Monday, September 20, 2010

Owen McShane: If I was going there, I wouldn't start from here.

Many people are hoping the creation of the Auckland Super City will launch a new and better
Auckland – more affordable, more liveable, and more efficient.

Unfortunately, such improvements are unlikely while so many are so misinformed about Auckland’s environment today. If we don’t know where we are we cannot properly plan where to go.

The ARC has convinced many Aucklanders that they live in a sprawling low-density city that requires further intensification to become a “world class city”.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The densification of Auckland began in the mid-sixties when a team of us in the Auckland City Council changed the planning rules to allow town houses, infill housing and high-rise apartments. This was to enable Aucklanders to exercise greater choice in housing types. The consequent “intensification” was not forced, but simply reflected market preferences.

No one seemed to mind Auckland’s transition to a medium-density city.

But during the nineties Auckland’s planners imported the theory of Smart Growth from the United States. The subsequent intensification was enforced through planning policies and the constraints of Metropolitan Urban Limits. One inevitable result is that Auckland now has become one of the least affordable housing markets in the world.

Another outcome is that Auckland is now the densest city in Australasia.

The following rankings are from Demographia’s “World Urban Areas and Population

Projections”. Demographia calculate these urban area populations and densities using standard international measures. The urban area is an area of continuous urban development and excludes areas of economic influence that extend beyond the physical limits of development.

The ARC calculates Auckland’s “low density” by dividing the population by the area of the whole Region – which is a nonsense. The genuine urban area is the continuous area you see lit up when you fly into Auckland at night.

Here are the Australasian rankings:

Urban Area/Population/Density (People per km2)

But, surely, Australian cities sprawl too and Auckland must still be a sprawling city compared to other cities of similar size elsewhere in the world?

Actually no. Auckland’s urban area has a higher population density than the urban area of New York. New York’s high-density cores is surrounded by huge areas of low density suburbs.

Those who believe sprawl is the great evil of our times warn us that Auckland must not be allowed to grow into a sprawling monstrosity like Los Angeles.

Well, they can relax. Los Angeles is the densest urban area in the US. Here are some rankings.

Urban Area/Population/Density (People per Km2)
Los Angeles/14,775,000/2,500
San Francisco-San Jose/5,550,000/2,100
New York/20,610,000/1,800
Minneapolis St Paul/2,650,000/1,000

Los Angeles is the only U.S. city with a higher urban density than Auckland.

U.S. cities with densities half that of Auckland, such as Houston, enjoy the highest economic and employment growth rates in the U.S. Many US cities, such as Atlanta, have a much lower density than Auckland – and are thriving.

However, maybe we should be looking at the Old World cities of Europe. Some of these cities are much denser than Auckland, but some of those most popular with visitors, or which are economic power houses, are the same as Auckland (2,200) or even less dense. Here are some rankings:

Country-Urban Area/Population/Density (People per Km2.)
Germany: Cologne-Bonn/2,050,000/2,200
Italy: Milan/4,345,000/1,800
France: Lyon/1,440,000/1,500

Auckland's street network is already overloaded by our existing densities. If we increase Auckland's density even more, congestion will further increase, and more and more people will want to leave Auckland for more livable and affordable cities – here or overseas.

Aucklanders are frequently told that each year, more people die prematurely from vehicle pollution than are killed in road accidents. So why do we allow apartment blocks to be built so close to one of the busiest roads in Auckland.

Auckland is too dense already. Let’s release the Super City from its Smart Growth shackles.

Otherwise our best and brightest will leave for cities where they have more room to move and are free to make their own decisions as to where they live, work and play.


Anonymous said...
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So how come smart growth wasn't thrown out in Auckland's reform process? Surely Rodney Hide doesn't believe in it?

The figures are very instructive, Owen - it helps people to understand why there is so much gridlock in the city.

What a disaster it all is!

Neil said...
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I am currently based in Washington DC. I actually live in Maryland. The broad area that defines Wahington DC (DC itself, Maryland and Virginia) is huge. So far I would have to say that the density here is significantly less than in Auckland. People actually have sections here, real ones. They have trees (because they have sections big enough!). We don't realise just how much we are being squashed by our own councils in Auckland (greater Auckland that is).

Anonymous said...
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Owen's last posting on New Geography got a bit of debate going, and it is worth looking at and following the arguments in the "comments".

The guy called Andrew Atkin is amazing, I don't know why he isn't better known here in NZ or Wellington where he lives. His blog covers a wide range of subjects, he is no specialist in urban economics - yet he clearly "gets it".

Ian said...
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There seems to be some poor analytical thinking here. There will be gridlock regardless because of the NZs one per car love affair. So if they are cooped up in high rise or spread out the people are still going to want to drive around. The public transport is stuck on the roads as well which does not help. It is claimed there are no corridors for rail - not true. Check our Singapore. The rail is underground in the CBD and overhead for the suburbs.The corridors (streets) are already in place - just build the rail up there. There is plenty of room. However I can hear the 'precious' squeals now 'not in front of my place'! For gosh sakes - get a life!

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