This guest post is brought to you by Aaron Rodrigues. He is a consultant within Stantec’s Transport Planning and Future Mobility practice and his interests include transport and urban development strategy, integrated land use and transport planning, and new mobility. Additionally he recently completed his post graduate studies in Transport at Imperial College London where his research focused on Transit Oriented Developments, specifically concerning the factors influencing such developments in Auckland.
As Auckland continues to expand, there will be significant pressures on both housing and transport needs. Strong population growth and housing demand has already led to urban sprawl as people move further away from the CBD in the search for more affordable housing. This has consequently contributed to gridlock along key arterial routes into and out of the city during peak hours.
There is a clear need for more affordable housing while also reducing our reliance on private vehicles. One way to achieve this is through adopting the principles of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which aims to develop high density, mixed-use living options in close proximity to local amenities (Restaurants, Shops, Schools etc.) with links to reliable and frequent public transport. This creates attractive places where people can live and work while also reducing their dependence on their private vehicles in favour of public transport for longer trips, and promoting walking and cycling where possible.
In many ways Auckland Council is already actively working towards encouraging higher density development (terraced housing and apartment buildings) around key transport hubs under the Auckland Unitary Plan. One of the key panel recommendations within the Unitary Plan is to focus urban growth on centres, transport nodes and corridors to achieve a quality, compact urban form which opens doors and lays the foundation for such TOD schemes. This gives us a glimpse on what Auckland might look like in the future as a polycentric and multi-nodal city with a number of high density urban centres in places such as Manukau, New Lynn, Albany and Westgate. The image below shows the general location of these high density zones in red which tie in with key public transport corridors. This effectively brings together an integrated approach to planning housing and transport needs for the city.
Although the Unitary Plan sets in place a vision for such urban form and earmarks key locations for TODs to take shape, the complex nature of such schemes involving multiple stakeholders (councils, commercial businesses, developers, funders, transport operators, residents and many more) mean that the reality of successfully developing, building and delivering such projects is often more difficult than initially anticipated. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
There are a number of factors that are immensely influential at a high level in determining the success of such TOD schemes. Some of these influences have been researched through literature available on TOD schemes undertaken internationally in countries including Australia, The United States and Canada. More local influences were derived through interviews with key stakeholders and residents in Auckland.
These high level influences form a common foundation which enable successful outcomes and I will touch on some of the main ones within this post to help generate some discussion and thought around the matter.
1) Aggregation of land holding around rapid transit hubs
The issue of aggregation of land to enable significant TODs is an important and challenging matter in light of the Auckland Unitary Plan. In the current state, although large areas of land in close proximity to stations are zoned to encourage high-density developments and mixed use projects, the reality is that such land is still made up of a number of small individually owned parcels.
This leads to obstacles where a single entity or organisation does not have the ability or power to be able to aggregate a large enough parcel of land to bring together enough resources to develop a well-planned and vibrant TOD.
This problem is not one that faces a particular location in isolation, rather it’s one that poses an obstacle at most major transit hubs within the city’s isthmus. In its current state, the individual blocks are too small to do anything useful in terms of development, and it is hard to bring these parcels of land together, especially when many such parcels are occupied with multiple dwellings and owners. There are some locations where opportunities do present themselves with large enough land parcels to plan such a TOD at scale, however, these are more of an exception than the norm.
2) Alignment of visions and an integrated approach to planning
As previously touched on, successful TOD outcomes almost always rely on a number of stakeholders coming together to deliver on a single, unified overarching vision on what a development needs to look like in the long run. The usual suspects include private developers, transport agencies, residents and council planners to name a few. Moreover, TOD design often includes a combination of land use planning and market research unique to each individual setting in understanding the local socio-economic climate and norms. A shared vision is critical between agencies responsible for delivering all aspects of a TOD, right from the transport infrastructure through to businesses, retail and supporting infrastructure such as schools and parks in the area. The devil lies in the detail of aligning these visions, developments and operations on successful TOD schemes to ensure long term sustainability and overall success. Failing this crucially important necessity can result in a number of missed opportunities and negative consequences for both, the TOD being designed as well as confidence in future TOD schemes.
Here in Auckland, we have seen the benefits of large scale projects which have been shaped by a single integrated and bold vision. One that is frequently touted as a success story has been the Hobsonville Point Development, which is a medium to high density, residential and mixed use (to some degree) development within the land formally occupied by the Hobsonville Air Base. In some ways this united vision was partly due to the project being a public sector led development with a large investment, together with a big enough land holding which could be master-planned, designed and developed. The nature of the beast changes quickly when you bring in private sector developers and businesses each with their own masters to satisfy, agendas to follow and KPIs to meet. Time and time again, the importance of public sector intervention and leadership is shown to be critical in unlocking economic benefits and leading the identification, planning and implementation of such development opportunities. This helps ensure that overarching outcomes are maintained from inception through to completion.
3) Transport Quality and Development Densities are important
You cannot get a TOD working effectively if you don’t get the T and the D right. Time and time again, one or the other is missing or not done right, which often leads to either Transit Operators scratching their heads wondering why patronage is lacking or developers wondering why people would consider moving into (either buying or renting) developments with limited parking facilities.
Public Transport services must be frequent, efficient, affordable and multi-modal offering residents reliable options to destinations they want to travel to. However Public Transport alone will not be sufficient, walkability and cyclability is essential and this must form part of the design process when master planning such a development. By encouraging walking and cycling to local destinations, TOD also helps in improving general health and well-being. Social interaction has also proven to help tremendously in improving mental health through interaction within the community.
Dwellings also needs to offer choices for people of different lifestyles, backgrounds and social structures. This involves outreach and meaningful community involvement in the planning process to ensure a user-focused design. Housing density is also critical in unlocking many of the benefits derived from TOD, including reduced reliance on private motor vehicles, social capital and a vibrant street network. This feeds into Public Transport patronage which in turn helps in proving a case for more frequent transport services.
4) Historic Urban Legacy and Planning
In many ways, Auckland is playing catch up on historic planning norms and infrastructure investments which favoured dependency on our private vehicles. This has however started to change in more recent times. In addition to the Auckland Unitary Plan, the Government has recently released a new Draft Government Policy Statement 2018/19 – 2027/28 (GPS). In many ways the GPS sets the tone on what the Government values and how it intends to spend its money going forward. Within the GPS, the Government has outlined four main areas of focus – Safety, Access, Environment and Value for Money. If we dig a little deeper, we start to see how TOD will become a key enabler to achieving these key objectives.
Safety: TOD aims to reduce private vehicle trips, consequently helping to reduce road casualties, deaths and serious injuries.
Accessibility: TOD in its very nature intends to help deliver and improve access to both social and economic activities, and has shown to alleviate poverty by opening doors in delivering access to opportunities within lower socio-economic areas.
Environment: Auckland’s average vehicle occupancy sits at just 1.2 people per vehicle. This is tremendously inefficient in terms of energy usage/km travelled. TOD improves access to Public Transport and active transport helping to deliver a more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable transport network.
Value for Money: By bringing people closer to transit networks and hubs, helps reduce infrastructure spending and optimise investments where they are needed most.
Development takes time and in many ways, Auckland’s public transport system has undergone significant change over the past 10 years. Sustainable TOD development at scale requires considerable collaboration and leadership. The devil is almost certainly in getting the detail of such developments right and in balancing the needs of individual stakeholders in exchange for the greater good of a vibrant and well utilised TOD.
A number of examples from around the world has shown the benefit derived through offering a public agency the mandate to champion such developments. For example, UrbanGrowth NSW is a public sector led development corporation set up with an aim of creating vibrant, connected and inclusive urban places for people to live, work and enjoy. They have a remit to promote, co-ordinate, manage and secure orderly economic development of across a number of areas in metropolitan Sydney. Similarly the London Legacy Development Corporation helped catalyse sustainable development and regeneration in East London.
In some ways, this process was started (by the previous Government) through the proposed introduction of such Urban Development Authorities here in New Zealand. Such authorities would be given the authority to overcome some of the challenges discussed and to support nationally or locally significant development projects. There are also opportunities for such developments to be catalysed through Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) to help support the considerable initial investment needed on such schemes.
Of course all TOD’s are unique with their own challenges and opportunities. I do believe they offer an immense potential in helping to unlock significant prospects for our city. Out of the circumstances and challenges that come with a growing city, there comes an opportunity to shape a sustainable city of the future. A long time ago the people developed a vision for Auckland. The Auckland of tomorrow will once again be shaped by the people of today.