Featured image: a Tokyo logistics trolley, Dan Hill/Medium
And just like that, it’s October already. Aucklanders spent all of Mahuru/September, in lockdown. Hope you’re all doing well, here’s our weekly roundup!
The week in Greater Auckland
- Monday’s post by Matt dove into Auckland’s public transport fares, how they’ve changed over the last decade, and how they compare to other cities
- On Tuesday, Matt wrote about the just-announced cluster of Midtown regeneration projects
- Wednesday’s post by Marita recounted her experience of a lockdown ride to the city centre, and the kid’s-eye view it gave her
- And yesterday’s post, again authored by Matt, went through the items on the list for this month’s AT board meeting.
Auckland’s building boom is happening
Talking to old style Tamaki builder who pointed out that very few people outside the apartment industry know the scale of Auckland's building boom – its startling
— Michael Field (@MichaelFieldNZ) September 29, 2021
This is probably worth a post of its own sometime soon: building consent statistics show that Tāmaki Makaurau is experiencing a building boom like none seen before. The increasing momentum of new builds has been overshadowed by a media narrative that is squarely focused on the (very real) housing crisis. It seems like the good news story might be starting to bubble to the surface. Todd Niall reported in Stuff that the building boom contributed to an unexpected $1.9b surplus.
The big revenue boosts came from strong building consent and development contributions which had been expected to fall by 25 per cent, but instead surged.
Matt whipped up some graphs based on Auckland Council’s building consent stats, which show that the big increases are in the medium-density housing types: townhouses and units. Compare that to the last building boom in 2003-04, when high density apartments were the ones driving the surge. It’s good to see the ‘missing middle’ developing, and it would be great to see single house new-build numbers drop away to be replaced by more apartment buildings.
The role urbanism can play in women’s safety
Wellington’s city centre has been the subject of bad-news headlines this year. Women in Urbanism’s Emma McInnes spoke to Stuff about how urban form and infrastructure improvements can make women feel safer alone in the city.
“We often have a lot of lighting that lights up the road for the cars, but there’ll be nothing on the footpath, it’s always pointing in the direction of the cars, and it’s way up in the air. It’s not really helpful if you’re going for a late-night jog, or walking home late from work.”
Poor public transport frequency and end-to-end facilities can often leave women sitting in dark spaces feeling unsafe, McInnes says.
“A lot of this has to do with bus frequency, having buses that are going every half hour isn’t really good enough, that’s not going to make women feel safe. You want to get some really optimal frequency throughout your city. The other thing is thinking about end-to-end facilities, so not just what happens while they’re on the bus, or when they’re picked up and dropped off, but actually, where they’re walking to after that.”
An electrifying opportunity
You may also have spotted Emma McInnes in the line-up of a new coalition running for the board of Entrust, which oversees 75.1% of the nation’s biggest power-lines company, Vector.
Running under the banner More for You, Better for Climate, the team offers a fresh alternative to the long-running control of the board by Citizens and Ratepayers, and promises “decision-making that is better for the climate and our electric future in Auckland.”
Postal voting happens in October, and if you’re one of the 344,500 households and businesses south of the Auckland Harbour bridge and east of Avondale who gets a power bill, you can vote. Traditionally, turnout has been really low (12.4% in 2018) – so keep an eye on your mailbox for voting papers, and get ready to do some power-ranking of your own.
Super thanks to @lexlexalexisss and her sweet kiddo Gene for this seriously wholesome depiction of the @moreforyouAKL team. We look very ready to be your new Entrust trustees. #EnergyElections ⚡️⚡️ pic.twitter.com/c4Fvp8jcVp
— Emma McInnes (@EmmaMcInnes__) September 29, 2021
The highway expansion addiction
This article on Bloomberg explores the ‘unstoppable appeal of highway expansion’ and the murmurings of discontent from an ever-more skeptical public, in the context of proposed highway widening of an existing, congested, 12-lane state highway in Austin, Texas.
There’s a name for the principle behind that apparent paradox: induced demand. Economist Anthony Downs is often credited with first articulating this “iron law of congestion” in 1962, as construction crews were hacking interstates through American cities. Downs published a seminal paper with a stark warning: “On urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.” In other words, adding lanes won’t cure snarled traffic; the additional car space inevitably invites more trips, until gridlock is as bad as ever.
The concept of ‘induced demand’ is widely accepted and understood. So why doesn’t it seem to have any cut-through?
Highway planners aren’t crazy. But they are operating within a political and financial system that rewards new construction, despite its consistent failures to reduce congestion. A stroll through transportation history suggests that, unless those underlying incentives change, we’re likely doomed to continue repeating the same predictable, costly mistakes.
Some of the causes and outcomes are explained nicely by this diagram:
Moving on from the week in flooding
Perhaps this section of our weekly roundup should just be ‘alarming environmental catastrophes seem to be happening around the world with routine regularity’.
Instead of biblical floods and cars floating down highways, this week we bring you… exploding ground in Siberia, where the permafrost has never been so warm.
The full article is fascinating and well worth a read, if your nerves are up for it.
The new study found that in the context of the gas blowouts, the surface permafrost “caps” become weakened by this thawing process, which makes them more vulnerable to pressure from pools of methane gas that build up deep underground. This degradation of the upper permafrost also causes the subterranean “intrapermafrost” mix, which consists of cold briny water and other materials, to circulate faster, further compromising the strength of the cap above it.
At a certain point, the pressure from the gas pools reaches a tipping point that triggers the immense explosions. Given the direct link to climate change, Chuvilin and his colleagues expect these blowouts to continue in the future, though they require specific permafrost conditions that are particularly dangerous for the Yamal and Gydan regions.
The week in still more cities that are investing in cycling!
On the other hand, it’s starting to feel like every week brings another city announcing a significant and game-changing investment in cycling infrastructure. This week we’ve got…
The webpage announcing this is all in Norwegian, so we’ll have to take this twitter user’s word for it. Oslo has in fact been working on various methods to reduce cars in its city centre for several years now, including by removing all of the on-street carparks within its city centre ring-road. You can read more about that here.
The city council in Oslo are dead serious! They’ve just proposed that level of investments in #cycling will be increased by €25 million to €66 million in 2022. WOW
More separated bike infra, bike parking and more people working with bikes. https://t.co/bPQltupb1H pic.twitter.com/eJ6DhB0Ptd
— Jakob Schiøtt Stenbæk Madsen (@jakobssm) September 22, 2021
Momentum Mag has an explainer on Berlin’s freshly-announced 3000-kilometer bike network, the ‘Radverkehrsplan’.
According to a press release issued by the city, the cycle traffic network, which builds on the existing 1,500km network, consists of three main planks as follows:
• An 865-kilometer priority network with the most important city-wide connections
• An 1,506-kilometre secondary network
• And a further 550 kilometers of cycle paths on main roads that do not belong to the actual cycle traffic network, but are also expanded according to the standards of the supplementary network in accordance with the Mobility Act (Section 43).
Perhaps their covid-19 pop-up cycleways helped this decision. Ella Kay, who’s based in Berlin, wrote a post for GA about the pop-up cycleways in May this year.
Poland’s 30km/hr zone leads to reduced deaths and injuries on city centre roads
It’s good to see that speed reductions lead to… a safer environment for people.
Every crisis is an opportunity
While we read news of the Brexit-induced fuel crisis occurring in the UK right now, it’s interesting to learn how the 1973 fuel crisis was one factor leading to transformation of the transport system in The Netherlands, creating one of the most active-mode friendly places in the world. Click through to the photo gallery on The Guardian for incerdible images of Dutch streets full of horses and young people picnicking on highways.
During the 1973 oil crisis, the Dutch government banned driving on Sundays, one of the factors which led to a major shift in transport policy in the 70s/80shttps://t.co/SoUWUg29Wt pic.twitter.com/VG56pIGQnY
— Niamh McIntyre (@niamh_mcintyre) September 27, 2021
Looking further back into streets past…
The lost liberty of the street. The ease and safety with which most people moved around the urban street has been not just lost but entirely forgotten in less than a century. pic.twitter.com/SDYAHxh2qd
— createstreets (@createstreets) September 24, 2021
Road diet, Maastricht
In an impressive transformation, a motorway in Maastricht (The Netherlands) has been tunneled underground, and the space it once occupied returned to the city as a linear park and bikeway. What started as a ‘traffic problem’ evolved into a more holistic urban solution.
Gradually, however, the government bodies, working together in the project agency Avenue2, came to the conclusion that this project was not just a question of infrastructure.
The overall goal of the project was broadened. Instead of tackling a problem this much more became seizing the opportunity to:
– improve the accessibility of Maastricht and create a good traffic flow on and along the A2
– increase road safety and quality of life, in other words improve the liveability in the surrounding areas
– create new urban design possibilities for neighbourhoods alongside the A2 after removing the A2 barrier.
Small vehicles and urban form in Tokyo
Escape to Japan with this deep analysis by Dan Hill of the many small vehicles that can be found on Tokyo’s streets, and the part they play in shaping the city’s urban form.
When visiting Tokyo, if you are attuned to eating the world with your eyes and particularly the layers of urban life bigger than a cellphone and smaller than a building, one of the first things you’ll notice is how comparatively small the vehicles seem to be. Then, the sheer variety of these small vehicles. And then, how these vehicles, by virtue of their humble and appropriate scale and speed, help produce the city’s often delightfully humane streets. And then finally, that these small vehicles are scurrying around the world’s largest city.
What are the advantages of the four-day week?
A podcast, for a change. In this podcast, Pandora Sykes interviews Alex Pang, who’s been researching the four-day work week, how it can be implemented, and what effects it may have. They discuss the potential social, economic, and climate benefits that a four-day work week could have on people and their communities. The question’s relevance is only increasing when the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way people work and move in many cities all over the world.
Finally, in a week that has, for Aotearoa, felt as uncertain as any of the last two months, this essay by Alex Kazemi published on The Spinoff is timely.
We’ve always been fascinated by extremes but we’d been accustomed to viewing them from the shelter of our average lives. In the last couple of years the world has been sent spinning out to the edge. In January 2020, outspoken statistician Nicholas Nassim Taleb co-authored a warning that if countries didn’t employ the precautionary principle in decisively closing down the spread of the emerging novel coronavirus, then a global pandemic was inevitable. He was not the only one to issue the warning but it went unheeded for much too long by a number of governments including those of the UK and the US.
Taleb’s position came from his research into the risk of extreme global events and his strong belief that the probability of these events is misunderstood. He calls these events “ruin problems”, by which he means to say that they can be catastrophic for humanity. If not this one now, then one in the future. In this moment, his language might feel uncomfortable. We will get through this pandemic, albeit with great loss globally, but it needs to be an alarm signal. We need to give uncertainty the respect it is due because, as Taleb points out, our civilisation is more fragile to these risks than we choose to believe.
Have a lovely weekend. Ka kite i a koutou ā tērā wiki.