Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Future-Proof Sydney Streets and Downtown


This picture is the cross-section of a downtown Sydney street. George Street must've been in need of some TLC and the whole thing has been dug up and remade. So I did a bit of looking...

The City of Sydney website explains:
George Street will undergo one of the biggest transformations ever seen in Sydney when the light rail line is built. The City of Sydney has committed $220 million to the public domain elements of the project and is working closely with the NSW Government to create inviting public spaces where people want to live, shop, visit and do business. The main George Street strip will be pedestrianised between Hunter and Bathurst streets and footpaths will be widened. Existing driveway access for buildings will be maintained while roads travelling east and west will remain open to vehicles. Delivery vehicles and taxis servicing the Hilton will travel along George Street as normal. Greater space for pedestrians along the street will mean cafés and restaurants can introduce outdoor dining areas. The revamped George Street will become an easy way to travel between key attractions from The Rocks and Circular Quay to the city centre's retail heart and down to Chinatown. Light rail will also link hotels to the renewed Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre when it's completed
I was there for the Planning Institute of Australia Congress 2017, and kept passing this work on my way to conference. Such high quality and so detailed. I did wonder where the water pipes and wastewater pipes were - of course - as you do.

You can see it's made of reinforced concrete. Various layers.

You can see the light rail tracks on top.

And you can see the provision for signalling, cables, and conduits for Africa. Nobody talked about this stuff at conference, but this infrastructure work has an appearance of durability and quality about it that I've not seen anywhere in New Zealand.

But I'm happy to be corrected.

You can see a well put together concept design for the overall project here. Interestingly, the area in the image looks a bit like how Auckland's QEII Square could have looked had the extra space not been sold off.

Other downloads relating to the planning and activation of this important part of downtown Sydney can be seen here.

On Hosking On Immigration

A brief engagement with Hosking - because it provides an opportunity to discuss this developing argument and issue a bit more broadly....

Hosking (NZ Herald Opinion 11 May 2017) justifies permanent annual immigration inflows of 70,000 because “half are New Zealanders and Australians” and because they are needed to fill job vacancies. However his accompanying economic analysis misses the mark because he ignores two other inflows which are essential to an understanding of the nation’s simmering discontent. 

The first inflow he ignores are the 200,000 people who were issued temporary work visas in the year ending June 2016 - almost 30,000 more than the year before. While individual workers and students may come and go, the temporary overall resident population level has increased sharply putting further pressure on accommodation and transport infrastructure. Just because these guys are designated "temporary" doesn't mean they don't - as a whole - have similar demands as "permanent" immigrant.    

Professor Spoonley says New Zealand now has the highest inflow of workers and new residents of any OECD country. (Good on you - Mike - for including Spoonley in your opinion - albeit selectively.)

The second inflow which must be factored into any analysis of NZ’s changing economy is the unprecedented investment level of foreign capital finding safe haven in our relatively unregulated property market.

Immigration and foreign capital go together. Their combination is transforming cities like Brisbane, Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne. And Auckland. The differences lie in how these different countries are responding. The pent up demand for what these cities offer (including safety, security, high quality education, health services etc) among the burgeoning middle classes of India and China in particular is enormous. Even suggesting this demand can be met by increasing supply (of houses for example) is ridiculous. The pattern of NZ's immigration has changed as the world's wealth distribution has changed. Immigration from UK and Australia is steady, but actual demand from India and China has risen sharply and potential demand from those countries is gigantic.

It is easy to dismiss popular concern about immigration as xenophobia. However the absence of race riots in Auckland whose population now includes 40% born outside New Zealand suggests attitudes of tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity among locals. (Btw - similar statistics now describe the populations of Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne - far out-stripping the same measure in London.) 

What can’t and shouldn’t be ignored are the social consequences of a combination of unprecedented and sharp annual increases in NZ’s actual population and of unregulated foreign investment in property. This unmanaged combination might be good for the national economy and the property industry, but comes at a considerable cost to resident communities.

You can have too much of a good thing. 

Even Hosking might concede that.

City Planning: Learning from India

Prathima Manohar is the Founder of the think do-tank on livable cities “The Urban Vision” and is the co-Founder of the Urban innovation Incubator, “Urban Venture Labs”. Prathima holds a bachelors degree in Architecture. She was awarded Stanford University’s prestigious Draper Hills Fellowship bestowed to rising international stars who work on issues related to Democracy and Development in 2011. As an urbanist, she has worked on projects and researched on issues such as place making, affordable housing, participatory planning and green cities. Mumbai and Bangalore are cities she talks about. She has been a contributing columnist on architecture, urban development and design with India’s Leading News daily – The Times of India. She was among Global Honourees of 2009 CONSIUSA’s “Young Leaders Program” which recognizes emerging leaders under the age of 40, who have distinguished themselves and have demonstrated leadership qualities and potential in various careers.

I attended her keynote presentation at the Planning Institute of Australia Congress 2017 held in Sydney from 3rd to 5th May this year. Her abstract reads:
In many ways the social, economic and environmental future of our world is going to depend on the transition of an “India of villages “into an “India of cities”. This is a momentous time in India with an unparalleled level of focus on urban infrastructure and city development. Prime minister Modi has been using the strategy often called “Urban Renaissance” as a central theme for a wide array of economic and social reforms.This panel will highlight the major plans from building 100 Smart cities, The Urban Revival program- AMRUT, Make in India and Real Estate Regulatory Authority. Can these plans lead to structural transformation of India's built environment industry and the wider economy? The session will discuss the state of India Cities at the moment and highlight grass root level innovations towards building livable and inclusive cities.
Prathima's presentation contained advice and findings from various international studies, to underpin her main recommendations about the planning issues that need to be confronted.
Quality of Life indicators included the basics. Cities in India are playing catchup to Western standards of water and wastewater services, but up there, with those services, is the provision of parks and open space, and access to public transport.
This is Ghandi. Apparently his legacy was one of opposition to cities....
Like most fast growing cities, India has challenges with infrastructure investment, and who pays. There was a lot more on this topic, but I have chosen for this post, her 4 urban values conflict slides. These may encapsulate the political economy of urban planning in India, but they are just as true in Auckland.
Autocentric infrastructure Vs People Centric Infrastructure. The debate is not about cars vs public transport. It is about public roading space vs public people space. We haven't engaged with that dichotomy in Auckland. Deemed surplus public land or reserve land is being sold by Auckland Council for urban development. Some is also taken for roading projects. Places for people is the catch cry here. Problem is, the car is still king. Look at AT's main list of capital works, and NZ Transport Agency's focus on its State Highway "ladder rung" severing Onehunga.
Retirement Villages and other medium scale residential projects existing and proposed within Auckland's built environment, are planned separate developments. They might not all be ringed with moats and security fences, but they generally do not inter-relate with the surrounding urban environment whose residents can feel unwelcome. Given the option most investors will go for a gated community design - easier to build, easy to sell, new residents quit like security, seclusion and privacy. For a while anyway, until the isolation and limited access to amenity begins to pall. If we only rely on market forces to make these kinds of planning decisions then we should not be surprised how Auckland's redeveloped urban landscape turns out.

Shopping Malls with global brands Vs local street retail and shopping. Auckland has been happy to provide malls throughout the region - often at the expense of high street shopping. We all drive to them. Part of the autocentric equation.

I wrote a little about this here a few weeks ago. Global branding needs a mall at least to display its signage and locate. We probably need both configurations - but the balance in Auckland is very different from the balance in Wellington (for example).
Auckland might not have the same history as India, but we do have a history and we are home to the world's largest Polynesian population. We have an indigenous culture. Maori. But you wouldn't really know that walking in downtown Auckland and its waterfront. Again, very different from Wellington.

Research that was triggered from attending the PIA Congress drew me to explore measureable urban indicators specifying the delivery of minimum public good outcomes. I came across ISO 37120:2014 (Sustainable development of communities – Indicators for city services and quality of life), these contain, for example, measures we already know about like: square metres of public recreation space per capita; number of public transport trips per capita; green area per capita; the jobs/housing ratio.

While it might appear to Auckland Council, and to its Councillors, that Auckland's future urban form is finalised, and that the planning systems that are in place to deliver it are also finalised - with only a little bit of reflection you come to the conclusion that that's not good enough. 

Prathima remarked that what is happening to cities India, as their populations exert more and more democratic influence over urban outcomes - engaging with the urban values conflicts outlined above - they will be the shapers of global urban futures. They are going where we have yet to go. Better to engage with these really big conflicts sooner than later - and properly.

Faults in Unitary Plan: Rymans Changed

The continuing story of the Rymans development in Devonport, and of implementation issues associated with Auckland's Unitary Plan...

The story that I've told so far began with the Sept 27, 2016 posting Rymans Crams Reitirees into Devonport, and continued with the 18 Jan, 2017 posting First Test of Unitary Plan: Rymans Granted.

This decision was appealed by the specially formed Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society. This group had morphed from the resident group that established initially to engage with the urgent submission and hearing process precipitated by the original Ryman's application, the fact considerations by Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel were not taken into consideration by Rymans, and the typically short time available for residents to get organised.

The work involved in bringing an appeal like this, of building relationships with local architects, expert urban design witnesses, and planners, of identifying legal advocates and fund-raising to get an effective team mobilised is one thing. Quite another is the immense work of capacity and knowledge building that is needed within the local community, when a project of this scale and impact threatens local amenity and quality of life.

Little of this background is revealed in the press release they issued on the 12th of May 2017:

APPEAL OVER AND NEXT COURSE ALREADY SET BY ‘NEW BREED’ COMMUNITY GROUP 
A residents’ group’s appeal against Ryman Healthcare’s plans to build a huge retirement village in Devonport is over, subject to Environment Court approval.
All of the 300-strong Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society’s (DPPS) issues were satisfactorily resolved by Ryman in a court-led mediation process that lasted over a month.
The society lodged an appeal to the Environment Court in February 2017 after Auckland Council gave consent to Ryman for its six storey, 600 bed, 300 car park facility in Devonport.
The group cited poor design and unsuitable bulk in its appeal. DPPS chair Iain Rea says that within the constraints of an appeal to an already consented development, the society was pleased with the result. “We are still going to have Devonport’s biggest ever development on this site, but we have managed to mitigate some of the worst effects,” he says.
Rea says that the result is testament to the society’s organised and realistic approach and its deep community support. “We are a new breed of community group, and I think people understand and relate to our methods.”
Subsequent appellants to the appeal were the New Zealand Institute of Architects Auckland Branch and civic lobby group Urban Auckland whose support proved the gravity of the case. “All three groups took this case extremely seriously and Ryman fully engaged in mediation” says Rea.
“And the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed”.
The intensive development of five other precincts on the Devonport peninsula is afoot, and while the society fully understands and appreciates the implications of a growing population that includes an elderly population bulge, loose planning controls that allow poor quality design and inappropriate development to proliferate will be under scrutiny.
This is a very good result for the community, and for Devonport. These two images show the before and after mediation plans. This is "before":


The mediation process has resulted in significant design changes to the scale, height and configuration of the proposed buildings on the site. Most significant changes are at the western end of the site (buildings B02,B03 and B04), which results is a generous, sunny, sheltered, largely level internal courtyard and the reorientation of the main care building B01. The Ngataringa Road frontage has also been changed to improve streetscape, but as architects involved have noted, it is still a Ryman Village with its rather dated and clumsy architectural form and style, and the perimeter fence has no openings for pedestrian access to and from the site....


It remains a gated community - this is despite changes internationally and here in New Zealand where retirement communities are a much more integrated part of the urban environment - offering retirement lifestyle choices which are part of the wider community, rather than apart from it.

There is still water to flow under the bridge with this project, and hopefully Rymans will consider carefully what has happened, not least because I understand Rymans have purchased a development site at Hobsonville Point. The Hobsonville Land Development Company will want the best design to compliment what has already been achieved there, and won't support the rough and ready and rather careless approach that Rymans have demonstrated in Devonport.

But they did what they did in Devonport because they could.

As Rea notes in the DPS media release, “... the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed.”

Good planning provides for local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach. This did not happen here, and the responsibility for that rests firmly with Auckland Council. No amount of subsequent urban design sticking plaster will cure the fundamental failures that this episode exposes in Council's systems for handling applications that will result in urban intensification.

Few existing communities have the oversight and protection of something like the Hobsonville Land Development Company to maintain and ensure implementation of a coherent vision and spatial plan and gradual creation of interlinking and complete communities. Foreshadowed Urban Development Authorities could improve the planning situation - but this is unlikely if their main purpose is to accelerate and streamline intensive residential development.

Some might criticise me for too fondly remembering the past. But I rue the day that Devonport lost its local community board, and their role in assessing resource consent applications. Their knowledge of local communities and local geography were regularly applied to improve outcomes and to effectively integrate new buildings and developments into existing environments. That sort of planning work was abolished with amalgamation. But it could be re-introduced. Local Boards could be delegated roles and responsibilities in local planning. At the very least this would provide checks and balances and would re-introduce collaborative approaches to planning, and allow for the expression and influence of local aspirations. Urban designers and urban design panels are no substitute for this planning.

Auckland Council's Unitary Plan provides for intensification. However the absence of planning around implementation which incorporates local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach will, in future, inevitably lead to the construction of more gated and separate urban enclaves in Auckland - because that will be the easy option for developers. And they will be resisted by local communities, just as the Devonport Rymans project has been, putting people through the cost and pain of appealing, mediation and environment court proceedings. There is a better way.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Auckland: Just Another Little Global City?

This is Tiffany's - Auckland.

Since 1940, Tiffany's flagship store has operated at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. The polished granite exterior is well known for its window displays, and the store has been the location for a number of films, including Breakfast at Tiffany's, starring Audrey Hepburn, and Sweet Home Alabama, starring Reese Witherspoon.

In the United Kingdom, Tiffany stores are located in Terminal 5, at London's Heathrow airport (opened at the end of March 2008), in the Westfield London shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush, in Old Bond Street, opposite the entrance to Burlington Gardens, and in Manchester, Selfridges Exchange Square. 

A flagship Irish store was opened in Brown Thomas on Dublin's Grafton Street in October 2008 and is the largest of the company's European outlets. Also in October 2008, Tiffany's opened a store in Madrid, Spain.

In Australia, Tiffany's flagship store is located on Collins Street in Melbourne. Other stores include Chadstone Shopping Centre (Melbourne); Sydney (Castlereagh Street, Westfield Bondi Junction and DFS Galleria on George Street); Brisbane (Queens Plaza); and Perth (King Street).

Last year (October 2016), a Tiffany store opened facing Takutai Square in Britomart, Auckland. I haven't shopped there. Yet. Nobody I know has either. For that matter - apart from "high net worth individuals" - I don't know anybody who shops in the new Chanel shop, or Louis Vuitton, Prada, Christian Dior and Gucci, all located in Auckland's Queen St near the waterfront.

I was in Takutai Square on the Saturday before Anzac Day - on my way to see the Body Laid Bare exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery - especially Rodin's The Kiss (here all the way from the Tate gallery in London). La Cigale food market was in full swing (a french food market - another european idea) and I enjoyed a very fine bacon, hash brown and egg burger. Athletes of all shapes and sizes - and ages - attending The World Masters Games were also enjoying snacks (this is an international event which global cities need to bid for to gain hosting rights).

This is the new downtown Auckland. The new global downtown Auckland. 

When the same idea, though, is as has been applied in many cities of the world, it results in an all too visible homogenization. You could be in any little global city environment. Homogenization becomes visible, first of all, in the concentration of new high-rise, high-status corporate office towers with their iconic corporate logos. These mark each city’s competitive position in a global race for financial investment. To make these sites more attractive to both corporate tenants and affluent local residents, developers combine office space with expensive shops and leisure landscapes - which are not really public anymore - they are designed to attract the affluent, the "high net worth individuals", and visitors from cruise ships or international events which visit with their own branding.

Whether or not Auckland Councillors acknowledge it, the universal effect of redeveloping the city center is to move poor residents and workers far away from it; to block their traditional means of self-support support – be it black-market trade (popular at flea markets), the selling of illegal substances, bartering, informal music and street theatre, and begging. The less affluent are thus deprived of public spaces long crucial to surviving in the margins of urban societies. 

Downtown Auckland is very different today from what it was with a less mechanised port, all sorts of public employment (post office, bus terminus), imports and exports, an Oriental market. All that sort of production - and its workforce - has been moved elsewhere or automated, and its wealth generation replaced by another economy entirely. 

But is it absolutely necessary for Auckland to so slavishly dance to the globalisation tune? 
   
Is the “authentic” character of cities - of Auckland - really only a created fiction spun for the aesthetic tastes of highly educated, mobile consumers of places? Or might it be a set of historical overlays, unexpected encounters, and incompatible materials that create a dense urban patchwork of cultural identities? For Auckland's city dwellers who eke out their existence day by day, such changes in the palette of urban life may expand some opportunities while reducing other opportunities for material survival. They might receive financial compensation for jobs and housing lost, and adapt to new surroundings out in the suburbs. 

Rebuilding the center of Auckland - so far - is producing an instantly recognizable corporate zone with cultural amenities for a discerning “global eye” while gradually ringing the city with densely packed new districts for migrants and those pushed out of the city centre. These include the airport cluster of industrial zones and office parks, the apartment towers on the fringes for those who cannot afford to live in the center, and not forgetting the urban concentrations of Pacific peoples. It is too soon to know whether these places will re-create the local patterns that made the center of Auckland so diverse and lively, or if their scale and design—and the small numbers of small shops and individual traders—will create another kind of homogeneity. Though even these districts are now the targets of an urban regeneration agenda to double the population of Auckland, and increase that number on various global scorecards.

It's not too late to achieve a better balance.... remember this.... RWC 2011....







Just 6 years ago, Auckland hosted an international event and made it its own - for its own - and Aucklanders - including its Pacific Island and Maori population - came to their city centre and enjoyed it. But even then there wasn't enough public space. And since then - piece by piece - chunks of Auckland's public open space has been given over to private development to enable the location of more global brands.

An important question for Auckland Council and councillors. What's the plan? Is there a plan to accommodate a downtown party for Aucklanders in future - the party central envisaged by John Key when he was PM? And don't mention the CBD MasterPlan - which was touted as the implementation plan for the Auckland Spatial Plan. Apparently it has no effect (for chapter and verse revisit the battle to prevent the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square and its conversion into Zara and H and M shops). Not worth the paper its printed on. Who is Auckland's downtown being developed for?

I could go on at length, but need to bring this to a conclusion. A month ago I attended the NZ Planning Institute Conference held in downtown Wellington on its waterfront. The event was spread across several venues - including the TSB Arena and Te Wharewaka o Poneke - Function Centre, Conference Venue. The latter means "waka house" - it's a very particular place for Maori. So is Te Papa - just a bit further along the Wellington waterfront.

There is nothing remotely equivalent in Auckland.

It's time there was.

Or do we only aspire to being just another little global city - just like all the others.

If anyone is remotely interested in a key planning document in the formation of Wellington's waterfront look at The Wellington Waterfront Framework, and read pages 5 and 6 to see who wrote it and how it came about. Then I suggest you might like to read it all. Auckland needs one like it. 

Water Meters and Empty House Statistics

At the New Zealand Planning Institute conference – held in Wellington earlier in April – I was advised by a representative from PIA (Planning Institute of Australia) and a senior planner in New South Wales State Govt, of their data collection policies and systems which help inform the development of housing and urban planning policies.

Data sets relating to metered electricity usage and metered water usage are routinely used to provide statistics relating to unoccupied homes for example. Interesting. Especially if a statistic of of interest is the number of homes in Auckland that are empty, whether that number has increased significantly in the last few years, whether there is any truth in the story that more and more homes are being land-banked and left unoccupied because the main objective in holding the property is capital gain and that rental revenues are foregone and attendant tenancy issues thereby avoided.

Relevant data might be interesting.

Most residential properties in Auckland have water meters, and these meters are routinely read by Watercare staff or agents in order to issue invoices to households relating to volumetric water consumption. Low to zero water use is an indicator of low to zero occupancy of a home (I understand there may be small leaks, or perhaps that timed irrigation systems may still be consuming water).

I'm of the view that relevant data should be available from Watercare. I have asked Watercare for suggestions as to what would be the most meaningful measure of the proportion of Auckland homes, by suburb, over time, that are empty (ie that are consuming little to no water from town supply).

I have asked Watercare:

....please provide a spreadsheet, columns by calendar months for the past 5 years, rows by Auckland suburb, cells containing for the suburb and month the percentage of cumulative actual home meter readings for the 3 months up to and including that month amounting to less than 25 litres/day.

Watercare has responded, helpfully I think, as follows....:
Thank you for your request for information about the number properties within Auckland that are connected to our networks but are using low to zero water.

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide this information due to a number of reasons:

•        Billing system constraints: our billing system is designed to enable monthly billing and has the ability to identify high/low water use as a percentage of normal historical usage for customers. This enables us to alert customers to potential leaks as well as to identify meter issues, water theft, network leaks, etc. Our aim is to identify possible customer impacts or revenue loss. There is no specific focus on identifying low or zero water use.
 •        Shared water meters: there are a number of properties in Auckland that have shared water meters. However, we do not know how many. For example, a small block of units or flats may share one meter.  Similarly, a large residential/commercial apartment block may share one meter and as they have mixed use are classed as a non-domestic customer. This is also true of retirement villages, which have mixed use, but only one meter feeding the whole site.

•        Multiple water meters: there are a number of properties which have multiple meters for various reasons such future development, irrigation and fire sprinkler supply.
 •       Vacant lots: A number of sites across the city have either vacant land or are under construction. Many of these sites have meters installed, with varying volumes of usage depending on the stage or development.
I think Watercare is assisting by suggesting that the request for information be made more specific. 

I would appreciate any suggestions from readers.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Auckland's Dispossessed Generation

This post/essay is really about New Zealand's dispossessed generation - and while the issue is most keenly experienced now in Auckland it is increasingly manifest in New Zealand's other cities.

The dispossessed generation is the millenial generation - the generation of children and families born to the baby-boomer generation - to me and my generation.

We have and are failing to provide for and to protect the urban future of our children and their children. We are dispossessing our children.

We are allowing their urban future to be purchased by the families and the children of entrepreneurs, adventurers, opportunists, explorers and settlers from other countries. We are also allowing our children's urban future to be used and exploited as a financial instrument by investors - including ourselves.

That is our legacy - if current policy settings remain unchanged.

Housing is just the tip of this dispossession iceberg. Available statistics show that first time buyers account for just 17% of Auckland house sales now, while investors account for 43%. Housing demand by new settlers accounts for a further - contested - proportion of house sales.

However it's not just access to housing that this Auckland generation is losing. They are also losing access to a place for their children in Auckland's most popular high decile schools whose rolls and spare desk capacity are being filled by the children of immigrant families who can buy into those suburbs and all of the amenity that goes with it just by investing in a house.

Easy accessibility to all sorts of amenity including education, entertainment, parks, community, heritage, neighbourhood, and employment is what attracts people to urban living - to living in a city. And as a city's population grows so does the city to accommodate the next generation. All of those amenities - many of them public goods - needed and will need public investment to plan, create and maintain. All of those amenities have some sort of design capacity - how many people they can provide for. All of those amenities (social infrastructure) have been built and funded over time - much of it by the baby boomer generation and their parent generation - planning and thinking about their needs and those of their children.

This planning and preparation was for the next generation and has been based on natural population increase - our children and their children. But that's not what is now happening to Auckland whose population is growing at unprecedented levels because of the level of immigration that has been accepted by central government in the last few years.

These sharp increases in resident population have increased the demand for housing and more houses are being built - some in existing areas of urban Auckland (especially apartments) - and some in the greenfield peri-urban edges of Auckland.

Auckland's dispossessed generation are being pushed out to peri-urban areas of Auckland to find rentals and houses they can afford and here is where the challenge of accessibility to amenity really bites. Access to amenity from low price and low rental housing areas is almost always by private motor vehicle because it's too far to walk or bike, and because these homes are the furthest from good public transport. Greater separation or removal from handy amenity costs time and money to gain access.

Not only is this generation being dispossessed of a home they can own, they are being dispossessed of easy accessibility to urban amenity as the roads they must use fill with the additional cars of the rapidly increasing population. This is another part of the dispossession iceberg that Auckland is being made painfully aware of. Those of us within easy reach of good public transport, or within a short walking distance of urban amenity can thank our lucky stars. But it's not going to be the experience of our children unless we can keep them at home.

And this is really the heart of the matter. Do we want to retain urban neighbourhoods and communities? Or are we content to dispossess much of this generation of any tangible material connection with the communities they were born in? Auckland's mature urban communities are being re-settled by a new wave of immigration. This will have effects on urban Auckland culture - some good, some unpredictable.

Good things generally take time though and require thought.

When a city population grows through natural increase - leading to annual increases in population of less than 1% typically (German and Swiss city growth average is less than 0.5%) - there is an inbuilt tendency for the city administrations to provide and plan for its own growth.Growth consequences are accepted by the existing population for their children. But when additional population growth is imposed on a city by forces outside a city's control, and the city is expected to adapt to, and absorb the economic externalities imposed by those new residents - no matter how wealthy they might be and no matter how good their wealth may be for the national economy - that feeling or threat of dispossession will develop among those who consider they built and paid for the city they live in.

With 39% of its citizens born outside New Zealand, Auckland is part of a growing club of cities (including Brisbane and Sydney) which have become popular as the next home for wealthy Asian and Indian families. Federal Government in Australia and Central Government in New Zealand both value the increase in GDP figures that are directly associated with high levels of immigration. Both country's national economies have been affected by vagaries in commodity markets (dairy and minerals) and increased immigration has become the go-to option to plug the gap.

Is this the best we can do? We could be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


Shamubeel Eaqub on NZ's Housing Economy

Shamubeel Eaqub delivered a cogent and informed presentation at an NZPI planning conference plenary session. Hard to do justice to it here- but I've done my best with notes taken at the time - and try to tell his story to the conference. I begin with his summary of the problem:

He was at pains to emphasise that the housing problem NZ now has, has been building for the past 30 years.

This graphic is his version of what has been regularly communicated - the ratio between house price and hosuehold income. 

This is his version of the boomer/millenial generational gap that has opened up in the ability to buy a house. He characterises it as a landed gentry/mortgage slavery divide similar to Victorian times.

One of his main points is the fact that we - as a society - don't want to create housing supply for the "poor" - the bottom half of society. He notes that the number of state houses/1000 head of the population now is back to what it was in 1941.

Another of his concerns is the amount of bank loans now tied up in house mortgages compared to previous periods, and how this is potentially restricting other parts of the economy from expanding - starved of investment capital.

Eaqub also focuses attention on the demand side of the equation. Many commentators have argued that a major driver for demand has been natural population growth - but this data demonstrates that the ntural growth demand has remained reasonably stable since the 1950's, while the demand from migration has sharply increased. 

The economics of rental housing - particularly in Auckland - is highlighted in ths graph. Return on housing investment in Auckland is about 3%, while in the rest of New Zealand it is between 5% and 6% - above the cost of borrowing.  

Eaqub's assessment of the cumulative housing shortage is dramatic - and is based on the rate of house or home construction that occurred post way, up to the period of reform in the mid 1980's.  

His final slides explored what was happening now to the broader economy in NZ - by examining house sales, and the availability of loan capital. The above graph is used to suggest that the peak in the house market has turned.... 

...and that new loans are reducing. This particular indicator was also picked up by Chris Aitken (Hobsonville Land Company).Shamubeel suggests there will be a bust in the construction economy, even though the country desperately needs more homses.

He ended his presentation by suggesting that "planners will be vilified" because they will be exposed as the villains, blamed for pushing new unitary plans enabling intensification ("unilateral plan" - my thought here), and pushing, driving change to enable urban renewal through compliance with new requirements and provisions coming down the line including NPS Urban Development Capacity obligations and duties.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Future-Proof Sydney Streets and Downtown


This picture is the cross-section of a downtown Sydney street. George Street must've been in need of some TLC and the whole thing has been dug up and remade. So I did a bit of looking...

The City of Sydney website explains:
George Street will undergo one of the biggest transformations ever seen in Sydney when the light rail line is built. The City of Sydney has committed $220 million to the public domain elements of the project and is working closely with the NSW Government to create inviting public spaces where people want to live, shop, visit and do business. The main George Street strip will be pedestrianised between Hunter and Bathurst streets and footpaths will be widened. Existing driveway access for buildings will be maintained while roads travelling east and west will remain open to vehicles. Delivery vehicles and taxis servicing the Hilton will travel along George Street as normal. Greater space for pedestrians along the street will mean cafés and restaurants can introduce outdoor dining areas. The revamped George Street will become an easy way to travel between key attractions from The Rocks and Circular Quay to the city centre's retail heart and down to Chinatown. Light rail will also link hotels to the renewed Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre when it's completed
I was there for the Planning Institute of Australia Congress 2017, and kept passing this work on my way to conference. Such high quality and so detailed. I did wonder where the water pipes and wastewater pipes were - of course - as you do.

You can see it's made of reinforced concrete. Various layers.

You can see the light rail tracks on top.

And you can see the provision for signalling, cables, and conduits for Africa. Nobody talked about this stuff at conference, but this infrastructure work has an appearance of durability and quality about it that I've not seen anywhere in New Zealand.

But I'm happy to be corrected.

You can see a well put together concept design for the overall project here. Interestingly, the area in the image looks a bit like how Auckland's QEII Square could have looked had the extra space not been sold off.

Other downloads relating to the planning and activation of this important part of downtown Sydney can be seen here.

On Hosking On Immigration

A brief engagement with Hosking - because it provides an opportunity to discuss this developing argument and issue a bit more broadly....

Hosking (NZ Herald Opinion 11 May 2017) justifies permanent annual immigration inflows of 70,000 because “half are New Zealanders and Australians” and because they are needed to fill job vacancies. However his accompanying economic analysis misses the mark because he ignores two other inflows which are essential to an understanding of the nation’s simmering discontent. 

The first inflow he ignores are the 200,000 people who were issued temporary work visas in the year ending June 2016 - almost 30,000 more than the year before. While individual workers and students may come and go, the temporary overall resident population level has increased sharply putting further pressure on accommodation and transport infrastructure. Just because these guys are designated "temporary" doesn't mean they don't - as a whole - have similar demands as "permanent" immigrant.    

Professor Spoonley says New Zealand now has the highest inflow of workers and new residents of any OECD country. (Good on you - Mike - for including Spoonley in your opinion - albeit selectively.)

The second inflow which must be factored into any analysis of NZ’s changing economy is the unprecedented investment level of foreign capital finding safe haven in our relatively unregulated property market.

Immigration and foreign capital go together. Their combination is transforming cities like Brisbane, Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne. And Auckland. The differences lie in how these different countries are responding. The pent up demand for what these cities offer (including safety, security, high quality education, health services etc) among the burgeoning middle classes of India and China in particular is enormous. Even suggesting this demand can be met by increasing supply (of houses for example) is ridiculous. The pattern of NZ's immigration has changed as the world's wealth distribution has changed. Immigration from UK and Australia is steady, but actual demand from India and China has risen sharply and potential demand from those countries is gigantic.

It is easy to dismiss popular concern about immigration as xenophobia. However the absence of race riots in Auckland whose population now includes 40% born outside New Zealand suggests attitudes of tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity among locals. (Btw - similar statistics now describe the populations of Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne - far out-stripping the same measure in London.) 

What can’t and shouldn’t be ignored are the social consequences of a combination of unprecedented and sharp annual increases in NZ’s actual population and of unregulated foreign investment in property. This unmanaged combination might be good for the national economy and the property industry, but comes at a considerable cost to resident communities.

You can have too much of a good thing. 

Even Hosking might concede that.

City Planning: Learning from India

Prathima Manohar is the Founder of the think do-tank on livable cities “The Urban Vision” and is the co-Founder of the Urban innovation Incubator, “Urban Venture Labs”. Prathima holds a bachelors degree in Architecture. She was awarded Stanford University’s prestigious Draper Hills Fellowship bestowed to rising international stars who work on issues related to Democracy and Development in 2011. As an urbanist, she has worked on projects and researched on issues such as place making, affordable housing, participatory planning and green cities. Mumbai and Bangalore are cities she talks about. She has been a contributing columnist on architecture, urban development and design with India’s Leading News daily – The Times of India. She was among Global Honourees of 2009 CONSIUSA’s “Young Leaders Program” which recognizes emerging leaders under the age of 40, who have distinguished themselves and have demonstrated leadership qualities and potential in various careers.

I attended her keynote presentation at the Planning Institute of Australia Congress 2017 held in Sydney from 3rd to 5th May this year. Her abstract reads:
In many ways the social, economic and environmental future of our world is going to depend on the transition of an “India of villages “into an “India of cities”. This is a momentous time in India with an unparalleled level of focus on urban infrastructure and city development. Prime minister Modi has been using the strategy often called “Urban Renaissance” as a central theme for a wide array of economic and social reforms.This panel will highlight the major plans from building 100 Smart cities, The Urban Revival program- AMRUT, Make in India and Real Estate Regulatory Authority. Can these plans lead to structural transformation of India's built environment industry and the wider economy? The session will discuss the state of India Cities at the moment and highlight grass root level innovations towards building livable and inclusive cities.
Prathima's presentation contained advice and findings from various international studies, to underpin her main recommendations about the planning issues that need to be confronted.
Quality of Life indicators included the basics. Cities in India are playing catchup to Western standards of water and wastewater services, but up there, with those services, is the provision of parks and open space, and access to public transport.
This is Ghandi. Apparently his legacy was one of opposition to cities....
Like most fast growing cities, India has challenges with infrastructure investment, and who pays. There was a lot more on this topic, but I have chosen for this post, her 4 urban values conflict slides. These may encapsulate the political economy of urban planning in India, but they are just as true in Auckland.
Autocentric infrastructure Vs People Centric Infrastructure. The debate is not about cars vs public transport. It is about public roading space vs public people space. We haven't engaged with that dichotomy in Auckland. Deemed surplus public land or reserve land is being sold by Auckland Council for urban development. Some is also taken for roading projects. Places for people is the catch cry here. Problem is, the car is still king. Look at AT's main list of capital works, and NZ Transport Agency's focus on its State Highway "ladder rung" severing Onehunga.
Retirement Villages and other medium scale residential projects existing and proposed within Auckland's built environment, are planned separate developments. They might not all be ringed with moats and security fences, but they generally do not inter-relate with the surrounding urban environment whose residents can feel unwelcome. Given the option most investors will go for a gated community design - easier to build, easy to sell, new residents quit like security, seclusion and privacy. For a while anyway, until the isolation and limited access to amenity begins to pall. If we only rely on market forces to make these kinds of planning decisions then we should not be surprised how Auckland's redeveloped urban landscape turns out.

Shopping Malls with global brands Vs local street retail and shopping. Auckland has been happy to provide malls throughout the region - often at the expense of high street shopping. We all drive to them. Part of the autocentric equation.

I wrote a little about this here a few weeks ago. Global branding needs a mall at least to display its signage and locate. We probably need both configurations - but the balance in Auckland is very different from the balance in Wellington (for example).
Auckland might not have the same history as India, but we do have a history and we are home to the world's largest Polynesian population. We have an indigenous culture. Maori. But you wouldn't really know that walking in downtown Auckland and its waterfront. Again, very different from Wellington.

Research that was triggered from attending the PIA Congress drew me to explore measureable urban indicators specifying the delivery of minimum public good outcomes. I came across ISO 37120:2014 (Sustainable development of communities – Indicators for city services and quality of life), these contain, for example, measures we already know about like: square metres of public recreation space per capita; number of public transport trips per capita; green area per capita; the jobs/housing ratio.

While it might appear to Auckland Council, and to its Councillors, that Auckland's future urban form is finalised, and that the planning systems that are in place to deliver it are also finalised - with only a little bit of reflection you come to the conclusion that that's not good enough. 

Prathima remarked that what is happening to cities India, as their populations exert more and more democratic influence over urban outcomes - engaging with the urban values conflicts outlined above - they will be the shapers of global urban futures. They are going where we have yet to go. Better to engage with these really big conflicts sooner than later - and properly.

Faults in Unitary Plan: Rymans Changed

The continuing story of the Rymans development in Devonport, and of implementation issues associated with Auckland's Unitary Plan...

The story that I've told so far began with the Sept 27, 2016 posting Rymans Crams Reitirees into Devonport, and continued with the 18 Jan, 2017 posting First Test of Unitary Plan: Rymans Granted.

This decision was appealed by the specially formed Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society. This group had morphed from the resident group that established initially to engage with the urgent submission and hearing process precipitated by the original Ryman's application, the fact considerations by Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel were not taken into consideration by Rymans, and the typically short time available for residents to get organised.

The work involved in bringing an appeal like this, of building relationships with local architects, expert urban design witnesses, and planners, of identifying legal advocates and fund-raising to get an effective team mobilised is one thing. Quite another is the immense work of capacity and knowledge building that is needed within the local community, when a project of this scale and impact threatens local amenity and quality of life.

Little of this background is revealed in the press release they issued on the 12th of May 2017:

APPEAL OVER AND NEXT COURSE ALREADY SET BY ‘NEW BREED’ COMMUNITY GROUP 
A residents’ group’s appeal against Ryman Healthcare’s plans to build a huge retirement village in Devonport is over, subject to Environment Court approval.
All of the 300-strong Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society’s (DPPS) issues were satisfactorily resolved by Ryman in a court-led mediation process that lasted over a month.
The society lodged an appeal to the Environment Court in February 2017 after Auckland Council gave consent to Ryman for its six storey, 600 bed, 300 car park facility in Devonport.
The group cited poor design and unsuitable bulk in its appeal. DPPS chair Iain Rea says that within the constraints of an appeal to an already consented development, the society was pleased with the result. “We are still going to have Devonport’s biggest ever development on this site, but we have managed to mitigate some of the worst effects,” he says.
Rea says that the result is testament to the society’s organised and realistic approach and its deep community support. “We are a new breed of community group, and I think people understand and relate to our methods.”
Subsequent appellants to the appeal were the New Zealand Institute of Architects Auckland Branch and civic lobby group Urban Auckland whose support proved the gravity of the case. “All three groups took this case extremely seriously and Ryman fully engaged in mediation” says Rea.
“And the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed”.
The intensive development of five other precincts on the Devonport peninsula is afoot, and while the society fully understands and appreciates the implications of a growing population that includes an elderly population bulge, loose planning controls that allow poor quality design and inappropriate development to proliferate will be under scrutiny.
This is a very good result for the community, and for Devonport. These two images show the before and after mediation plans. This is "before":


The mediation process has resulted in significant design changes to the scale, height and configuration of the proposed buildings on the site. Most significant changes are at the western end of the site (buildings B02,B03 and B04), which results is a generous, sunny, sheltered, largely level internal courtyard and the reorientation of the main care building B01. The Ngataringa Road frontage has also been changed to improve streetscape, but as architects involved have noted, it is still a Ryman Village with its rather dated and clumsy architectural form and style, and the perimeter fence has no openings for pedestrian access to and from the site....


It remains a gated community - this is despite changes internationally and here in New Zealand where retirement communities are a much more integrated part of the urban environment - offering retirement lifestyle choices which are part of the wider community, rather than apart from it.

There is still water to flow under the bridge with this project, and hopefully Rymans will consider carefully what has happened, not least because I understand Rymans have purchased a development site at Hobsonville Point. The Hobsonville Land Development Company will want the best design to compliment what has already been achieved there, and won't support the rough and ready and rather careless approach that Rymans have demonstrated in Devonport.

But they did what they did in Devonport because they could.

As Rea notes in the DPS media release, “... the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed.”

Good planning provides for local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach. This did not happen here, and the responsibility for that rests firmly with Auckland Council. No amount of subsequent urban design sticking plaster will cure the fundamental failures that this episode exposes in Council's systems for handling applications that will result in urban intensification.

Few existing communities have the oversight and protection of something like the Hobsonville Land Development Company to maintain and ensure implementation of a coherent vision and spatial plan and gradual creation of interlinking and complete communities. Foreshadowed Urban Development Authorities could improve the planning situation - but this is unlikely if their main purpose is to accelerate and streamline intensive residential development.

Some might criticise me for too fondly remembering the past. But I rue the day that Devonport lost its local community board, and their role in assessing resource consent applications. Their knowledge of local communities and local geography were regularly applied to improve outcomes and to effectively integrate new buildings and developments into existing environments. That sort of planning work was abolished with amalgamation. But it could be re-introduced. Local Boards could be delegated roles and responsibilities in local planning. At the very least this would provide checks and balances and would re-introduce collaborative approaches to planning, and allow for the expression and influence of local aspirations. Urban designers and urban design panels are no substitute for this planning.

Auckland Council's Unitary Plan provides for intensification. However the absence of planning around implementation which incorporates local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach will, in future, inevitably lead to the construction of more gated and separate urban enclaves in Auckland - because that will be the easy option for developers. And they will be resisted by local communities, just as the Devonport Rymans project has been, putting people through the cost and pain of appealing, mediation and environment court proceedings. There is a better way.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Auckland: Just Another Little Global City?

This is Tiffany's - Auckland.

Since 1940, Tiffany's flagship store has operated at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. The polished granite exterior is well known for its window displays, and the store has been the location for a number of films, including Breakfast at Tiffany's, starring Audrey Hepburn, and Sweet Home Alabama, starring Reese Witherspoon.

In the United Kingdom, Tiffany stores are located in Terminal 5, at London's Heathrow airport (opened at the end of March 2008), in the Westfield London shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush, in Old Bond Street, opposite the entrance to Burlington Gardens, and in Manchester, Selfridges Exchange Square. 

A flagship Irish store was opened in Brown Thomas on Dublin's Grafton Street in October 2008 and is the largest of the company's European outlets. Also in October 2008, Tiffany's opened a store in Madrid, Spain.

In Australia, Tiffany's flagship store is located on Collins Street in Melbourne. Other stores include Chadstone Shopping Centre (Melbourne); Sydney (Castlereagh Street, Westfield Bondi Junction and DFS Galleria on George Street); Brisbane (Queens Plaza); and Perth (King Street).

Last year (October 2016), a Tiffany store opened facing Takutai Square in Britomart, Auckland. I haven't shopped there. Yet. Nobody I know has either. For that matter - apart from "high net worth individuals" - I don't know anybody who shops in the new Chanel shop, or Louis Vuitton, Prada, Christian Dior and Gucci, all located in Auckland's Queen St near the waterfront.

I was in Takutai Square on the Saturday before Anzac Day - on my way to see the Body Laid Bare exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery - especially Rodin's The Kiss (here all the way from the Tate gallery in London). La Cigale food market was in full swing (a french food market - another european idea) and I enjoyed a very fine bacon, hash brown and egg burger. Athletes of all shapes and sizes - and ages - attending The World Masters Games were also enjoying snacks (this is an international event which global cities need to bid for to gain hosting rights).

This is the new downtown Auckland. The new global downtown Auckland. 

When the same idea, though, is as has been applied in many cities of the world, it results in an all too visible homogenization. You could be in any little global city environment. Homogenization becomes visible, first of all, in the concentration of new high-rise, high-status corporate office towers with their iconic corporate logos. These mark each city’s competitive position in a global race for financial investment. To make these sites more attractive to both corporate tenants and affluent local residents, developers combine office space with expensive shops and leisure landscapes - which are not really public anymore - they are designed to attract the affluent, the "high net worth individuals", and visitors from cruise ships or international events which visit with their own branding.

Whether or not Auckland Councillors acknowledge it, the universal effect of redeveloping the city center is to move poor residents and workers far away from it; to block their traditional means of self-support support – be it black-market trade (popular at flea markets), the selling of illegal substances, bartering, informal music and street theatre, and begging. The less affluent are thus deprived of public spaces long crucial to surviving in the margins of urban societies. 

Downtown Auckland is very different today from what it was with a less mechanised port, all sorts of public employment (post office, bus terminus), imports and exports, an Oriental market. All that sort of production - and its workforce - has been moved elsewhere or automated, and its wealth generation replaced by another economy entirely. 

But is it absolutely necessary for Auckland to so slavishly dance to the globalisation tune? 
   
Is the “authentic” character of cities - of Auckland - really only a created fiction spun for the aesthetic tastes of highly educated, mobile consumers of places? Or might it be a set of historical overlays, unexpected encounters, and incompatible materials that create a dense urban patchwork of cultural identities? For Auckland's city dwellers who eke out their existence day by day, such changes in the palette of urban life may expand some opportunities while reducing other opportunities for material survival. They might receive financial compensation for jobs and housing lost, and adapt to new surroundings out in the suburbs. 

Rebuilding the center of Auckland - so far - is producing an instantly recognizable corporate zone with cultural amenities for a discerning “global eye” while gradually ringing the city with densely packed new districts for migrants and those pushed out of the city centre. These include the airport cluster of industrial zones and office parks, the apartment towers on the fringes for those who cannot afford to live in the center, and not forgetting the urban concentrations of Pacific peoples. It is too soon to know whether these places will re-create the local patterns that made the center of Auckland so diverse and lively, or if their scale and design—and the small numbers of small shops and individual traders—will create another kind of homogeneity. Though even these districts are now the targets of an urban regeneration agenda to double the population of Auckland, and increase that number on various global scorecards.

It's not too late to achieve a better balance.... remember this.... RWC 2011....







Just 6 years ago, Auckland hosted an international event and made it its own - for its own - and Aucklanders - including its Pacific Island and Maori population - came to their city centre and enjoyed it. But even then there wasn't enough public space. And since then - piece by piece - chunks of Auckland's public open space has been given over to private development to enable the location of more global brands.

An important question for Auckland Council and councillors. What's the plan? Is there a plan to accommodate a downtown party for Aucklanders in future - the party central envisaged by John Key when he was PM? And don't mention the CBD MasterPlan - which was touted as the implementation plan for the Auckland Spatial Plan. Apparently it has no effect (for chapter and verse revisit the battle to prevent the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square and its conversion into Zara and H and M shops). Not worth the paper its printed on. Who is Auckland's downtown being developed for?

I could go on at length, but need to bring this to a conclusion. A month ago I attended the NZ Planning Institute Conference held in downtown Wellington on its waterfront. The event was spread across several venues - including the TSB Arena and Te Wharewaka o Poneke - Function Centre, Conference Venue. The latter means "waka house" - it's a very particular place for Maori. So is Te Papa - just a bit further along the Wellington waterfront.

There is nothing remotely equivalent in Auckland.

It's time there was.

Or do we only aspire to being just another little global city - just like all the others.

If anyone is remotely interested in a key planning document in the formation of Wellington's waterfront look at The Wellington Waterfront Framework, and read pages 5 and 6 to see who wrote it and how it came about. Then I suggest you might like to read it all. Auckland needs one like it. 

Water Meters and Empty House Statistics

At the New Zealand Planning Institute conference – held in Wellington earlier in April – I was advised by a representative from PIA (Planning Institute of Australia) and a senior planner in New South Wales State Govt, of their data collection policies and systems which help inform the development of housing and urban planning policies.

Data sets relating to metered electricity usage and metered water usage are routinely used to provide statistics relating to unoccupied homes for example. Interesting. Especially if a statistic of of interest is the number of homes in Auckland that are empty, whether that number has increased significantly in the last few years, whether there is any truth in the story that more and more homes are being land-banked and left unoccupied because the main objective in holding the property is capital gain and that rental revenues are foregone and attendant tenancy issues thereby avoided.

Relevant data might be interesting.

Most residential properties in Auckland have water meters, and these meters are routinely read by Watercare staff or agents in order to issue invoices to households relating to volumetric water consumption. Low to zero water use is an indicator of low to zero occupancy of a home (I understand there may be small leaks, or perhaps that timed irrigation systems may still be consuming water).

I'm of the view that relevant data should be available from Watercare. I have asked Watercare for suggestions as to what would be the most meaningful measure of the proportion of Auckland homes, by suburb, over time, that are empty (ie that are consuming little to no water from town supply).

I have asked Watercare:

....please provide a spreadsheet, columns by calendar months for the past 5 years, rows by Auckland suburb, cells containing for the suburb and month the percentage of cumulative actual home meter readings for the 3 months up to and including that month amounting to less than 25 litres/day.

Watercare has responded, helpfully I think, as follows....:
Thank you for your request for information about the number properties within Auckland that are connected to our networks but are using low to zero water.

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide this information due to a number of reasons:

•        Billing system constraints: our billing system is designed to enable monthly billing and has the ability to identify high/low water use as a percentage of normal historical usage for customers. This enables us to alert customers to potential leaks as well as to identify meter issues, water theft, network leaks, etc. Our aim is to identify possible customer impacts or revenue loss. There is no specific focus on identifying low or zero water use.
 •        Shared water meters: there are a number of properties in Auckland that have shared water meters. However, we do not know how many. For example, a small block of units or flats may share one meter.  Similarly, a large residential/commercial apartment block may share one meter and as they have mixed use are classed as a non-domestic customer. This is also true of retirement villages, which have mixed use, but only one meter feeding the whole site.

•        Multiple water meters: there are a number of properties which have multiple meters for various reasons such future development, irrigation and fire sprinkler supply.
 •       Vacant lots: A number of sites across the city have either vacant land or are under construction. Many of these sites have meters installed, with varying volumes of usage depending on the stage or development.
I think Watercare is assisting by suggesting that the request for information be made more specific. 

I would appreciate any suggestions from readers.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Auckland's Dispossessed Generation

This post/essay is really about New Zealand's dispossessed generation - and while the issue is most keenly experienced now in Auckland it is increasingly manifest in New Zealand's other cities.

The dispossessed generation is the millenial generation - the generation of children and families born to the baby-boomer generation - to me and my generation.

We have and are failing to provide for and to protect the urban future of our children and their children. We are dispossessing our children.

We are allowing their urban future to be purchased by the families and the children of entrepreneurs, adventurers, opportunists, explorers and settlers from other countries. We are also allowing our children's urban future to be used and exploited as a financial instrument by investors - including ourselves.

That is our legacy - if current policy settings remain unchanged.

Housing is just the tip of this dispossession iceberg. Available statistics show that first time buyers account for just 17% of Auckland house sales now, while investors account for 43%. Housing demand by new settlers accounts for a further - contested - proportion of house sales.

However it's not just access to housing that this Auckland generation is losing. They are also losing access to a place for their children in Auckland's most popular high decile schools whose rolls and spare desk capacity are being filled by the children of immigrant families who can buy into those suburbs and all of the amenity that goes with it just by investing in a house.

Easy accessibility to all sorts of amenity including education, entertainment, parks, community, heritage, neighbourhood, and employment is what attracts people to urban living - to living in a city. And as a city's population grows so does the city to accommodate the next generation. All of those amenities - many of them public goods - needed and will need public investment to plan, create and maintain. All of those amenities have some sort of design capacity - how many people they can provide for. All of those amenities (social infrastructure) have been built and funded over time - much of it by the baby boomer generation and their parent generation - planning and thinking about their needs and those of their children.

This planning and preparation was for the next generation and has been based on natural population increase - our children and their children. But that's not what is now happening to Auckland whose population is growing at unprecedented levels because of the level of immigration that has been accepted by central government in the last few years.

These sharp increases in resident population have increased the demand for housing and more houses are being built - some in existing areas of urban Auckland (especially apartments) - and some in the greenfield peri-urban edges of Auckland.

Auckland's dispossessed generation are being pushed out to peri-urban areas of Auckland to find rentals and houses they can afford and here is where the challenge of accessibility to amenity really bites. Access to amenity from low price and low rental housing areas is almost always by private motor vehicle because it's too far to walk or bike, and because these homes are the furthest from good public transport. Greater separation or removal from handy amenity costs time and money to gain access.

Not only is this generation being dispossessed of a home they can own, they are being dispossessed of easy accessibility to urban amenity as the roads they must use fill with the additional cars of the rapidly increasing population. This is another part of the dispossession iceberg that Auckland is being made painfully aware of. Those of us within easy reach of good public transport, or within a short walking distance of urban amenity can thank our lucky stars. But it's not going to be the experience of our children unless we can keep them at home.

And this is really the heart of the matter. Do we want to retain urban neighbourhoods and communities? Or are we content to dispossess much of this generation of any tangible material connection with the communities they were born in? Auckland's mature urban communities are being re-settled by a new wave of immigration. This will have effects on urban Auckland culture - some good, some unpredictable.

Good things generally take time though and require thought.

When a city population grows through natural increase - leading to annual increases in population of less than 1% typically (German and Swiss city growth average is less than 0.5%) - there is an inbuilt tendency for the city administrations to provide and plan for its own growth.Growth consequences are accepted by the existing population for their children. But when additional population growth is imposed on a city by forces outside a city's control, and the city is expected to adapt to, and absorb the economic externalities imposed by those new residents - no matter how wealthy they might be and no matter how good their wealth may be for the national economy - that feeling or threat of dispossession will develop among those who consider they built and paid for the city they live in.

With 39% of its citizens born outside New Zealand, Auckland is part of a growing club of cities (including Brisbane and Sydney) which have become popular as the next home for wealthy Asian and Indian families. Federal Government in Australia and Central Government in New Zealand both value the increase in GDP figures that are directly associated with high levels of immigration. Both country's national economies have been affected by vagaries in commodity markets (dairy and minerals) and increased immigration has become the go-to option to plug the gap.

Is this the best we can do? We could be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


Shamubeel Eaqub on NZ's Housing Economy

Shamubeel Eaqub delivered a cogent and informed presentation at an NZPI planning conference plenary session. Hard to do justice to it here- but I've done my best with notes taken at the time - and try to tell his story to the conference. I begin with his summary of the problem:

He was at pains to emphasise that the housing problem NZ now has, has been building for the past 30 years.

This graphic is his version of what has been regularly communicated - the ratio between house price and hosuehold income. 

This is his version of the boomer/millenial generational gap that has opened up in the ability to buy a house. He characterises it as a landed gentry/mortgage slavery divide similar to Victorian times.

One of his main points is the fact that we - as a society - don't want to create housing supply for the "poor" - the bottom half of society. He notes that the number of state houses/1000 head of the population now is back to what it was in 1941.

Another of his concerns is the amount of bank loans now tied up in house mortgages compared to previous periods, and how this is potentially restricting other parts of the economy from expanding - starved of investment capital.

Eaqub also focuses attention on the demand side of the equation. Many commentators have argued that a major driver for demand has been natural population growth - but this data demonstrates that the ntural growth demand has remained reasonably stable since the 1950's, while the demand from migration has sharply increased. 

The economics of rental housing - particularly in Auckland - is highlighted in ths graph. Return on housing investment in Auckland is about 3%, while in the rest of New Zealand it is between 5% and 6% - above the cost of borrowing.  

Eaqub's assessment of the cumulative housing shortage is dramatic - and is based on the rate of house or home construction that occurred post way, up to the period of reform in the mid 1980's.  

His final slides explored what was happening now to the broader economy in NZ - by examining house sales, and the availability of loan capital. The above graph is used to suggest that the peak in the house market has turned.... 

...and that new loans are reducing. This particular indicator was also picked up by Chris Aitken (Hobsonville Land Company).Shamubeel suggests there will be a bust in the construction economy, even though the country desperately needs more homses.

He ended his presentation by suggesting that "planners will be vilified" because they will be exposed as the villains, blamed for pushing new unitary plans enabling intensification ("unilateral plan" - my thought here), and pushing, driving change to enable urban renewal through compliance with new requirements and provisions coming down the line including NPS Urban Development Capacity obligations and duties.