Car-dependency is a bad deal

Is it a good idea to have a transport system oriented primarily around the car? Cars are useful for a lot of things, but is it a good idea for most people to use them for most trips? This is a practical question rather than a philosophical one. Over the last 70 years, different countries have taken very different paths. Some countries, particularly the US but also New Zealand to a lesser degree, have invested heavily to make driving the go-to transport option. Others, such as Germany and the Netherlands, have taken a different course, with a greater focus on public transport, walking, and cycling. In a 2015 CityLab article, …
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Exports, prosperity, and cities

What does New Zealand do to pay its way, in the global context? And what could it do differently? These are an important questions because New Zealand is a small, trade-exposed country. We produce some of the things that we need locally, but many other things must be imported, which means that we need to export something in return. For instance, I’m writing this post in a flat built from bricks that were (probably) fired in New Lynn and timber that was sawn locally, sitting on a chair that was made in Auckland. But the computer I’m writing it on was assembled in China using parts and patents from all …
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The politics of Auckland

Elections last year in other English-speaking countries got me thinking about the urban implications of political geography. The US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit vote both featured large divides in voting patterns between big cities and rural areas and small towns. As the Economist observed, the US electoral map actually consists of a whole bunch of Democratic-voting urban areas and Republican-voting rural areas, rather than red and blue states. Even in Texas, which votes consistently Republican, Houston voted massively for the Democratic candidate. The red areas in this map are mostly empty: And as the BBC observed, the vote against Brexit was strongest in London, a few other large …
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Zoning reform: Stalled change in California

This is part of an ongoing series on the politics and economics of zoning reform. Previous posts have argued that the benefits of enabling urban development generally outweigh the costs, but that local government political dynamics may serve as a barrier to achieving those benefits. As a result, any plausible reform programme must account for political and institutional dynamics, which can either speed or stall change. As I wrote a few weeks back, California has ended up in a mess on housing due to the unintended consequences of 1970s-era legislation that made it harder to get new housing approved (and easier for neighbours to object) and reduced the financial incentives …
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The Auckland productivity premium

The Motu Institute recently published new research into the urban productivity premium in New Zealand, or the degree to which firms and workers in big cities tend to produce more and earn higher wages. This is an essential issue for urban and transport policy as it gets to the heart of why we have cities. As we’ve discussed in the past, cities offer opportunities for better connections between firms, workers, and customers, leading to better economic outcomes. (Economists usually describe this as agglomeration economies.) In the paper – with the enthralling title of “Urban productivity estimation with heterogeneous prices and labour” – researcher Dave Maré sets out to update and …
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Australian city centres: a good-news story

Last week I was in Brisbane for work. There seem to be quite a few cranes around the city, including midrise apartment developments creeping along the riverfront to the west of the city centre. The Brisbane CBD proper is still quite sterile at night after all the office workers have left – it’s an absolute pain in the neck to try and find dinner. But it seems to be developing little live-work satellites along the side of the river. Transportblog kept an occasional eye on development trends over in Australian cities as a sign of what could happen in Auckland. (If urban planning rules and the development sector were geared …
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The costs of tunnelling

Auckland Council and the Government have recently signed an official agreement to jointly fund the City Rail Link (CRL) – a move that both had previously committed to in principle, but not on paper. This is good news for the city, as it gives us certainty about how CRL will progress. (It is also a fine example of the value of good analysis and patient persuasion – this government was initially very skeptical of the project but has gradually changed its tune.) Given Auckland’s constrained geography and lack of future transport corridors, CRL probably won’t be the last major tunnelling project we investigate. If we want additional transport corridors, we’re …
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Repost: Why I’m optimistic New Zealand can solve its housing troubles

This is a repost of an article I wrote last December explaining why I’m optimistic about housing affordability in Auckland – and New Zealand’s ability to solve problems in general. I think my optimism has held up reasonably well. Since then, New Zealand’s conversation on housing affordability and urban planning has matured in some important ways – crystallising in the response to the Independent Hearings Panel’s recommendations on the Auckland Unitary Plan. As Toby Manhire observed, “the most remarkable thing is the response… on the whole it’s been incredibly positive”. Reasonable people could have reservations about aspects of the IHP’s recommendations, but most of the views I’ve seen recognise that …
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Is Auckland full?

Can cities fill up? Has Auckland simply become too populated to accommodate any more people, as some have argued? Do we need to put up the “closed” signs? In a word, no. There is plenty of room to accommodate more people within the existing urban footprint, although doing so would require us to do things a bit differently. It wouldn’t mean losing the things that make Auckland special – but it could mean that we gain some new amenities. Emily Badger over at Washington Post’s Wonkblog has put together some interesting graphics showing how cities almost always have the capacity to accommodate a few more people. She writes: Echoes of …
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Are Aucklanders paying too much in rates?

Aucklanders (and, I suspect, people in general) complain about high and rising property taxes. But are our rates actually too high? Compared to what? An article last year reported on what ratepayers are paying in each of New Zealand’s territorial authorities: Not surprisingly, rates in the most sought-after areas are also high. Those living in Auckland, where the average household income is around $76,000, face annual bills of $2636. The average house price in Auckland was $678,533 in February. But residents in Christchurch face comparatively low bills. At $1706 a year, they make the top 10 for cheapest rate bills. In other words: In 2014, the average Auckland ratepayer paid …
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