct my money elsewhere, like starting a business instead

  2. It was enjoyable reading this post about housing but I would prefer the transport in a separate post. I can see how the two issues are totally intertwined but it just got too hard reading and holding it all in my head simultaneously.
    On housing I find Mr Nunn’s arguments clear and rational although I expect others may have preferred a more emotional tone of despair. Personally I have benefited from the insanity of the Auckland market but if I was waking up in a cold damp over-crowded house I might be expressing more rage at the stupidity that got us here.
    The UP has not affected my property but I know of other home owners who strongly object to that difference of 209,000 potential homes inserted after the public were consulted. We have to decide are these decisions to be left to the ‘experts’ or are they to be democratically negotiated by the existing population as advised by experts? The worst of both worlds was taking 5 years to combine the two. That was 5 years of standing still as immigrants (both from overseas and from NZ regions) flooded in and native Aucklanders flowed gently out. It is not the change but the speed of the change which is frightening the long-term Aucklanders.

    Two issues worthy of discussion are: a change of government leading to a dramatic reduction in immigration and the possibility of simply relocating “”the consumer amenities and good employment accessibility that are concentrated near the geographic centre of the region””. Some cannot be moved (theatres, Port) but some are just placed in the city centre for the convenience of a small elite (Fonterra head quarters, Law Courts, Council offices, most of the University) but the detriment of their cleaners and junior staff.
    The star shape plan beloved of city planners is simply old-fashioned and leads our planners to try to emulate a structure that evolved around the limitations of horse drawn traffic. Auckland deserves a distributed solution but that would be a kick in the face of the elites so may never happen.

    1. Without keeping both housing and transport in the same head space simultaneously, how will it be possible to solve either issue, due to the codependent nature of the issues?

    2. Bob, transport and housing are so fully interlinked, Peter needed to have them together in this post. If you’re after a distributed solution, with cultural amenities, industry and housing spread around the region in a lower density way, you can have that in one of the regional centres. You can have a rich cultural life in Whakatane or New Plymouth or Whangarei or Nelson.

      Auckland is a city. Garden cities failed, despite Ebezer Howard’s best intentions. We have a whole world of cities to study. How much of this research are you willing to read? More compact cities have far lower carbon emissions. More compact cities spend less money on services. More compact cities provide more jobs, more cultural amenities, more friends within easy reach. More compact cities have happier people who can spend time living instead of driving.

      The point of Peter’s article is that we need to provide equitable access for people. This is just too expensive if those people are going to be living dispersed over a wide area. I lived in Dublin for three years, and one of the researchers in my department was studying the socio-economic effects that the DART had provided. This rapid transit line had suddenly provided access to job interviews and jobs to people who had not had the access before, and their lives were changed. This is what we need in Auckland. Rapid transit and denser quality housing where that rapid transit is.

      What you’re proposing just increases the number of cars on the road. It turns the city centre into a motorway interchange, and makes the whole city less walkable and less liveable. Furthermore, it covers more area, land that should be retained for carbon-sequestration and food growing. I know you’re advocating good PT links – but I think the political hurdles to providing a garden city linked by PT not roads would be even larger than the hurdles to providing a compact city. At least planners understand the benefits of a compact city, and are just trying to get the car-dependent public to come on board.

      1. Heidi: I did say they were intertwined and that isn’t far different from your ‘interlinked’. Of course they are but two chapters are easier to read than one especially when so full of useful new information.
        To be honest there is a limit to how much I will read – if this blog is to inform the curious layman then great but if you want it to be for academic experts then warn the rest of us away.
        The entire point of the article was to put the case for an equitable society – fewer haves and have-nots – we all ought to have much the same quality of life in the shared public areas that are paid for and maintained by taxpayers money. We should all have access to beaches and parks and libraries and that was the impression I got from Mr Nunn’s post. However I have been criticised in the past when I objected to the council’s compulsion to spend most of ATEEDs money in the CBD – I was told that they paid more tax so deserved more. Fair argument I guess but not the kind of society I enjoy.
        BTW my aunt has lived in a state house in Welyn Garden City for 52 years – neither she nor I would say it was a failure.

        1. “To be honest there is a limit to how much I will read”

          Bob, my original blog post was roughly 2200 words. That’s about twice as long as what I usually write, as I had been specifically asked to write a longer piece for another website.

          You’ve come by and left seven comments, or one in four comments on this thread. Your comments are long and often touch upon a range of issues, including some that are tangential or irrelevant to the original point. In these seven comments, you’ve written 1500 words – ie 2/3 as many words as the post that you are saying is too long.

          While we value inputs from a range of perspectives, including yours, our comment guidelines discourage obsessive arguing (2i) and unnecessarily long comments (2vii). I’d encourage you to read the guidelines and try to be a bit more parsimonious when commenting.

          1. Peter – I certainly wasn’t referring to you. In fact it is my fault for not being willing to concentrate enough on your post – I really enjoyed your informed info about housing but only glanced through the details about cars – but then I made no comments about your transport ideas.
            I was merely answering Heidi who wrote addressed to me “How much of this research are you willing to read? ” and since I’m not paid to read it I willing to admit less than her. However she frequently distils ideas she has read and contributes excellant ideas to the conversation.
            And apologies for a discursive style – it seems to have confused other writers. If what I’ve written doesn’t suit you please feel free to delete it.

    3. “Some cannot be moved (theatres, Port) but some are just placed in the city centre for the convenience of a small elite (Fonterra head quarters, Law Courts, Council offices, most of the University) but the detriment of their cleaners and junior staff.”

      The Fonterra centre is in the centre because it provides the best accessibility to (and for) employees. The universities are located in the centre (and UoA is consolidating everything to the centre) because it provides the best accessibility for students. Law courts are located in major centres (Albany, Manukau, city centre), with the high court in the city centre because that gives the greatest accessibility for defendants and their defenders, witnesses, police, and prosecutors.

      Criminal defendants, students, and the police are hardly “a small elite”.

      Things that rely on attracting a very small parentage of a large number of people always locate in the centre of lots of people (read; the city centre) because it maximisies their access to customers, or the access of citizens to their service. This is basic geometry.

      What would you aim to distribute, and how would you force private businesses to take part in your plan?

      1. Yours is a chicken and egg argument. They are put in the centre because we have a star shaped city. For example do you really believe Auckland university is superior to Massey in Albany because of its location. My neighbour a student at Auckland is obliged to leave home very early to get a bus to Auckland Uni but I know from personal experience that the buses run to Massey smoothly and promptly (or at least they used to 7 years ago).
        Fonterra should be near its producers – the history of the UK is littered with examples of businesses that moved to London and then declined.
        You really don’t travel much – if you are called to a law court in the city to start at say 9am when would you leave home? Now if that court was split in Manukau when would you leave and would you have a comfortable journey?

        1. “My neighbour a student at Auckland is obliged to leave home very early to get a bus to Auckland Uni but I know from personal experience that the buses run to Massey smoothly and promptly (or at least they used to 7 years ago).”
          Any student who isn’t one of the 20% of Aucklanders living on the shore has to take longer to travel to Massey than to UoA and many of those on the shore will still have to take longer.

          I also wonder how you think Auckland could possibly sustain 5 separate medical schools, legal schools, or biomedical engineering schools, for example.

          “Fonterra should be near its producers”
          Why? Surely Fonterra should be near to it’s biggest contractors, clients, and partners (Ports of Auckland, Kiwiral, NZ Transport Agency) and close to the greatest number of the highly skilled staff they need (logistics, marketing, legal, accounting). After all, Fonterra aren’t a producer, they are a distributor.

          “You really don’t travel much – if you are called to a law court in the city to start at say 9am when would you leave home? Now if that court was split in Manukau when would you leave and would you have a comfortable journey?”

          When I lived in Auckland I could have left home at 0750 to get to the city centre and would need to leave before 0700 to get to Manukau. We already have courts in Manukau and Albany, however, we only have one high court in all of New Zealand, so it is located for the easiest travel to the greatest number of people; the Auckland city Centre.

          1. Good answers. Of course I was writing from my N.Shore bias and not thinking it through. Have you noticed many famous universities are not in large city centres so it can be done.
            I suspect most students from outside Auckland choose their place to live by how close it is to their chosen university (see the original post). So choosing to study in Albany you would live near it. Birkdale is slightly closer to the CBD than Albany but travel is far easier to the latter. So if they had transferred much of Auckland Uni out farther (beyond their Epsom campus) it would have helped.
            Am I right that Fonterra moved recently so they moved their logistics, marketing, legal, accounting staff to the CBD to add to our traffic. Sorry – I should say not my traffic and maybe not yours but it is for many of the 200,000.

          2. Bob, there is a very simple and fundamental explanation for this. Geometrically, the centre of an area is, by definition, the point in the shape that has the shortest average distance to all other points in the shape.

            The centre is quite literally the centre: place that is closest to everything. This is not the result of planning, or transport infrastructre, or where people decide to ‘put’ things, this is a fundamental law of the universe.

            So, if you have one place to locate, the centre is the best.

            If you are a business looking for customers, the centre is the point where you are closest to the most customers. If you are an employer looking for staff, the centre is the place where you have the greatest labour pool to chose from. Indeed if you are a resident looking for shops or jobs, the centre is actually the best place to live to have the shortest trips to the widest range of options, although people tend not to think that way.

            The idea of decentralising everything is a fallacy, it assumes that we can divide everything up into equal, duplicate facilities and dot them around the suburbs so nobody every needs to leave. If you think about that it means that you expect every suburb to have exactly the same jobs, universities, shops, services and features as everything else. Or if not, you are expecting that people will move house to follow a job, taking their whole household with them, who will also all move jobs, schools, shops etc etc.

            So for many things, thats impossible. We have one high court, so to be fair it should be in the centre, between everyone. If you put the high court in Albany, it’s terribly far from people in Manukau, put it in Manukau, its miles away from Albany, etc.

            Most ‘famous’ universities in our part of the world are: Auckland, Otago, Victoria, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane… all in the centre of their respective cities. I europe too, Oxford, Cambridge, Bologna, Gottingen… all in the middle of the city. Perhaps not in the american model, where they university tends to actually be the city, with students and staff all living on the campus and little else happening in the town.

    4. “On housing I find Mr Nunn’s arguments clear and rational although I expect others may have preferred a more emotional tone of despair. Personally I have benefited from the insanity of the Auckland market but if I was waking up in a cold damp over-crowded house I might be expressing more rage at the stupidity that got us here.” = I’m alright Jack, no problem here. You admit there’s a problem but don’t care to do anything about it as it doesn’t affect you. Got any grandchildren?

      “We have to decide are these decisions to be left to the ‘experts’ or are they to be democratically negotiated by the existing population as advised by experts?” Due to the incentives on offer for those who already own property, there’s only ever going to be one result if we leave it only to the people to decide, they’ll vote for their own interests. Their interest are fueled by seeing their housing as an investment asset, which is set up by the system which incentivises it. I’m not saying that it should all be up to the experts, but just that swinging the balance the other way has some really shitty outcomes.

      “That was 5 years of standing still as immigrants (both from overseas and from NZ regions) flooded in and native Aucklanders flowed gently out”. We have an infrastructure problem, not an immigration problem, especially when half of those ‘immigrants are native NZers returning, by right, to their own country.

      “Some cannot be moved (theatres, Port) but some are just placed in the city centre for the convenience of a small elite (Fonterra head quarters, Law Courts, Council offices, most of the University) but the detriment of their cleaners and junior staff” There’s numerous agglomeration benefits (check out previous posts on here) by having these centrally, why not enable people to live closer to them (either by proximity = affordable housing close to them), or by having quality transport solutions which effectively make them closer? Why should those cleaners and junior staff have to be so far away? Separately, how would you force a company like Fonterra to go out to the periphery? And if you move, say, the university to an outer suburb, you concentrate the access to that resource to an even smaller section of society, an even smaller ‘elite’.

      1. James: didn’t make myself clear: I have grandchildren and that I why I am bothering to contribute. I also have six adult children and only the one living in a French city owns his home and the others in Auckland haven’t a hope (well they might meet a millionaire partner). Peter Nunn has no real choice he has to write clearly and unemotionally but you and I can point out how things are for real people not academics.
        UP by experts or UP by democracy? I would support either but we had both and it was a waste of five critical years and it has alienated every homeowner (and they are still just barely in a majority) when a new apartment block is built that removes all parking spaces and makes the journey to their work much harder. It would make the council’s job a lot easier if we could actually trust them. The loss of trust is almost as important as the disastrous escalation in house prices and increase in traffic congestion.

        1. am sure Peter can defend himself, but last time I looked Peter writes clearly and unemotionally because he’s writing for either serious publications or this blog – its in his interests to do so. And, if i remember correctly from a previous post, was also hoping to buy a house at some point. Just because he’s an academic doesnt make him an ‘elite’ as you seem to be inferring.

          Yes the UP took ages, the result isnt perfect but its a whole lot better than what was originally proposed.

          The bit i find confusing about your comments is that you say you want the same things (better public transport, cheaper housing for your offspring etc) but seem to completely oppose any measure which will achieve this?

          1. Academic = Elite. Nothing wrong in being an elite.
            As Mr Nunns points out I don’t write well. I was not saying I object to any development merely pointing out that the way the process of democracy was abandoned caused others to distrust the council. And that has ramifications.

          2. Actually, I’m not an academic. My tone when blogging is a stylistic preference – I suspect readers would probably find irate invective quite tiring and I’d definitely find it tiring to write like that all the time!

          3. Peter I like your style and tone. Your subject: inequality is very important (I would say the most critical issue of our day but that’s only an opinion). It needs level headed rational debate and gets it from you. However we are all human or at least we should be and thinking of the difficulties for good hard-working people in Auckland with housing and the related transport must invoke emotion (outrage).

    5. Contrary to perceptions, Auckland is already a quite dispersed city. Around one in five jobs is located in or near the city centre, but the other four are located elsewhere. Government has actively encouraged and promoted this, both by building motorway infrastructure to enable dispersal and by planning, promoting, and financially supporting satellite centres like Manukau, Albany, and Westgate.

      Central government has kept University of Auckland and AUT in the city centre – and it’s a good thing; they were integral in revitalising the place – but at the same time they’ve also put Unitec in Mt Albert, Massey on the North Shore, and MIT in Manukau.

      So it’s not clear that there’s a lot more that we *could* do to disperse the city. The current layout of employment and consumer amenities seems to reflect market preferences plus geography. In other words, you’d have to do a great deal of intrusive and costly planning to change things significantly.

      Far better, in my view, to work on building a transport system that responds to and complements what’s going on in the city.

      1. Auckland like London is a collection of overlapping villages. In the North Shore they provide a really pleasant lifestyle (well I did choose to live in NZ, and then in Auckland because of the quality of life – I selected Birkdale because back then it was the cheapest suburb and the only one I could afford).
        Your impression of students revitalising the CBD and mine conflict. The city centre was crap and still is crap but admittedly slightly better than it was a decade ago. It didn’t need students. In my youth students were the real deal but these days with student loans and continual assessment they are boring drudges in training to be our next elite. [pardon the ageist angst]. The few students I know preferred a night out in Hamilton.
        The city centre has a transient population and if you know you are going to live for a fixed period in a place you don’t commit to it.
        You and the Council are very happy to be expanding the working population of the city and congratulating yourselves on how over-crowding of small apartments is increasing ‘residents’. The basic geography and history of Auckland will tide the CBD along; it doesn’t need any help from the council and academics what it does need is a light touch of the brake.
        You mention Albany, Massey and Manukau – honestly aren’t they all partial planning failures? But they could have been rescued if the council had truly committed to them. I voted for Len Brown hoping it would create employment in South Auckland and instead he moved lock, stock and barrel to the CBD and even regularly stayed there overnight.
        Since other writers are interested in my family life can I ask if you work at Unitec, Massey or MIT or in the city? And if you do commute is it during the congested periods? If you do commute do you ever notice how most of the traffic is going in one direction and how inefficient a use of public infrastructure that is?
        I suspect we largely agree about transport, inequality and social housing.

        1. “it doesn’t need any help from the council and academics what it does need is a light touch of the brake.”

          I completely agree that the CBD needs a light touch of the brake. Hopefully this government can ease up on the emergency braking so we can achieve that. At least the council have started moving towards doing their part to ease back towards a gentle touch.

          Your opinion may well be that the city centre is crap. It is not shared by the 200,000 people a day who choose to be there despite the government and councils’ historic and ongoing efforts to undermine it. They must at least consider it the least crap alternative.

          1. Good point. Each to their own. And I ought to use less emotive words. I do wonder if all 200,000 were asked whether they would prefer their place of work to be nearer their place of residence whether they would agree with you or me. And if I use excessive critique of the architecture of CBD what words can I use about Albany.

  3. “”This is where state housing, a long-standing progressive solution to housing equity issues, can play a vital role.””. Right on.
    Other benefits are maintaining and training a skilled force of construction workers and providing a steady flow of work through the next recession whenever that may be.

  4. Very valid point about the government stepping in to keep building going when it slows down for the private sector. This is one of the main reasons why Auckland has such a building shortage now as during the GFC the National Party sat on it’s hands while the building industry laid off large amounts of workers. So we ended up with not many houses built and many workers either leaving the industry or moving overseas. End result, shortage of houses and not as many workers to build more – genius move.

    Even worse of course is that they then opened the flood gates to immigration so that we have the highest rates of immigration per capita in the developed world (and the majority of them settle in Auckland).
    Less supply + more demand = expensive housing and social inequality.

    1. That is simply not correct that government has opened up the flood gates to immigration. There has certainly been an increase in new migrants, however it is not flood gate proportions.

      1. Well its at the highest it has been in the last 40 something years.

        Whether thats technically a floodgate proportion or not is irrelevant.

        What is important is that It is running way ahead of all official predictions/projections and has been for some time.

        And more importantly, its effect means growth is way ahead of the councils and the construction sectors ability to collectively deliver more of the required homes any time soon.

        1. “And more importantly, its effect means growth is way ahead of the councils and the construction sectors ability to collectively deliver more of the required homes any time soon.”

          No, it’s ahead of the councils’ and government’s *will* to deliver homes.

      2. jezza, we have the highest per capita rate of immigration in the developed world (at a time when immigration in the developed world is running at historically high levels). If that isn’t opening the floodgates then what the hell is?!

        The argument that we are just more popular now doesn’t hold sway as the government has the ability (and duty) to control the level of immigration. They can raise the requirements further (remember immigration is supposed to be for the benefit of NZ and it’s citizens not the immigrant at the expense of NZ or its citizens).
        Low skilled “language etc” students should not have any right to use that sham course as a back door entry to permanent residency. Likewise elderly parents of immigrants should not be entitled to a cent of public funding and should be required to prove they have the ability to self fund and pay a substantial visa fee to be allowed in.

        1. Complaints about immigration are a boring sideshow. We’re not building enough, and that’s what needs to change.

          Net migration was negative in 2009-2011. More people were leaving the country than entering it. We weren’t building enough then, as shown by the chart at the end of this post. Low immigration during that period didn’t save us – in fact, it might have made things worse by draining off builders to Australia.

          In terms of this dynamic, it’s irrelevant whether net migration to Auckland was 40,000, 20,000, or 5,000 in the last year. We’ve proven that we can’t handle *any* pace of growth without housing shortfalls.

          Your proposed policies won’t change that, but what I’m proposing *will* fix it. So I’d invite you to get on board with a workable solution.

    2. Actually, New Zealand’s migration policy settings haven’t changed significantly since the 1990s. If anything, visa requirements have tightened significantly in recent years. For instance, the number of points required for a skilled migrant visa has risen from (from memory) 120 to 160, meaning that people who do get in must meet a much higher standard.

      In other words, there hasn’t been a policy decision to increase immigration. Rather, our relatively good macroeconomic performance means that living and working in NZ is attractive to more people, including New Zealanders who may otherwise have moved to Australia to get a job.

      1. Maybe the headline settings haven’t changed much and points have got tougher to get.

        But our so-called”export education” sector has boomed [especially in the private education sector where rampant cases of dodgy institutions, low value courses and illiterate and/or non attending students passing these courses, have been reported on and off seemingly for years without any real action to date].

        It is clear that the increase in those student numbers has happened largely because changed immigration settings now offer “students” on these course the ability to work part time [up to 20 hours a week] during “study”, and also time in NZ spent “studying” has been able to be counted towards your multi-year residence requirements for permanent residence status/work visas.

        So this in effect provides an openly acknowledged and much easier “back door” path to residence than going through the formal points system “front door” which as you say has got a bit harder to enter.

        The changes that allow this are by design, they are recent government policy changes to “grow” the education sector, so your comment that immigration policies are unchanged since the ’90s is not quite correct.

        Yes for citizens and permanent residents returning here from overseas, NZ is more attractive [and Australia largely is less attractive as well/at the same time] to live or base yourself from these days.

        And that is not due to changed NZ government immigration policy or NZ immigration rules.

        For those using the education sector, it seems the big attraction is not NZ per-se but rather for many is simply the work visa and eventually the residence visa they hope is waiting for them at the end of their courses.

        BTW: Those students are counted as long term arrivals by immigration, and are counted as leaving NZ only when they leave NZ, which for many is years down the track when their courses finish. They are here for the medium term so rightly count in immigration numbers as arrivals. And of course while here they need a roof over their heads, transport, food, the 3 waters, power and all the other stuff that any other person in Auckland requires. And they naturally swell the demand side for housing and road space, even if indirectly. So reducing their numbers to a lower number – will indirectly reduce the demand on those things.

        We all know it suited the Government to have set their policies this way [more paying student bums on seats no matter the course content is always better for the economy right?]. But whether it is in the best interest of NZ Inc, or Auckland Inc “right now” or for the immediate future is something few have had any input on to date.

        However, the Government has acknowledged that these present settings are not quite right, hence their changes to the immigration skilled visa categories recently.

        Along with that has been the additional requirement that low/semi skilled workers [defined as those who earn less than a certain income [average income]] simply should no longer [by design] become well settled here. This is done by requiring them to leave NZ after 3 years before they can reapply for visas. So they cannot simply get here, take any job and roll along until years are up and get a permanent residence visa.

        These recent changes and earlier ones [like the hold on family reunification applications] reverse some of the previous settings, are most definitely policy decisions of the Government, and also changes are a tacit admission that the previous policies settings were too loose.

        I am sure, they will change in the future, once the “boom turns to bust” and the current record levels of everything reduce.

        Whether it will be this Government or another one that does and the effect it will have is a separate and future discussion point.

      2. “relatively good macroeconomic performance” – well the best measure is GPD per capita and NZ and especially Auckland has not benefited after an experiment that has lasted for 27 years.
        I read this recently “Since 2000, Auckland has grown by 30 per cent and the rest of the country by 13 per cent. Over the last 15 years … we’ve also seen Auckland’s average per capita incomes falling relative to those in the rest of the country. Fifteen years ago average Auckland incomes were 124 per cent of those in the rest of New Zealand. Now it is more like 115 per cent.”
        Note only 27% of foreign immigrants are actually measured for their points in the skilled category. It is reasonable to guess that their partners and kids will be better than average but it might explain why in recent years it has been hard to find Pakeha working in our local supermarkets, gas stations, fast food outlets. Happy to admit that many of the 27% are brighter and more skilled than myself and chat to any of them and you usually get a very pro-NZ image.
        Andrew Little is right – a slight touch on the brake would do no harm. I also agree with Prof Paul Spoonley that our housing disaster is not the fault of immigrants – it is our fault.

        1. Have a look at rising housing costs over that period, created by poor planning and restrictive urban housing supply. Very few have the money to start businesses, to innovate, to employ others in wealth creating industries because theyre spending all their money on servicing housing debt (or someone elses housing debt via rent). When was the last time you saw bricks and mortar being productive?

          1. James youre targetting the wrong ill. Aucklands horrendous house prices have been caused by reckless bank lending.

            Planning restrictions are a red herring in comparison

      3. Peter that is not true. The National government changed the student visa so that recipients were able to work part time. This is a hidden subsidy to the foreign student export sector. Essentially it allowed education providers to ‘sell’ work visas to those who might not otherwise have qualified. This is a rort and there are many others. For instance, it is common knowledge that some businesses are getting paid for work visa job offers. The whole area needs to cleared up.

        Also of note -there is far too much irate invective with immigration discussions. If a calm rational debate is needed with housing and transport discussions -to prevent it from becoming tiresome and counterproductive -then the same argument goes for immigration.

        My 2 cents worth is that a pause on immigration to temporarily manage demand could be helpful while we make system changes to enable transport and housing supply to be more responsive. By the same token I think we need congestion road charging sooner rather than later -because it allows us to cope with demand better -it means mega-expensive roading projects can be delayed…. but congestion/traffic flow will improve…. even in the face of strong population growth.

  5. Responding to your first point, AKLDUDE, the worst side of it all is that this is right-wing ideology, so it’s not going to change. It makes infinite sense to provide jobs during recessions by undertaking public works including housing, and saves money for the country by making use of the lower costs that recessions bring (compared to inflated boom prices). Yet the right wing ideologues argue that when times are difficult, we need to cut spending. Yet another issue that NZers have to actually discuss.

    1. “Yet the right wing ideologues argue that when times are difficult, we need to cut spending”

      Which is what National did, in the early 90s (Ruthanasia) and then this time it cut spending on the future stuff like contributions to the Super fund, and then ended spending even more than that on MOAR ROADS.

    2. Completely agree, however that often involves taking on more debt during these recessions, which is something the left have been very critical over the last nine years.

    3. “Yet the right wing ideologues argue that when times are difficult, we need to cut spending”

      I’ve seen some outrageous statements on this blog but this one might just be the most outrageous of them all!!

      1. Wait, you consider it outrageous to point out that right wing parties across the world implemented austerity measures in the wake of the GFC? That’s a heavy rock that you live under.

  6. Interesting post, i assume the banner is build bridges of understanding not walls of segregation, economics social science is beyond my simple reasoning to understand what its all about. Did I miss the point of this post? what exactly is the preferred outcome? I did get the point that those with $ can get their preferred home and location but the tie in with PT?

    1. The housing can be intensified well in a suburb but if public transport and active modes are not improved, the number of people driving will make the suburb untenable.

  7. Having found myself challenged I have now read the transport element of Peter Nunns post and his conclusion carefully rather than just glance through it. It is very good.
    Posts should do more than just praise so I mention ‘rapid transport’ in Auckland would not be considered rapid elsewhere.
    The references to obesity are a little off subject – partly true but you do have to consider geography – North Shore is hilly (at least it is for the more elderly) and much of South Auckland is not but then again it is fairly safe to leave a bike in North Shore (well I do); I don’t know if that is true in the poorer areas of Auckland but it certainly wasn’t in the East End of London. If you are going to push the use of cycles then there is an issue with work places having showers – very easy to implement.
    And when I say very good I particularly liked the maps – you can (and should) argue with opinions but not with facts.

    1. Thanks Bob – appreciate the consideration that you’ve paid to the post, and the engagement in general!

      I think you’re right to say that a lot of changes, small and big, are needed to get the city’s transport network in shape. I think the Unitary Plan does actually require workplace showers for new office buildings and cycle parking for a lot of other developments, which is a step forward. And yes on rapid transit needing to be more rapid if it’s to play a useful role serving the more far-flung areas of the west, south, and north!

  8. There is also one important thing: scarcity of good schools and school zones.

    This creates inequality because only wealthy can afford the expensive school zone address. The poor have to rent cheap location which is zoned for poor performing schools. Their children will have a harder time gaining university entrance – which remain poor in the future. On the other hand, rich parents will get educated kids and gets richer. Forming vicious cycle and widen inequality.

    One of the reason is a lack of motivation for poor schools to improve.

    Decile 1 school are funded the same amount of money, regardless the school perform good or bad. In zoned students have no choice anyway unless they pay private school or move out – which is unaffordable for poor people.

    To fix this problem, we have to bring competition to the school zoning.

    School zone should be removed. Schools can take as many students as the school wants.

    Government funding to each school will be based on the number of students. So if the school takes more students they get more funding.

    What it does is it creates a competition between schools.

    Since school funding is proportional to roll, school will try to attract as many students as possible. Because getting large number of students have a aggomation bonus for school to run more efficient. So schools are encouraged to get largest roll possible.

    To attract students schools must compete on teaching quality and academic performance.

    Poorly managed and poorly performed schools will soon have less and less students. The principal will eventually get replaced or the school bankrupts. The void will be filled by new school that add to the competition.

    This kind of competition ensures all school are providing highest quality regardless of the decile or location.

    1. school zoning in Auckland is a major problem.

      I like the system in Amsterdam: Students rank schools in terms of their preference, and then are assigned by a matching algorithm. The assignment takes account of priority weighting (usually socioeconomic). I think 90-95% of students get their first or second choice schools.

      This approach basically makes it harder for the wealthy to secure access to certain schools by bidding up property prices in the zone.

  9. I’m not sure I understand what is meant by “equitable city” in this post.

    As I understand it, equitable relates to distribution. A city with 100 utils where each of 100 residents has 1 util is perfectly equitable. A city with 200 utils, 100 residents, but where distribution isn’t even, is less equitable even though average (mean/median) utility is higher

    So, economic measures of utility are entirely appropriate to measuring the degree of equitableness.

    PS I had thought TB was explicitly apolitical. This post is explicitly political.

    1. This complaint is getting excessively boring. Life is political. Urban form, transport, and everything else that constitutes the organisation of cities is political. Political issues are unavoidable in any intelligent discourse on these subject. It is asinine to think politics can be avoided and meaningful things discussed on these topics.

      What can and is avoided here however, is party politics. That we do avoid. We do not believe that good ideas, actions, and policies are the preserve of any one Party, and we wish to encourage them whoever has them, especially if proposed by those currently in power, as they are more likely to actually be actioned. Likewise poor policy is not the preserve of this or that group, and we will question that whoever holds it. And again this matters more when we see it in those in power or in our current institutions.

    2. Political? Get off the grass.

      For the record (again), TransportBlog is just a bunch of people writing about how they view the world. Sometimes providing that perspective requires combining normative and positive statements.

      The main thing is being honest about those values. As I have stated in the past, and Peter has done so here.

      What are your values? And do they extend to treating people decently and giving them the benefit of the doubt?

  10. I really like the tone of this post, addressing transport inequality and in particular the scarcity of non-car transport options in many parts of the city.. Wouldn’t it be great if this could be made the first article in AT’s charter, that all parts of Auckland should have equality of access to transport options?

    Maybe all Aucklanders should be entitles to the basics, which are frequent public transport between 7 and 7, decent after-hours access, and safe walking and cycling options.

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