Is urban sprawl inevitable?

Advocates (like Steven Joyce) of removing Metropolitan Urban Limits and allowing lots of low density growth around our cities like to present their case as if urban sprawl is the natural result of market forces.

Their narrative is pretty much that people like to live in spread out suburbs with their own back yard and since the advent of the automobile urban sprawl has been inevitable.

But is that actually true or do our own planning regulations encourage our cities to grow and sprawl?

Since I took the transport and housing portfolios I’ve been doing a lot of reading around this topic and listening to planners and experts.

Here is what Joshua Arbury, who is a planner and writes the Auckland Transport Blog has to say about planning regulations in Auckland and whether/how they contribute to sprawl:

This is because planning in Auckland is completely and utterly broken. Try to build a Ponsonby these days with narrow streets, houses close to each other and close to the street, no off-street parking and so forth and you don’t have a hope in hell of getting resource consent.

Try to build a soulless Dannemora and the planning rules are unlikely to be a problem at all. Massively wide and pedestrian unfriendly roads are actively encouraged, so are as many off-street carparks as possible, so are massively oversized standalone houses on lots of a size that’s really more suitable to terraced housing. Soul-destroying car-dominated ‘town centres’ like Botany, Manukau City and Albany do not exist despite our planning rules, they exist entirely because of our planning rules. It’s actively encouraged to build this:

Building a walkable town centre like Mt Eden or Ponsonby Road would be impossible these days – largely due to the stupidity of requiring huge numbers of parking spaces for every new development.

I don’t always agree with Josh but in this particular post I think he’s right on the money. What do you think?

45 thoughts on “Is urban sprawl inevitable?

  1. Have you ever considered, just for a second, that the people who purchased housing in the “soulless” dannemora – actually wanted to live there?

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  2. You don’t always agree with me Gareth? When do we disagree? LOL.

    This blog post is also relevant: http://transportblog.co.nz/2011/01/07/forcing-urban-sprawl/

    MikeE – perhaps some do want to live in places like Dannemora, but how many have chosen there out of lack of choice? Furthermore, if a place like Dannemora was more pedestrian friendly and characterful perhaps it would be an even more attractive place to live? For the size of the houses way out in Auckland’s southeast, their values are pretty low.

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  3. I am going to go out on a limb here and disagree with much of what has been argued in that post.

    In the case of minimum car parking regulations; I do agree that they should be gotten rid of, but I don’t think that it will change the situation outside of some of the inner core suburbs and perhaps places such as the Manukau or Takapuna CBDs. The reality is that land in those parts of Auckland has a pretty low value (maybe $500 per square metre), and if your car parking space takes up around ten square metres, then it works out at land worth $5000. If that land could be used to get a 5% return, then it would work out at about $4 per week that is being forgone; or $8 per week if that land could be used to get a 10% return. Those are pretty small sums of money when you are looking at the scale of a shopping centre. Add to that, if shopping centres start curtailing the number of car parking spaces provided, or start charging for them, then the number of shoppers will nosedive – especially at Christmas time, when most retailers turn a profit and when many of those car parking spaces are provided for.

    In the case of urban sprawl, one of the issues that everyone forgets about is how incredibly difficult it is for developers to string together plots of land for higher density developments. This isn’t an example of a higher density development, but the same principle applies – it has taken Westfield about four to five years to get all the plots of land together for their St. Lukes expansion. Then they have to go through a Resource Consent process and a range of appeals, and it might be ten years before the developer can actually build anything. In the meantime, the developer (who in the case of residential is probably a small player) has to somehow pay all the mortgages that he has gotten for all that property and probably has a million of his own tied up.

    Now after all that, he is unlikely to get much of a return out of it – once you have spent perhaps $5 million on buying houses, and then possibly another few million on demolition and construction, you might have thirty apartments which go for perhaps $400,000, and for all that time, hassle and effort, the developer has probably made next to nohing. The issue at play is if you want higher density residential development, then apartment buildings like the two in Herne Bay and the two in Remuera need to be seriously considered – those can be built on quarter acre blocks and would not take too much time or leave the developer destitute.

    In the case of building strip shops (another way of saying walkable centres), there are a number of issues other than planning requirements. For starters, there is no central pivot point – most of the old villages throughout Auckland date back to the 19th Century and the strip shops developed as the villages did. As far as I can recall, about the last part of Auckland that got strip shops was Glen Innes back in the 1960s. You cannot just make up a village and expect people to go to it. Another issue is that of the market – are people really going to go to strip shops where they can go to a shopping centre and achieve all their needs? The last time I went to strip shops to actually do any form of purchasing was a few years ago, and the reality is that the only reasons why places such as Ponsonby have survived is because of niche shops, and there is only so much demand for high street fashion.

    For the size of the houses way out in Auckland’s southeast, their values are pretty low.

    Firstly, I wouldn’t consider a median house price of around $630,000 low by any standards. Secondly, the fear around leaky homes could also be having a depressing effect on house prices – remember, that whole area has only been developed in the last decade and a half. Thirdly, there is also the question of school zones – Botany College is far less established than the likes of Macleans, and if you have $700,000 to spend on a house, then you are more likely to head to Bucklands Beach where your kid at least has a chance of going to a good school and doing well.

    Their narrative is pretty much that people like to live in spread out suburbs with their own back yard and since the advent of the automobile urban sprawl has been inevitable.

    I would change that to “since the invention of the steam engine”. Urban sprawl really began with the railway – places such as London were able to spread out along the railway corridors. Even heading toward this part of the world, Sydney’s sprawl toward Parramatta began in earnest in the late 19th Century as railway services became more frequent.

    Finally, does a place having “soul” really matter? Define “soul” for me?

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  4. @mikeE Did they have a choice? I know Ive avoided such places as I think they are soulless…I live where I live because its walk-able, bike-able and I have public transport choices. Besides which having car “friendly” development when cars have a limited lifespan is plain silly….though I guess its another 2~5 years before ppl realise their expensive pieces of tin are a worthless and then that will be interesting…

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  5. I totally agree, people buy homes that seem like good value – the cheapest on the market are those single detached or semi-detached suburban developments. They’re the easiest to gain consent for, but they by no means pay for themselves with all of their hidden costs. Meanwhile, commercial endeavours are forced to provide masses of parking, rather than allow the market to work out how many car parks is an appropriate number. It’s ridiculous – our planning and consent policies just push for sprawl, and because the result is that the end result is the cheapest available, consumers on the market take advantage of it. It’s not so much a free market, as a forced market.

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  6. James, whilst I agree that planning regulations need to be changed, however, even if they were, it is likely that you would still see a huge amount of sprawl – like I mentioned above, getting all the sites necessary to make a viable medium density development is a massive time consuming chore, and the returns are just too low.

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  7. I think developing green belts between suburbs, and linking with high speed transport corridors (rail, and motorways) should be the goal for future Auckland development.

    Create transport hubs (railway and bus stations in the same complex at the mall or ‘town’ centre) would enable someone to say: “I can drive to the nearest hub, and then go shop or visit at any other hub within 20-30mins” (you need to have regular metro-trains for this to work) and not worry about parking, petrol costs, congestion etc. This would really bring the city into the 21st century. And if you can walk, cycle, motorbike, scooter, or bus to the nearest hub then leave the car at home entirely. With our weather though, and distances between house and local village centre the car is going to stay the preferred mode of transport. What we need is to reduce the need for everyone to travel across the far side of town by car to shop or go to a major city attraction, and ideally to get to school and work as well. If there are good links between hubs going regularly the desire to live close by will outweigh the desire to live in the ‘burbs for many (but not all) people. This will lead to market demand for denser housing closer to the hubs, and for places of employment to be located within a few minutes walk of a hub. Culture, shopping and nightlife will all feed off this as well and rebuild the villages and city centres around Auckland.

    The park and ride facilities are an effort to start this from the suburbs end. More needs to be done with this. Regular commuter trains will help immensely. If Auckland will grow to 2 or 3 millions over the next 50 years or so(?) where will everyone live? How will they get around? Build the rail and bus (or van?) network with this in mind. Establish the transport hubs and let the market build the city around it.

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  8. John-ston, that’s why we need an Urban Development Agency with requiring authority powers to amalgamate sites around transit hubs. The UDA could potentially stay involved with the development, like we’re seeing at Hobsonville, or they could flick on the amalgamated site to a private developer.

    Problem solved.

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  9. When Gareth asks:

    Their (as in Advocates of removing Metropolitan Urban Limits) narrative is pretty much that people like to live in spread out suburbs with their own back yard…

    But is that actually true…

    Abso-fucking-loot-ly it is.

    I like my acre and a bit, where I have distance measured in multiple meters between me and my neighbours. Where I can play loud guitar and no-one even notices. Where the woolly white lawnmowers can roam. Where I’ve lots of green to look at. Where the sky is dark at night and one can see the stars. Where I dont have the incessent hum of traffic and busyness.

    I’ve done my time in a terraced house in London and I dont want to go back to it thanks.

    Feel free to argue market forces and whatever, but that has nothing to do with the desire not to live in one’s neighbours bedroom.

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  10. Isn’t the problem population sprawl? If we had a stable population there is plenty enough to go round in NZ. The government(s) and industry take the easy economic tonic of more people every time.

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  11. John-ston, that’s why we need an Urban Development Agency with requiring authority powers to amalgamate sites around transit hubs. The UDA could potentially stay involved with the development, like we’re seeing at Hobsonville, or they could flick on the amalgamated site to a private developer.

    Such a thing has been tried in the past and hasn’t worked. Substitute intensification with slum removal, and of course we see the example of Freemans Bay all over again. Of course, the big thing that would be different this time is that there are television media now, where there weren’t television media back in the 1950s – I can see it now, some old granny who has lived in her home for 42 years who is being forced to move out so that some greedy developer/council can develop coop sized apartments getting a lot of air time on shows like Close Up and public opinion rapidly shifting.

    As I said in my earlier comment, probably the easiest thing is to allow for taller buildings, in the 8 to 12 story range – those sort of buildings need fewer sites (1 or 2, as opposed to 10 to 15), the financials make sense, and you still get your precious denser development.

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  12. @dbuckely one small problem – tell me where you can you buy reasonably priced house with a big backyard and setbacks of several metres from your neighbours?
    Certainly not in any of the new developments, they are all big detached houses, but still squashed together.
    Also it is about housing choice, Auckland has 100s of thousands of detached houses however there is not much choice for those who want something else. Lots of 20 – 40 year olds, and those over 60 dont need/want a big house, but thats what is on offer.

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  13. John-ston, as one deeply involved with the Freeman’s Bay exercise what is your take on what actually happened there?

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  14. Whatever the issues may be, the use of land as such is not one of them.
    New Zealand has only a couple of percent of its land urbanised and and extra 1/2 percent would house all forecast growth with any form of housing you choose.
    Our studies in the mid sixties revealed this truth and it still applies.
    Increasing density increases “efficiency” of land use up to medium density town house type development. Our group wrote the rules that allowed town houses which had been prohibited until then and they took off.
    However, in our high earthquake and wind loaded land prices rise rapidly as height increase and net floor area diminishes as a percentage of gross. ie you need stairs and parking etc.
    But the main issue is that neighbourhood density hardly increases as one goes into high rise UNLESS you are prepared to sacrifice amenity and other services such as schools etc. High rise apartments are useful for those who prefer them (and I lived in Westminster Court for five years and loved it) but they have no impact on the extent of the total urban area.

    These are the basics which so few seem to understand. Miind you when I did my planning diploma I was an architect and most of the rest of the class were engineers and surveyors and valuers who actually knew a lot about neighbourhood development and construction.

    If you look at Freemans Bay using Google you will see where our team actually built prototypes of many kinds of medium/high density to test both the building types and the appropriate codes. We actually rented them to test the specs etc.

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  15. John-ston, as one deeply involved with the Freeman’s Bay exercise what is your take on what actually happened there?

    I’ll admit that I wasn’t alive when the Freemans Bay thing happened, and so most of my knowledge comes from the reading that I have done on the matter, which again I’ll admit isn’t particularly extensive. As I understand it, Freemans Bay originally went as far as Nelson Street.

    As I see it, a number of things really happened there and probably saved half of Freemans Bay. In the first instance, the council was pretty slow to act – had they shifted a lot faster in the 1950s, then perhaps that area might have become the medium density suburb that was planned. Instead, after the momentum gained after the eastern part of Freemans Bay was converted to industrial (that is all the area from Union Street to Nelson Street), the council then stalled. In the second instance, the suburb became attractive to people just as the Council’s efforts were dying down – that would have made it a lot harder for the Council to carry on and probably saved the suburb (although it meant that most of the people that had fought to stay in Freemans Bay ended up being forced to move anyway). In the third instance, much of the worst aspects of Freemans Bay were cleared out by the industrial conversion in the 1950s, as well as the construction of the Northern Motorway – it would have been much harder to call Freemans Bay a slum after the worst aspects were gone.

    Of course, the difference today is that if you tried such a scheme, locals would be up in arms far more readily; urban development authority or no urban development authority.

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  16. People might ‘want’ to live in Dannemora now, but will they when it costs them half their wages to commute to the CBD by car. That’s going to happen, and those “edge developments” will turn into “edge slums”.

    (Look at Sydney, where it’s already happening)

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  17. @ dbuckley. The thing is for most middle waged people in Auckland right now the choice is between a) a moderately affordable detached house with almost no garden, miles out of town with no public transport in a soulless new development or b) an incredibly expensive house closer to town with some public transport.
    There isn’t the option of a lower mortgage and a terraced house/unit/apartment – even if you wanted one. Unless you’re prepared to buy a (probably) leaky shoebox apartment in the CBD.

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  18. Luke and LucyJH – I don’t disagree with what you are saying, I’m just answering Gareth’s question (ok, a rhetorical question) which suggested that maybe people want to live in battery chicken cages. I contend they don’t.

    For many (most?) people the numbers cant be made to work, but that does not quell the desire.

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  19. Rich, there is a pretty reasonable bus service from Dannemora through to the CBD – the 680 is about average for an Auckland bus route (ten minute headways during peak, thirty minute headways during off-peak and hourly headways in the evening), and it is pretty popular (I have seen standees on it as late as 11 in the morning). The bigger issue is the links with East Tamaki, which is where a larger number of people work.

    Indeed, what Auckland really needs right now is an improvement in bus services and a practice of putting public transport services in as the houses go up. Dannemora didn’t get a bus service until 2003, nearly half a decade after the houses went up. The Hingaia Peninsula still doesn’t have a bus service, and the bus services to Hobsonville and Albany (NEX aside) is pretty bad.

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  20. One could write a book of course.
    But essentially, Freeman’s Bay was going downhill because the lots were less than 24p and under the MOW Town Planning rules could not be built on. Hence, if your house burned down you could not rebuild, which meant you could not insure, which meant you could not raise mortgage finance.
    Some residents were students renting, but most were pensioners locked in and on low incomes (pre super days) and recent immigrants from the islands who “bought” the properties as chattels and secured by hire purchase agreements. The EstateAgent/financiers loved it because if a family missed a payment they could repossess, and start the cycle again. These Islanders worked in South Auckland and had the longest bus rides to work in Auckland.
    Naturally, no one would invest in the properties so the whole place was declared a slum clearance area and Council and Govt could either forcibly purchase or had first right of refusal. But the values were so low that if a pensioner sold they could not get equivalent housing anywhere else.
    Our solution was simple. We changed the rules to allow people to build on lots of 10p or more and designed ordinances to suit. We also designed ordinances for courtyard houses and all manner of medium density housiing which we thought would take off. They did but mostly in the East Coast Bays.
    It took a while for things to sink in but then the oil shock of the early seventies created a demand for inner city housing and Freemans Bay took off. Families and artists etc moved in and not only purchased but invested in improvements. The main beneficiaries were the pensioners and islanders who suddenly were able to sell their properties at a good price and relocate. The Islanders not only moved close to work but could buy a car as well. I had been living in a council Town House at 57A Hepburn St (see Google Maps) after coming back from the US and bought 28 Hepburn St in 1972 for 10,000. Of course I had a friendly Queen St lawyer who suddenly realised that the house was changing hands twice in one day. We soon found that the agent had paid the widow 9,000 and was charging me 11,000. I sat the agent down with a tape recorder,, told him the situation and I paid 10,000 and the widow got 10,000.
    In other words we had created an honest market.

    No one was driven out of Freeman’s Bay from then on. The owners who sold got a fair price.

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  21. I should have explained that what shocked me when I first started work on Freeman’s Bay was that the imposition of the 24p rule over the whole “Urban Renewal Zone” was intended to destroy the property values so as to reduce the cost of purchase of the properties, with so much consequent hardship.

    This is what shocked Mayor McElroy at the time and persuaded him to ask our group to find a more equitable solution. McElroy was Auckland’s finest Mayor. He was also appalled by the injustice done to the Maori on Bastion point, (by grant of a false title) once I drew it to his attention. We were able to undo this travesty with the stroke of the pen. Years later I was working with Joe Hawke and told him the story and he said “That solves a great puzzle. McElroy has always given us pro bono legal advice and we never knew why.”
    It was his private way of making amends.

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  22. that is 35% of people, but still 65% that dont fear it. No one is advocating that people should be forced to live in apartments.
    The mall above has a fair few apartments around it, but few of us would say that is a good thing.
    The issue I think is with the poor quality of apartments that have been built by speculators to sell to speculators who dont intend to live their, and didnt care about quality. Another free market response with terrible results.

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  23. @ dbuckley. First, I think you’re wrong. I know people who live in apartments and love it and don’t want ot live anywhere else. they like not having to look after gardens, they like not having a big house to clean, and they like being right in the centre of whatever their suburb of choice is surruonded by shops, cafes etc.

    Also, you’re presenting this as if there are two ptions. Live in a big house with a garden or live in a shoebox in town. I would argue those shouldn’t be the only options. In cities overseas they are building medium density housing that is actually NICE to live in. well insulated, spacious apartments and terraced houses and units that have communal green spaces and great shared facilities. In NZ we aren’t yet. I am not surprised young people don’t like the idea of apartment living if they think it will be like living in most of the heinous apartments in Auckland’s CBD.

    Although, interestingly, what these young people seem to fear is being cut off from the outdoors. And, of course, the paradox is that the bigger our cities grow and the more congested they get, the harder it will become for the average person to get out of the city and visit the outdoors.

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  24. LucyJH
    We have been building high quality medium density housing in NZ since the sixties – and indeed for decades our record of providing a wide range of housing choice has been excellent. Ignoring my time renting as a student etc I have lived in a four story assembly of two story maisonettes with courtyard and green communal space. (i963-67) Search 78 Beresford St Freemans Bay on Google Maps.
    Then a similar arrangement in Richmond California while at Berkeley.(off Pablo Ave.)
    Then at 57A Hepburn St in a two story town house in Freemans Bay. Rental. See Google Map. I did the planting in the front courtyard. Then I bought a villa at 28 Hepburn St just up the road. I restored it in 19972 and it is now a “historic place.!! Then later in the eighties I lived in Westminster Court 12th Parliament St, on the fifth floor. We also had bought our beach house at Karekare. ($2,500) then fifteen years ago moved to the North. In other words we have different housing needs at different stages of our lives.
    There is no need for large cities to cut people off form the outdoors. This is the sad result of MULs and Greenbelts. All the Green is on the periphery. Each village, town or settlement should have its own “Green belt”. In many places in Auckland this is the beach.
    Read Christopher Alexander on “A Timeless way of Building” and “A Pattern Language” and “A City is not a Tree.” and “Notes on the Synthesis of Form.” We were at Berkeley at the same time. He was an inspiration and last time I visited Berkeley I bought second hand copies of all his works.

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  25. Luke,
    What and where is this free market of which you speak. There has never been a free market in land – anywhere.
    And what you have described is the classic outcome of a heavilly distorted market in which supply is seriously constrained.
    e.g. Since the fifties it was illegal to live in the CBD. The CBD was for commerce only. There was naturally a pent up demand for inner city living. Then came the office book of the eighties and there was a huge boom in office building. Then the bubble burst, as bubbles do, and there was this surplus of office space. Finally the planners relaxed and decided inner city living was a great thing and a huge number of these office blocks were completed as apartments. The standards of insulation etc were appalling. Booms and busts never have good outcomes.
    Never rent or buy an apartment in Auckland without spending a Saturday night on the premises. If the descending waste doesn’t get you, the boy racers will.

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  26. @Owen I agree there is not a free market in land.
    However regarding Botany Town Centre this was a free-market response, but I think it gives a very poor outcome. I would like your view on this?

    There have been many poor quality apartment buildings completed in the last decade that were always designed to be apartments, and they are of poor quality, and they are pure free market responses. I think the conversion issue was an 1990’s one.

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  27. No building or development within a heavily distorted land market can be called a fee market response.
    The Auckland region is one of the most distorted and overpriced land markets in the world.

    Many of the best quality developers have withdrawn from the Auckland market because the distortions and regulations forced them to build rubbish – and then they got the blame.
    An architectural colleague of mine was asked to develop a medium density housing estate on a reasonably large urban site. He came up with his scheme but the Council were unhappy because its density was too low for their aspiration. He complained that his density was optimum for the site and conditions and would not increase it.
    The owner took the project to a more compliant designer who dropped off the eaves, and built decks within the building envelope and used monocladding.
    IT’s horrid, the site is overbuilt and naturally the building leaks.
    The old ratio we used to work to was that land and infrastructure were both about 1/12th of the total land house package. Now land is normally more than fifty percent of the package. So there is strong pressure to build rubbish out of rubbish.
    Where land is lightly regulated these problems don’t exist.

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  28. @ Owen. What housing? Have you ever looked for a unit in Auckland? Or a terraced house? All your houses were in Freemans Bay (incredibly expensive area) so I am not sure if it’s representative of wider housing choice in NZ.

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  29. LucyJH “First, I think you’re wrong”

    Prey tell, how exactly am I “wrong”

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  30. Amy
    The point I have been making is that following our reforms of the sixties we had a few decades of efficient choice driven housing in Auckland and in Auckland City in particular. Then in the nineties following the RMA, growth management, MULs and smart growth took hold and the supply has been strangled ever since.
    I warned of this outcome in my report to the Reserve Bank of 1995/96. Yes, of course Auckland is now one of the least affordable housing markets in the New World and it is not because of some mythical “free market”. We set up a market for speculators and they speculated.
    Freemans Bay is now incredibly expensive and I certainly cannot afford to live there. But my three bedroom ACC town house (57A) was 19 dollars a week and I bought 28 Hepburn St for $10,000. My well meaning lawyer tried to dissuade me from buying a slum house.
    It grieves me to see what has happened to our land and housing market since then.
    But for a few decades we had it right. Not perfect. But working and getting progressively better.
    But you have every right to be angry today. And I and my colleagues of the sixties are doubly furious to see our own efforts so sorely undone.

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  31. Define urban sprawl and then explain why your version can affect the world’s health – after defining world health.

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  32. I get the feeling that the poster Iker Villasante – Tienda de bisuteria online is a spam bot. They are getting a lot smarter these days

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  33. No one was driven out of Freeman’s Bay from then on. The owners who sold got a fair price.

    I was making reference to the renters who were essentially forced out by skyrocketing rents – they had fought the Council to only be forced to move anyway because of economic circumstances.

    No one is advocating that people should be forced to live in apartments.

    Really? The impression I am getting is that people are wanting to force others to live in apartments by driving house prices to levels that most people cannot afford them unless they have parents who owned a house free and clear, or if they had a very high paying job.

    And, of course, the paradox is that the bigger our cities grow and the more congested they get, the harder it will become for the average person to get out of the city and visit the outdoors.

    That is where the role of large sized parks comes in. In Sydney, the sprawl to the north along the Central Coast and the sprawl to the south along the Illawarra Escarpment is broken by the provision of some large national parks (Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park and Marramarra National Park in the north and the Royal National Park in the south)

    There is no need for large cities to cut people off form the outdoors. This is the sad result of MULs and Greenbelts. All the Green is on the periphery. Each village, town or settlement should have its own “Green belt”. In many places in Auckland this is the beach.

    Or indeed have some large parks. I note that the former Manukau City Council did this quite well with the provision of Lloyd Elsmore Park in Highland Park and Barry Curtis Park in Flat Bush.

    Since the fifties it was illegal to live in the CBD. The CBD was for commerce only. There was naturally a pent up demand for inner city living.

    That is interesting – I had always thought that people just decided to live in the suburbs for other reasons. Certainly it would have been difficult to buy an apartment pre 1972 (prior to the introduction of the Unit Titles Act, the only way that you could have that sort of concept was either through a company or doing some sort of leasehold).

    However regarding Botany Town Centre this was a free-market response, but I think it gives a very poor outcome.

    It was a free market response, and I don’t think that it has been as bad as some make out. As I said before, I have seen people waiting to cross the Ti Rakau/Te Irirangi lights most of the time that I have passed by there and there is a reasonable level of public transport usage. Really, part of the problem is that you have about four major arterial routes coming together in that area as well as the shopping centre – that means that your intersections are going to be pretty large and I am of the view that Botany should have been built elsewhere in that area and possibly a grade separated interchange considered for that area (indeed, Te Irirangi Drive was originally planned as a motorway with grade separated interchanges – the traffic lights were put in as a cost saving measure).

    There have been many poor quality apartment buildings completed in the last decade that were always designed to be apartments, and they are of poor quality, and they are pure free market responses.

    It was not really a free-market response – because the developers knew how to abuse legal structures such as companies and trusts, they knew they could build crap, get their money and the recipients could not do anything about it.

    In terms of the CBD ones, remember, they were always designed for the student boom that took off in the late 1990s – a typical international student only needs about 20 or 30 square metres of apartment.

    We set up a market for speculators and they speculated.

    And even worse, we created a one way bet – that just makes prices go even higher because people realise that there is no risk.

    Freemans Bay is now incredibly expensive and I certainly cannot afford to live there.

    Freemans Bay would have probably been expensive even had limitations on the development of Auckland not been there.

    Then in the nineties following the RMA, growth management, MULs and smart growth took hold and the supply has been strangled ever since.

    Although considering that, and the fact that interest rates fell to more affordable levels and the fact that bank lending criteria significantly loosened during the 1990s, a mere doubling of house prices in Auckland wasn’t too bad. The fact that it was repeated in half a decade after the MUL was established though was insanity.

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  34. Really? The impression I am getting is that people are wanting to force others to live in apartments by driving house prices to levels that most people cannot afford them unless they have parents who owned a house free and clear, or if they had a very high paying job.

    Its worse than that; may who claim to be environmentalsists believe that high density housing is the only viable approach to living, and given half a chance would mandate it.

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  35. Urban sprawls are definitely a result of planning regulations and that’s not just the problem of New Zealand. The key issue is that they require ever increasing infrastructure, which will inevitably default on itself unless we make some rigorous and pretty painful efficiency interventions.

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  36. All development requires infrastructure and retrofitting for higher density is the most expensive.

    Developers pay for their own infrastructure and then vest it in the Council. That cost is built into the price of the land or land/house package.

    You are right to the extent that the jurisdictions that have the most stringent anti sprawl regulation have the highest rate of urban sprawl.
    Light regulation is the most efficient because the supply of land and infrastructure is able to respond rapidly to changes in demand and this minimises the opportunity for land banking and speculation..

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  37. @ dbuckley. Because you said that the vast majority of people want to live in detached houses with their own gardens and implied that this is a natural inbuilt human preference which can’t be changed. I am saying I don’t think that is true. There are cities overseas which are mainly made up out of apartments which are hugely popular and desirable places to live in (e.g., Manhattan). I think you are looking at the way NZers behave today and assuming that their behaviour is fixed and due to internal preferences rather than external forces.

    It is rather like the way 20 years ago in Auckland everybody said that Aucklanders hated public transport and would never use it. Surveys at the time probably showed most Aucklanders didn’t want to use public transport (bc why would you when the service was so poor). Then in the early 2000s we began investing in our public transport system again and there was a few years lag time (while improvements in public transport occurred) and then, lo and behold, Aucklanders began responding to the changes in their environment and we experienced massive growth in PT patronage that is still happening today. And these days surveys show that Aucklanders want more investment in public transport, rather than more motorways.

    Similarly, in Auckland today (or most NZ cities) most people (unless they are very, very wealthy) don’t really have a choice when it comes to housing. They can either live in a shitty shoebox apartment which is quite possibly going to turn out to be a leaky home, a really unpleasant unit (typically built in a low income neighbourhood on a piece of shady ground that the developer decided wasn’t good enough for a house), or a detached house quite far out of town.

    Given those options I think most people choose the house. But their choice isn’t inevitable or due to any inbuilt human preference – it is a product of having limited choices available and of only seeing one representation of high density living (i.e., a negative one based on the crappy apartments in Hobson Street).

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  38. @ Owen. You’re probably right that we provided better choice before the 1990s – I definitely notice that the older units/terraced houses/apartments in Auckland seem to be better quality than the newer ones.

    Not sure about whether it is MULs that have driven the change though.

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  39. Lucy jh
    The preference for a single family home may not be inbuilt – I suspect there is no single family house gene.
    But the majority of households express a strong preference for such housing to be available to them at some stage in their lives. Equally, there is a time in most households lives when apartments are preferred.
    But a snap shot of any city anywhere will reveal the SFH preference runs around 70 to 80 percent.

    The actual ratio depends on regulations, prices and incomes and of course demographics.
    In the US 9 out of 10 households say that the house on its own lot is part of the American Dream.
    The challenge is to make available the range of housing types that people prefer at different stages in their lives and at the right price. At present in NZ apartments are the most difficult to provide because of the cost structures which make it virtually impossible to provide them at an affordable price.

    Amy, it comes down to land prices. The flats and houses built before the nineties were built on low cost land.
    The ratio of land to building was about 20%. Now it is about 50%. This is a combination of compliance costs, costs of time and uncertainty and of course constraints on supply caused my MULs etc.
    And land prices rise there is less money to spend on the construction. So everyone cuts corners and builds rubbish.
    Where land remains cheap houses are affordable, and so are apartments and both are good quality.
    The reverse is equally true.

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  40. It is obvious that the part of urban sprawl that is formed in the past 2 decades is a result of planning’s failure. Because during the past 20 years, sprawl’s high cost and other negative effects on travel behavior, public health and air pollution have become clear in academic research. What remains weak is the link between acedemia and planning organizations.

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