RNZ: Urban Density Panel Discussion

On Sunday there was a good panel discussion on Radio NZ talking about density and the Unitary Plan without the usual scaremongering from the likes of Auckland 2040. It’s well worth a listen if you have a spare 20 minutes. Urban density marks a shift away from a traditional single-storey home on a section, towards multi-storey apartment and townhouse developments. Proponents say increasing urban density is important for a booming city like Auckland, while others argue against this type of housing and its impact on communities. Wallace is joined by RNZ Auckland Correspondent Todd Niall, Auckland’s deputy mayor Penny Hulse, and Bill McKay, senior lecturer at the School of Architecture, …
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The Unitary Plan Roller-Coaster

The Unitary Plan Roller-CoasterSince first talked about back in 2013, the Unitary Plan has been like a roller-coaster ride. There’s been the hope and anticipation for a better future for Auckland as the cart climbs a steep hill followed by that brief micro second of confusion before you realise you’re falling as groups opposing housing pipped up and were egged on further by one sided reporting from the Herald. Then came the twists and turns of the debate before that feeling of weightlessness as you go through a loop waiting for the councillors to make a decision. After catching your breath for a second there was then the smaller and less intense second stage as the process was …
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Are cities really getting less dense?

I have been pondering a comment in William Fischel’s generally excellent new book on zoning to the effect that: …suburbanization and reduced urban density are worldwide phenomena. All but 16 of the 120 urban areas on every continent grew outward and reduced their overall population densities in the last decade of the previous millennium, even as almost all of them grew in total population. This is an interesting claim, but one that I find very difficult to reconcile with the evidence on other “big picture” changes observed in cities over the last three decades. In recent decades, agglomeration economies have gotten stronger and the structure of advanced urban economies has …
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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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In defense of population growth

Growth: what is it good for? Accommodating a growing population can certainly be challenging. It means having to find more money to invest in transport and water infrastructure to enable new residents to live and travel in the city. As Auckland Council’s recent consultation on the Long Term Plan shows, asking people to pay more is never a very popular proposition – even if they like how the money’s being spent. And, as Stu pointed out in his post on Auckland house prices this Monday, population growth can also put pressure on housing markets. Multiple research papers from the Reserve Bank have shown that increases in net migration tend to …
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If you want more consumption choices, live near lots of other people

One of the many reasons that people choose to live in cities is that cities offer variety. As Stu Donovan has argued before, being around more people sometimes seems inconvenient, but it also exposes you to new ideas, new people, and new consumption choices. I’ve previously written about the value that people place on choices in housing and transport markets, and how having more choices is particularly valuable for people on low incomes. This week, I want to look at how cities provide us with choice in the retail and restaurant markets. My hypothesis is that there are economies of scale in the provision of both public and private goods. …
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Does intensification increase traffic congestion?

Earlier this week, I took a look at the relationship between congestion and density. I was investigating geographer Phil McDermott’s claim, based on some dodgy data comparing between cities, that increasing density would increase congestion. Economists know that it is difficult to make inferences about causality using cross-sectional analysis. Simply looking at variations between different cities doesn’t allow you to form robust conclusions about how those cities got to where they are. One of the ways in which economists seek to strengthen their understanding of causality is to look at changes over time. For example, if you observe that increases in density tend to be followed by increases in congestion, …
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Arguing for sprawl with “strategic misrepresentations”

A number of recent posts have taken a look at some of the “strategic misrepresentations” that people have used to argue for a sprawled-out, roads-focused Auckland. We’ve taken aim at some of the common fallacies, including: Auckland isn’t dense enough for good public transport – in fact, it’s a medium-density city that is misrepresented by Demographia’s flawed statistics A car-based transport system will be cheap – in fact, all of the initial cost estimates were wildly undercooked and the costs to build motorways have never stopped increasing Auckland is too congested to function – in fact, average commute times are a cruisy 25 minutes, well below many overseas cities. A …
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The good news about intensification

I thought a commenter on a recent post about a new apartment development on Great North Road had a really great point about the state of the debate: …the fact is the intensifiers are not winning the argument, as was noted by someone else above. I wish they were but with the tin-ear people have here for this sort of argument, it doesn’t surprise me that it is being lost. Compare the nuanced arguments made here about transport (expansive, studied proposals like the CFN) to the “developers and freemarkets will sort it out” type arguments around intensification and you’ll see what I mean. This rings true to me. Although I …
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Why Demographia’s data is irrelevant and misleading

Demographia is a pro-sprawl think tank in the USA that publishes density and house price data for cities across the world. They’re often seen using their statistics to argue that the only way to deliver affordable housing is with suburban fringe expansion into greenfields land. Demographia’s data on housing affordability has come under fire in the past for slipperiness with definitions and misleading choice of measures. But their analysis of population density has gotten less attention – although it’s even more riddled with errors. Demographia’s approach to calculating density is simple but misleading. They have simply calculated the total number of people in each city and divided it by the …
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