This three-part series of guest posts is written by Alex Bonham, a member of Women in Urbanism, who has worked as a Porse carer and is now researching “the playful city” for her doctorate.

In this series of three posts I will be looking at how kids fit in to the city. In the first I shall look into the state of play for kids today in New Zealand, with a particular focus on Auckland. In the second I will look into how we could facilitate more playful journeys and public spaces for the whole family, and in the third I will look at what older children and teenagers need as they expand their horizons.

Play is really important. It is how kids develop their physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills and learn to manage risk. Informal play correlates with greater creativity as adults (and the reverse is true for formal structured activities). When kids explore their area, they feel they belong, and have a sense of ‘ownership’ of it. Kids that don’t play are more likely to grow up to be antisocial adults. Play expert Stuart Brown noted ‘the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression’ (2009).

The urban form facilitates a certain way of life. I remember New Zealand in the ’80s as being full of large gardens with flowers, vegetable patches, fruit trees, a lawn to play on and maybe even a creek at the end. Kids would play in the cul de sacs and be called in to dinner at dusk. Things have changed. Many of those big suburban gardens have been infilled with other houses. According to the Growing Up in New Zealand study, the average maternity leave taken in New Zealand is five months, with kids either in daycare or looked after by grandparents. 2/3rds of two-year-olds watch 1-3 hours of television a day, not including up to an hour extra playing on tablets or phones. There has been a rise in structured activities.

If there is now less play at home, there is considerably less play in the neighbourhood. The (mums’) eyes on the street have gone, and in 2006 research found out that 63% of Australasian kids are NOT allowed or able to travel independently to school at 10 years old. This compares to only 20% of German kids. These findings encouraged the establishment of school buses, so at least kids would get exercise and it would relieve congestion. Kids didn’t care so much about those benefits, but did enjoy getting to know their neighbourhood and socialising with their friends (Kearns). However, the school bus has done nothing to improve children’s independence. Stranger danger and traffic are the main reasons given for this ongoing supervision. It is the mid-income suburban children who are most likely to fit the profile of children largely confined to the “semi-fortified space of home”, and ferried between activities (Kearn & Collins, 2006).

This matters because it seems that a significant minority of children are not doing well in New Zealand. One in ten are obese, according to Ministry of Health statistics. 14% witness violence against other children. Half of Auckland’s Pacific population live in overcrowded households and, we have just discovered, Auckland’s CBD is twice as polluted as major European cities and three times worse than Canadian ones. The combination of poor quality housing, overcrowding and air pollution has driven a rise in respiratory diseases, from asthma to bronchiolitis. Unicef puts NZ at the third-lowest of 40 OECD countries for youth wellbeing, and NZ tops the youth suicide table. Millennial Austalian journalist Luke Kinsella blames the ‘stranger danger’ message for making young people so anxious. In his opinion, they have minimal experience dealing with strangers outside school and family, and then get stuck in a world where the grown ups are not constantly watching their back.

The 2017 status council report on their youth strategy (I Am Auckland, 2012) echo the national findings. They have made the least headway in two areas, goal 3, “I am happy, healthy and thriving” and goal 7 “we are all thriving”. “There are currently few council initiatives directly aligned to goal 3”. Apparently, “this can be expected as central government controls most of the levers that create significant change in this area”. The city council does have a purview for planning and transport, look after civil amenities and engage in community building, entertainment and events. It is odd they don’t believe they can have an impact on the health and wellbeing of their young people.

Of course central government does have a role. We know that a number of non-housing problems are exacerbated when a house is rented. When house prices triple (as they have in the last 15 years), so do rents. “Rents are straining the budgets of many families and households” (Auckland Plan 2018). Kids worry about the financial distress of their parents and wish they weren’t such a burden. Cheaper housing often has fewer good transit options. The lack of tenure has meant that families may shift five times in as many years, destabilising academic achievement, friendships and the informal social networks that can be so useful for the spread of local knowledge.

There is a feeling that the very littlest children aged 0-4 are OK in the central city apartments, but will need a place to play later on. I would argue against this. It is when children are starting to walk that a garden is the most valuable. They like to explore, to climb, and it is easier to fall on grass than concrete, tile or even timber. Children are the great losers when it comes to the ‘missing middle’ housing of which Brendan Harre and David Lupton speak. A private yard is terrific for children, but single storey dwellings waste space. Where are tall skinny terrace houses with private gardens?

Where are the courtyard developments with shared, varied play areas, safe from traffic and overlooked by the kitchen window? If we want our children to play, and we do, housing options like this should be in the mix. Plus, they should be close to employment areas or rapid frequent transit links, so their parents can get home quick to play with their children too.

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85 comments

  1. Great article Alex -I agree with your argument.

    I have often pondered what urbanisation factors affect childhood health. Especially mental health. I wrote an article more focused on how to help teenagers -that partially addressed this question. https://medium.com/land-buildings-identity-and-values/it-takes-a-village-4bb5b9579029

    The NZ Geographic published a good article by a young woman -Rebekah White that argued that New Zealand needs more ‘third places’ -being public places in our urban environment where people make contact with each other, outside of work or home. Rebekah argues these sort of places build community which reduces stress, anxiety and depression. She believes New Zealand has an opportunity;

    “As we rapidly expand our cities, as we solve our housing crises, we have the chance to correct this. We could shift away from the prioritisation of cars as a method of transport, and make our streets places for strolls and encounters.”
    https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/a-third-place/

      1. Campaign to change the NIMBY regulations, Buttwizard, so that more people can.

        If you are actually resisting a shift away from the prioritisation of space-inefficient cars, you are assisting the fear-of-change voices. Don’t be part of the problem when you know you can see the need for better priority for public transport and healthier modes.

        1. Oh, I am 100% in favour of it, it’s just not something that really needs to be an either/or thing. I mean…frequent ferries from Hobsonville? LRT down SH16? By all means, do it. You don’t have to depriortise car travel to make meaningful change happen.

          Where I have a problem is when changes like that end up costing lots of people time and money, but concentrate the benefit in the hands of a few. I guess it’s the same way other people look at cars using space; but really, is it about making it easier for people to get around so they don’t have to take a car, or is getting the cars off the road the only thing that matters and to hell with the consequences in people’s day to day lives.

          1. Yeah, but you’re missing the point that after 60 years of planning around the car, the car has taken the space. We do have to deprioritise car travel to make meaningful change happen. Because we need that space to prioritise the healthier modes.

            What I think you should be gunning for is things like bus lanes that – although they deprioritise the car – increase the people flow. And I think you’re quite well aware of why the NZTA refusing to put in a proper busway on the NWM were being shits of the first order.

            But to argue against walking and cycling also taking some of that space and priority from the car is unhelpful. First of all, you need to walk and cycle to get to the bus. But secondly, did you not read Alex’s post?

            We are failing at giving our children freedom to move about by walking and cycling. Why would some fallacy of a driver’s ‘right’ to the unbalanced transport network as it stands today have any priority over a child’s right to move about in safety? Resisting this change shows a lack of focus on children’s welfare.

          2. I think it is quite reasonable to give people who live in a neighbourhood priority over those who are driving through. I have an intersection near my place that makes it a right pain and often dangerous to take the kids for a walk up my local mountain, all to ensure those driving through our area are prioritised.

            There are many consequences to day-to-day lives with the current arrangement.

  2. Here is another thought.

    What sort of parental love do we value?

    There is something rather strange and short sighted about how kiwi parents fight over car parking spaces near schools so they can personally drop off and pick up their children. This situation has become so congested and chaotic it is being reported on in the media. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/104705946/school-gate-chaos-in-wellington-forces-council-to-develop-plan-to-get-kids-out-of-cars

    Kiwi children are going to school to learn how to be become independent adults. Yet the wider built environment is enforcing an extended period of dependence. Kiwi parents are putting a large amount of effort individually to keep their children safe but are not making a collective effort to provide a comprehensive solution.

    As a society New Zealand can choose for its children to be strong and independent, who can safely travel about their community by their own efforts or overweight and anxious children who are dependent on parents driving them everywhere.

    1. Yes, the school drop-off reducing air quality, amenity and safety for children walking is a major discussion that needs to be had. I think Alex’s point about Council not owning up to the opportunities they have to improve wellbeing includes Council not owning up to embarking on a major public education exercise on this point.

    2. Love this:
      “Kiwi children are going to school to learn how to be become independent adults. Yet the wider built environment is enforcing an extended period of dependence. Kiwi parents are putting a large amount of effort individually to keep their children safe but are not making a collective effort to provide a comprehensive solution.”

  3. Great article. I agree with all the comments above. Having grown up in an apartment in a Central European city (population size approx 1 million) I have always thought that the Kiwi idea of apartment incompatibility with healthy development was caused by lack of experience of other models. The buildings in our block were organised around a central courtyard where children played independently from age 4-5. Old people were sitting on benches and observing the play, and parents could glance from windows. We used elevators independently from 4 or 5 and always walked to school unaccompanied by adults (but not alone: in a dense environment there were always schoolmates in the building). The school was only 5 minutes away. We are sent to shops as soon as we could count and used public transport to go to the city centre from 12 or so.
    While my Auckland born children have relatively more freedom than many of their peers (going to school with accompanying adult, in a group of neighbourhood children, 7+) and while our garden is used by not just our but also the same group of kids (8-10), I often think that the space is poorly used. Our gardens could support three times as many kids if we were in say 3 storey apartment buildings (same footprint) .but I wouldn’t want to have families only; we would benefit from multigenerational living.

    1. Yes, agree. The inability in the planning rules for our housing to evolve site-by-site into the “perimeter block housing” type prevents this sort of parents’-eyes-on-the-courtyard form. Council needs to rectify that.

      There are so many cities in the world where children are considerably more free to move about their city without adults. CEO Ellison accepted at the Healthy Streets conversation that the resulting physical inactivity in our children is the responsibility of Auckland Transport to fix. As he pointed out, the statistics: only 10% of our high school children get enough physical activity for their health, is explained by these students’ awareness of the dangerous environment they’ve been dealt, with the doubling of DSI in the age group in just a few years.

      Prioritise the walking and cycling improvements, AT.

    2. Our new medium density developments are NOT kids friendly at all.

      For example a typical Auckland developments is a few blocks of 3-4 storeys Terrance house/apartments separated by ground floor car parks.

      It would be too dangerous for the kids to play in the car parks.
      The only open play area is the little balcony, which would be too small for the kids to play.

      We need safe shared open space in the new developments – that is not a driveway nor car parks.

      1. I used to play on the street with my two brothers. It was a no-exit. But it did have a few blind corners.

        When a parent is not looking, attention is often about the “village” around the family.

        In a sense the space we have lost for that play is in part because of the lost of that “village”. We mistakenly believe that “village” exists in our backyards and single house urban form.

        Real cities ca not be “villages” in that sense. They can be villages in other ways – space for play and space for community.

        1. Yes the NZ Cul-de-sac does seem to bring out the kids lucky enough to live near one or have friends that live on one to improvised games of cricket, touch rugby skateboarding & such.

  4. And Brendan’s comment about the parental love is very important. But it goes to the heart of social issues and political divides.

  5. “Plus, they should be close to employment areas or rapid frequent transit links, so their parents can get home quick to play with their children too.”

    I think this touches on a wider issue with society, if we expect parents to work full time then most won’t leave work much before 5pm at best. By the time you allow for travel home and preparing dinner they have scant time to spend with their kids, let alone play with them, before the kids have to go to bed. This only gets worse for single parents and poorer people (who may need to work multiple jobs or take unfavourable shifts).

    We live in society based heavily on the assumption of two adults living together with on working 9-5 a short work from home and another at home fulltime. The problem being that this hasn’t been true for over 50 years and we haven’t compensated at all, this leaves adults and children alike with little time to play.

    1. + 100 And I thought Mark Todd’s comment on the income / housing affordability ratio pertinent: it’s not all about the housing cost. Half that equation is people’s incomes. And wages have not been rising in line with with top salaries, corporate profits and housing prices. This has affected the number of parents who are having to be in full time work when they would prefer part time work.

      I wonder if we could assist the situation with the provision of canteens in schools and work centres that provide hot, balanced meals at lunchtime so the evening can be spent playing, with just a light soup or salad, instead of parents having to cook night after night – or pay for ready meals, increasing their reliance on their jobs even more.

  6. This is one area where Wellington benefits from its well-developed waterfront. The waterfront is a large safe area full of people with few and only slow vehicles. There are multiple playgrounds and other features of interest in various places. I have been taking my now 3yo daughter there on a regular basis for most of her life, but particularly since she has been walking (for the last couple of years or so). We live in the inner suburbs but frequently go there as a destination by car, bus or occasionally bike. Last week we took her balance bike and I rode an Onzo around with her. So completely agree that downtown living with kids is feasible as long as well appointed third places are available.

    1. While Auckland has a large central city population. It still is developing the same (as Wellington) residential engagement with the waterfront. Mt Vic, Oriental Bay, etc.

      The potential for these to develop exists along towards the Silos. But it will take more focus.

      Generally, we can create those types of spaces in the city – remove cars from Queen St.

  7. Excellent article, thanks Alex. Planning for children’s needs should be dictating our Council and AT policies – and practices (since the policies are generally given lipservice anyway.)

    Apartment blocks could be providing for children much better than they are, even without a central courtyard. By limiting the height to 4 storeys (and this doesn’t have to be everywhere, but it needs to be the dominant apartment form), parents and children can communicate with voice and facial expression between ground and top floor. Beyond 4 storeys, they cannot, so opportunities for parental surveillance of the apartment block’s grounds while they get on with jobs in the apartment is quite limited.

    Also, choice of landscaping features is important. Developers will continue to provide picture-perfect garden settings that sell the apartments in brochures unless regulated to do otherwise, simply because most people in the apartment market haven’t given a thought to children’s needs. These picture-perfect garden settings use chemical sprays, require ‘keep out of the garden bed’ rules, and prohibit features that would give reasons to the adults to come to the garden – eg communal vege beds, compost bins, rotary clothes lines. They don’t allow mucky play areas and sand pits.

    1. On the eight floor at my in-laws apartment complex in Zagreb, the sound of kids playing is quite clear. It easily attracts my kids when we visit.

      Kids don’t need many excuses to go out.

      1. My mum used to use a bugle to let us know it was dinner time. What do the eighth floor parents use to communicate with their kids on the ground, Nicholas? Is it socially acceptable to yell? 🙂 The point is, while there are locations where higher apartment blocks make sense, in most places, four storeys is the sweet spot; to go higher requires more embedded energy and ongoing energy reliance, shades more land than it has paid for. Development needs to process its own waste (eg composting of paper and food waste, stormwater incorporation into the ecosystem) so to go higher means either more costly centralised infrastructure to cope with this waste is required, or more land per apartment block is needed, undoing the point of spending that extra energy to go higher. Let’s focus on doing this well at four storeys before we attempt to go higher.

        1. Where I grew up in NY the rule was that when the street lights went on we had to go home. All the kids in the ‘hood has the same rules. Last ditch effort from parents was to blow a whistle.

  8. Retrofitting our city to accommodate children while increasing density would improve outcomes for everyone. Take the picture at the bottom of your post. How this fits into its surrounding environment has an impact too.

    Of note is that there are no gates in the fences at the front of the picture. Typically, this would occur because there is a long paved driveway at the back, with garages in the bottom storeys of the houses, and this side of the fence we can see is bounded by another long driveway. That’s lots of car infrastructure, lots of paved area creating stormwater issues, and a loss of biodiversity opportunity. Let’s reimagine that. Instead of driveways, if a couple of shared car spaces near the road were provided, and the driveways were replaced with gardens, with a smooth path (good for trikes, etc) through the middle of it, and gates in the fences, then houses either side of each long garden could be meeting places for people as they come in and leave their houses. Much healthier model, socially and mentally, providing children and adults alike with private garden space and with opportunities for healthy social contact.

    It would probably also be improved by changing it from terrace houses to apartments. Each of those terrace houses has to have its own staircase, whereas single level apartments twice as wide either side of a communal stair case provides four times as much floor area per staircase,plus healthy covered space for impromptu meetings between neighbours. It does mean the top floor would not have a balcony, but some people don’t need that.

    1. Another benefit to this kind of living is the communal services. I lived for many years in Germany each block had communal recycling, composting and general rubbish bins- meant footpaths were not clogged with individual bins and collection was easier, quicker and I assume cheaper.

    2. Thanks so much Heidi for commenting. If it is of interest the example given there is landscaping at the back with a shared pool. There may also be parking I am not sure.

      I would argue the case for terraced houses over apartments for other reasons. While apartments can share some efficiencies at four stories, like staircases, I would still much rather live in a house that has flow into the garden. That way I can see my two year old in the garden from my kitchen bench and get to him within a few seconds. I do not worry about the noise coming up from under me or people walking above me. If I have purchased a house it will hold its value better (if freehold) and I have more freedom to make changes to my property and run plants up the wall, without having to consult other apartment dwellers. I can put solar panels on the roof. Courtyard apartments are the best alternative because the play space is more contained. I am thinking of places that I would let a two or three year old negotiate alone.

      1. A close friend in Vienna’s 7th district lives in a multiple storey building with a number of apartments with private courtyards. I actually stayed there with my daughter when she was one. It can be done.

      2. There needs to be terraced housing for all the arguments you give. And because there are many other demographics in the city, there need to be other arrangements too. Elderly people with a penchant for gardening might like a ground floor apartment. A flat of 20-somethings might like a walk-up fourth floor apartment spreading onto a terrace that is the roof of the 3rd floor apartment. A couple concentrating on their careers and saving money might have no interest in a 3 storey house, wanting a compact flat without even a balcony to have to care for. A family with pre-teens and teens might love a two-storey apartment somewhere in the mix so they have a bit of space. And all these people would benefit from the communal stair case idea where they can rub shoulders with each other and have that intermediate zone between private and public, as described quite well in The Pattern Language and Happy City.

        1. That’s exactly right, Heidi. And another thing: this morning, after I read the post, I was thinking that adults and children in NZ would benefit from reading children’s literature where kids have adventures in cities. From classics such as Erich Kaestner’s Emil and detectives (in Berlin) or Heroes of the Paul Street (Budapest) to more recent literature. (Some cool Croatian and Italian literature isn’t translated) I think it would open their eyes to the ways that urban childhood can be fun and adventurous.

          1. Oooh I haven’t read them. Thanks. You might like “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” set in NY. And do you know John Rowe Townsend – set in postwar Britain? Possibly my favourite children’s author.

        2. Absolutely agree Heidi – and having some really big two story apartments within the mix would be so great too. 🙂

          Also Auckland’s inner suburbs used to be a lot more populated than they are now as families used to be much bigger, and the densely populated areas that used to be there around Freeman’s Bay (and Grafton I suspect) were removed for the motorways in the fifties.

  9. Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
    But will you keep on building higher
    ‘Til there’s no more room up there?
    Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
    Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?
    -Yusuf Islam

    1. How about, will you tell us where to live? What do you think about Mark Todd’s thoughts on greenfields development, miffy?

      Kumeu, Huapai, Whenuapai, Silverdale, Stillwater, Papatoetoe, Albany, Long Bay, Pukekohe, Paerata. There’s no pent-up demand and most Aucklanders don’t really want to live out in these far-flung zones, says Todd. What’s driving greenfield development, he says, is the buckets of money to be made by getting and rezoning land, putting infrastructure in and delivering the individual land title. In Todd’s view it’s 35 years of this free-market, laissez-faire attitude that has led to house prices becoming twice as expensive relative to income as they were 10 years ago. “Most players in the property sector have no interest in whether the houses they are building are relative to the social-economic-demographic needs of Auckland,” he says. “It’s not Aucklanders who are asking to live in these high-value greenfield locations, it’s land developers that agitate real hard and have got this ideology that’s been accepted that it’s all about supply and demand. It’s complete bullshit.”

      1. Mark Todd is welcome to his views and opinions. He grew up on a very large lot with lots of space to play that has since been subdivided with nice houses built on it, each of which has a yard to children to play in.
        Developers don’t care if their houses meet the socio-economic needs of the community because they only have to sell the house once and they sell it to the highest bidder. They only have to care about the margin, not the average. The distortions are not the developers fault they are the Council’s fault. They have limited the supply of land through density rules, view protection, heritage protection, development contributions and all sorts of rules requiring developers to pay for nonsense like ponds, cycleways, extra wide roads and things the council wouldn’t spend their own money on because the benefits don’t outweigh the costs.
        The result is the only place you can build is on the outskirts and the only people who are going to buy are wealthy so the homes are designed for them. Add to that a thoughtless increase in population by immigration and the result is homelessness and houses designed only for rich people.
        I live in Greenhithe. I love it here. I got a rezoning through for the entire village that allows 600sqm sites rather than 1500sqm sites but I am keeping my own large site rather than splitting it in four as the subdivision rules are simply onerous. Why would I pay for a heap of infrastructure for the council?

    2. The alternatively is:

      1. Never seeing your children as you drive for 120min per day to get to work.
      2. Need two or more (older kids) cars for transport – at a massive cost.
      3. Missed opportunity for your child to visit central city amenities like the museums, shows, social gatherings, etc.

      Compact cities with transit are about community. It is sprawl that is anti-social.

      1. Funny, we managed to do all that sort of stuff in the suburbs I grew up in?

        The reality is we’ve jammed in huge numbers of extra people without giving any thought to where they’d live or work. Now our hand is being forced into a ‘compact city’ regardless of whether people actually wanted it or not.

        1. Last I looked there was more land being added in the form of sprawl on the outskirts – with accompanying car dependency and traffic problems for the whole city – than land in the existing urban area being converted to medium density. So no, our hand is being forced into an ever more monstrous beast of an poorly formed car dependent city.

          1. Heidi,

            You should look at the West Hills development. I was pleased to see it has planted alleyways running through it ala Hobsonville Point. It’s actually exactly what you’re advocating for; well-designed areas you can walk/ride around. Just writing it off as ‘sprawl’ is missing the point.

            The problem is you’re only getting that *out in the fringes* and not in the inner city because there’s too many vested interests and the potential for redevelopment is much lower on that kind of scale. This is despite the inner city having the better PT options where that kind of housing *should* be popping up. Not building it because “SPRAWLLLL1!!1!” just restricts supply and enriches NIMBYs even more at the expense of younger people trying to get started in life. Meanwhile it stops meaningful connections being developed with the bits of Auckland that are already being well thought out.

          2. It looks interesting, Buttwizard. I’ve done the virtual tour but don’t have time to figure out where it is etc. Transport infra – is it just the car? Is it near SH16 therefore hoping for LR?

            In the Universal Homes website advertisement for it, of course, they show the farmland it’s covering… we need that soil left alone.

            If the developers start doing the sort of thing that Ockham does (and claims to make a better profit on, too, while also providing housing where people are actually wanting to live), we can stop putting multiple billions of dollars of our money into the roads connecting to these greenfields developments, and spend it more wisely on maintaining and upgrading the infrastructure in the existing footprint of Auckland. Including alleyways.

          3. That land isn’t being farmed productively. And yes, it will benefit from the LRT going to Westgate and the redeveloped town centre with enhanced bus access that comes with it. Currently the only option is “the car” because the West has been so badly overlooked for critical infrastructure, unlike say, the North Shore.

            As a rule, nothing under $1m has more than one car park, nor at Hobsonville.

            Again, the onus should be on the inner city to intensify. If they don’t want to do that and it ends up forcing house prices up, then I’m not seeing why an entire generation should be compromised. House prices make people delay things like families and if we’re going to expect people to put their lives on hold because people in Ponsonby hate change. If we can’t get around that, then what other options do we have bar greenfields?

          4. Now you’re asking the right questions. We do have other options. We have a whole lot of at-grade carparks that could be emergency housing, in the form of caravans and tiny housing. That would allow us to stop wasting the money on the roads to the new greenfields developments, and spend it instead on whatever’s required to provide quality houses in the inner areas. Using Ockham’s model, they’re cheaper, too. I completely agree with you that the inner areas need to provide the housing.

            And I am disgusted that the council is going to put in “residents only parking zones to Grey Lynn next year, adding to the similar zones closer to the city centre. If nothing else, that publicly owned space could be filled with caravans. The continued institutional skew towards providing free amenity for the well-heeled and well-housed from public assets is a foul practice in Council. It needs to stop.

          5. Well, that’s really the crux of the argument. In greenfields we are allowed to build [whatever] and in Grey Lynn we’re not.

            We are living in a society which by and large deems it acceptable to have a “heritage overlay” over there. Even if it means other people go homeless.

            (To those who think NZ values equity, condolences)

          1. Why does it matter? Sorry, but the inner-city is not the only place you find valid forms of cultural expression in a place like Auckland. It does however tend to cluster the types of people who like to cherry pick what is and isn’t valid forms of culture.

          2. Because access is a vital part of community. Areas further away from the concentration of cultural resources have less access.

            For example, Grey Lynn. 15min walk from the city centre. Easy bus or bike ride, etc. vs Mr Roskill or Papakura or etc.

          3. “Cultural resources” again only a thing if you stick to a very narrow, predominantly white, well-off interpretation of what culture is and isn’t. I’m sure the people of Mt Roskill, Papakura, Glen Innes et al will be thrilled to know they don’t have as much culture as Grey Lynn.

          4. Culture is one thing, but what about amenities that won’t be provided unless there are more people in the area? If there isn’t enough in the rates coffers to be able to provide a drinking water fountain at Moa Reserve, Pt Chev, because it isn’t a ‘high enough use park’ – !! Not sure when they’re counting because it’s got a playground, a dog offleash area, has a nice stream edge, and is the main route to school for many intermediate kids – how can new subdivisions at similar densities hope to get the full swag of amenities provided?

            Maybe many will be put in at the start. But what about those that are forgotten, or deemed unnecessary by some designer without a clue, or become necessary with our changing technology and lifestyles? More suburbs mean more places fighting to get amenities retrofitted. And believe me, I’ve almost thrown in the towel with how much time I’ve spent in my suburb trying to get improvements.

      2. On the other side, families living in inner city apartments are likely to have fewer children than families living in the suburbs, the lack of space makes having two or more kids difficult. City kids are less likely to be out and about, move likely to sit home on the xbox, or netflix. Where I live it’s fairly rural, all my kids were biking early, we have lots of space and a quiet street with few cars, the beach is 300m away from our front door, I believe the environment we live in is far better than an inner city apartment. I doubt we would have three kids or our giant dog if we were city dwellers.

        I never missed any city amenities like museums, shows and social gathering because you live in the suburbs? I was brought up in the suburbs, my parents took us to all sorts of places, the museum, zoo, motat, shows, theatre, we did it all, there was never a dull moment. My kids don’t miss out on any of those sorts of things either.

        In your opinion it’s sprawl that’s anti social, it’s not, people are the key not the location or environment.

        1. Yes, you’re exactly the kind of Kiwi I mentioned in my post .You have no personal experience or knowledge (never was a child in the city, never raised a child in the city, never studied children in cities) yet you have a lot of assumptions about the life in the city and “believe that the environment where you live is better”. I wrote above: it’s different. But it’s not sitting in a box the whole day waiting for your parents to be taken to the park.. because density allows you to be more independent. Alex has some examples and data, and personally I can tell you–I don’t think you can imagine the range the European (and I assume New York) city kids have, or at least had–we did everything on our own or rather in groups of friends, went to after school activities, to sports, shopped, visited friends (I don’t remember my parents ever taking me for playdates once I was school age and could read), went to birthdays. I really didn’t sit around watching TV or at my computer (quite a new thing back then).

          You also dismiss without any evidence other than personal anecdote the argument that the sprawl is antisocial. I would suggest to re-read the Alex’s post, and (especially for this) Brendan comments. “Social” isn’t inviting your friends and their families for a backyard barbeque; that’s private.

          It’s antisocial to insist on the kind of urban form that forces people to drive, forcing the children to be driven or taken by adults to school as it becomes too dangerous and too difficult to get their children go to school on their own.

          It’s antisocial to live in a way that looks inward, into their garden and on their own children only, rather than be the eyes on the street watching and looking after *all* the kids.

          And finally–I’m fairly happy where I live in Central Auckland. From children’s perspective, I think we live as well as it’s possible in this urban form, with this amount of public transport, and social expectations of children’s independence (I’ll leave aside our environmental impact). But no young families can afford to buy anything like what we have around us. We now have several examples of friends who had to move away–mostly rurally-semi-rurally–not because they wanted to, but because they really could not afford it. It’s not a sustainable way of life.

          1. Actually, I think Master Chief gets the point:

            “quiet street with few cars, the beach is 300m away from our front door”

            The key thing is the public spaces. You’re talking about streets. Seeing kids playing on the street is vanishingly rare over here. If you found a place where this is possible, good on you. But this environment does mostly not exist in Auckland.

            This picture is taken in the CBD:

            http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-665xis-CV20/Vf5YZD4BDiI/AAAAAAAAB-8/v8Z2maDPlq8/s800/IMG_6118.JPG

            Note the apartments and lack of humans. Behind you is the 5 lanes of Hobson Street. We are 600m from the nearest green space (which is Victoria Park). Going there requires crossing Nelson Street and that intersection between Wellesley Street and Victoria Street. There are no pocket parks here. This is some open space between a few restaurants and a dairy, and the best use for this space apparently is parking. You can draw your conclusions about how we think about public space.

            You won’t see kids playing on the street here. You won’t see kids outside at all.

            And suburbs? Eyes on the street? The most common sight from the street actually is that ubiquitous 1.8m high wall. With streets being car-dominated as they are, houses are usually designed to be isolated from the street.

          2. Do you think there’d be any point to bombarding the building owners and body corporates with information about how their use of outdoor space for carparks is limiting our kids and causing early death and illness in the whole population, Roeland? Would even one small win illustrate the potential these places offer and increase pressure on others to follow?

            Particularly if examples from child-friendlier cities that are wannabe travel destinations are used to harness the “want to be doing what the people I identify with are doing” imperative?

          3. I’ve lived in the city, not with kids, but where kids were, you hardly ever saw children. I’ll stick to mynsuburb where my kids are out and playing with all the other kids.

          4. Masterchief–and you should stay in your suburb, of course.

            But it’s not about you. it’s not about any of us who already have children and property. We’re fine.

            It’s about the fact that, as we have to intensify (and I am not debating that) we have to make it possible for young families to raise their children in cities, and in a healthy way. There are places that have done that well and they should be Auckland’s models. Of course there are cities that shouldn’t be our models.

            As you don’t mention where you were (and, as I said, the argument of personal experience would be more valid had you said that you had lived there with kids or that you had grown up there: there are places where I lived as a young adult and I really did not pay much attention to kids and cannot tell you where they played or how they lived), I have no idea which city that was and how children live there. .

        2. Inner city kids get more exercise than kids in suburbia. Your complacency that your North Shore suburb by the sea is a good place for kids is missing the point that most of sprawling suburbia is so poor for kids, they can’t even move around safely. So they don’t, and so they are unhealthy. AT’s CEO gets this. The Healthy Auckland Together plan gets this.

          People claim they couldn’t possibly take a feeder bus to a bus station and they need the park and ride – yet completely miss the point that if this is what is required, what level of independent mobility do their children have?

          A car-dominated sprawling city creates more air pollution, wastes more precious fuel, wastes precious carbon-building soil, pollutes the receiving environments more, emits more carbon. It can’t be justified on environmental grounds. But to ignore the research on how damaging it is for our youngest people and to continue with your rose-tinted views of suburbia works to prevent positive change that our youngest members of society need.

          Once you look into it, the different impact our car domination has on children in different areas is quite disturbing. Lower socioeconomic areas have higher crash statistics for children. Higher socioeconomic areas get better open space and street environments, often, but parents then undo the good for the children by driving them more. So the patterns are quite complex.

          1. Roeland–i know that. I have lived here for 10 years. But that is the whole point of this discussion. How, using the knowledge and experience of cities that have done urban family life for a long time, we can make a better city for all (I guess the term is equitable). This planning has to incorporate everything, from schools and public transport and cycle paths to apartment form. For example: even the beautiful and expensive, very central Wynyard quarter, which has lovely outdoors, great playground, will soon have public transport, has apartments clearly not meant for families (we nosied around with our two). But why?there are great examples overseas and some were discussed at this blog. However: the best ones happened not by leaving it all to the market but through considered political decisions of the city.

          2. You’ll have a hard time getting any discussion at all precisely because these existing arrangements are so absurdly bad. Probably the best thing to do to promote city living for kids is to get the council to humanise this area. This has been in various “Grand Master Plans” from the council since at least 2010, but nothing came of it. People complain, with the response varying from nothing to FOAD.

            There is an opportunity with a few larger high density developments which are going to happen, like Takapuna and Unitec. Show, don’t tell. If those turn out equally miserable places for kids we can put this discussion off for another 10 years.

            Another problem I think is the tendency of people to see a house as an investment. All you hear is “keeping the value”. And consequently all you see is keeping up appearances, no matter how dysfunctional. A good example is the near-universal rule that you can’t dry your laundry outside. Because it looks “untidy”. Because it is a thing for the riff-raff and having that nearby will depress the value of your property. The fact that someone lives in that house is just an afterthought.

          3. When we bought our house 14 years ago, we put a rotary clothesline in the front yard. Have kids, need lots of drying space. Back yard was for veges and fruit. The previous owner took the effort to ask why on earth I had done that. 🙂 Of course, it means I get to see everyone passing as I hang the washing out, and challenge their ideas around clotheslines at the same time. Win win.

          4. If you buy in a new development, even with a standalone house you may find there is a covenant telling exactly what a front yard is supposed to look like, and prohibiting this.

          5. Yes, and I wouldn’t have been able to paint my house yellow and red, as I have done. How boring is that? Nor remove several parts of the driveway we didn’t need, probably. As for ‘untidy’, nature doesn’t like tidy…

  10. You haven’t actually done “the same” in the suburbs. There were lots of things nz kids could do. There were also things that a denser city provides that a NZ kid could not easily access–especially as they grew into teenagers and didn’t want to climb trees and run on the beach. I certainly could not run on the beach BUT I could learn almost any musical instrument I wanted, at low cost, and go to lessons on my own. But, whatever it may be. We are in a big city now. It has its own rules. There is no going back

      1. I am not sure I can mansplain, not being a man 😀 But I still stand with what I said: childhood in NZ suburbs is very different from childhood in a dense city.

        It is also very interesting how you read Nicholas Lee as both white and living in, say, Ponsonby 😀

  11. An alternative planning would be town houses that has backyards. The backyard has a little gate that also extends to a community shared garden.

    Cars should only be coming from the front of the house, leaving the back of the house and the community shared space pedestrians only.

    The shared community space should adjoint to the next community space in other developments, forming a network of walking and cycle shortcuts.

    For security reason, different community open spaces should connect to each other via residence only security gates. Only local residence with security card can pass by. There should also be security camera near the gate.

    That would be the more efficient use of shared space. You got private garden, a larger community garden, and extended walking garden space that feels like a local park and also forms a safe walking network.

    1. Or same physical form, but providing those shortcuts for everyone. Our street layout needs it. Council and AT’s plans show the need for this improvement in walking and cycling permeability, but I’m hearing of the selling off of alleyways instead of the buying of them. Perhaps developers contribution to green space can be in the form of these alleyways.

      The best security is from a public having its needs met.

    2. Sound’s like you think living in Victorian style terrace housing is the answer, I’ve been there done that, no thanks.

      1. Are you kidding? Victorian terraces are great! small private rear yard and strong passive observation of the street. Kids on my current street of Victorian terraces seem to have great independence.

  12. I just want to point out that we are discussing “being a child in a city”–responding to the often repeated argument, mentioned in Alex’s piece, that city is fine for babies but not older children. This doesn’t mean that this is better yhat being a child in a suburb or a smaller town. But it is different.

    1. Yes. Are there silly rules about not being able to have play equipment on balconies like there are about drying laundry? If you wanted to put up a few sheets to make an enclosed space, or make a balcony-sized city out of found objects and a lump of modellers’ clay, would there be rules against it?

      Is there a need for ground floor apartments reserved for families with children under 5, who must move on once their children are older?

      Playcentre and other truly child-led ECE can provide excellent opportunities. But when my kids were at playcentre, I remember thinking that the amount of tinkering they did outside at home dwarfed the time they spent at playcentre.

      I suspect the answer lies in providing the 3-5 storey development where people are wanting to live, and in treating the grounds, and that boundary between groundfloor inside and groundfloor outside as a special place that must have its opportunities for young children maximised. Not wasted on car infrastructure.

  13. Now you won’t be able to take your child fishing anymore on the old Mangere bridge. It closes on sunday the the 25 th of Nov.Tenders for a new bridge will be let early next years and will take about 2.5 years to build. Very sad to see the old bridge closed but will look forward to using the new one.

  14. You’re right Roeland, there is also the small matter of house-as-investment rather than house-as-place-to-live.
    And although I said that decisions have to come from a political place (Vienna wouldn’t have Karl Marx Hof without the urban plans put in place by the likes of Julius Tandler!), every small act, and neighbourhood discussion help, to challenge the views and encourage the people to think about how things could be different. If Auckland could take on board some of the overseas experiences, it could be wonderful.

    1. Yes. Also, voices of the ignored need to be heard, and a few institutional things set right:

      “Another step in the right direction is Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei’s Kāinga Tuatahi, a 30-house two-storey development on both sides of Kupe St at Bastion Point, which replaced 12 run-down state houses. The new dwellings — a mix of four-bedroom and two- to three-bedroom terrace units — are set in blocks of three or four and arranged around two communal outdoor gathering spaces that contain playgrounds, barbecue areas and vegetable gardens. “This is Māori building for themselves on their own land,” says architect Nicholas Stevens, of Stevens Lawson Architects. “What has stopped them doing this in the past has been the communal ownership of their land. The banks would not lend money on a place they can’t take back themselves.”

      https://www.noted.co.nz/money/property/aucklands-housing-crisis-why-freeing-up-more-land-wont-work/?fbclid=IwAR3_xuTbDXLktQR8I3C1EuHRqnFHi7pFV9oBqtwIbnjQRglE_dagdCE2dxI

      1. Actually many of forms that work in Central Europe (I’m going on about this because this is what I know but I’m sure there are great examples elsewhere) are really quite similar to what you’re describing. Having communal spaces, lots of green space, lots of trees. Allotments and communal fruit trees. Making sure every apartment has a shed on the groundfloor or in the basement for bicycles and strollers. Amenities such as schools, pharmacies, GP, daycare, shops, accessible to children and old people without cars. Lots of spaces for people to sit and talk, maybe play chess. Apartments with more than two bedrooms, even if these bedrooms aren’t large.

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