These art deco apartments were built in Mt Eden, Auckland in the 1930s, before there were zoning controls. They are large (85m2 at least), each have double exposition and are very quiet. There are eight apartments in each building, so 16 homes in the space of one 1/4 acre section. There is a shared garden and compost area out the back, next to Maungawhau Domain.
There are young families, students, young professionals and professionals nearing retirement living here. Most of the residents see each other often enough to know each other, but don’t ever hear each other from within the privacy of their apartments.
There are lots of trees on the property, providing shade in summer and bird life all year round. Across the street is a small park and a bus stop with high-frequency buses. In the same neighbourhood there are also standalone houses and much smaller brick and tile flats built after zoning rules came in. It’s a diverse neighbourhood with mixed incomes. The medium-density population supports local shops within walking distance and uses high-frequency public transport. There is not more traffic because there are more people – rather, there is less. While many households own cars, many do not because they don’t need one.
These very liveable, arguably lovely, apartments could not be built under the zoning rules operative today, or even proposed in the first iteration of the proposed Unitary Plan. They violate minimum parking requirements, height limits, and density, bulk and form controls.
The Unitary Plan process has been far from perfect, but we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is important that we allow people to have more housing and transport choices, and while changing zoning rules isn’t sufficient to achieve the green development and affordable housing we want, it is necessary. There has been a lot of scaremongering and strong rhetoric about the Auckland Council’s proposed rezoning changes. But these options, which allow for more choice and density, do not mean that tomorrow or even in five years homeowners will be surrounded by high-rise apartments and forced to live in one. Auckland needs options that will allow for incremental change to areas that are close to the centre of town. “Upzoning” doesn’t force any one thing to be built – instead it allows more choice and diversity in what is built.
Land values are outrageously high in Auckland because lots of people want to live close to the education, employment and lifestyle opportunities afforded to them by a city. There are also tax incentives currently in place which encourage people to invest in property. More diverse housing choices are not being provided because low-density zoning makes it impossible or uneconomic to build quality mid-rise, multi-family dwellings like these: http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/01/27/auckland-density-illustrated-i-the-inner-city/
The Auckland Council’s submission to the Independent Hearings Panel has created a lot of unrest in some communities, who are fearful of their neighbourhood changing. Those communities’ voices should be heard, alongside everyone else’s. But there is no reason that more people must mean more traffic, less green space, fewer trees, and less safety for children. With effective regulation, good design standards, tree protection rules and good public transport links, that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, improving density, increasing the diversity of a neighbourhood and creating safe walking, cycling and accessible public transport helps to create a more family friendly, accessible and safe community for everyone who lives there.