David Clendon
Leave oil before oil leaves us

‘Auckland Unleashed’ is the catchy title of the draft discussion document that will inform the proposed Auckland Spatial plan.  In an earlier blog post I indicated the political battle looming between Auckland’s elected councillors and central Government, who have very different visions for the city’s future.

Auckland City’s discussion document makes the case for a compact city, well served and made more liveable (and economically successful)  by an integrated, efficient public transport system.

The National government’s cabinet papers by comparison support a ‘more of the same’ approach, more expansion of the city’s footprint, and investment that perpetuates Auckland as a car-centric city.

The Government’s justification for this is not persuasive, even if you assume no changes in external conditions.

Their analysis becomes even less convincing when you notice the elephant in the room that the government studiously ignores; that is the inevitability of continuing rises in the price of  liquid fuel as peak oil effects kick in.

The time when peak oil could be dismissed as a mad conspiracy theory is long past, unless one thinks that the International Energy Agency is complicit in the deception.

The Agency’s official line is that peak oil will occur in 2030, but this is seen as highly optimistic even by Dr Fatih Birol, the agency’s own chief economist.  Birol thinks that 2020 or sooner is more likely, and has stated the problem very clearly, saying :

“One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us’.

Incidentally, that other hotbed of radical environmentalism, the US Joint Forces Command, expects a 2012 peak.

What all this means of course is that we are most unlikely to see the price of a litre of fuel drop below the new baseline of $2-00, and it is more likely to stay well above that.  This means that filling the tank on even a modest family car will stay around the $100 mark, a big chunk out of any household’s weekly budget.

The Automobile Association has entered the fray suggesting that putting more costs on motorists in order to fund public transport initiatives means that only the rich will be able to afford to drive.

The reality is that affordability is already an issue. Spending on infrastructure that further embeds dependence on private vehicles rather than reducing it, in the face of increasing prices, is just foolish, and will guarantee that we fail to achieve environmental, social or economic sustainability for our city.

29 thoughts on “Leave oil before oil leaves us

  1. I do not understand why the Green Party is so enthusiastic about “compact” cities.

    What do you have against people growing their own food, and having land for the kids to play on, and room for some pets, and for the biodiversity of suburban or exurban gardens?

    Also high density inner city households have larger carbon footprints than peripheral low density households.
    High density cores have higher congestion and worse air pollution.
    And the pressure to densify creates unaffordable housing. How can an unaffordable city be “liveable” except for the rich.

    Watch the TV programmes about lifestyle and tell me when they cover a family longing to leave the countryside for a flat down town. Of course I lived in Central Auckland when I was a student and when I was a young nightclubber. But location choices are determined by life cycle, technology and economics and people make the location decisions that best suit their lifestyle.
    Indeed, while central planners believe location determines lifestyle, in the real world lifestyle determines location.
    Must go now and feed the chooks and ducks, even if that does offend so many of you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 17 (-9)

  2. high density inner city households have larger carbon footprints than peripheral low density households.

    How is that possible, given the large proportion of peoples footprints that comes from their commutes? People who live in the wops commute further and use public transport less.

    Unless they are retired, of course…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2 (+7)

  3. People who live in the wops commute further and use public transport less.

    You sure about that? The busiest non-CBD stations in almost all the suburban rail systems in Australasia are the outer termini. Papakura is the busiest non-core station in Auckland; Ferny Grove is the busiest non-core station in Brisbane, with Caboolture, Petrie and Ipswich being in the top ten; I believe that the likes of Pakenham and Frankston in Melbourne, Mandurah in Perth, Penrith and Gosford in Sydney and Gawler and Noarlunga in Adelaide are similar.

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  4. The Green Party (along with many other environmentally aware folks) have a very one dimensional view of population density. In general, high population densities favour public transport to the exclusion of most other motorised forms of transport, and there is the belief that public transport is enironmentally efficient, compared to cars with one person in them, which are environmentally inefficient.

    However, there are other dimensions. If low density populations actually do something with their land, other than just looking at it, then this can have benefits other than transport related.

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  5. Smaller population centres, where people can live in walking or cycling distance of their offices, market gardens, factories and public amenities. Linked to other centres by public transport, are a model which seems to be ignored by many Greens.

    Making it easier to live a commuter lifestyle in Auckland, by spending lots on Auckland commuters, will likely be counterproductive.

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  6. We are forced to live in higher density compact urban areas by sheer pressure of population expansion whether it be by annual birth rates (which is not high in NZ)or immigration.

    Suburban sprawl could take up the space of valuable farmland, imagine cities like Los Angeles and New York and our Auckland in 30, 60,and 90 years; I perish the thought!!!!

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  7. Drakula, you are making things sound worse than they truly are. Assuming that each and every one of the additional 1.1 million Aucklanders would live on stand-alone houses on 500 square metre sections with 2.5 people in each house, you would only need 22,000 hectares of land for the houses. Add perhaps another 22,000 hectares of land for other stuff (roads, schools, public transport corridors, commercial activities &c.), and you only get about 10% of the current extent of Auckland (that is the Auckland that is the local government area, not the Auckland Metropolitan Area).

    Of course, this is a highly unlikely scenario even if we did open up the countryside to urban development, as there would be those who wished to live in apartments, and to be honest, I don’t think we would need 22,000 hectares of all that other stuff.

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  8. Rimu, the issue is the lack of public transport provision in places such as Hamilton. You provide the public transport that is of good quality, and the people flock to it – even if they live on acreage.

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  9. The supply of conventional oil peaked already and the liquids are declining in general

    but

    the supply of Natural Gas in the USA has been going up as “fracking” techniques become more effective and the result is a declining (plummeting) price for that fuel there… and discussions of using it for vehicle engines as well. It is the sort of thing that gives me nightmares as the shale-oil reserves being tapped produce greenhouse gases in copious amounts.

    Still, I point this out as a warning to those who are placing bets on the price of the energy commodities (coal-oil-gas). Some is still there to be burned… and probably will be.

    The thing that will stop it will likely be the collapse of the US economy which is just now riding a wave of optimism and ignoring reality. I’ve pointed at “by 2015″ a number of times now and I am pretty sure that a really massive problem will appear before whichever party is elected this time, faces re-election.

    BJ

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  10. Rimu,
    New Zealanders do not have a 10 acre dream. I fact the 10 acre lot is about the least popular lot size you can create. It is far to large for rural residential use and most small farming/horticultural activity, and much to small for pastoral farming.
    It is planning device intended to save rural land. How you save land by forcing people to buy more land than they need is beyond me. 100 households on one acre lots use up 100 acres. 100 households on 10 acre lots use up 1000 acres.
    Go figure.

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  11. Rimu,
    If you read the Australian study (which was the only one at the time that looked at energy consumption on a whole of household basis) found that the emphasis on transport was misplaced.
    Indeed transport accounted for only about 10% of the average households energy consumption. Therefore tinkering with the modal split could have only minor influences on total footprint.
    Food actually accounted for more than 30% of energy consumption.
    Apartments are built of concrete and steel while low rise houses are built of renewable resources such as timber.
    The energy used in lighting public spaces and vertical transport is substantial.
    The premise that high residential densities promotes public transport use is also misplaced. The key is centres of employment density. See Manhattan a high density employment centre surrounded by low density residential development.
    Common sense provides numerous indicators – how many households dry their washing outside in the central core?

    AS others have pointed out, if transport is the key concern, the most efficient cities have low density with multiple employment centres and policies which allow people to follow jobs and jobs to follow people. People also optimise their trips to recreation (the beach) and to schools, and to health care and so on and so forth.
    The Auckland Urban Area is already denser than any urban area in the US except for Los Angeles.
    The most innovative and efficient cities in the US have about half the residential density of Auckland.
    The Forbes ranking of the most innovative American cities started with the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. and used data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to determine number of patents per capita. Then they factored in venture capital investment per capita from the National Venture Capital Association, and those cities’ ratios of high-tech, science and “creative” jobs from ZoomProspector.com and Payscale.com.
    The Forbes Top 3 Innovative Cities, and their urban densities are (Remember, Auckland’s urban area density is 2,200 people per km2):
    1 – Silicon Valley, Cal; Urban area density – 2,100 people per square kilometre.
    2 – Austin, TX; Urban Area Density – 1,100 people per square kilometre.
    3 – Raleigh, NC; Urban Area Density – 700 people per square kilometre.
    So if you want more innovation increasing Auckland’s density even more makes little sense.
    The reason traffic in Auckland’s core is so congested and uncomfortable is the urban density is far too high than the regular street system can cope with.
    Rail cannot cure this basic problem. Think for a few moments about the theory of “induced demand”.

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  12. Owen

    First: I would not regard anything within 20 miles of Manhattan, in any direction you care to choose, as “low” density compared with any density achieved anywhere in NZ. Low with respect to Manhattan perhaps, Alphabet City is really crowded after all, but not “low” in the sense I think you really mean the word. That’s just a quibble though.

    The transport of food (and provision of other services like fresh water, sewage and waste disposal) into the city center is the key energy expense. I do NOT see the provision of those services to any dispersed set of communities as having to be “energy cheaper”. It is not as though they are being sourced in the specific suburbs, the same transport or more must take place. The dispersed deliveries would normally be expected to be more rather than less expensive – and the customers use of cars to get there less efficient than walking, but the normal sizes of shops being restricted, and the delivery by smaller trucks goes a long way to reversing the normal economies of scale.

    What you see is is what happens when car and truck centric development meets urban conditions and small-scaled markets. I saw this in Manhattan too, there are no large supermarkets there. It is all small and divided up and quite inefficient.

    If we apply the current paradigm rather than improving on it, to a city, it will use more energy. What it doesn’t tell us is how things could work if we adapted to actually work with the urban densities.

    ++++++++++++
    Nor is Los Angeles “dense” in the same way as NYC. Someone has done something silly with numbers here Owen, not you I think, but someone. Los Angeles sprawls over a huge territory and is dominated by small apartment blocks and single homes. NYC is concentrated in the 5 boroughs and is dominated by rather rather taller buildings and strip housing…. mmmmm houses that share walls – built 20 and 30 in a row and 3-5 story tenements.

    Just not the same thing. Lived both places. I reckon something is just wrong with the way this was figured out. Not that LA isn’t “dense” compared to here, but it isn’t denser than NYC.

    BJ

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  13. First: I would not regard anything within 20 miles of Manhattan, in any direction you care to choose, as “low” density compared with any density achieved anywhere in NZ. Low with respect to Manhattan perhaps, Alphabet City is really crowded after all, but not “low” in the sense I think you really mean the word. That’s just a quibble though.

    High density might be the situation in the five boroughs, but once you get out of them, then your density drops – don’t forget that Levittown is a suburb of New York.

    Nor is Los Angeles “dense” in the same way as NYC. Someone has done something silly with numbers here Owen, not you I think, but someone. Los Angeles sprawls over a huge territory and is dominated by small apartment blocks and single homes. NYC is concentrated in the 5 boroughs and is dominated by rather rather taller buildings and strip housing…. mmmmm houses that share walls – built 20 and 30 in a row and 3-5 story tenements.

    I would agree with your first sentence bjchip; the New York metropolitan area has an ultra dense core, which Los Angeles does not have. However, remember that around 60% the population of the New York Metropolitan Area does not live in the five boroughs. They live in places such as Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

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  14. Not so many in Suffolk, the 100 KM commute is ugly unless you’re on the rail lines… and Nassau is actually denser than most of Auckland that I have seen. I grew up there 50 years ago, and I spent a lot of time there up until my move to NZ.

    I’ve lived in both places John-ston. I think that for the purposes of trying to decide which place is denser, someone has simply done something… odd… and the only reason for the observation was Owen’s implication that LA is denser than everywhere else including NY.

    Which is sort of irrelevant to the point anyway. The real point of what I was saying is that if supermarkets in the city were supplied through the subway tunnels or some other means, and not so tiny and dependent on the tiny trucks that are all that can be used on the city roads, the goods distribution and particularly the food distribution, into the city COULD be far more efficient, and likely more efficient than the distribution of the same amount of material to the more dispersed suburban population. This is not the case in Owen’s favorite studies and while I reckon that they found what he SAYS they found, it isn’t because the urban arrangements are not able to be efficient, just that when they are considered in the context of roads and cars and trucks and small markets with limited patronage… they aren’t going to be. Distribution of goods (and removal of waste) is an interesting problem when real urban densities come into play.

    Note that vertical can make certain kinds of trash collection quite efficient. Exploiting the possibilities in urban living has to be a bit smarter than providing space for only one car instead of two and calling petrol or diesel buses, mass-transit.

    respectfully
    BJ

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  15. Not so many in Suffolk, the 100 KM commute is ugly unless you’re on the rail lines… and Nassau is actually denser than most of Auckland that I have seen. I grew up there 50 years ago, and I spent a lot of time there up until my move to NZ.

    I would somewhat believe you there – the figures supplied by Wiki give a population density of 1796 per square kilometre, which is only a little less than the Auckland Metropolitan Area; however, the Wiki figures would cover the whole county, and so the true figure would probably be higher.

    I’ve lived in both places John-ston. I think that for the purposes of trying to decide which place is denser, someone has simply done something… odd… and the only reason for the observation was Owen’s implication that LA is denser than everywhere else including NY.

    Bear in mind that the New York Metropolitan Area includes some 30 counties in four states (Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) and when you compare the New York Metropolitan Area with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, a much different picture emerges. You commented that there weren’t so many people on Suffolk County because of the horrible commute – I imagine that would also be the case in the other extremes such as Ocean County, Pike County, Ulster County and New Haven County.

    Which is sort of irrelevant to the point anyway. The real point of what I was saying is that if supermarkets in the city were supplied through the subway tunnels or some other means, and not so tiny and dependent on the tiny trucks that are all that can be used on the city roads, the goods distribution and particularly the food distribution, into the city COULD be far more efficient, and likely more efficient than the distribution of the same amount of material to the more dispersed suburban population. This is not the case in Owen’s favorite studies and while I reckon that they found what he SAYS they found, it isn’t because the urban arrangements are not able to be efficient, just that when they are considered in the context of roads and cars and trucks and small markets with limited patronage… they aren’t going to be. Distribution of goods (and removal of waste) is an interesting problem when real urban densities come into play.

    You start getting problems though if you try and mix high frequency rail systems with freight systems – for starters, their average speeds are different, so there will be a capacity problem. There will also be signalling issues (to run a high frequency rail system you need short gaps between signals – a freight train could easily occupy two signal blocks).

    That is why some cities that once had freight and passenger mixed together have moved to separate them. Perth is one example, and Sydney tried to do that, although they have failed (and now freight trains face a curfew in the morning and evening peaks).

    I would also note that somewhat ironically, the freight train line that was based in the Northeast of the United States was the one that went bankrupt in the 1960s.

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  16. You start getting problems though if you try and mix high frequency rail systems with freight systems

    That is true of course.

    I was speculating on the situation in Manhattan more than anything, and thinking out loud without being clear… the place has a lot of track underground. One would NOT be using normal freight in there in any case. Thinking more of a rather ordinary subway car which could stash itself on a short siding under the market, be unloaded, be on its way. Could even imagine such a thing running automatically/robotically. The point here is that the arrangement in the city currently (and in every city currently) is that the trucks load and unload from the front of the store and have to be small and are adversely affected by (and adversely affect) traffic. They load and unload the small trucks from bigger trucks (and/or rail). There are other ways to organize this.

    If one has a switch-siding arrangement one could conceivably run the freight in off the trolley line in the street… in a trolley car. The market frontage would be reduced by the width of the car but it would have a lockable and quite reasonable loading/storage dock which could actually be used AS storage for the store itself. I am confident that there are ways to make this work better than what currently exists if there is a bit of thought applied in place of diesel powered trucks.

    Hell, the market could be 5-6 trolleys parked next to each other and the storefront wrapped around it. I’d have to draw a picture of this to make it appear sane. I think it is (what do I know) but it has, I am sure, never been done before. Think of a farmer’s market around here. Farmer shows up and sells stuff out of his truck.. no? OK… now substitute trolley cars for the trucks. 4-6 cars to make a “market”. The actual market shopfront opens up to let the trolleys come in and they park next to one another with some permanent aisle connections. The shop front is closed and the tills put in place. Customers shop up and down the trolley “aisles” and at the end of the day the whole set backs out and goes to the warehouse to be reloaded/restocked. Traffic impact is minimal if this is not a rush-hour process.

    That is just ONE possibility. Basically to illustrate that there are alternatives to trucking food into the city in trucks. Density works well if it is accommodated/anticipated in the provision of services. It sucks if things “just grow”.

    respectfully
    BJ

    BJ

    respectfully
    BJ

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  17. I would somewhat believe you there

    One hopes so, I grew up in Mineola.

    You’re right as they are considering some far-flung ‘burbs in their assessments and the density around NYC falls right off as you get out past that 50-60 mile commute. Those outlying places don’t mean squat to the viability of mass transit or cities in general.

    Subject is distracting though. Real question is whether urban dense can be made efficient and why Owen’s study shows it is not.

    I think it has to do with the fact that there isn’t any “mass transit” for the goods, or the waste, just for the people.

    I think that this is fixable.

    respectfully
    BJ

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  18. BJ and John-ston
    The choice of Auckland, LA and New York was deliberate because their urban densities come as a great surprise to most – many of whom assume that I have cooked the books or someone else had got it wrong.
    However, the the “urban area” is an international standard measure – like the kilo.
    In the US it is defined by census data but in many countries such data is not available. However the urban area turns out to be the area that you see lit up as you approach a city by aircraft by night. Consequently the urban area of NZ cities is assessed from satellite photos. Different cities have different density profiles. Nwe York has one “High central density peak” profile, while London (like LA) has a much more even distribution of density. Everyone knows where the CBD of New York is but few can answer the same question for London.
    Another standard measure (though less precise) is the Metropolitan Area – which extends beyond the urban area to include remote commuter origins and destinations. Both have their uses.
    A third measure is municipality area and density which is usually used to cook the books.
    Another useful term ( but again less standardised) is the central urban core. OR sometimes the Core Municipality (esp in the US for historical reasons.)
    Yes, Auckland is much more like LA and London than like New York in terms of density distribution. LA has such a high urban density because it is so huge in area and its population is evenly spread. It is a post Model T ford city. The distribution of density in Chicago and New York results from rail and tram line transport.
    London’s collection of villages predates any public transport.
    So don’t waste your time trying to re-invent the wheel. Go to the Demographia pages for explanations of different measures and the ranking of New World cities of over 1 million etc.
    But in the meantime don’t let anyone tell you that Auckland is a low density city that needs further intensification. It will only encourage more rapid outmigration and make it even less liveable for ordinary middle and low income people than it is now.

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  19. Why does increased spending on rail fail to reduce congestion in modern cities?
    Most recent investment in commuter rail transport has been sold on the grounds that it will reduce congestion on the roads – which wins the motorists’ vote. The trouble is there is no case where this has happened.
    One reason is that the high costs of rail divert investment away from buses and HOT lanes etc and so total public transport market share declines.
    But for those who believe there is no point in building more roads because they simply clog up with induced demand there is clearly another explanation.
    If rail does reduce congestion on the road network then induced demand means the road network immediately clogs up to the pre-rail state.
    Take your pick.

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  20. Owen

    I apologize but I have lived in both NY and LA, and whatever the reasoning, the people making up this stuff have got it wrong. I think this is because the entire eastern seaboard of the USA is lit pretty well, and the areas outside the city which I KNOW are not part of NY are lit well enough so that people might think they are part of NYC. They aren’t.

    As I pointed out several times however, this is NOT important to the principle argument that we are making. Being pedantic about using some standard measurement isn’t critical, I just observed that the people who devised it made a mistake. It may be a standard mistake but it remains a mistake… it affects no part of the actual argument.

    First question, is Auckland high-density? I would not call it that, it is not in the same league as NYC, much more like a suburb of LA, which is sometimes described as a suburb in search of a city, but it and those suburbs, do not generally qualify as high density in my view as they are not dominated by multi-level apartment buildings. Medium density, and entirely dependent on roads, much as LA was until they rebuilt the light rail links.

    In LA this is somewhat deliberate. The example of the Northridge quake being the most recent illustration of the reason for it. In Auckland I don’t know the reason, I have never lived in Auckland.

    So the question has to be asked, is a multi-level apartment building appropriate to Auckland? The first part of this requires an answer to whether Auckland gets earthquakes? It isn’t on the known major fault where Wellington is, but can it have a big one?

    The second part of the question has to do with efficiency. You are fairly adamant in insisting that the densification doesn’t actually achieve the improvements it is theoretically capable of, and I have have observed that while we often create public transit systems with electric trolley buses or trains for PEOPLE, we do not do anything so clever for the goods they require or the waste they produce. There is no reason we cannot do that, except that it is a public utility that has never existed before in history and we are generally blind to the possibilities.

    This makes it possible that you are right about cities as they are currently “jes grew thet way” ( designed?:-) )… and run… but may still be wrong about what can be done with them.

    I would NOT mind an apartment that large enough to house my family. I have no reason to prefer a house with a lawn that needs mowing. I do mind however, the long haul to my place of work. The time spent on that is a tax, paid in minutes and hours and days of my life.

    The Russians, for all their faults, build large apartment blocks and surround them with trees and parks to such an extent that I would be hard pressed to compare the density of one of their cities with any other I have lived in… and their metro and trolley-bus systems are as good as anything I’ve ever seen.

    Understand, the object is to be able to
    1. live in a city and NOT NEED A CAR, and
    2. have the overall efficiency better than living in the ‘burbs.

    I can do the first in NYC, or Moscow. I cannot do it in LA… or Auckland. The second happens when the services in the city are given the same attention as the public transit is. That surely will be called another sort of creeping socialism, but attention to the entire input and output of the city is what we need.

    I don’t buy your insistence on spreading out, and I don’t buy the reasons for resisting densification. I’ve seen a lot of cities… what is being promoted here doesn’t pass the smell test.

    BJ

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  21. But in the meantime don’t let anyone tell you that Auckland is a low density city that needs further intensification. It will only encourage more rapid outmigration and make it even less liveable for ordinary middle and low income people than it is now.

    ONLY if one bases the city on the Model-T-Ford form of transit. It can work if one accepts the trams, trolley-buses and rail as primary modes of travel and has them developed sufficiently to actually serve the public at reasonable prices and with reasonable frequencies. This is workable when the densities are such that keeping the service running doesn’t mean it runs empty. More workable when the tram lines serve the second purpose of moving goods as well as people. We aren’t doing “smart” Owen, someone who says “smart city” but discusses only the movement of people isn’t all that bright.

    There are aspects to this that aren’t explained in engineering terms too. Cultural things like shop closing times and hours. Inefficiency comes in many forms.

    BJ

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  22. But how do you know these areas are not part of the New York Urban area as defined by the land use stats.
    The urban area has nothing to do with municipal boundaries.

    I did mention that these municipal boundaries are used to cook the books.

    For years the ARC insisted Auckland was a low density city and quoted figures to back it up. However they were dividing the population of the Auckland Region by the area of the Auckland region. Most of the Auckland region is virtually uninhabited.
    However, the old Auckland City (the municipal core in US terms) was also held to be a low density city.
    However, it turns out that Auckland City includes the Gulf Islands and they account for 40% of the AC land area.
    Go out to Albany and see how many residential areas are two or three stories. These are on the extreme periphery of the urban area. You would not find this in low density cities – other than others of the London model.
    Earthquake risk in Auckland.
    The earthquake risk is low north of the Bombay Hills but the volcano risk is high. And we appear to be overdue.
    The tsunami risk is medium. I believe it is unwise to build tunnels below sea level particularly when every major north south escape route would be at such risk. Much of the risk of tunnels is perceived risk although the reality of “panickers” running out of petrol half way through a tunnel is high.
    For some years I chose to live in a high rise apartment in Auckland in walking distance of Auckland. But I still needed my car to go to my house at Karekare beach in the weekends.
    What is wrong with that?
    The car makes New Zealand available. And a modern car over whole of day use is more energy efficient that our buses and trains. Remember a car is always 25% loaded.

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  23. Thanks all for the comments – time I chimed in again! The idea that increased density = high rise and no outdoor space does not necessarily follow. Look at Earthsong eco-village out West for a good model. They got almost as many dwelling on site as they would have achieved with ‘conventional’ sausage flats, with very litte if any useful open space. Instead they have attractive homes, lots of open space, a small wetland, orchard, gardens etc. One of the key devices for ‘saving’ land is simply building one large carport near the entrance for residents cars, rather than each dwelling having its own garage and turning space. Every dwelling is accessible by car, if you do need to get heavy objects / your dear old granny / a person with a disability right to the house, but for the most part the project was designed and built for a pleasant lifestyle in attractive surroundings rather than fretting about maneouvering and storing cars.

    Part of our wider thinking about development should certainly be looking at ways to encourage people to move to smaller centres rather than trying to endlessly expand our larger cities. It is becoming much more feasible to run a business in a small town, for example, which can have real advantages in terms of life style, affordability, and also helps smaller centres build an economic and social critical mass.

    What has to be at the front of our minds is that we are confronted with the end of cheap oil, and we can choose to adapt b y managing the transition to a low carbon economy, or carry on in the old paradigm and wait to be sideswiped!

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  24. David
    You are quite right that innovative layouts can achieve higher density than the standard cookie cutter approach.
    Mind you sausage flats and townhouses are normally defined as medium density.
    There is a transformation in form and layout once you go beyond that – need for stairs and elevators etc.
    When I applied for my managed park I was immediately told its higher density than the 4ha norm “degraded rural amenity”. I finally won my case after almost going broke and very quickly it became a model visited by Forest Owners. Valuers, and Garden Tours etc.
    Innovation is a great idea but it is currently very expensive, hard work, and high risk.
    See my friend’s (Rick Harrison at: rharrison@rhsdplanning.com ) innovative suburban layouts in the US. Don’t look high density but achieve much more efficient land use. Again, in most states the rules do not allow his innovation.
    Cheap oil is not relevant to private transport. We used to use horses – then came the iron horse (the car) and if oil fuel becomes too expensive we shall find another source of energy. Hybrids with solar panel battery chargiing are already looking promising. 300 km per litre performance makes up for a lot of extra cost.

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  25. The floor for petrol prices isn’t $2.00 per litre. When the economy, the world economy, goes into a tailspin again, we’ll see petrol prices well below $2.00, I think. It might be better to think of a ceiling beyond which the economy will begin to decline again. We might be already near that ceiling.

    BJ might be wrong about conventional crude peak being in the past (still waiting for the numbers for 2010 but I think they could just pip 2005). However, that isn’t the point; we’re certainly near the peak, in planning terms, and yet governments everywhere carry on as though the peak is many decades away (and, irrationally, therefore needs no plan of adaptation). The problems will not come when oil runs out, only when supply can’t meet the desires of a growing population of people who imagine they are becoming better off. Shale gas is a scam, since most operators are almost certainly losing money with every cubic foot they produce, and the plays deplete quite rapidly.

    Cities, themselves, need a rethink. What is the point of cramming hundreds of thousands of people into cities when economies are tanking? Owen is right (surprisingly), people need the space to be able to grow at least some of their own food, especially, when most people will not have paid employment. So think not of walkable cities, think instead of liveable communities. Cars shoudl be out of the picture entirely, as should most powered transport.

    We’ve still got a fair few resources now, but won’t have forever; let’s get moving on building sustainable communities. Get out of the cities.

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  26. “Leave oil before oil leaves us” – That´s the only truth, leave oil, before it´s too late.

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