Leading image from Don Kostelec via twitter.
Creating as compact a city as we can makes good sense from a climate and liveability point of view, yet Auckland is still extending its reach into farmland.
Below are some excerpts from two interesting studies – the effects of going up in the US, and of going out in the UK.
Building up in the US
In the US, the study is a brief look into housing affordability in Minneapolis and St Paul. These twin cities are similar in size. Minneapolis is the more modern, cosmopolitan city with more businesses and a stronger economy. St Paul is more historic. (For extra information, here’s the cost of living calculator for the two cities.)
St. Paul, population 308,000, added 4,600 new housing units during ten years of a booming economy; Minneapolis, population 425,000 built five times that amount…
The short story is this: Minneapolis has built a lot of new apartments over the last five years, and now actual rents are finally going down, almost all across the board…
neighboring Saint Paul provides an ideal control group. The two cities provide as good a case study of how new market-rate construction affects housing affordability as you’re likely to find in this country. For all intents and purposes, the two neighboring cities are basically the same housing market. Most people buying houses in “the cities” look at both cities; it is the same with apartment shoppers. In general, St. Paul is around 10% more affordable.
The number of new housing units is shown in this table:
Here is the rental data from Minneapolis (on the left) versus St. Paul (on the right). Note that rents are generally higher in Minneapolis:
Here is how rental housing affordability has changed over the last year:
The biggest shift in affordability has been in Minneapolis where, for example, people on 50% of the area mean income (AMI) can afford 17% of the rental market, compared to only 10% the year before. similarly, people on 80% of the area mean income can now afford 80% of the rental market, up from 62% the year before. That’s a huge jump. The analysis discusses the results:
Part of the difference is the hotter economy in Minneapolis, which is wealthier and has far more jobs near downtown and the University. But part of that is also differences in zoning and land use policies. Minneapolis has ended single-family zoning (though only recently), passed broad-scale upzoning, and has accelerated reducing and removing parking minimums. At the same time, they have instituted an inclusionary zoning policy (though only recently), passed renter’s rights protections, and instituted a higher living wage.
Without knowing much about the history of housing in Minneapolis, it appears that removing parking minimums and allowing intensification has been effective recently at increasing housing affordability, something we often hear is mainly determined by ensuring there are no barriers to “land supply”.
Building out in the UK
A new report from the UK, entitled Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions and Reality was released last month by Transport for New Homes:
Transport for New Homes is interested in transport and new housing development. We wanted to know whether garden villages and garden towns would really be different from the car-based places that we had seen on our tours of recently built estates. We wanted to see if the right investment in transport was ready to bring the right results, in terms of access, lifestyles and the facilitation of good places to live.
We therefore undertook research looking at masterplans, visions, infrastructure delivery plans, transport assessments and other documentation put forward by developers and local authorities wanting to progress garden villages and towns… We also visited sites proposed for new homes and the new ‘garden towns’ to see how they were placed to take up their new role in modern planning. We looked at what was planned and funded in terms of all day bus and rail services to garden communities and whether safe walking and cycling to and from these new places to towns and railway stations was possible on an everyday basis.
The vision expressed for these new communities is attractive:
Looking through the many hundreds of pages of documentation describing the intentions of developers, their consultants and urban designers was in many ways very encouraging. Modern garden villages and towns presented a vision for a better way of life. It was as though planners and developers acknowledged that we needed to buck the trend when it comes to car-based living in sprawling housing estates where people are isolated and there isn’t much to do unless you drive out. It was clear to us, reading the literature, that the garden settlements were to bring us a future that was completely different. They were not supposed to be ordinary new car-based estate with homes crammed together and overlooking, instead of gardens, car parks.
Therefore the images presented in the garden communities documentation show people walking and cycling in places designed for walkability rather than cars. There are wide pavements, urban trees, shops and parks. There are public transport hubs and a mix of development. The boring housing estate dominated by parking is out. Vibrant places and local community are in. Sustainable transport plays a central role and brings people in to use shops, cafés and other local facilities. Commuting by rapid transit and new railway stations are all in the pipeline. It is a brand new era of sociable and green low carbon living.
The results, however, were quite different:
Having found that the visions for garden communities were all about sustainable living with walking, cycling and public transport all key to enabling this, it was with some amazement that we found that nearly every new garden community hinged on major road improvements to cater for a massive expected rise in car use…
Not only were the garden communities in the wrong location for sustainable transport but also there was an explicit wish to couple new housing with new roads.
The study noted:
Outdated transport modelling concentrates on new traffic and how to cope with it… When we looked at planning applications for garden communities, we could see the problem clearly. The main transport focus of the Transport Assessment is on the road network. Databases and software combine to populate a model of the road network as more and more traffic is imagined onto it as housing is built. Roads and junctions that will get to full capacity are flagged up… Once junctions and roads projected into the future are seen to be ‘at capacity’, the idea is then to seek funds to ‘unblock the network’ and ‘mitigate’ the effects of the development’. There is no idea that the future might not be about driving!
Here’s what Transport for New Homes conclude needs to happen to help achieve the vision. It’s not a small endeavour:
Finally, here are some pictures and commentary of some of the communities studied: