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.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

NZPI Wellington Conference


Has been an interesting week (almost) in Wellington attending the NZ Planning Institute conference along with 600+ delegates and 120 Young Planner delegates (pic above) a full house of  Papa Pounamu delegates and packed conference programme....

The background to the conference included the Cyclone Debbie aftermath, the programme coincided with the passage of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill through Parliament, and included a political forum attended by many members of NZ's Local Govt and Environment Select Ctte (Scott Simpson, David Parker, Eugenie Sage, Denis O'Rourke and Marama Fox). Delegates also had the opportunity of hearing from Murray Sherwin of the Productivity Commission (about its Better Urban Planning report and recommendations - which, btw, appears to be attracting cross party support), and from MBIE and MfE officials on proposed urban development authority legislation; and implementation programmes for the NPS on Urban Development Capacity. Not forgetting excellent keynotes including three that I'll report in this set of postings from Prof David Frame, Shamubeel Eaqub, and Chris Aitken. (btw that's me after a Wgtn haircut and pre conference dinner)

Of these presentations, the phrase that continues to stick oin my mind - especially after reading NZ Herald's lengthy Saturday report about how broken Auckland is - is this - from Chris Aitken's presentation, where he examines what is happening to housing in the western world:

  • The politics of real estate dealing with a world growing to 9 billion people needing shelter and chasing the Western dream 
  • 1.6 billion locked out of home ownership globally 
  • A massive unplanned shift of capital and people to the West from developing Nations is consuming the developed world infrastructure 
  • This change is largely unfunded 

Stare at that for a bit - especially the last two points and think about what is happening to Auckland especially as a wave of wealthy immigration arrives. Over decades Auckland citizens have painfully and painstakingly built up its infrastructure: roads, pipes, schools, hospitals and communities. It's all infrastructure. Auckland - in common with Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Vancouver - are at the heart of what Chris is talking about. Wealthy families from India and China in particular are buying their way into those cities which share in common the extraordinary statistic that over 40% of those city populations were born in other countries. Here in NZ the main economic statistic that measures what is happening to Auckland is the 2-3% GDP growth figure. As others have noted increasingly it's central government that benefits from this population growth. And it's the local populations that are required to live with the consequences as its shared infrastructure gets consumed and filled by people who didn't build it..... 

Prof David Frame on Climate Change


Prof Dave Frame is Director of NZ Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University in Wellington. He was a lead author on the 5th Assessment of the IPCC and is regularly published. He argues that from a mainstream policy perspective, climate change involves the provision of a global public good - a stable climate. He believes that climate modelling can provide inputs of fundamental importance for that task, by giving measures of the scale of the issue, and by highlighting aspects that matter the most. 

His presentation focused on relative variability - that some parts of the world are experiencing much high variability in climate change than others - and that it is this variation which needs attention - that areas where greatest variation are being experienced require the greatest attention.

The reddest areas are those that are experiencing the greatest variation. I'm not including his mathematical slides here - but his method for measuring variation is important. You can see here that the tropics are the reddest - this is despite that fact - as he indicates - that places like Singapore might appear to experience quite low variations in temperature. However when you consider the previous mean and standard deviation of measures for those parts of the world - and consider how much these measures have changed - they are the areas where there has been the greatest variability. Variability being measured by the shift in standard deviations - in some cases which is greater than 3.  

This slide introduced a new climate feature (new for me - despite being a physicist, my knowledge of atmpsopheric physics is woeful). And that is the Hadley Cell.A useful definition of this: a pattern of atmospheric circulation in which warm air rises near the equator, cools as it travels poleward at high altitude, sinks as cold air, and warms as it travels equatorward.... essentially it is a mechanism for the dispersal of heat energy. Air in the tropics gets hot, moves to cooler areas where it dissipates heat.

What I took from what Prof Frame said was that very high variability in tropical climate can be expected to have effects on adjacent areas - sub tropical and temperate areas such as Australia and New Zealand.

He used cyclone Debbie as an example of New Zealand's susceptibility to changes in tropical weather patterns. He argues that mitigation NOW (not just adaptation) will benefit the lives of people alive in the tropics NOW. (This is an important argument because much of the delay or lack of action around mitigation (reducing climate gas emissions) is based on the assumption it will take a very long time to have any effect on the global climate and conditions of life.)

This is an interesting depiction of options that might be open to society (societies) in response to climate change issues. Some actions/pathways will lead to greater future risks, others to greater future resilience.

This was the nub of his policy argument. He uses the Netherlands as an example of a society where most members of the population - accepting that they mostly live below sea-level - will accept taxes or charges that go toward protecting them against coastal innundation from the sea. He compares that with New Zealand - where, with obvious exceptions such as South Dunedin - because most people feel/believe they live sufficiently above sea level that they won't accept any taxes or charges that would only benefit those that are at risk of sea level change.

However, if New Zealanders - a huge number of whom were affected by Debbie, made the connection between that storm damage and the country's climate changing gas emissions, they might be prepared to act together, make some economic changes in their lifestyles, and begin to reverse a pattern of cyclones arising from a sharply varying tropical climate. 

Chris Aitken on Housing


Chris Aitken is CEO of the Hobsonville Land Company - a very successful public private partnership and Auckland peri-urban development project that began life under the leadership of Waitakere City Council and the Helen Clark government. As he tells the conference, "I agreed to come for 6 months and set it up, and I'm still here 6 years later, and my wife and I now live here..." he's also big enough to advise the conference that he stands on the shoulders of those who came before. I well recall the time and effort that Auckland Regional Council put in at the time to the planning for the area, aiming to provide for the development of a mixed use community etc etc....

After beginning with an extraordinary Youtube clip (apis) showing the nitty gritty of how 3-D printing systems are now being used to construct houses (in less than a day - so why should consenting take 3 months...?), Chris wanted to share with conference a pretty wild set of rules that now dictate what we're all doing now. relating to density, millenials and more. Might share those with you at another time. But the heart of his presentation was an examination of what is happening to the housing market and our economy....

Chris - like Shamubeel - is concerned at indicators suggesting an economic bust is round the corner. He wonders here whether that risk is abating...

Again - like Shamubeel - he notes that millenials are being locked out of the housing market in Auckland to an extent never seen before, and notes the volume of transactions that are due to investment activity.

And here is that slide that I quote from elsewhere in this posting. It is interesting that - at the same conference - other speakers were at pains to argue that what is happening in Auckland's housing market IS NOT caused by immigration (no names, no pack-drill). Talking with Chris afterward he emphasises the impact on the market of investing or buying activity at the margin - ie that it is the extra 1% or 2%, that new buying pressure that wasn't there before, that is driving prices.... 

And here is Chris's depiction of what is happening on the immigration front.

Chris wants to see innovation on a massive scale on housing for shelter. He argues that NZ is still building houses like they did in roman times - a stick at a time - and is not taking a "Corolla approach" to housing. We're still building houses that are far too big (like a Camry) when a well designed small house, well built, doesn't matter  if it looks the same as eveyone else's (like I Phones are all the same to look at - but customised inside to suit the personality of the owner). He's big on that. And you'd have to say that even though those homes at Hobsonville might look the same on the outside - they are pretty cool!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Auckland Ferries at Breaking Point

It was a beautiful day in Auckland this morning. Here we are pulling away from Devonport ferry terminal...

...and there were a lot of us in SeaFlyte. Mostly because the scheduled 7:00 am Kea service was abruptly cancelled. This is the main cabin area which was full with about 20 standing at the rear....
...and 20 to 30 crowded into the deck area out the back. Despite the pleas of passengers - worried that the ferry was becoming over-crowded - asking deck hands why they weren't counting passengers onto the boat...
...and upstairs was full of standing passengers too - yes there are some empty seats toward the front - but I've never seen the SeaFlyte so crowded.

First indication to those of us waiting the 7:00 service was an apology over the extremely loud PA system that, "...the 7:00 service is delayed and is running 5 or 10 minutes late..."

I asked the Fullers/AT staff member what was happening and she told me that , "one of the Kea's engines hadn't started...."  but not to worry because another ferry was just arriving.

Sure enough the SeaFlyte was pulling in about 7:05. Most of us thinking it was there to replace the 7:00 service. The SeaFlyte has much less capacity than the Kea, so quickly filled with the waiting passengers. Many became anxious as the ferry waited another 5 or more minutes, and then it became obvious that it was also functioning as the 7:15 service, and was therefore waiting until that time before departing.

In effect two ferry loads of passengers were crammed into the SeaFlyte. Despite the protestations of passengers who had two reasons to complain: the first being that they were late for work (having planned on a 7:00 departure and being forced to accept a 7:15 departure); the second being that their safety appeared to be compromised be being forced to be on board a ferry which must've exceeded its maximum passenger count. This should not have been alloweed to happen.

Adding insult to injury, about halfway across the harbour we passed the Kea going the other way, ready to pick up the 7:30 commuters. Did it really have engine trouble prior to the 7:00 scheduled service?

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.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

NZPI Wellington Conference


Has been an interesting week (almost) in Wellington attending the NZ Planning Institute conference along with 600+ delegates and 120 Young Planner delegates (pic above) a full house of  Papa Pounamu delegates and packed conference programme....

The background to the conference included the Cyclone Debbie aftermath, the programme coincided with the passage of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill through Parliament, and included a political forum attended by many members of NZ's Local Govt and Environment Select Ctte (Scott Simpson, David Parker, Eugenie Sage, Denis O'Rourke and Marama Fox). Delegates also had the opportunity of hearing from Murray Sherwin of the Productivity Commission (about its Better Urban Planning report and recommendations - which, btw, appears to be attracting cross party support), and from MBIE and MfE officials on proposed urban development authority legislation; and implementation programmes for the NPS on Urban Development Capacity. Not forgetting excellent keynotes including three that I'll report in this set of postings from Prof David Frame, Shamubeel Eaqub, and Chris Aitken. (btw that's me after a Wgtn haircut and pre conference dinner)

Of these presentations, the phrase that continues to stick oin my mind - especially after reading NZ Herald's lengthy Saturday report about how broken Auckland is - is this - from Chris Aitken's presentation, where he examines what is happening to housing in the western world:

  • The politics of real estate dealing with a world growing to 9 billion people needing shelter and chasing the Western dream 
  • 1.6 billion locked out of home ownership globally 
  • A massive unplanned shift of capital and people to the West from developing Nations is consuming the developed world infrastructure 
  • This change is largely unfunded 

Stare at that for a bit - especially the last two points and think about what is happening to Auckland especially as a wave of wealthy immigration arrives. Over decades Auckland citizens have painfully and painstakingly built up its infrastructure: roads, pipes, schools, hospitals and communities. It's all infrastructure. Auckland - in common with Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Vancouver - are at the heart of what Chris is talking about. Wealthy families from India and China in particular are buying their way into those cities which share in common the extraordinary statistic that over 40% of those city populations were born in other countries. Here in NZ the main economic statistic that measures what is happening to Auckland is the 2-3% GDP growth figure. As others have noted increasingly it's central government that benefits from this population growth. And it's the local populations that are required to live with the consequences as its shared infrastructure gets consumed and filled by people who didn't build it..... 

Prof David Frame on Climate Change


Prof Dave Frame is Director of NZ Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University in Wellington. He was a lead author on the 5th Assessment of the IPCC and is regularly published. He argues that from a mainstream policy perspective, climate change involves the provision of a global public good - a stable climate. He believes that climate modelling can provide inputs of fundamental importance for that task, by giving measures of the scale of the issue, and by highlighting aspects that matter the most. 

His presentation focused on relative variability - that some parts of the world are experiencing much high variability in climate change than others - and that it is this variation which needs attention - that areas where greatest variation are being experienced require the greatest attention.

The reddest areas are those that are experiencing the greatest variation. I'm not including his mathematical slides here - but his method for measuring variation is important. You can see here that the tropics are the reddest - this is despite that fact - as he indicates - that places like Singapore might appear to experience quite low variations in temperature. However when you consider the previous mean and standard deviation of measures for those parts of the world - and consider how much these measures have changed - they are the areas where there has been the greatest variability. Variability being measured by the shift in standard deviations - in some cases which is greater than 3.  

This slide introduced a new climate feature (new for me - despite being a physicist, my knowledge of atmpsopheric physics is woeful). And that is the Hadley Cell.A useful definition of this: a pattern of atmospheric circulation in which warm air rises near the equator, cools as it travels poleward at high altitude, sinks as cold air, and warms as it travels equatorward.... essentially it is a mechanism for the dispersal of heat energy. Air in the tropics gets hot, moves to cooler areas where it dissipates heat.

What I took from what Prof Frame said was that very high variability in tropical climate can be expected to have effects on adjacent areas - sub tropical and temperate areas such as Australia and New Zealand.

He used cyclone Debbie as an example of New Zealand's susceptibility to changes in tropical weather patterns. He argues that mitigation NOW (not just adaptation) will benefit the lives of people alive in the tropics NOW. (This is an important argument because much of the delay or lack of action around mitigation (reducing climate gas emissions) is based on the assumption it will take a very long time to have any effect on the global climate and conditions of life.)

This is an interesting depiction of options that might be open to society (societies) in response to climate change issues. Some actions/pathways will lead to greater future risks, others to greater future resilience.

This was the nub of his policy argument. He uses the Netherlands as an example of a society where most members of the population - accepting that they mostly live below sea-level - will accept taxes or charges that go toward protecting them against coastal innundation from the sea. He compares that with New Zealand - where, with obvious exceptions such as South Dunedin - because most people feel/believe they live sufficiently above sea level that they won't accept any taxes or charges that would only benefit those that are at risk of sea level change.

However, if New Zealanders - a huge number of whom were affected by Debbie, made the connection between that storm damage and the country's climate changing gas emissions, they might be prepared to act together, make some economic changes in their lifestyles, and begin to reverse a pattern of cyclones arising from a sharply varying tropical climate. 

Chris Aitken on Housing


Chris Aitken is CEO of the Hobsonville Land Company - a very successful public private partnership and Auckland peri-urban development project that began life under the leadership of Waitakere City Council and the Helen Clark government. As he tells the conference, "I agreed to come for 6 months and set it up, and I'm still here 6 years later, and my wife and I now live here..." he's also big enough to advise the conference that he stands on the shoulders of those who came before. I well recall the time and effort that Auckland Regional Council put in at the time to the planning for the area, aiming to provide for the development of a mixed use community etc etc....

After beginning with an extraordinary Youtube clip (apis) showing the nitty gritty of how 3-D printing systems are now being used to construct houses (in less than a day - so why should consenting take 3 months...?), Chris wanted to share with conference a pretty wild set of rules that now dictate what we're all doing now. relating to density, millenials and more. Might share those with you at another time. But the heart of his presentation was an examination of what is happening to the housing market and our economy....

Chris - like Shamubeel - is concerned at indicators suggesting an economic bust is round the corner. He wonders here whether that risk is abating...

Again - like Shamubeel - he notes that millenials are being locked out of the housing market in Auckland to an extent never seen before, and notes the volume of transactions that are due to investment activity.

And here is that slide that I quote from elsewhere in this posting. It is interesting that - at the same conference - other speakers were at pains to argue that what is happening in Auckland's housing market IS NOT caused by immigration (no names, no pack-drill). Talking with Chris afterward he emphasises the impact on the market of investing or buying activity at the margin - ie that it is the extra 1% or 2%, that new buying pressure that wasn't there before, that is driving prices.... 

And here is Chris's depiction of what is happening on the immigration front.

Chris wants to see innovation on a massive scale on housing for shelter. He argues that NZ is still building houses like they did in roman times - a stick at a time - and is not taking a "Corolla approach" to housing. We're still building houses that are far too big (like a Camry) when a well designed small house, well built, doesn't matter  if it looks the same as eveyone else's (like I Phones are all the same to look at - but customised inside to suit the personality of the owner). He's big on that. And you'd have to say that even though those homes at Hobsonville might look the same on the outside - they are pretty cool!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Auckland Ferries at Breaking Point

It was a beautiful day in Auckland this morning. Here we are pulling away from Devonport ferry terminal...

...and there were a lot of us in SeaFlyte. Mostly because the scheduled 7:00 am Kea service was abruptly cancelled. This is the main cabin area which was full with about 20 standing at the rear....
...and 20 to 30 crowded into the deck area out the back. Despite the pleas of passengers - worried that the ferry was becoming over-crowded - asking deck hands why they weren't counting passengers onto the boat...
...and upstairs was full of standing passengers too - yes there are some empty seats toward the front - but I've never seen the SeaFlyte so crowded.

First indication to those of us waiting the 7:00 service was an apology over the extremely loud PA system that, "...the 7:00 service is delayed and is running 5 or 10 minutes late..."

I asked the Fullers/AT staff member what was happening and she told me that , "one of the Kea's engines hadn't started...."  but not to worry because another ferry was just arriving.

Sure enough the SeaFlyte was pulling in about 7:05. Most of us thinking it was there to replace the 7:00 service. The SeaFlyte has much less capacity than the Kea, so quickly filled with the waiting passengers. Many became anxious as the ferry waited another 5 or more minutes, and then it became obvious that it was also functioning as the 7:15 service, and was therefore waiting until that time before departing.

In effect two ferry loads of passengers were crammed into the SeaFlyte. Despite the protestations of passengers who had two reasons to complain: the first being that they were late for work (having planned on a 7:00 departure and being forced to accept a 7:15 departure); the second being that their safety appeared to be compromised be being forced to be on board a ferry which must've exceeded its maximum passenger count. This should not have been alloweed to happen.

Adding insult to injury, about halfway across the harbour we passed the Kea going the other way, ready to pick up the 7:30 commuters. Did it really have engine trouble prior to the 7:00 scheduled service?