(Credit for above image: Point and Miller)

Promoting density is critical to avoid locking in sprawling, inefficient and climate-vulnerable modes of growth, but the kind of density matters. ‘Good density’ means functionally and socially mixed neighbourhoods with access to green spaces, comfortable, affordable, and climate-smart housing for all, and high-quality public transport networks.

– The New Climate Economy – The 2018 Report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

Aucklanders would do well to get more involved in the discussion around how our city develops. Letting the outcome result from the struggle between “techno-centric planners” with their unwitting NIMBY supporters, and the “urbanists” they dismiss as idealistic, isn’t going to deliver the city that families, businesses and residents of all ages need.

To achieve “good density,” we need to steadily and consistently take steps in the right direction. Disappointingly, I’m witnessing that even when decision-makers understand the benefits of a compact city, they still make regressive decisions. Perhaps these decision-makers are trying to pick their battles, in the hope that these individual poor decisions won’t really matter. But they do matter. Each shift away from “good density” is closing doors for ordinary Aucklanders to benefit from the best possible environmental and social outcomes.

In this post I want to unravel some myths around how housing, traffic, carparks and trees interact, in the hope that the public step up to demand more accountability of Council, Local Boards and the CCO’s.

(Credit: Greenpeace Belgium via Urban Planning and Mobility, via twitter)

Let’s clarify: New housing in existing suburbs is not responsible for the loss of tree canopy

Trees are important because they sequester carbon, and because they improve our lives and the city’s ecosystem in hundreds of different ways. Auckland can increase its tree canopy and its density, just as Singapore has done:

One of the reasons for Singapore’s liveability is the provision of high-quality urban greenery throughout the city, thanks to policies such as mandatory roadside plantings, which have ensured that trees have been introduced systematically with enough growing space to provide substantial canopy cover… Between 1986 and 2007, green cover in Singapore grew from 36% to 47%, despite a 68% increase in population, and reduced average temperatures by between 0.5 and 5°C

So it’s right for people to protect trees. The problem is that people are under the misunderstanding that housing developments are mainly responsible for our loss of trees.

According to Tree loss in the Waitematā Local Board over 10 years, 2006-2016, this isn’t the case. Over 61 hectares of tree canopy was lost from the local board area in the 10 year period, from 12,879 different ‘events’.

More than half of tree canopy clearance had occurred for no obvious reason. That is, no new structures such as new houses or other buildings, pools, house extensions, decks or driveways had replaced the space that was beneath the cleared forest canopy. Developments, improvements and extensions to existing buildings were the second most important reason for tree canopy clearance (33 per cent).

So only a third of canopy loss was due to development of any kind, and even that development would have included house extensions, decks, driveways, pools, garages, sheds and so on. A very small proportion of the loss would have been due to housing development at any kind of density.

It was evident throughout the aerial analysis that newly established canopy and canopy growth of existing trees has also occurred within Waitematā Local Board, in some cases quite extensively.

“Good density” involves:

  • Ensuring any development has a high height:footprint ratio, to honour the land that could be otherwise used for trees by putting it to very good use,
  • Focusing on the already-paved areas as the best places for new housing, instead of areas with trees,
  • Ensuring new housing does not waste land on paved areas like driveways that could instead be green space,
  • Not allowing any greenfields development, as this simply extends the reach of poor ecological outcomes further into the countryside, and delays “repair” to our overly sprawled city,
  • Planting lots of new trees, especially along our streets, and looking after them, and
  • Limiting the removal of trees to when there’s a very good reason, and actively planning to retain the large trees:

larger trees provide exponentially greater environmental, amenity and social benefits compared with small trees…

The image above shows some new houses that are nearing completion. The development has just a narrow strip of land on its north, sunny side, and a driveway on its south:

The agents have advertised it as if the neighbouring property has been turned into a park:

The development is in the THAB zone, which has as a policy:

Require the height, bulk, form and appearance of development and the provision of setbacks and landscaped areas to achieve a high-density urban built character of predominantly five, six or seven storey buildings in identified areas, in a variety of forms.

Yet there has been more local opposition to nearby 5 storey developments than to this low-rise development which dedicates much of its footprint to car infrastructure. At 4 or 5 storeys, many more homes can be provided in a far more efficient use of space, so land can be retained for actual, not imagined, parks.

Let’s clarify: New housing in existing suburbs is not responsible for the increase in traffic

Aucklanders generally understand that a more compact city offers superior public transport; they know that more people living or working in each block supports the public transport network so it is more efficient to run.

But when it comes to adding housing in a particular location, they fear it will increase parking and traffic problems. Perhaps it’s because they see new residents driving out of their driveways, or parking beside the street, and feel they “know” the new housing has created traffic issues.

The reality is that “good density” reduces “vehicle km travelled”. This 2016 submission to the Better Urban Planning Draft Report covers the evidence of the progressive effect of urban density on reducing vehicle travel:

We conclude that the weight of international evidence, contrary to the Commission’s conclusion, is that higher residential density is generally associated with reduced car use (e.g. vehicle kilometres travelled) in cities, and that urban planning policies should be framed accordingly.

That the Productivity Commission rejected this evidence, and continued to downplay the importance of higher density in the 2018 Low Emissions Economy Report illustrates the ideological resistance we’re facing. Without overt institutional focus on promoting “good density” over greenfields development, we’ll continue to see myths buoying the resistance to urban housing developments. This pushes housing into greenfields areas on the outskirts, where residents have no choice but to be car dependent, and results in:

  • Households with far higher “vehicle km travelled” than average households, meaning increased traffic danger throughout the city,
  • A lost opportunity for improvement in public transport that the urban development would have brought,
  • Political pressure for more roading to serve the people stuck in long commutes, leading to wasted transport funds, less money available for quality public transport, more roading-enabled sprawl.

Enabling urban sprawl leads to increased carbon emissions and other pollutants, congestion, and increased infrastructure and health costs, and results in poor community formation and cohesion.

– The NZ Centre for Sustainable Cities’ Submission on the Draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport

Let’s clarify: New housing with limited off-street parking is not the cause of streets filled with parked cars

The streets are already filled with parked cars, much more so than 10 or 20 years ago. To blame this on high density housing, which barely exists in most suburbs, is being blind to the real causes: high car ownership rates, high driving rates, high car dependency and sprawl. The households to emulate, with the lowest rates of car ownership and driving, are apartments and higher density developments with minimal off-street parking:

  • They are more affordable (not having to use land and resources on parking),
  • Instead of wasting land on driveways and parking, that land can be used for trees and gardens, or the added housing units can mean higher development contributions towards public parks, and
  • They attract people preferring the sustainable transport modes, encourage low car ownership rates, and decrease vehicle travel.

Streets lined with parked cars are a huge problem. The solution is to reallocate space to “good density” (such as public spaces and sustainable travel modes), enforce the parking rules, and price the parking that is retained.

Let’s clarify: With more people, we need less parking at facilities, not more

I’m seeing decisions based on the myth that with more people, or with more facilities offered on the same piece of land, more parking is necessary. This is a dangerous misunderstanding – parking induces traffic, so providing more parking makes our traffic safety worse, as well as adding to congestion and climate change.

There is also no discussion of other externalities associated with a car-dominated transport system, including the vast amount of public land required for parking and movement of private vehicles. Providing this space in cities contributes to urban sprawl, increases the cost of transport for everyone and pushes up house prices. – NZ Centre for Sustainable Cities

– The NZ Centre for Sustainable Cities’ Submission to the Low Emissions Economy Report

In compact cities people arrive at sports and cultural facilities by public transport, and by walking and cycling. There’s a willingness in Council to try to improve the amenity for people arriving to facilities by foot and cycle, but for “good density” we need to reduce the amount of parking provided, at every opportunity, and no-one seems to be tackling that.

Having declared a Climate Emergency, Council must now acknowledge the problem they’re creating by increasing parking at facilities, and start reducing it instead. Urgently.

Aucklanders, we must move towards “good density” at every decision, so let’s support our leaders to make the right decisions, reminding them:

Leadership is about doing things before anybody else does them. Leadership is about taking risks. Leadership is about taking decisions when you don’t know 100% what the outcome is going to be.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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  1. When we were on holiday in London I was struck by how (a) the housing we’d go by on the bus was so much denser than here and (b) how much leafier these same areas were than the so-called “leafy suburbs” here were.

    And then I think of the development by the Warehouse Takanini. Squat, grey and tree-less… but houses of a style so evocative of the tall and narrow European system. Such a waste. It honestly disgusts me.

  2. Thanks Heidi,
    The development you highlight breaks height-to-boundary rules (even the liberal alternative rule), does not provide required outlook space of 6m x 4m from living areas. There is a lot of inconsistency from Council in approving resource consents now, often due to consulting planners approving infringements without any neighbour’s approval. When neighbours relaise they cannot contest this they are rightly aggrieved, this is not NIMBY behaviour , instead it allows the NIMBY brigade to say “I told you so’ to the flagrant rule-breaking.

    1. Yes. The other set of rules that are being broken consistently are the coverage and permeability rules.

      If Council bothered to apply these rules the designs would have to be on a more compact footprint by going higher to provide the same number of dwellings. Although, as Cavalcante notes, site-by-site development would still be very hard. The height-to-boundary rules would still prevent the quality perimeter block housing form.

      1. The rules are not “broken” – they just identify triggers for more detailed assessment. If you go over a certain threshold you need to justify it and demonstrate the effects of crossing this threshold. Without this flexibility you would get very limited intensification at all. For example the THAB zones anticipates buildings of 5, 6 or 7 stories being constructed, yet if you were also to conform to Height in Relation to Boundary rules it can often be difficult to go above 2 or 3 stories due to the prevailing patterns of subdivision across the City.

        1. Yes, I don’t feel the THAB rules were written in a way that allows site-by-site development to a quality form within the prevailing patterns of subdivision.

          The flexibility, unfortunately, seems to be in one direction. It is a response to local opposition to height and local demands for plenty of off street parking, while overlooking Council responsibility to ensure good environmental outcomes around stormwater being able to enter the ground.

    2. There is no rule breaking. The unitary plan isn’t a system of rules to prevent development. It’s a system of rules to permit development without courts.

      I can build a coal powered power station next to your house without breaking any rules. I just have to go to court to get the consent.

      New Zealanders woefully misunderstand the RMA in urban areas.

  3. Check out the photo of ‘Good Density’ at the start of the post. The building has been designed with side windows presumably to look out over the low rise houses beside it. I mean the owners of these apartments would hardly want a building like the one they are in beside them would they.

    1. It’s on a corner, so in one direction this isn’t the case. I’m not sure what the set back from the side boundary is. I have other reservations about the design, but at least it is providing 22 homes on a piece of land the same size as the one providing 4 homes.

      Council approved two-storey low-density houses in the Mixed Housing Suburban zone in my suburb with windows that look directly into the neighbours’ windows and about 2 metres away, despite this being raised at an early stage by the neighbours.

  4. Hobsonville Pt is a good example of density done well. I wish the houses were a little bit bigger for what they cost, but it is a fashionable suburb with a degree of novelty. The Three Level, 140sqm townhouses seem like a good starting point. Functional urban planning would suggest we should be getting that format of density from the inside out, not the other way around.

    1. It is a good example of good density – I agree. One thing bother me is the lack of Public Transport to the city. Ferry is great but limited. Bus is great but can be undone by bad traffic. Not even close to the railway station.

      Glen Eden’s new tower apartment is a good example – close to the railway station. This is what we should be aiming for it.

      1. PT – I would say linking Hobsonville should not be hard in the longer run; it has the wharf and connections to Westgate; and the SH18 corridor, which, if sanity prevails, should one day connect to Constellation with LRT or at the very least, a busway.

        At this point, the easy of moving around the blocks through the parks and walkways would come into its own – I’d imagine you could travel far more directly to a bus stop there than in a lot of other suburbs just by virtue of the off-street connectivity built in by design.

      2. Live in Hobsonville – work in Hobsonville. Problem solved? The more live/work units there are around Auckland, the better off the city would be.

  5. A problem with zones like THAB is that while the intention is to allow the higher density, a developer is ultimately restricted by lot size and shape, the typical proportion being long and skinny. In my opinion this is a terrible basis for building density and is a the same issue that led to the lovely sausage flats dotted around auckland. Unless several neighbouring lots or a big parcel of land are owned, then it’s basically impossible to develop these sites to true medium density without compromising the outdoor spaces.

    The bigger developments (HLC style) should be able to over come all this by wiping the slate clean and replanning the urban layout.

    1. Whilst the block bounded by Wellington Street, Franklin Road, Napier Street and Hepburn Street in Freemans Bay is zoned THAB, the existing subdivision into small lots, typically less the 200m2, and the existence of common walls in the two storied terrace blocks of about 10 units make it difficult to see a viable pathway to further intensification. Even the council owned common areas behind the units are on a 999 year lease, to the adjacent townhouse owners, some years to go yet!

        1. Interesting concept. Perhaps all property should be automatically subject to the Public Works Act every 100 years!

    2. Skinny lots are not the problem. Quite the opposite.

      Imagine 2 lots, 300m² each:

      One is 7×40m. The front yard covers 7m of that depth. Then 13m for a terraced house. Then 20 m of backyard. With that depth you can easily have trees in the middle of that block, and the front yard leaves plenty of room for large street trees (and parking, if you wish so).

      One is 20×15, and actually very small by Auckland standards. It is fully covered by the house, the 1.5m setbacks to the fences and the driveway. You don’t have nearly as much room for trees mid-block. Check for instance how Silverdale is built.

      Note that you can gradually, one lot at a time, develop that first pattern in many tramway-era suburbs by dividing the existing lots in half length-wise.

      You can put the houses within the footprint of the existing houses (plus the side setbacks). You don’t have to remove much of the existing trees, and unlike sausage flats you don’t end up covering half your open space with driveways.

  6. The last point is vital and obviously applies within the city centre also.
    So much on street parking to be rationalised.
    I know there is so much fuss about loading zones – but really this is acting like sack trolleys don’t exist.

    The loading zones currently on high st are inducing too many 6m trucks to attempt to use them at once and we all know lack of enforcement has made footpath parking common practice, not lack of provision.

    It is no way unreasonable to ONLY have the loading zones in points of less pedestrian demand ie the northeast corner of Chancery, and have a 100m foot delivery rather than 50m.

    1. The on street parking is, of course, confused by AT’s approach to (un)enforcement. Their claims of having their hands tied seem to be actually about having their hands tied by their conservative legal team, not by any legislation… something I’m researching deeply at the moment.

      The parking being increased at facilities is probably the most egregious point of my post, and that’s Council’s responsibility to fix. What’s happened to traffic volumes, car storage in the public realm, and danger to vulnerable road users like children in the last generation is extreme. For Council to continue to add parking at facilities, knowing it will exacerbate the situation, is pure negligence.

      1. Heidi
        That AT takes no account of its off street parking strategy is disgraceful. As you know I am still progressing a complaint regarding this with the Ombudsman.

        We have a bizarre situation in Takapuna where despite Panuku being well advanced in the construction of a 450 space car park building a local group, Heart of Takapuna, wishes to have Council build a further 500 odd spaces about 120m away. It will be interesting to see where the Local Board and Councillors stand on this.

        What Auckland seems to need is Carbon Zero legislation that makes such action challengeable by Judicial Review so that the needs of all of the city are considered rather than narrow interest groups.

        1. The Local Board will sauoort anything that makes driving easier and active modes harder. That has been their attitude for 10 years and I can’t see it changing.

          Other than Jen Mackenzie the local board’s main focus is keeping everything the same and representing the views of the already wealthy and privileged older residents.

          If anything happenws in Devonport-Takapouna, it will be despite the local board not because of it.

  7. Now here is a great example of the right density. The new high rise apartment complex right beside the Glen Eden railway station. The lower floors are for car parking, looks enough for all potential new residents. Perfect design instead of further burdening surrounding streets with residents vehicles.
    Plenty of adjacent parkland for kids to play in, ie the cemetery, just get some of those fallen headstones removed for proper amenities such as swings and roundabouts

    1. The perfect number of car parks for that development is 0. It’s a shame they had to include so many more.

  8. as far as density of development, will it be a cultural shift at some point that pushes the zoning needle? when more currently young (read: not old) people are taking effect in the market and 3 bedrooms is more of an odd number. We’re seeing apartment numbers rise and really good developments, surely we will just get over nimbyism soon.

    1. felix
      not just young. It was noticeable when we lived in Wellington the number of empty nesters who moved to city apartments.
      We certainly have our eyes on an apartment for our older years.

      1. John, of course you are correct. I think the practicality of apartments for those without children is well proven, and this is extending more to empty nesters as the attraction for investment -and- habitation is proven. Living around the Karangahape/GNR ridge is a case study, undoubtedly the long confirmed CRL and public realm enhancements have accelerated this, but the majority of these were still top end of the market.

        I was thinking more about density pushing into the suburbs by mass requirement, partially caused by the above as central apartments get more expensive when more in the market start wanting them.

  9. While I agree with the points raised in Heidi’s post there are a couple of points that are misleading. Of course we should have trees everywhere They sequester carbon clean our air, soften the landscape and just look Gooooood. But every greenfield development in my lifetime has looked bleak and like Pete Seegers little boxes made of ticky tacky. Give them 10 years and trees start to mature and change the environment. Give them 30 years and the area is unrecogniseable. Why Waitemata LB is bucking this trend I don’t know it is alarming.
    Its a little disingenuous to say infill doesn’t add traffic. Until the residents of these new homes are weaned off private vehicles then they add to traffic. Not on the arterials but on the feeder routes. I live in (effectively) a cul de sac on the central city fringe. 28 new properties were developed (all stand alone grrr). One local resident tried to mobilise opposition and got no support. But getting out onto the main arterial is already a nightmare and will only get worse. If I worked in the CBD I would jump a bus but unfortunately I head off in another direction and it is not practical to do so. As an aside off street parking is full by 7:00 with the cars ofcommuters who drive, park and then take a bus

    1. On your first point, greenfields developments may end up with trees looking good, although the modern site coverage ratio may prevent this. But overall, because of their location, the residents are stuck in car dependency. The result is that all the adult residents have cars that need road space to drive on, and parking spaces at all the places they go. The outcome for urban form is a more paved and more barren city. Here’s a tweet showing the sort of knock-on effects of providing this car dependent housing: https://twitter.com/urbanthoughts11/status/1146162926379839488

      On your second point, I’d request that you take the time to read the submission I linked, with all its references.

      A location on the central city fringe should be walkable and connected by public transport in all directions. You need to take a car not because you’re heading in a particular direction, but because all of Auckland is designed around the car, and doesn’t have the density to support public transport in the direction you’re going.

      The traffic in your area is from three groups – existing residents, new residents in the infill, and residents from further out driving through who, as you point out, often choose to hide-and-ride. You’ve chosen to assert that the new residents in the infill are creating the extra traffic. And in your cul de sac, that’s probably true. There will be some new and existing residents in your cul de sac who have now shifted to using the bus. But overall, in the surrounding streets, which were probably already fully congested at peak hour, the infill housing in your cul de sac will not have increased the traffic volumes, and may have reduced it. This is due to two effects: 1/ the increase in people from your cul de sac (and developments like it) has been a factor in the increase in services provided by the bus network, so the service is better, and 2/ traffic tends to reach equilibrium – if someone is driving from your cul de sac, someone else has probably thrown their arms up in despair at the traffic and shifted to using the bus or bike.

      What you need to focus on for your location is increasing the “good” part of “good density”. The hide and ride needs to stop; storing private vehicles is a terrible waste of your local public realm, and hinders uptake of walking.

    2. Cue-de-sac is the problem.

      New subdivision should have pedestrians walking/cycling network and shortcuts from any home to the bus station without detouring.

  10. ‘More than half of tree canopy clearance had occurred for no obvious reason.’ Maybe the authors should have asked the owners why they got rid of them. Revealed preference says they didn’t want the tree on their property.
    Last year we had three very large tress removed from the front of our home. The reason was the high winds probably due to global warming. We lost a big branch that took out our power for 2 days so we got dudes in with a crane and chainsaws and removed the 3 biggest trees. More will follow as I think the days of big mature tress on private property are over, the risk is now too high.
    Density is a major reason for removing trees. When Auckland City Council allowed infill in the 1970’s it meant the big tree in a backyard had to go. When they allow terraces then the site needs to be cleared. Trees were something people planted when they had oodles of spare space. Now we don’t. When I build a new house on my front yard a bloody huge liquidambar will have to go. It’s house or tree.

    1. On trees being more prevalent because people had big spaces, I have to challenge that. All I ever see on big sections are lots of lawn and very few trees.

      I do think though that we need to conentrate on trees on public space. That means wider footpaths and less on street parking. That chnage needs to happen soon. It isn’t a choice between houses or trees, but parked cars and trees (bike lanes, outdoor cafe spaces, wider footpaths, etc.)

      1. I have just this morning discovered another threat to trees. I googled the names of the people who wrote the report Heidi linked to. One of their goals is to review tree protection under the Auckland Unitary Plan. There is nothing more certain than the prospect of tree protection rules to encourage people to cut down trees immediately.

        1. That’s understandable, given they found:

          “More than 75 per cent of all cleared trees had no statutory protection and unprotected trees experienced higher rates of tree canopy clearance; about 60 per cent higher than what would be expected on a proportional basis.”

          You should have a read of if, miffy. Given loss of biodiversity is considered an even bigger existential threat than climate change is, the Council’s record is pretty poor:

          “Tree clearance in the high protection category was examined more closely. The high protection zone is supposed to include the best examples of urban forest in the Waitematā Local Board, and this zone often included remnants of urban forest that were dominated by native plants and therefore had high indigenous biodiversity values as well… Approximately 86 per cent of the high protection clearance was on public land (mostly public open space) and 14 per cent on private land.”

          This is somewhat skewed by one particular park development, but that could be the case throughout the city.

        2. Honestly starting to wonder whether the Council should be required to adopt a Wild Kiwi in Auckland by 2050 strategy or something equally aspirational and let that guide vegetation decision making – even if you don’t *actually* get Kiwi living wild in suburban Auckland, creating the type of environment that would make that possible seems like a decent benchmark.

        3. Yes. I suspect the love of landscape designers for a blank canvas is doing a lot of damage. But Council doesn’t seem to have the right checks and balances in place either. As my local board explained about a town centre upgrade that

          -removed trees (without replacing them),
          -reduced permeable area,
          -installed “moving seats” that stopped moving very quickly because the design was stupid, and
          -wasted all the money on unnecessary repaving (because landscape architects like new paving), therefore
          -had no money left to improve the actual function of the place with new elements as requested by residents,

          they rely on the experts knowing what they’re doing. And this is valid – LB members are in the firing line from residents while having little power, and we can’t expect them to be experts. But there’s a lot of good holistic thinkers in the sustainability field; Council need to reorganise the processes to get these thinkers leading design.

        4. There’s a cost to having big old trees on private property. Our lod liquid amber at our place in Te Atatu cost us $1,000 per annum in arborist costs alone. Take away ability to afford this kind of upkeep and the case for cutting trees down becomes a lot clearer.

        5. miffy, you are right. I have friends who will not plant native trees because they are concerned that if they ever need to remove them they will not be allowed to do so due to rule changes in the future. So they are not planting natives. Sadly, new developments around where we are are on tiny sections so there’s going to be no trees in their backyards at all. I’m very thankful my kids get to experience weta and skinks, tuis and wood pigeons in their own backyard.

        6. The tree protection people are even worse than Nimbys. At least Nimbys have put their own money into an area and are trying to make it as good as they can. The tree protection people want to force others to be encumbered with an unsuitable tree so they can look at it for free without being stuck with all the downsides.

        7. I do actually agree with the tree thing when the tree is a problem one. As much as I like having more trees in general, we got a huge bloody great Norfolk in our corner backyard cut down when that law change allowed us too. Broke up the neighbours drive and dropped stuff all over our backyard and the other newer neighbours and really blocked their light, was breaking into drains. Before that change the council wouldn’t let us.

          I think Nimbys, on the other hand, are just concerned with their own plot. They are actually creating sprawl, increased infrastructure costs/rates or failures and traffic mayhem.

        8. Some of the trees are highly allergenic, too. There shouldn’t be blanket rules. But if they are cut down, we need to see quality urban realm replacing them, not just a bigger carport or whatever.

        9. The problem with that is who decides what is a quality urban realm on somebody else’s property? Effectively you’re taking away people’s property rights. In the last two houses I’ve lived I’ve cut down a number of large trees and planted far more. The newer trees do a far better job of attracting native birds, and support native insects to a much greater extent. But I would never have done it if I had to get approval from some sort of bureaucracy. In that case, if you could you’d just cut them down and not replace them. Far better to encourage people to plant trees in their backyard, but the right sort of tree. Obviously a bit different for a planned development like Housing New Zealand.

        10. Forgot to mention that we have a pile of vegetation, and trees we have planted or let run wild to some extent, as well which I’m sure would offset this tree removal.

        11. There are just so many problems with urban trees.
          Just remove all of them then require new home builds to have electric solar panel powered roof mounted CO2 scrubbers/O2 generators treating at minimum 2x the home generated CO2/NOX.
          Who needs these light blockers, root invasive infra destroying and detritous littering space users? More paving.

    2. “Density is a major reason for removing trees.”

      I’ve shown the evidence that density has been a minor reason for removing trees, and that other reasons have had a far bigger effect. I’ve also shown that done well, density can be accompanied by an increase in canopy cover (Singapore).

      We’re not going to get that good density and increase in canopy cover without regulation, yet you argue against regulation.

      What exactly is your solution, miffy?

      1. No you have quoted research that 50% of trees were removed for no reason. Call me a sceptic but I doubt they got that right. People don’t just wake up and decide to get rid of a tree because they can.
        Of course trees are removed due to density. When infill came along the tree that occupied a yard was removed, when higher density came along people cleared sites entirely. If you want trees then they will have to be within the road reserve and parks and be maintained at the public expense. Check out your photos with the temperatures on them, they are in the public realm. Expecting to use regulation to force people to keep private trees and forego intensification is totally unreasonable and prevents the very intensification you claim to want.

        1. I’m definitely with you that trees will have to be within the road reserve and parks and be maintained at the public expense. We also need more connections for people walking and cycling, and more pocket parks, both of which will have to be provided by Council purchasing the land. I believe the urgency of the biodiversity, ecological and climate situation means that we should be looking at master-planning suburbs for these changes, and designing them around where the big trees are. There are a number of different ways that could pan out, but I’ll be damned if it should be determined by property owners’ rights.

          There’s no call for you to doubt the evidence – the report describes the level of detail they went to. People try to get more sun or light into their old cold houses by cutting down trees. They also don’t like the leaves dropping on their cars or pools or driveways. Or their neighbours don’t. Sometimes the cost of keeping a vigorous big tree like a gum at a safe size means they would have to be paying $600 every second year to an arborist, and they don’t want the cost. Sometimes they want more sun on an area so it doesn’t feel so wet in winter. And some people just don’t like particular trees.

    3. Here is a post from 2009, predicting that exactly this would happen:

      a quote from it:
      “For reasons that are unknown to me, the National-led government hates trees. As part of their “Stream-lining and Wholesale Destruction of the Urban Canopy Amendment Bill”, National are pushing through a somewhat ridiculous amendment to the RMA Bill. Basically, this week, the Nats will ram-rod through a number of amendments, including Clause 52 where it will allow people to cut down any trees they like, without having to ask permission. It’s that whole right-wing anti-nanny state thing that ACT and National espouse so much – “no one is gonna tell me what to do with my trees” that sounds just like the the NRA’s famous line espoused so clearly by Charlton Heston “they’ll only take my gun from my cold dead hands”. Basically, the law is being changed to allow people to cut down trees that block their views or their sunlight, but the blanket provisions are almost certainly bound to have some nasty side effects as our cities become denuded of greenery.”

      1. So with trees we are not allowed to tell people what t do with their own land, but if I want to build a small house on 200sqm with no setback, I will be told very quickly that I can’t do that.

        So once again, different rules for the already haves and the wnat to haves.

  11. Agree with the comment regarding trees but some of the loss of tree cover has to be viewed in the context of the terrible quality of our housing stock. While tree loss may not have been associated with new development I wouldn’t be surprised if it was to improve the availability of sunlight in to many living spaces to address heat/ damp issues prevalent across the City. Unfortunately, evergreen trees in dense urban areas can be a major issue in terms of shading/ dampness problems.

    1. Yes. In the Waitemata Local Board area, a lot of this terrible quality housing stock is protected by special character status. Rather than replacing it with appropriate density for a central area, which might involve the removal of the trees, they are removing the trees anyway and keeping the damp cold houses.

      Council has allowed nostalgia to take precedence over quality housing and quality urban form.

    2. Tree loss on private properties would feel far less severe if councils had kept up planting in streets and parks as they did a century ago. Where are the modern day Franklin Road and Albert Park?

  12. Ockham’s Daisy Apartment is a pretty good example.
    Built on the same footprint as the previous structure (single-detached dwelling). 5 levels, adjacent to an urban park. Stop by the park next time you’re coming along Dominion road, it’s a peaceful spot to pause under towering norfolk pines, watching the trains roll past.

    Oh yeah and it’s a “Radical anti-car apartment block”! https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12009525

    1. The only thing more impressive than Ockham were the stuff.co.nz commentators on this development.

      Taking a break from their daily labelling of the current govt as “socialist”, they decided people should not be able to choose to live this way and demanded developers provide carparks regardless. The thrust of course was that their publicly subsidized free/residents parking might be under threat from new entrants. People who probably did not even have cars.

      I don’t know what was more idiotic; demanding people have cars which would not be in their vested interest to continue said rort, or calling the other mob socialists.

      1. My HR Consultant lives in these apartments. She had a car, but sold it and now uses a bike and PT.

        1. She must feel horribly oppressed after having been forced to give up her car by the evil Council planners. Just terrible.

        2. I often wonder if the occupants of this building are bothered by
          noise from passing trains.

          It’s a shame the footbridge over the rail lines was removed – it
          was within metres of the building.

        3. They probably have very good sound insulation. The price per unit seemed very good. Probably a reflection of not providing a car park.

          From that NZ Herald article:
          “There is absolutely nowhere to park around here anyway,” she said.

          “We have a guy that comes in at 6am every morning just to move cars from the shop where they’ve been overnight, on to the street so we’ve got space to work.”

          No wonder there is no space for cars.

          Easy for me to suggest but I suspect that they really need to move their business as times have moved on & that area won’t be suitable for such a business.

        4. Incredible, isn’t it? She is willing to admit to how their business is commandeering a lot of public space, and then has the gall to criticise a development that tackles the car dominance issue. Entitled much?

          The automotive industry is carefully trying to keep the dominance they have – healthy streets supporting modeshift away from driving is a real threat to their bottom line. This is why the AA are trying to claim parking illegally is some sort of a right.

        5. Regarding the noise of passing trains in Daisy:
          My experience, from living in a level 1 apartment there, directly overlooking the tracks. The double glazing and sound insulation means that when windows are closed, you don’t hear the EMUs pass at all. With the windows open, you do hear a rumble and rush which could interrupt a conversation or a quiet part of your TV show, but it’s not too unpleasant. Occasionally they will give a toot of their horn as they approach the level crossing – this can be a bit of a shock.

          The diesel freight trains, on the other hand, are LOUD. They only pass twice a day it seems (~11.20pm outbound, ~ 9.30am inbound). But this is a loud rumbling that builds up to a roar when then engine rolls past. Even with windows closed, you will hear this, but significantly muted. Usually I’m asleep for the night-time train and it has never woken me.

          The main noise pollution, of course, is from Dominion Road and New North Roads, which provide a steady source of road noise. Again, completely silenced when windows are closed.

          I think the worst would be living closer to a level-crossing – the dinging of the warning system must be a real pain. For example the apartments near Mt Eden Station.

  13. If you have a bit of spare time hop on the 380 bus at Onehunga and go to Mangere Town center with any luck you might even get the electric one. Anyway you get a tour past acres of new Housing Corp development. Three story blocks of four and two story townhouse blocks looks really nice much better than the flimsy single story standalone state houses they replace. I suppose this is the intensification that Twyford wants to run his Light Rail past. Once you get to Mangere you can transfer to 31 and you will go past another area at the intersection of Bader Drive and Buckland Road which is being demolished for more of the same. Take notice on Station road in Papatoetoe how the old houses on huge sections are being knocked over and are being replaced with up to six townhouses. A lot of that is private developers but also there are some housing corp. Housing corp seems to be experimenting with all kinds of building techniques in one case they are using all concrete almost tilt slab to build an block of units. This is on Hillcrest road right opposite the primary school only a hundred yards from the railway station. Once you have finished housing watch you can go and have a Coffee at the La Garre cafe in the old Papatoetoe railway station which has being located close to St George street overlooking the railway line.
    One more thing on Greys avenue heading towards Middlemore station a derelict house has being replaced in super quick time by two prefab units. No concrete slabs just wooden piles one day and units the next. They are not flash but I wouldn’t hesitate to live in one. They are sort of like stretched holiday cabins you will find in a Holiday Park. It just seems so easy compared with all the shagging around with polystyrene and concrete and not to mention the mud.
    Proceed to railway station for your trip home.

  14. Heidi, I agree with a lot of what you say but there’s two things (traffic generation and parking) where I think you’ve glossed over the detail and it goes to a reason why some ‘nimbys’ oppose things – the benefits of increased density are felt regionally but the costs are felt locally.

    Well-located infill housing such as in the Isthmus means the new residents will be located close to jobs, frequent public transport and other amenities. This means they’ll have less distance to travel and are far more likely to use PT or active modes than had the new housing been located in a remote location such as Huapai or Takanini. so, yes, this form of development does not generate much traffic or parking demand compared to others. But, it does generate *some* traffic and parking and that will be experienced by the people who live in the immediate area.

    You can argue that it leads to less traffic/parking overall and the costs to a small area are worth the benefits overall but you can’t argue there’s no increase in effects.

    check out these two articles which make the point in different forms:

    1. 🙂 I try to talk pretty straight. I stand by my assertion that traffic is reduced through increased density. I am not talking per capita, I’m talking overall, and the evidence is solid. Please read the linked submissions.

      What creates an increase in traffic is increased road space, free or subsidised parking, allowing drivers to impose the costs of their modes on society at large instead of internalising those costs, and low density.

      Your point about local effects is valid. This is what’s happened over the last 60 years:


      Residents’ concerns need to be listened to, which is why I’m trying to increase their understanding. To claim poor local effects are due to the very measures that are being taken to undo this destruction of cities is “glossing over” the situation.

      What is required is good design – the reallocation of road space to bus lanes, quality walking realm, trees and bike lanes. Done well, this enables both the outer city residents and the local residents to ditch the car in favour of sustainable travel. Since many people just don’t want a long commute, higher density provides them with housing choice.

      A compact city like Barcelona has far lower vkt than a sprawling city like Atlanta. Yet even Barcelona can add more “good” to its “density” which reduces vkt further. Its Superblocks programme is achieving just that. If you haven’t studied what’s happening there (and in the UK’s Low Traffic Neighbourhoods) it’s really inspiring.

      1. Looks like we’re mostly saying the same thing and I will read those articles 🙂

        Still disagree with some of your detail though e.g. “The streets are already filled with parked cars, much more so than 10 or 20 years ago. To blame this on high density housing, which barely exists in most suburbs, is being blind to the real causes:….”

        Many streets were far different ten or twenty years ago even if they’re not ‘high density’. A typical subdivision layout was to a quarter acre or a fifth acre (1,012m2 and 800m2). Most streets in the urban area, particularly in the Isthmus, have been subject to a secondary round of subdivision which doubles the density as each site is split in two (and often more).
        Obviously changing rates of car ownership and other factors are relevant but we can’t ignore the role that increased density has had in the increase in on street parking.

        1. Cool. I hope you find them interesting. The attitude of the Prod Comm is actually part of a whole mindset that permeates NZTA too – in which the road capacity expansion’s effect on land use and vkt is not acknowledged. I’ll be blogging at some stage about some of the really disrespectful generational abuse that some of the reports they commission are indulging in (eg referring to Millennials who have to train for longer before getting jobs, who can’t buy houses until they’re older, etc, as having “deferred adulthood”!!!)

          I would turn your last sentence around, and claim the opposite. Given that evidence shows that increased density is a factor in reducing vkt, the increase in traffic and in the use of the public realm for parking cars needs to be explained in other ways.

          I’ll use my suburb as an example. North of Meola Rd in Pt Chevalier, we had almost no parking overnight on the streets 20 years ago. Ten years ago, there was some, now the majority of kerbside spaces are taken.

          Infill in this area wasn’t huge, mainly happened before 2000 or shortly afterwards. Anecdotally, although residents/household has been increasing in parts of Auckland, this isn’t the case here. Yet the bigger change in parking behaviour happened in the second decade when I believe there’s been no population increase.

          Increased car ownership in the suburb has been on average 2.5% per year over this time (coming to 49% from 2000 to 2018), although in reality this may be higher because company vehicles are increasingly parked here and I don’t know where they’re registered.

          I put the increased parking on the street down to:

          – increased car ownership
          – the ‘normalising’ of parking on the street, with AT not taking responsibility for keeping the public realm not dominated by cars,
          – larger cars that don’t fit in the driveways and parking areas so well,
          – increased car dependency, as shown by the increase in traffic (9% per year each year for the last two years, even in the area that’s not seeing any through-traffic – see my post “Aladdin and the Magic Modeshift”). What this means is the locals are using their cars as their way of accessing their city, and they don’t want to have to ask the other members of the household to move their cars; to avoid that imposition, they park on the street.

        2. I think another factor in increasing street car parking is that for many people a car is just an appliance, if the council let’s them park it on the street, great. They can reallocate the garage for something they value more highly then storing the car securely under cover.

        3. Personally speaking, I have an issue with existing residents who bought a house not fit for purpose (no off street parking for their car) and want the council to subsidise that (free off-street parking or residents scheme) and then try and pull up the ladder up when other potential new residents want to get in on the rort.

  15. “Limiting the removal of trees to when there’s a very good reason, and actively planning to retain the large trees’

    This has unintended consequences. This stop people from planting tree if they know it is hard to remove them afterward.

    Also the “good reason” means it needs to council to approve, which means inefficient and create a lot of fears.

    Examples are similar to resource consent, as soon as it needs approval with council, things gets slow, inefficient and create a lot of red tapes.

    People at the end just don’t want trees, which makes things worse

    1. Better solution: New subdivision resource consent would require tree per x sqm as resource consent condition.
      Architect can choose what and where to plant the trees.
      Later, if the owner/neighbor believes the trees is no longer fit for purpose (dangerous, blocking pipes, breaking concretes, blocking lights), by right they can replace the tree, or relocate the tree to a better position without any council intervention.

      1. https://www.google.com/search?q=alba+apartments&rlz=1C1GCEA_enNZ806NZ810&oq=alba+apartments&aqs=chrome..0j69i57j0l4.9525j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

        Alba apartments in Takapuna – 21 apartments on about 700 sq m. 95% of these sold quickly suggesting that at least the owners thought that it was good density. It has a great aspect from the street with the trees having been preserved.

        This is a long and skinny development that has been commented on previously, yet this fits its environment with very limited land use. Perhaps because of this the apartments were affordable by Takapuna standards. Living nearby we are certainly proud to have such a development as neighbours.

  16. The leafiest suburbs in Auckland, such as Titirangi, are houses on sections, with those sections covered in trees.

    Built-out blocks with a line of trees on the street is the opposite of a leafy suburb.

    1. The thing is Geoff, you say things but you don’t know if they are true…

      Besides Titirangi is hardly part of the conversation when it comes to actual City density…may as well say Hunua is the leafiest suburb

      1. Don’t worry. We will all be living as hunter/gatherers in taumarunui soon, so it won’t matter.

        Cities will soon be irrelevant. Apparently.

  17. Densification vs traffic: remember that what we should be interested in is not the amount of traffic congestion as such, but how easy it is to get where we want to go and the amount of our total economic resources that we spend on transport – a transaction cost that that we’d like to minimise. What matters is access, not speed.
    Which is better for your personal costs and the environment -commuting for 5 kilometres on a congested road at 20kph, total 15 minutes (densification scenario) or commuting for 20 kilometres on a free flowing road at 40kph, total 30 minutes (green fields sprawl scenario)?
    Arguably the first is better. But it’s hard to make people see that, because they can see congestion – literally – but they can’t see trip time or total costs.
    So for many people, building a lovely new motorway to facilitate the long fast trip is progress, but densification to facilitate the short slow trip is bad because it creates congestion.

    1. Julian
      Hasn’t it been the way that Auckland has approached congestion that has been the problem? Take the example of the Northern motorway near Albany. In the face of it becoming congested why didn’t NZTA say, let’s see first if we can fix this issue by extending the Northern busway. Let us see if we can increase the boardings and disembarkation at Albany so that they match what is happening on other parts of the network.
      If NZTA and AT had followed the example of other successful public transit oriented cities we would not have the mess that we have almost everywhere.

      1. At an NZTA open day a couple of years ago, I asked why do we not extend the Northern busway from Constellation to Albany before spending heaps of money on the Constellation motor vehicle interchange with SH1 and was told that it was necessary to complete the purchase of the Turners property before any busway extension work but that the interchange would proceed immediately. Another case of ‘cars first’!

  18. I have a dozen trees on my property and 4 are 70yo gum trees, prone to losing branches. I’ve been reluctant to cut the closest one down as it still has the same rope swing I used when i was a younger and now the grand kids use it almost every day with their friends. And another one has a rather large tree house we all built together. Unfortunately other trees have already fallen over already in recent years and luckily missed my house. I’m pushing my luck with 2 of the closest ones, so I think they will all go just to be safe. However I’m very reluctant to plant new trees, especially natives when people start talking about trying to control what I can and can’t do on my property. I’d sooner chop them all down that to have someone tell me I can’t.

    Technically I could fit 5 terrace houses on my land, but all the trees would have to go. I think for the most part, people don’t like large trees on their smallish properties, so just remove them and don’t replant.

      1. Heidi, I came across this and wondered if there is any similarity in our history to his case from Seattle and the Oregon region. https://www.sightline.org/2018/05/25/a-century-of-exclusion-portlands-1924-rezone-is-still-coded-on-its-streets/

        Rules on many of the subdivisions in NZ’s major cities in recent times have precluded building your own home out of income while living in a garage on the section you bought. But I wonder if that has had the effect of producing segregation.

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