Thursday, December 24, 2015

Heritage Restoration's Hollow Ring

Devonport's Masonic Lodge. The site of much heritage angst and district scheme heritage protection controversy over plans to redevelop the historic site into luxury apartments.


Here's the development site today. Shrouded in plastic - if not in secrecy.


But wait, there's a hole in the plastic Dear Liza, Dear Liza, a hole. So I sent my little camera up for a look-see...


A void. Avoid. You can't help wondering about a heritage and historic conservation policy that allows, and does not abhor, such a vacuum. Devonport residents calmly walk past. The community runs its tongue over the teeth in its street and finds it all good. No gaps. A convenient plastic cap popped over the cavity so it all somehow feels normal. Can pretend nothing has really changed. And when the shroud is removed, the building revealed will be better than what was there, in the bone of the street, a crown no less. A gleaming shiny crown. To confirm that feeling, reinforce it. Life is good. Continues as before. All change, but no change. Not a scrap of what was there exists inside the hollow. Like a funeral without the pyre.    


There's talk of the fad of facadism in heritage - keep the facade - but remove everything behind it. But there's not even a facade here. A comment on society and what keeps us all sane and in a straight line.

A metaphor of urban neoliberalism maybe. All form and no content. All GDP and no civilisation. All economic activity for today and no long term memories of yesterday. Maybe that's what they really mean when thy speak of the post-political. But then, if that was true, no-one would've spoken out about what would be lost and what the effect would be on community with the changes to the Masonic. It's not just a building. It was a way of life. Public pubs and clubs are as much at the heart of community and civic life as are public parks and squares. And while their very existence is under threat because they are regarded as private development opportunities and because many institutions now prioritise that activity, it won't always be that way. Because people are naturally communal and have adapted over millenia to function best for the common good together. You might take the public out of the urban, but you can't take the public out of the people.


Mangawhai loses in Court of Appeal

Well I guess it's Christmas and not everything that comes in the stocking is the present we were expecting. On the 17th December 2015 Harrison, Miller and Cooper JJ delivered their decision on the various matters that had been put in front of them by the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents Association (MRRA) relating to the PPP EcoCare wastewater scheme.

The decision is lengthy - 69 pages - and very detailed. Much of it concentrates on Bill of Rights Act matters. Justice Miller prepared the main decision. In their follow up decisions, Cooper and Harrison generally agree with Miller's findings and decision, though their reasons are not all the same.

My summary here of the decision should not be taken as gospel, but the guts, as I see it from a couple of readings are essentially these:

  • when Parliament enacted the Local Government Act with the late addition of Protected Transactions provisions, it was to deliver the option of lower cost loans to Councils. The interest rates charged would be lower essentially in exchange for ratepayers having limited powers to challenge loans taken by their council, and therefore banks would be subject to fewer risks and costs.
  • while residents had rights to challenge these loans through judicial review, Parliament always had the power to validate loans and loan processes later, and it had the power to do that despite Bill of Rights Act provisions which grant the right of judicial review - but those rights extend to process only (council compliance with the local government act duties to consult for example), and not substantive matters (ie the loan still has to be paid).
  • Mangawhai ratepayers and residents got all the vindication they were ever going to get from the findings in the High Court judicial review that Kaipara District Council had acted against the law in whole variety of ways. There is the hint of a suggestion that MRRA might have gone further in getting its pound of flesh from the perpetrators. And there is an impression that perhaps MRRA should have pursued the Office of the Auditor General for its failings - but then the Auditor General got a prize this year didn't she - for a job well done.
  • while there were process illegalities associated with the loan, which were validated by Parliament, Parliament always intended that ratepayers should still pay for those debts, and not the taxpayer.

There were some complexities in the decision relating to the fact that MRRA' membership did not include all Mangawhai ratepayers - which raised questions about precisely which persons would materially benefit from a favourable CoA finding - and an order for costs against MRRA, I believe the above pretty much sums up the decision of Miller, and likely concludes an unfortunate example of poor local governance compounded by failures in the Audit Office and the Office of the Auditor General.

Miller has cited speeches from Hansard given by Phil Twyford (for Labour) and Eugenie Sage (for the Greens) in respect to an effort by Andrew Williams (for NZ First), to explicitly exclude from the Validation Bill, provisions in respect to the outstanding debt. William's efforts did not attract the support needed in Parliament, suggesting - without really nailing it - that Parliament always intended that ratepayers would have to carry the can for their council's decisions - and that nobody else would. That is one interpretation of what Parliament did. I don't think Parliament - in respect of individual MPs - explicitly accepted that what they were doing with the validation bill was washing their hands of every aspect of this institutional failure.

I wrote some time ago about the law being an ass in respect of what happened at Mangawhai. Unsure now.

Expert, Social engineer, Critical Expert or Smuggler?

AESOP's BEST PUBLISHED PAPER AWARD 2015 goes to Mee Kam Ng for the paper: Intellectuals and the Production of Space in the Urban Renewal Process in Hong Kong and Taipei published in Planning Theory and Practice, 2014, 15(1) 77-92.

I came across it last week while I was doing a bit of research.

The abstract grabbed my attention:

Through two concrete urban renewal cases in Asia, this paper develops a schema of “social engineers-smugglers-experts-critical experts” to differentiate the roles of system-maintaining and system-transforming intellectuals in the production of space. While pro-establishment “social engineers” and “experts” use their “epistemic authority” to produce top-down renewal plans to promote exchange values, “critical experts” outside the government and “smugglers” within the bureaucracy play significant roles in “de-coding” the use values of people’s lived spaces. The cases highlight the important roles of system-transforming intellectuals in reproblematizing urban renewal issues and experimenting with alternative policies and plans to restructure space that sustains community building.

A bit of a mouthful - but it's Christmas, it's tasty, chew well. You can always spit it out. But you might just swallow it. Another extract:

The two case studies to be discussed in this paper highlight the roles of “intellectuals” in the course of spatial restructuring in the two cities. In Taipei, if it were not for the advocacy of students and professors from the National Taiwan University (NTU), the Organization of Urban Res (OURs) (a civil society organization), and the “progressive bureaucrats” in the newly established Cultural Affairs Bureau (CAB), the squatter settlements in Treasure Hill would have been demolished to make way for a park. Similarly in Hong Kong, were it not for the educated social activists and “artivists” in the community and “enlightened” individuals within the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), the 150-year old market streets in Graham and Peel Street would have disappeared with the redevelopment of the surrounding buildings. This paper aims to examine the roles of these “intellectuals” in the production of space in these two cases.

The author presents this straight-forward tabulation:



Here is an extract from the conclusion:
The two stories accentuate the importance of the system-transforming intellectuals in exercising their conscience and capacity to utilize and synthesize personified knowledge. In both cases, the local communities did not really object to the government-led abstract plans. Hence, the intellectuals could easily side with those in power, rationalizing their decisions to erase the two communities. However, the system-transforming “critical experts” in both cities, following the time-honoured tradition of Chinese intellectuals, chose to speak truth to their counterparts in the established system to conserve something that they believed to be important for the future of the two cities. These “critical experts” are of crucial importance in highlighting the essence and meaning of the two settlements, allowing their lived spaces to be appreciated by the wider community and hence succeeding in “re-problematizing” and “re-writing” the storylines. Coupled with “smugglers” within the bureaucracy, different cityscapes were produced. 
However, there is no place for complacency in the two cases. Whether the Graham and Peel Street Market in Hong Kong will survive the phased redevelopment is still unknown and, in the face of competition with global cities, especially those on the China mainland, neo-liberalism has overtaken idealism as one of the main policy concerns in Taipei (Huang and Hsu, 2011). Nevertheless, the two stories appeal to “intellectuals” especially those in Asia, emphasizing the importance of their continuous vigilance in counteracting renewal plans made in the thick of neoliberal rhetoric to promote economic growth and city competitiveness. This can be done through thorough understanding, analysing and documenting the use values of people’s lived spaces and reviewing the inadequacies of top-down plans made by “social engineers” – so that, given the opportunities and the inside activism of “smugglers”, alternative renewal plans and processes can be formulated, experimented with and revised continuously, to speak to the daily needs of local communities – creating soul-nourishing spaces and urban forms.
Because it has won the AESOP award the paper has been made publicly available.
You can download it here. What sort of intellectual are you in the work that you do?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Better Auckland Pedestrian Comfort Assessment

In the quote below, (from a best practice report prepared recently for Melbourne) imagine that "Auckland" is substituted in place of "Melbourne" in this text:
In the light of urban growth, Melbourne needs to address the rising numbers of pedestrians in the central city. Walking is the main mode of transport (86%, figure 12, p. 10) and tram stops, pedestrian crossings and sidewalks get increasingly crowded at peak hours. The principal aim of the new pedestrian strategy, conducted by City of Melbourne’s strategic transport planners, is to get people to walk more by providing a suitable urban environment to walk in – a street network capable of facilitating current as well as future levels of pedestrians. This research looks at pedestrian crowding, and how it is measured and analysed in cities around the world. It reviews two specific tools, pedestrian level of service (LOS) and pedestrian trip generation. It studies London, New York and Copenhagen in more detail, and the work and experience of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.  
It commences a discussion of how these methodologies are relevant to Melbourne and whether they are applicable and/or can form inspiration in the development of Melbourne’s pedestrian analysis. The study has found that although many cities work to improve pedestrian conditions, there is no generally adopted methodology or standard for pedestrian LOS or trip generation. Pedestrian trip generation calculations are novel and relatively unexplored....  
A majority of cities analysing pedestrian LOS use the Fruin scale from the 1970s. This method analyses quantitatively the number of people walking in a street, but ignores several important factors relating to walkability. Gehl Architects has led the way in elaborating a different and more comprehensive methodology, based on over 30 years experience. They have identified a general street crowding capacity of 13 people per meter per minute, a figure applied by London in their Pedestrian Comfort Level (PCL) assessments. The London framework combines Fruin’s crowding scale with Gehl’s experiences and sets up a comprehensive implementation guide based on area types, street features and pedestrian counts. PCL is calculated for both sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. Melbourne could implement this framework directly, if more and better counting sensors are installed, data collected from the relevant sites and area types analysed in terms of crowding acceptance.....
I've already posted information here and here about what Dr John Fruin has to say in the 1970's about the safe capacity of a pedestrian corridor or laneway. This is a summary of Gehl's more recent findings:

Gehl Architects have assessed walkability in cities all around the world, including Melbourne. Gehl defines crowding as more than 13 people per minute per meter footway width. This is based on long experience. The Architecture School in Copenhagen collected data in public spaces in Copenhagen between 1968 and 1996. They found through this research that the main pedestrian street, Stroget, in Copenhagen reached its capacity at 13 people per meter per minute. Once this level of activity was reached, pedestrians started to move along parallel streets to avoid congestion. 
Recommended pedestrian capacity:
13 person/minute/meter footway width x available footway width = no. of pedestrians/minute 
Henritte Vamberg at Gehl Architects says: ‘The comfort level drops the more pedestrians you have. The above parameter is looking at when pedestrians start walking in “lines”, when you get crushed, when you can’t maneuver a wheelchair through etc.’. What is different with this methodology is that it is based on levels of quality and comfort rather than quantity – conventional LOS methods (mentioned by Fruin) deal only with how many people a street can carry (Gehl Architects, 2004, p. 34).

Using the Gehl walkability metric for a 5 metre wide laneway:  13 x 5 x 60 = 3,900 pedestrians/hour.

This is a conservative - perhaps Scandanavian - approach. The Pedestrian Guidance Manual for London takes Gehl and Fruin and observations to produce a set of guidelines related to Pedestrian Comfort Levels in London. It contains two useful graphics, and ppmm (pedestrian per metre width per minute) advice, which are applicable to office, retail and mass transit pathways.....



Taking the "D" Pedestrian Comfort Level established by London Transport (assume 30 people/clear pathway width metre/minute), and applying it to the proposed downtown laneway, what carrying capacity does a 5 metre pathway have - at this "Very Uncomfortable" service level?

Carrying capacity = 30 x 5 x 60 = 9,000 people/hour

Which is less than the 10,000 average capacity claimed by Auckland Council, and much less than the peak capacity claimed in evidence to hearing commissioners of 16,000 people/hour, and makes a mockery of the 24,000 people/hour claimed by Auckland Council in further information provided to commissioners.

The London advice provides a useful tabulation of pedestrian comfort levels for different types of pedestrian environments, including mass transit pathways. This relates to the A to E comfort level carrying capacities tabulated above.



You can see there that London Transport's advice is that a service level of C+ to C is deemed "acceptable" and that planning for higher throughput means that pedestrian comfort is assessed as "at risk".

Using the "C" grade of personal comfort, gives the carrying capacity of a 5 metre wide laneway as:

23 x 5 x 60 = 6,900 pedestrians/hour

If Auckland wants to build toward its claim as "most liveable city", surely it is about time it adopted pedestrian comfort standards that are recommended in other great cities.


Gehl Architects, 2004, ‘Towards a Fine City for People – Public Spaces and Public Life – London 2004’, DM 7460245

Friday, November 27, 2015

Auckland's Failing Climate of Democracy

There are all sorts of definitions of democracy. For example, "the ​belief in ​freedom and ​equality between ​people, or a ​system of ​government ​based on this ​belief, in which ​power is either ​held by ​elected ​representatives or ​directly by the ​people themselves..."
Many definitions suggest that a characteristic of democracy is: "freedom of speech and press...."

Twenty or more years ago, before debates about climate change had overtaken discussions about democracy, much of the discussion about what democracy was and how it manifest at local level, concentrated on the idea of the climate of democracy. Which is a way of thinking about the civic culture that exists in a community - how it develops and what fosters it - so that the community is predisposed toward, or educated to accept and expect, democratic processes and political activities in public life. This idea is that democracy cannot be imposed by laws or treated as a social add-on. That it is built into society and its institutions and becomes a conscious and maintained state of mind of the people.

Some western democracies build it into the school curriculum, so that students leave school with a grounding in civics and an understanding of politics and that it is normal for people to hold different values from each other requiring processes, negotiation and understanding to reach jointly agreed decisions.

I accept that not everybody wants to involve themselves in public minded activities and processes. Life's too short, they might say, and prefer to concentrate on their own individual pursuits and objectives. It has always been thus. But I think we have seen a number of structural changes in Auckland that are causing its climate of democracy to fail putting at risk its ability to act for the common good, in the public interest, whatever that might be.

When I was first in local government - councillor on North Shore City Council, board member on Devonport Community Board - I gradually came to understand how local democracy functioned here, and the role it performed in maintaining the local climate of democracy. Most meetings were attended by reporters from the North Shore Times Advertiser (NSTA). Local issues were extensively reported. Councillors were named and shamed. I remember how anxious councillors would become on NSTA publication days. They wanted to see how they'd been quoted, what angle the reporters had taken. And these newspapers were very widely read, but often not by the section of the community busy with their own lives and objectives. The impression I gained was that the avid readers of the NSTA were the ones who voted in the local elections at least, and were often the "go to" people in the community for others wanted some guidance on who to vote for.

School projects focused on local issues that became hot topics: sewage on beaches, cycle lanes, public transport, recycling, water demand statistics. Students would phone councillors. Take clippings from the NSTA. Debate the issues with their parents. All of these activities fostered what I'll call North Shore's climate of democracy.

And this is what we are losing. Local government amalgamation, centralisation and corporatisation has pretty well gutted local communities of the nucleus of local democracy. The same issues exist, but without that institutional focus, local communities are disempowered and their ability to make a difference reduced. The NSTA still exists but its utility is diminished by the loss of local government purpose. Many resort to individualism which is understandeable, but given we are a species that has adapted to working successfully in groups, we are unlikely to be as successful as we could be working more collectively on shared problems.

It is interesting to reflect that free speech and a free press is seen by many as an essential component of a thriving democracy. It is OK to walk down to your front gate and voice your concern for all to hear who open their front doors to listen. Previously you could go to community forums and vent your spleen, get a few nods of agreement, and if there was merit maybe even lead a change. Increasingly individuals resort to facebook (or even a blog) to express themselves.

Which brings me to the role of a free press in a democracy. Newspapers of record - that reported most of the important decisions or issues of the day - form an essential part of the body politic of a local democracy. Reports, opinions, think-pieces, investigative journalism, letters. All of these components would be contained within those pages. Not friends sharing with like-minded friends, but a diversity of views and ideas and stories and articles. It is the range and breadth that we will lose in Auckland as NZ Herald quietly divests itself of writers and reporters, and as the pages of the newspaper shrink in content and devolve into an expanded stuff.co.nz.

That's why I think Auckland's climate of democracy is failing. And it will need to improve to develop the sort of conscious and engaged communities that will be a pre-requisite to an educated, engaged and organised response to atmospheric climate change on the one hand, and to changes in urban form on the other.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Another Council Consent Processing Error

Is Council's policy of non-notification leading to future budget blow-outs at best, or future bus commuter health and safety hazards at worst...?

There's been a couple of recent hearings relating to the Precinct Properties and Auckland Council PPP in downtown Auckland (The one with the new tower, proposed partial Queen Elizabeth Square sale, CRL enabling works, and shifting a bus terminal from Lower Queen Street to Lower Albert Street). The first was a hearing of objections to Auckland Transport's proposal to "stop" the road status of the part of the Queen Elizabeth Square proposed for sale, and the second was Precinct Properties private plan change 79 to change the zoning of the part of the Queen Elizabeth Square proposed for sale from public open space to zoning more conducive to private development. The latter hearing was covered by Bob Dey here, here and here.

One of the issues many submitters raised at the hearing related to laneway width proposals worked out and modelled by Precinct Properties working with Auckland Transport. I posted about this issue here. This demonstrates that using Fruin's formulae (Fruin is the acknowledged expert) and his approach to modelling commuter pedestrian flows in corridors, that to safely move an average of 10,000 people per hour, the corridor needs to be between 8.3 and 8.9 metres wide, when the corridor is lined with shops.

This is Precinct's architectural rendering of the proposed east west laneway - a narrow 6 metres wide and connecting Lower Queen Street with Lower Albert Street. The section of the laneway (proposed to be available 7/24) from Lower Albert Street to the current western edge of Queen Elizabeth Square is about 60 metres long. It is intersected with a small dog leg lane running north to south (which is not 7/24), and, as the image shows, is lined with various retail outlets.

What I have discovered since the hearing is that Auckland Transport must have been using the same Fruin formulae when it did the modelling with Precinct Properties, but it came up with a figure of 6.5 metres based on a "conservative" flow rate peaking at 16,000/hour. Interestingly, Fruin suggests that an average of 10,000 per hour would include a peak flow, which he suggests would mean that 40% of the 10,000 might go through the corridor in just 15 minutes. For those of you mathematically minded, this means you have to do a sum where you divide 0.4 by 0.25 (40% of the pax in a a quarter of the time), giving a multiplier of 1.6. This ratio, x 10,000, gives 16,000, the "conservative" rate. But in this case Fruin carefully distinguishes between moving pedestrians through a corridor without colonnades, shop fronts, and side entry-ways - from a corridor (or laneway) that is lined with shop fronts etc.

I believe that Precinct Properties have been mis-advised by Auckland Transport. The proposed 5 metre wide (or 6.5 metre wide - with 0.75 metres on either side of a "free" 5 metre wide passageway), will not be wide enough to safely allow the passage of 10,000 pedestrians per hour through its shop-lined laneway (which is really just an arcade - laneways are quaint, open to the sky, cobbled, crooked....).

Which raises several interesting questions.

The Plan Change 79 hearing ONLY relates to the bit of laneway that would be built through the part of Queen Elizabeth Square that is proposed for sale. A section about 40 metres long. The other section, the 60 metre section, has ALREADY been consented in June this year. At that time a non-notified consent was granted for this 60 metre section of 5 metre / 6.5 metre laneway. Which, as I've explained, according to the experts, will not safely allow the passage of 10,000 pedestrians per hour.

I surmise that because the June hearing was non-notified, and because there were no submissions about the laneway, then the particular matter of corridor width was not an issue for the commissioner considering the application. I am not aware of what evidence or information was available to the commissioner at that hearing supporting the application for a 5 metre/6.5 metre wide mass transit access corridor. What can you do with a permit that allows a public pedestrian hazard to be constructed?

One of the reasons officers would have used to justify non-notification of Precinct's June application would have been that it was largely based on the previous consent obtained by Westfield for the tower and mall redevelopment (which is examined here and here), and which was purchased by Precinct Properties when it purchased Westfield's interests in the downtown site.

However the situation and context had changed from when Westfield obtained its permits because more detailed information existed related to proposals to shift the entire Lower Queen Street bus terminal into Lower Albert Street. This information better quantified the impact or requirement of the proposed laneway serving as a critical link in Auckland's CBD passenger transport terminus and interchange. However it seems to have had no impact or effect on the laneway plan. Which is now consented. What a cockup.

This awkward and poorly planned situation closely resembles, and was influenced by, what happened when Westfield applied for consent for its tower and mall redevelopment in the first place. At the time ARTA (Auckland's then Passenger Transport Planning Agency), raised concerns that the basement parking and foundations of the proposed tower would interfere with the proposed Central Rail Link tunnel. However Auckland City Council ruled that ARTA had no standing because it could not designate the route. ARTA was not even able to make formal submissions relating to proposals to put bus interchange facilities in Lower Albert Street. Auckland City Council proceeded with the application on a non-notified basis.

This has subsequently meant that Auckland Council was forced to pay through the nose compensating Precinct when it finally got round to designating the CRL route. It also meant, because ARTA was not able to be properly involved, that the matter of the safe laneway width was not dealt with at that time either.

Looks like the CRL compensation history might repeat. This time, because Precinct Properties has been permitted to build a narrow and unsafe laneway, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport will have to figure out and pay for an alternative that allows public transport passengers to interchange modes and to directly access their destinations. Or maybe they'll just do nothing. Auckland CBD public transport passengers will have to put up with poor planning and figure out alternative, safer and less congested routes. Or maybe they'll just close the laneway if it looks like too many people are using public transport.

And by the way, the 10,000/hour commuter pedestrian flow figure is not a lot different from today's patronage data. Shouldn't we be planning public accessway infrastructure capacity that will meet the needs of a growing city population, with an increasing public transport mode share?

And all because significant applications are not being publicly notified.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Understanding PPPs: NY Workshop on Public Space


I write this brief report in New York. I was invited to attend this International Workshop because of my university research on public space planning on Auckland and Wellington waterfront land. The workshop was attended by academic and expert geographers, anthropologists and urban planners from France, Austria, USA and New Zealand (moi).

Title: Understanding Public Private Partnerships: governance, urban development and spatial justice. Held at City University of New York at the CIRHUS - Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, sponsored by CUNY-CPCP and Metropolitics/Métropolitiques.

The intro to the workshop reads: "As cities have adopted the entrepreneurial turn (Harvey, 1989), many urban interventions initiated or encouraged by public authorities rely on the financial capacity and the know-how of both for-profit and not-for-profit private interests to (re)develop land. Presentations will examine public-private partnerships that contribute to the development of ostensibly public space, the creation of urban amenities as well as the formulation of urban design aesthetics and production of architectural quality..."

Professor Elliott Sclar was the discussant. The morning was allocated to a series of 15 minute presentations (very tightly managed!), then discussion. After lunch a smaller group concentrated on the mechanics of producing a journal issue on the workshop. The presentations were attended by a much wider group of academics and practitioners.

I won't go into detail here, but just a few highlights. Phil Berge-Liberman from University of Connecticut kicked off talking about "Conservancy Park" planning where private investment in parks maintenance and development increasingly gives the investors the right to determine "proper use" of the park, and to introduce ideas like "the landscape has rights too". He described in detail the amount of private money that now goes into New York's Central Park - with ideas like "adopt a tree" and suchlike to the extent that investment now shapes the way it is used. Large "political" gatherings are much less likely. Many behaviours are prohibited. He produced statistics that showed in 2009 the park added $17.7 billion in value to properties adjacent to the park. One throw away line he used, "the difference between parks in working class neighbourhoods and wealthy ones, is that the first are brown - because they are used so much for football and basketball, and the others have much greater tree canopy and green - because they are hardly used at all by comparison.

Yvonne Franz from Austrian Academy of Sciences spoke about residential PPPs in Vienna, what she described as "social democratic city", operating in compliance with the "EU Stability and Growth Pact" - which she didn't really explain, but sounds similar to what's happening in NZ, where Central Government imposes its growth targets on Auckland Council and Auckland. Apparently Vienna (which is not a big city) is building 8,000 to 10,000 new apartments per year. Her concern was the fact that private investor is not interested in schools or kindergartens. She described it as "single project thinking". Lack of integrated planning. She described "under-utilized open space semi-private park spaces". Her concern was that this results in "limited sharing practices", and for connecting. Her work suggests there needs to be thinking and design about "interaction between generations" - to "create social mixing amongst new and existing residents". What also struck me about Yvonne's talk was that the carrot of "affordable housing" is used to get political and public sign-off of PPP residential projects, but there is little effort put into ensuring those numbers get delivered and are protected. (Invokes in me the thought of how often in Auckland the carrot on the waterfront is public space - and how frequently it is either not delivered, or that it is taken away and privatised).

I compared public space outcomes at Auckland and Wellington - under the same statutory environment, yet so very different in quality - and provided an analysis of the reasons for those differences. And finished with an account of what is happening now in downtown Auckland. The risk that public space will be appropriated in the interests of the deal that has been reached between Auckland Council and Precinct Properties unless third sector groups like Auckland Architecture Association, Civic Trust and Urban Auckland intervene in the public interest. This sparked response from visitors. Sclar suggested their action might be subversive. Another commented, "same as here, can't see daylight between the interests of municipalities and developers. Calls into question what you call public..."

You get the picture. I was among fellow travellers. Other interesting presentations followed. Lots of ideas shared. Will share more in the blog later.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Precinct's Downtown Laneway: How Wide?

This posting is about the laneway proposed in Precinct's plans for redevelopment of the Auckland Downtown block bounded by Lower Queen Street, Quay Street, Lower Albert Street and Custom Street West. The picture below shows a rough plan of this laneway.....


The laneway I want to discuss here, is the one connecting Lower Albert Street through the development to Lower Queen Street. The laneway will be about 100 metres long if the whole of Queen Square (shaded in green) is sold for development, and about 60 metres long if Queen Square stays in public ownership as public space. (The other proposed laneway, running north-south, is more of a dog leg than shown here, as it has to side-step the HSBC building to get to Quay Street.)

In June this year, Precinct obtained resource consent for a development on the site that does not use Queen Square. This consent was non-notified. It includes consent for the 60 metre section of laneway. The question I want to address in this posting is how wide should this laneway be?

At the hearings that have occurred in the past couple of weeks, there have been varying widths discussed by the applicant's experts and by Auckland Council. The Road Stop notice stipulates a 5 metre width east-west laneway. Other witnesses have said 6.5 metres, and that this provides a 5 metre wide central section, allowing shoppers to look at the shops using the other 1.5 metres of width. Various submitters have raised questions about the safety of this - because the laneway will be used by passengers to walk between the bus terminal in Albert Street and the Britomart rail terminal or other buses that terminate there.

At the Plan Change 79 hearing, Blair Johnston of Warren and Mahoney Architects, (who are doing master plan and architecture work for Precinct) stated that he had worked with Auckland Transport, and that modelling showed that a 5 metre wide corridor was safe and appropriate, even up to conservative estimates of 16,000 people going through per hour.

The world authority on these matters is John J Fruin. You can see a summary of his work for New York Transit here. This is a bit dense, so I've unpacked relevant sections....
PEDESTRIAN CHARACTERISTICS
The primary characteristics needed to evaluate pedestrian facilities are walking speeds, walking distances, demand patterns, and traffic-flow relationships. The ability of pedestrians to select their own individual walking pace and speed is a qualitative measure of convenience. Walking distances define the effective service area of transit stations, with shorter distances improving passenger perceptions of service and convenience. The patterns of passenger demand affect the methods used to analyze pedestrian facilities and the applications of service standards.
WALKING SPEEDS
Pedestrian speeds, in addition to being directly related to traffic density, have been found to vary for a wide range of conditions, including individual age, sex, personal disabilities, environmental factors, and trip purpose. Normal walking speeds unimpeded by pedestrian crowding have been found to vary between 150 and 350 ft/min (0.76 and 1.76 m/s), with the average at about 270 ft/min. As a point of comparison, running the 4-min mile is equivalent to a speed of 1320 ft/min or almost 5 times normal walking speed. Walking speeds decline with age, particularly after age 65, but healthy older adults are capable of increasing their walking speed by 40% for short distances. Dense pedestrian traffic has the effect of reducing walking speed for all persons. The smaller personal space limits pacing distances and the ability to pass slower moving pedestrians or to cross the traffic stream.
Photographic studies of pedestrian traffic flow on walkways have shown that individual area occupancies of at least 35 ft2/pr (3 m2/pr) are required for pedestrians to attain normal walking speeds and to avoid conflicts with others. Interestingly, the maximum pedestrian traffic-flow volume is not obtained when people can walk the fastest, but when average area occupancies are at about 5 ft2/pr, and pedestrians are limited to an uncomfortable shuffling gait less than half normal walking speed. At individual space occupancies below 2 ft2/pr, approaching the plan area of the human body, virtually all movement is stopped. When there is a large crowd in a confined space, this density can result in shock waves and potentially fatal crowd pressures.
Fruin has developed a set of useful metrics and measures that allow walking speeds and infrastructure capacity to be calculated. These are depicted in the following two diagrams and tables:


What this tabulates is the different levels of service (LOS) experienced by pedestrians, as the space between pedestrians gets more cramped, in order to get more people through the same corridor, per hour. LOS A is the most comfortable, and LOS E and LOS F are where things get tricky. In between is a LOS that gets the most people through, and retains an optimal level of comfort - but you can see that cross flows become difficult (eg people using the north-south laneway) etc.
This graph shows this relationship quantitatively. At the top are the different LOS, with "A" to the right. Which is described on the graph as "commuter bi-directional" - people easily going in both directions. Then you have LOS "B" described as "shoppers multi-directional", and then LOS "C" described as "commuter uni-directional" - people going in similar directions, and taking up between 15 and 25 square feet/person. And so on.

Crucially, Fruin, in his piece poses this question:
Determine the recommended width of a 200-ft (61-m)-long corridor connection to a transit station with a forecasted two-way, peak-hour pedestrian traffic of 10,000 pr/h under the following conditions:
Alternative 1: commuters only, no doors entering the corridor, no columns, no other services.
Alternative 2: same volume, but with retail development along the corridor edges in a shopping mall configuration.
And provides the answers (which you can look at in the link) as follows:

Solution for Alternative 1: This requires the selection of a design LOS and appropriate design peak. Unless there are significant restraints, the approximate mid-range of LOS C, or 12.5 pr/ft min, is an appropriate standard. The 15-min peak, typically about 40% of peak-hour volume, is an appropriate design period. (Ans=6.8 metres) 
Solution for Alternative 2: The shopping mall alternative can be analyzed as (a) a corridor with additions at the edges to allow window-shopping and door-opening "lanes" or (b) on a time-space basis, assuming some percentage of the commuters will spend additional time in the corridor. For illustrative purposes, it will be assumed that 100% of the commuters walk through the corridor, but that 30% of this total stop to window-shop for an additional 1 min each. It is desired to provide a density of 20 ft2/p average within the corridor during the 15-min peak. (Ans for 'a'=8.3 metres, or 'b'=8.9 metres).
The laneway proposed by Precinct is the "shopping mall" alternative with shops lining both sides of the corridor/laneway. Thus, according to Fruin's calculations, that laneway should be somewhere between 8.3 and 8.9 metres wide, and that's for 10,000 passenger movements/hour - rather less than the "conservative" number of 16,000 mentioned by Blair Johnston for Precinct.

Until we are very clear about this, extreme caution should be exercised in the planning of this crucial link in Auckland's downtown passenger transport station infrastructure.


A History of QE Square

I needed to go into Auckland Council archives to get the real story on this contested piece of Auckland Open Public Space. It's not what I thought. And it's not what staffers thought when they prepared planning reports for the Road Stop hearing and Precinct Property's private plan change 79. Here's some edited highlights....Images are from presentations to hearing planning commissioners. This one's today.
Here's how the downtown area was in 1959. You can see it was a fine-grained piece of old Auckland. This posting shows shots of Little Queen Street. The frontage to Lower Queen Street - across the street from the CPO/Britomart railway station - was much the same.
Now for some archives. From the Town Clerk's files for Downtown. A selection tells the story of what happened. And how it happened. In this letter - which you can click and read yourself - the Auckland Harbour Board writes to Auckland City Council's mayor and councillors informing them of AHB plans to redevelop the whole of its reclaimed Downtown site bounded by Hobson, Quay, Lower Queen and Custom Street West. And of the fact it had advertised a prospectus internationally, seeking developers, and providing certain constraints which are described in page 3 of the letter...

These are that Sturdee Street and Little Queen Street would be closed, and that a "public square" would be provided opposite the CPO. Other detailed land use changes are listed. But the essence was to take Sturdee and Little Queen streets from Auckland City Council, and in return provide a public square across from the CPO.
Very shortly after writing to ACC, the AHB released a media statement to the NZ Herald containing images of the two planning schemes it had previously commissioned for the redevelopment. These are the Kennedy and Connor schemes. Both show civic squares opposite the CPO. Both also show significant public open space in the block now occupied by a hotel, the PWC building and the carpark building. Significantly, the Kennedy scheme shows a building on the site now occupied by the HSBC (initially the Air New Zealand tower), that is relatively small in footprint, and which conforms to the height control that applied to the land of 110 feet.

Here is the Connor Scheme as it was presented to the public in NZ Herald's story. NB: this story post-dates AHB's confidential letter to ACC which states that the only public space intended was the space opposite the CPO building.
The next few images are from an important internal ACC policy document prepared for the Town Clerk's office by the ACC's Dept of Works. It ends with an array of resolutions that were eventually adopted by Auckland City Council. My arrows indicate content of particular interest. This one kicks off the document. Its purpose is to obtain support in principle from ACC to AHB's downtown development scheme.
In particular AHB wants ACC to Stop Sturdee and Little Queen Streets. It explains that AHB is purchasing street access and land use rights from all those business owners that fronted onto those streets.
This map from the Town Clerk's office shows the pieces of road to be stopped - and notes all of the land titles that fronted onto Little Queen and Sturdee Streets.


Under the heading: Status of open spaces, council officers advise: "It is understood that the Board wishes to vest Queens Square in Council as a public space under agreement, or, alternatively, as a street over which a special agreement would apply to the use of this land and to the street furniture contained within it..."
The first arrow here refers, in essence, to the fact that the land area in Little Queen Street + Sturdee Street is greater than the land area in the proposed Queens Square.

The second arrow describes AHB's intention, "The scheme is so conceived and designed so that there are generous open public spaces and other amenities for the convenience of the public. These amenities include covered areas for the passage of pedestrians, covered area for bus terminii, and pedestrian malls which will ensure the safety of pedestrian traffic moving through the area...."

Under a heading in the report headed General is this bombshell, "The placement of the building, shown as office block no.1, in the plans submitted, in relation to the proposed Queens Square gives occasion for some concern because the shadow of this building will have a detrimental effect on the public enjoyment of this square...." I suggest you read the final paragraph yourself. Council officers had seen plans for what was proposed. They were concerned. The actual plans were not made public until two years later, when they were notified because they "departed from the district plan".

These are some of the recommended resolutions from this policy advice document.
Negotiations between AHB and ACC over the exact nature of the land swap and exchange arrangements proceeded in accordance with the resolutions. This Valuation Dept advice shows how the respective values of the pieces of land came into balance. Detailed documents indicate that Sturdee and Little Queen Street land was valued at 2 pounds per square foot, while Queens Square was deemed more valuable.
Interestingly, the Valuation Dept advice also notes and quantifies the increase in rates revenue that ACC will expect from the redeveloped land. As far as ACC was concerned this would be a significant financial benefit for it.

I suggest you also read (c) of special considerations. As far as Valuation were concerned, the closed streets don't owe ACC anything, because they got them "at no cost". What were they worth, however, as open public space?

This NZ Herald article reports ACC's decision to go ahead with the land exchange deal. You will see that the detail in the report accords with the numbers in the Valuation balance sheet shown above.
This advice from ACC's retained law firm Butler, White and Hanna, took a little bit of detective work to unravel. You can see that though ACC had resolved to agree the land exchange deal, there were statutory duties to discharge relating to the stopping of the two streets. The advice notes, "although unlikely, objections could be made to the closing of these two streets, and these objections might be upheld by a magistrate in which event the scheme would be held up for a period of at least two years...". BW&H suggest legislation to avoid this risk. They also note that legislation is going to be required anyway (what for...?) and that might present an opportunity for a package deal...

The fruits of my detective work answered the question. A Local Members Bill was successful in 1967. It dealt with two crucial issues. The first (in (2)) was to grant ACC the power to stop streets in the downtown area by public resolution. No need to go through a risky public notification process. The second (in (13)) took a little longer to figure out. Turns out that AHB had sold the freehold title to the developer of the Air New Zealand tower on Lot 1 in 22 November 1966. Problem was that at the time, Lot 1 contained a chunk of Little Queen Street which - at the time - was still owned publicly. Enactment of this Empowering Act validated that transaction. Made it legal later. Man oh man. It's not what you know....

This map shows how the subdivision was finalised in preparation for the whole AHB scheme development. It's a fact that after this subdivision was finalised, every building on this land was demolished. So were two fine-grained streets. The land was prepared for a modernist style redevelopment with towers and a civic square. Very important to remember that. Trying to put some aspect of that grain back - be it a laneway or an old style Lower Queen Street frontage - is inevitably in conflict with the urban form that was so dramatically established in the late 1960's. And which was designed into both the Kennedy and Connor schemes. It is also significant that the public square designed into both the Connor and Kennedy plans, and which survived in the Auckland Harbour Board plans, was the first Auckland CBD public square. Aotea Square was the next one. Auckland City Council planning has been slow to grasp, understand and embrace these opportunities.
 
Here's a closeup of the part of the downtown area that is up for redevelopment now. Only the HSBC and Zurich Towers will remain in place, and the land use scheme. Unless that is changed.
Finally the public become involved. You can read the date of the NZ Herald report. August 1968. Two years after Auckland City Council had the AHB plans for the Air NZ Tower. Two years after AHB had sold Lot 1 to its preferred developer. One year after Parliament validated that unlawful sale.

Turns out the proposed tower was 266 feet high, while the zoning allowed it to be 110 feet high. Council was in support. The public had 21 days to make its view known and to appeal Council's decision.

The Auckland Branch of the NZIA appealed, and later the Auckland Architecture Association appealed. This is a story that needs more detailed telling - based on the comments made at a recent meeting of the Urban Issues Group attended by a number of professionals who were involved and who have very detailed memories.
Reading the newspaper reports at the time, I sense that AHB media managers (with Auckland City Council in the background) held sway with NZ Herald. It pours scorn on the appellants (suggests NZ noses were out of joint because the AHB contract went to an Aussie firm). Even the PM's visit to turn the first sod had to be delayed. Shock, horror, scandal, probe!
For a variety of reasons the appeals were withdrawn. I understand that much of the information revealed here in this posting was not known to the architects and planners who mounted the challenge. They only had a short statutory period to mount their challenge and get support for it. Council and Harbour Board had carefully done their deal in the two years that led up to public notification.  
The Town Clerk's files contain other details about happened with Queen Square. This one, dated January 1973, records that the part of Lower Queen Street directly outside the CPO was declared "pedestrian mall". Plans for integrating Queens Square are also evident, and these also use the amenity yard that is the forecourt for No1 Queen Street (then AirNZ Tower, now HSBC tower). You can also see the bus turning plans from Galway and Tyler, that have returned to the current plans for bus movements in the area.

And then in April 1976, Queen Square was also declared pedestrian mall. And the whole area between the CPO and the downtown shopping centre was named Queen Elizabeth Square. This is the first reference I found for the name: Queen Elizabeth Square. Queen Square - as it was known for almost 10 years - makes up about half of Queen Elizabeth Square.
There are many reasons why this history is important. At the very least, if we don't learn from it, we're doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

We can make this space work better. It often takes time to get public spaces to work well. Aotea Square is going through a redesign now - triggered by changes to Council's civic building. It's been through previous redesigns. In my opinion, it won't be successful until more buildings that surround it are activated onto the public open space. Which is one of the urban design aspects that everyone agrees upon for Queen Elizabeth Square. I'm writing this in New York. Most of its civic squares are surrounded by tall buildings. It means that parts of the all of these squares are in shade for part of the day. It also means that sometimes they are windy, sometimes they are sheltered. Depends on the wind direction. Same is true for Queen Elizabeth Square in Auckland.

A year ago I modelled Queen Elizabeth Square without the the bus terminal that was imposed there, across the pedestrian mall, when the CPO was transformed into a railway station. Here are a few of images from that model.








The main thing that I've taken away is the bus interchange and through road which bisected the square's Pedestrian Mall status. The interchange includes a glass covered canopy above bus-shelters which also served as a sheltered walkway for people accessing ferry services from downtown. This is gone from my renderings because Auckland Council's plans are to re-locate the QE Square bus interchange. This will be done by expanding the Britomart bus interchange (behind the heritage CPO building which functions as the railway station), allowing buses to turn in and out of Galway and Tyler Streets, and constructing a new facility at the bottom of Lower Albert Street.

The key to transforming the feel of this space is to ensure that the ground floors of the rebuilt shopping mall are open to the square and activated, and the ground floor of the HSBC building (once it's lost its internal carpark floors) is also activated onto the square (onto the space where the Kauri trees are now). To sell Queen Square now would be to add insult to the injury that Auckland Harbour Board in cahoots with Auckland City Council inflicted on an unsuspecting Auckland Public almost fifty years ago. Now's the time to repair that urban damage and build a postcard civic space downtown.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

CBD Infill Threatens CBD 'Commons'

The planned balance of private and public urban outcomes at Auckland’s redeveloped Wynyard Quarter has won international recognition. Private investors have developed successful structures and businesses there, while visitors, residents and tenants alike enjoy a wide range of publicly developed and owned spaces, squares and amenities including playground areas for children and youth. These inclusive common areas are attractive and already well used by citizens from all parts of Auckland.

The same cannot be said of Auckland’s Downtown waterfront where the existing commons is under threat of being sold for retail infill, encroached for private and exclusive uses, and congested by traffic particularly bus public transport.

This is not a new phenomenon for Auckland’s waterfront central business district. Quay Park, Britomart, Downtown and Viaduct precincts are relatively recent developments mostly built upon land reclaimed from the seabed by Auckland Harbour Board which it later redeveloped and vacated when containerization rendered wharves largely obsolete.

Over the past fifty years waterfront redevelopment plans have gradually rezoned CBD land that was previously used for port purposes into typically urban purposes by permitting office and retail development. Changes have always been contested by neighbouring property owners protecting private interests, and by Auckland City Council whose duties included provision of public infrastructure goods including transport and water infrastructure, and public commons including streets and public squares.

Civic calculations of gains and losses have played a critical role in decisions about the balance that is needed between enabling private investment and economic growth, and providing sufficient public commons to meet the civic social and cultural needs of the city’s growing and diversifying population.

One story about this planning activity is the Auckland Harbour Board’s sequence of headquarter buildings. Before 1970 Auckland Harbour staff were housed in an elegant three storey building at the corner of Quay and Little Queen Streets. Little Queen Street no longer exists having been “stopped” and swapped for Queen Elizabeth Square when Auckland Harbour Board redeveloped its Downtown site in the 1970’s to make room for the Air New Zealand Tower which it then occupied (now named the HSBC building). In the 1980’s, claiming that its lease was running out, Auckland Harbour Board applied to build a new headquarter building on Quay Street at the base of Princes Wharf. At the time Auckland City Council played a critical role in ensuring that open public space would be provided “contemporaneously” beneath the new futuristic looking building, and along parts of Quay Street.

In the mid 1990’s Ports of Auckland Ltd (established from Auckland Harbour Board) sublet all office space in that new headquarter building, and, arguing that the associated waterfront spaces were unsuccessful and better used for retail and office purposes, obtained consents to completely infill to the wharf deck. Quay Street public space was lost, the Port company gained increased rents, and opportunities to redevelop that commons and make the public spaces along Quay Street and Princes Wharf more successful were also lost.

Corruption might be too strong a word to describe what happened behind the scenes in this little bit of Auckland’s waterfront redevelopment history, but the urban politics relating to how public investment was allocated to produce something that looked like a common good but which eventually promoted gains in asset values for privileged property owners is an unhappy precedent.

Proposals to sell the Queen Elizabeth Square commons and reinvest the proceeds in possible waterfront spaces along Quay Street are being challenged by a number of public interest associations (including Auckland Architecture Association, Urban Auckland, Auckland Civic Trust, Living Streets Aotearoa). While Auckland Council has for at least two years issued media releases and engaged in selective stakeholder engagement processes relating to these proposals and plans for the Central Rail Link which passes beneath the square, it was not until June this year that statutory submissions were sought. Submissions generally acknowledge that Queen Elizabeth Square is an unsuccessful, windy and shaded space, raise questions about the planning processes for the whole downtown area which includes a new tower and the relocation of the downtown bus terminal, and call for the provision of commensurate or better public space.

Auckland’s waterfront is changing from being an industrial port to becoming a place that is attractive and interesting to the public and also to private investors. This is the story of urbanization around the world. The better the commons the more likely it is to be raided and appropriated by those seeking to make gains and to profit from it. Queen Elizabeth Square is 1800 square metres of prime commons estate within a city block which is being entirely redeveloped apart from two pre-existing towers. This urban commons was established by Auckland City Council when it built Little Queen Street. It is an urban space qualified and defined by surrounding buildings. Comprehensive redevelopment of the downtown site provides the opportunity to create a downtown square that is sunny, sheltered from the wind, and qualified by the buildings and uses that can surround it. Residents, office workers and visitors alike can use it.

Precinct Properties owns much of the Downtown site and has a conditional arrangement with Auckland Council to purchase Queen Elizabeth Square for $27 million. Its property promotions for the currently proposed redevelopment show the main 'public' space to be created is a six metre wide glassed-in laneway lined with shops aimed at “premium and high-end apparel retailers” and “stores which will attract the cruise ship and tourist markets”. This would be another waterfront retail infill development.

Streets are an important part of a city’s urban commons. Provided they are not congested with traffic. Streets and squares are the places where social and cultural exchange occurs within a city and where civic values of tolerance and understanding are fostered amongst a city’s people and its communities. Auckland needs more urban commons so that the possibility of an egalitarian population can be realised. These precious CBD spaces must not be handed over to become playgrounds dedicated for the use of “high net-worth individuals”. The redevelopment of the downtown block provides the excuse to properly incorporate the equivalent of Queen Elizabeth Square as a successful urban commons within the new built fabric of downtown Auckland.

Hanoi: Density through land use planning

Just why are Hanoi’s houses so narrow? Like many oddities or inconveniences, one need look no further than government regulation. For centuries, governments in Hanoi used a method of determining property taxes based on the width of the property from the street. The wider your home, the more you paid. Not surprisingly, people responded by building houses so narrow that two people can barely stand next to each other in some of them. But it has led to interesting density outcomes, and little in the way of highrise.

Here's a useful paper about Vietnamese housing and buildings combining shop and home. I've quoted from it in this post.

If you're interested in recent Vietnam property tax and land ownership reforms - here's a good paper.
There are two main things you'll probably notice about the architecture in Hanoi. Firstly there are the foreign influences, particularly from the French colonial period.  This is especially apparent in the Old Quarter of Hanoi where people buy houses with very narrow frontages so that they minimise their tax burden while having a place to display their merchandise to passers by on the street. These buildings are sometimes referred to as "tube houses" - some run through from one street to the next - and often include courtyards partway through to improve air flow. Tube houses tend to be long and low - rather than tall and high. But the property tax outcomes are similar.

DECREE No. 188/2004/ND-CP OF NOVEMBER 16, 2004: On methods of determining land prices and assorted-land price brackets. This reform is from the communist run central government. Note that Vietnam - like China - has adopted various market policies.

Article 10.- Classification of urban areas, streets, land positions in urban centers of each specific land category for land price determination For urban residential land, non-agricultural production and/or business land and other non-agricultural land categories in urban centers such as land for construction of working offices, construction of non-business works; land used for defense or security purposes; land used for public purposes, including traffic land, irrigation land; land for construction of cultural, medical, education and training, physical training and sport facilities in service of public interests; land with historical and/or cultural relics, scenic places; land for construction of other public works as provided for by the Government; land used by religious establishments; land with works being communal houses, temples, shrines, small pagodas, worshipping halls, ancestral worship houses; land for cemeteries, graveyards and other non-agricultural land as provided for by the Government shall be graded according to types of urban centers, types of street and land positions for price determination. 1. Urban centers include cities, provincial capitals, district townships, set up and graded under decisions of competent state agencies. Urban centers are classified into 6 grades: special-grade urban centers, grade-I urban centers, grade-II urban centers, grade-III urban centers, grade-IV urban centers, grade-V urban centers according to the current regulations of the State. For provincial capitals, district townships not yet graded as urban centers, they shall be classified into grade-V urban centers. 2. Classification of urban streets Types of street in each grade of urban center shall be determined mainly on the basis of profit-generating capability, infrastructure conditions convenient for daily- life, production, business, service, tourist activities, on the distance to urban centers, trade, service and tourist centers. Streets in each type of urban center are classified into different grades of street with ordinal numbers from No. 1 on. Grade-I streets apply to land in the hearts of urban centers, trade, service and/or tourist centers; have the highest profit-generating capacity and the most convenient infrastructure conditions; the following street grades from grade 2 onwards shall apply to land not lying in the hearts of urban centers, trade, service and/or tourist centers, with lower profit-generating capability and less convenient infrastructure conditions. In cases where a street consists of various street sections with different profit-generating capabilities, different infrastructure conditions, such street sections shall be graded into the corresponding street grades. 3. Land positions in every street grade of each grade of urban center shall be determined on the basis of profit-generating capability, infrastructure conditions favorable for daily-life, production, business and/or service activities, on the distance to traffic axes. Land positions in each street grade of each urban center grade shall be classified into positions from No. 1 on. Position No. 1 shall apply to land adjacent to streets (with frontage) with the highest profit-generating capability, most convenient infrastructure conditions; the following positions from No. 2 onwards shall apply to land not adjacent to streets, with lower profit-generating capability and less convenient infrastructure conditions.

A detour via a semantics study allows for a better understanding of the particular concept of the street within Vietnamese culture. The Vietnamese language provides a categorization of the world characterized by the use of classifiers for nouns, according to whether they are living things ( con ) or inanimate objects ( cái ). It is quite revealing that the common name for “street” is therefore “ con đ ườ ng ” and not “ cái đ ườ ng ”. The street is thought of in Vietnamese as an active being. The social practices contribute to define the street’s identity and they accompany its metamorphoses.


There are many alleyways like this. They feel a little like designs you see in Dubai - keep the hot sun away from street level - and promote air movement. Though the alleyways of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh Cities are places of trade, their functional organisation has a different nature.The alleyways are characterised by their lack of sidewalk, which does not prevent them from having a strong commercial use but requires a different spatial organisation. The households with small shops on the ground floor use the space in front of their houses to display goods or install tables and chairs if they own a coffee shop.Alleyways are most of all defined by the presence of hawkers or temporary market places that succeed each other throughout the day. Crossroads are considered the most strategic place to invest in, and every blind wall is considered a location to be freely used for trade. The alleyways’ urban space corresponds to what the urban sociologist Tôn Nữ Qu z nh Trân identifies as the “quiet city” as opposed to the “dynamic city” of major arteries (Qu z nh Trân, 2007). This distinction is mainly based upon the criterion of urban rhythm.

This is a communal space shared by several houses off a common laneway in an old part of Hanoi.
Interesting. These are streets where social encounters and exchange are the 'commons' that local people value, and which shapes and maintains social cohesion and organisation. Lose that, and you lose the heart of urban civilisation.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Heritage Restoration's Hollow Ring

Devonport's Masonic Lodge. The site of much heritage angst and district scheme heritage protection controversy over plans to redevelop the historic site into luxury apartments.


Here's the development site today. Shrouded in plastic - if not in secrecy.


But wait, there's a hole in the plastic Dear Liza, Dear Liza, a hole. So I sent my little camera up for a look-see...


A void. Avoid. You can't help wondering about a heritage and historic conservation policy that allows, and does not abhor, such a vacuum. Devonport residents calmly walk past. The community runs its tongue over the teeth in its street and finds it all good. No gaps. A convenient plastic cap popped over the cavity so it all somehow feels normal. Can pretend nothing has really changed. And when the shroud is removed, the building revealed will be better than what was there, in the bone of the street, a crown no less. A gleaming shiny crown. To confirm that feeling, reinforce it. Life is good. Continues as before. All change, but no change. Not a scrap of what was there exists inside the hollow. Like a funeral without the pyre.    


There's talk of the fad of facadism in heritage - keep the facade - but remove everything behind it. But there's not even a facade here. A comment on society and what keeps us all sane and in a straight line.

A metaphor of urban neoliberalism maybe. All form and no content. All GDP and no civilisation. All economic activity for today and no long term memories of yesterday. Maybe that's what they really mean when thy speak of the post-political. But then, if that was true, no-one would've spoken out about what would be lost and what the effect would be on community with the changes to the Masonic. It's not just a building. It was a way of life. Public pubs and clubs are as much at the heart of community and civic life as are public parks and squares. And while their very existence is under threat because they are regarded as private development opportunities and because many institutions now prioritise that activity, it won't always be that way. Because people are naturally communal and have adapted over millenia to function best for the common good together. You might take the public out of the urban, but you can't take the public out of the people.


Mangawhai loses in Court of Appeal

Well I guess it's Christmas and not everything that comes in the stocking is the present we were expecting. On the 17th December 2015 Harrison, Miller and Cooper JJ delivered their decision on the various matters that had been put in front of them by the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents Association (MRRA) relating to the PPP EcoCare wastewater scheme.

The decision is lengthy - 69 pages - and very detailed. Much of it concentrates on Bill of Rights Act matters. Justice Miller prepared the main decision. In their follow up decisions, Cooper and Harrison generally agree with Miller's findings and decision, though their reasons are not all the same.

My summary here of the decision should not be taken as gospel, but the guts, as I see it from a couple of readings are essentially these:

  • when Parliament enacted the Local Government Act with the late addition of Protected Transactions provisions, it was to deliver the option of lower cost loans to Councils. The interest rates charged would be lower essentially in exchange for ratepayers having limited powers to challenge loans taken by their council, and therefore banks would be subject to fewer risks and costs.
  • while residents had rights to challenge these loans through judicial review, Parliament always had the power to validate loans and loan processes later, and it had the power to do that despite Bill of Rights Act provisions which grant the right of judicial review - but those rights extend to process only (council compliance with the local government act duties to consult for example), and not substantive matters (ie the loan still has to be paid).
  • Mangawhai ratepayers and residents got all the vindication they were ever going to get from the findings in the High Court judicial review that Kaipara District Council had acted against the law in whole variety of ways. There is the hint of a suggestion that MRRA might have gone further in getting its pound of flesh from the perpetrators. And there is an impression that perhaps MRRA should have pursued the Office of the Auditor General for its failings - but then the Auditor General got a prize this year didn't she - for a job well done.
  • while there were process illegalities associated with the loan, which were validated by Parliament, Parliament always intended that ratepayers should still pay for those debts, and not the taxpayer.

There were some complexities in the decision relating to the fact that MRRA' membership did not include all Mangawhai ratepayers - which raised questions about precisely which persons would materially benefit from a favourable CoA finding - and an order for costs against MRRA, I believe the above pretty much sums up the decision of Miller, and likely concludes an unfortunate example of poor local governance compounded by failures in the Audit Office and the Office of the Auditor General.

Miller has cited speeches from Hansard given by Phil Twyford (for Labour) and Eugenie Sage (for the Greens) in respect to an effort by Andrew Williams (for NZ First), to explicitly exclude from the Validation Bill, provisions in respect to the outstanding debt. William's efforts did not attract the support needed in Parliament, suggesting - without really nailing it - that Parliament always intended that ratepayers would have to carry the can for their council's decisions - and that nobody else would. That is one interpretation of what Parliament did. I don't think Parliament - in respect of individual MPs - explicitly accepted that what they were doing with the validation bill was washing their hands of every aspect of this institutional failure.

I wrote some time ago about the law being an ass in respect of what happened at Mangawhai. Unsure now.

Expert, Social engineer, Critical Expert or Smuggler?

AESOP's BEST PUBLISHED PAPER AWARD 2015 goes to Mee Kam Ng for the paper: Intellectuals and the Production of Space in the Urban Renewal Process in Hong Kong and Taipei published in Planning Theory and Practice, 2014, 15(1) 77-92.

I came across it last week while I was doing a bit of research.

The abstract grabbed my attention:

Through two concrete urban renewal cases in Asia, this paper develops a schema of “social engineers-smugglers-experts-critical experts” to differentiate the roles of system-maintaining and system-transforming intellectuals in the production of space. While pro-establishment “social engineers” and “experts” use their “epistemic authority” to produce top-down renewal plans to promote exchange values, “critical experts” outside the government and “smugglers” within the bureaucracy play significant roles in “de-coding” the use values of people’s lived spaces. The cases highlight the important roles of system-transforming intellectuals in reproblematizing urban renewal issues and experimenting with alternative policies and plans to restructure space that sustains community building.

A bit of a mouthful - but it's Christmas, it's tasty, chew well. You can always spit it out. But you might just swallow it. Another extract:

The two case studies to be discussed in this paper highlight the roles of “intellectuals” in the course of spatial restructuring in the two cities. In Taipei, if it were not for the advocacy of students and professors from the National Taiwan University (NTU), the Organization of Urban Res (OURs) (a civil society organization), and the “progressive bureaucrats” in the newly established Cultural Affairs Bureau (CAB), the squatter settlements in Treasure Hill would have been demolished to make way for a park. Similarly in Hong Kong, were it not for the educated social activists and “artivists” in the community and “enlightened” individuals within the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), the 150-year old market streets in Graham and Peel Street would have disappeared with the redevelopment of the surrounding buildings. This paper aims to examine the roles of these “intellectuals” in the production of space in these two cases.

The author presents this straight-forward tabulation:



Here is an extract from the conclusion:
The two stories accentuate the importance of the system-transforming intellectuals in exercising their conscience and capacity to utilize and synthesize personified knowledge. In both cases, the local communities did not really object to the government-led abstract plans. Hence, the intellectuals could easily side with those in power, rationalizing their decisions to erase the two communities. However, the system-transforming “critical experts” in both cities, following the time-honoured tradition of Chinese intellectuals, chose to speak truth to their counterparts in the established system to conserve something that they believed to be important for the future of the two cities. These “critical experts” are of crucial importance in highlighting the essence and meaning of the two settlements, allowing their lived spaces to be appreciated by the wider community and hence succeeding in “re-problematizing” and “re-writing” the storylines. Coupled with “smugglers” within the bureaucracy, different cityscapes were produced. 
However, there is no place for complacency in the two cases. Whether the Graham and Peel Street Market in Hong Kong will survive the phased redevelopment is still unknown and, in the face of competition with global cities, especially those on the China mainland, neo-liberalism has overtaken idealism as one of the main policy concerns in Taipei (Huang and Hsu, 2011). Nevertheless, the two stories appeal to “intellectuals” especially those in Asia, emphasizing the importance of their continuous vigilance in counteracting renewal plans made in the thick of neoliberal rhetoric to promote economic growth and city competitiveness. This can be done through thorough understanding, analysing and documenting the use values of people’s lived spaces and reviewing the inadequacies of top-down plans made by “social engineers” – so that, given the opportunities and the inside activism of “smugglers”, alternative renewal plans and processes can be formulated, experimented with and revised continuously, to speak to the daily needs of local communities – creating soul-nourishing spaces and urban forms.
Because it has won the AESOP award the paper has been made publicly available.
You can download it here. What sort of intellectual are you in the work that you do?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Better Auckland Pedestrian Comfort Assessment

In the quote below, (from a best practice report prepared recently for Melbourne) imagine that "Auckland" is substituted in place of "Melbourne" in this text:
In the light of urban growth, Melbourne needs to address the rising numbers of pedestrians in the central city. Walking is the main mode of transport (86%, figure 12, p. 10) and tram stops, pedestrian crossings and sidewalks get increasingly crowded at peak hours. The principal aim of the new pedestrian strategy, conducted by City of Melbourne’s strategic transport planners, is to get people to walk more by providing a suitable urban environment to walk in – a street network capable of facilitating current as well as future levels of pedestrians. This research looks at pedestrian crowding, and how it is measured and analysed in cities around the world. It reviews two specific tools, pedestrian level of service (LOS) and pedestrian trip generation. It studies London, New York and Copenhagen in more detail, and the work and experience of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.  
It commences a discussion of how these methodologies are relevant to Melbourne and whether they are applicable and/or can form inspiration in the development of Melbourne’s pedestrian analysis. The study has found that although many cities work to improve pedestrian conditions, there is no generally adopted methodology or standard for pedestrian LOS or trip generation. Pedestrian trip generation calculations are novel and relatively unexplored....  
A majority of cities analysing pedestrian LOS use the Fruin scale from the 1970s. This method analyses quantitatively the number of people walking in a street, but ignores several important factors relating to walkability. Gehl Architects has led the way in elaborating a different and more comprehensive methodology, based on over 30 years experience. They have identified a general street crowding capacity of 13 people per meter per minute, a figure applied by London in their Pedestrian Comfort Level (PCL) assessments. The London framework combines Fruin’s crowding scale with Gehl’s experiences and sets up a comprehensive implementation guide based on area types, street features and pedestrian counts. PCL is calculated for both sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. Melbourne could implement this framework directly, if more and better counting sensors are installed, data collected from the relevant sites and area types analysed in terms of crowding acceptance.....
I've already posted information here and here about what Dr John Fruin has to say in the 1970's about the safe capacity of a pedestrian corridor or laneway. This is a summary of Gehl's more recent findings:

Gehl Architects have assessed walkability in cities all around the world, including Melbourne. Gehl defines crowding as more than 13 people per minute per meter footway width. This is based on long experience. The Architecture School in Copenhagen collected data in public spaces in Copenhagen between 1968 and 1996. They found through this research that the main pedestrian street, Stroget, in Copenhagen reached its capacity at 13 people per meter per minute. Once this level of activity was reached, pedestrians started to move along parallel streets to avoid congestion. 
Recommended pedestrian capacity:
13 person/minute/meter footway width x available footway width = no. of pedestrians/minute 
Henritte Vamberg at Gehl Architects says: ‘The comfort level drops the more pedestrians you have. The above parameter is looking at when pedestrians start walking in “lines”, when you get crushed, when you can’t maneuver a wheelchair through etc.’. What is different with this methodology is that it is based on levels of quality and comfort rather than quantity – conventional LOS methods (mentioned by Fruin) deal only with how many people a street can carry (Gehl Architects, 2004, p. 34).

Using the Gehl walkability metric for a 5 metre wide laneway:  13 x 5 x 60 = 3,900 pedestrians/hour.

This is a conservative - perhaps Scandanavian - approach. The Pedestrian Guidance Manual for London takes Gehl and Fruin and observations to produce a set of guidelines related to Pedestrian Comfort Levels in London. It contains two useful graphics, and ppmm (pedestrian per metre width per minute) advice, which are applicable to office, retail and mass transit pathways.....



Taking the "D" Pedestrian Comfort Level established by London Transport (assume 30 people/clear pathway width metre/minute), and applying it to the proposed downtown laneway, what carrying capacity does a 5 metre pathway have - at this "Very Uncomfortable" service level?

Carrying capacity = 30 x 5 x 60 = 9,000 people/hour

Which is less than the 10,000 average capacity claimed by Auckland Council, and much less than the peak capacity claimed in evidence to hearing commissioners of 16,000 people/hour, and makes a mockery of the 24,000 people/hour claimed by Auckland Council in further information provided to commissioners.

The London advice provides a useful tabulation of pedestrian comfort levels for different types of pedestrian environments, including mass transit pathways. This relates to the A to E comfort level carrying capacities tabulated above.



You can see there that London Transport's advice is that a service level of C+ to C is deemed "acceptable" and that planning for higher throughput means that pedestrian comfort is assessed as "at risk".

Using the "C" grade of personal comfort, gives the carrying capacity of a 5 metre wide laneway as:

23 x 5 x 60 = 6,900 pedestrians/hour

If Auckland wants to build toward its claim as "most liveable city", surely it is about time it adopted pedestrian comfort standards that are recommended in other great cities.


Gehl Architects, 2004, ‘Towards a Fine City for People – Public Spaces and Public Life – London 2004’, DM 7460245

Friday, November 27, 2015

Auckland's Failing Climate of Democracy

There are all sorts of definitions of democracy. For example, "the ​belief in ​freedom and ​equality between ​people, or a ​system of ​government ​based on this ​belief, in which ​power is either ​held by ​elected ​representatives or ​directly by the ​people themselves..."
Many definitions suggest that a characteristic of democracy is: "freedom of speech and press...."

Twenty or more years ago, before debates about climate change had overtaken discussions about democracy, much of the discussion about what democracy was and how it manifest at local level, concentrated on the idea of the climate of democracy. Which is a way of thinking about the civic culture that exists in a community - how it develops and what fosters it - so that the community is predisposed toward, or educated to accept and expect, democratic processes and political activities in public life. This idea is that democracy cannot be imposed by laws or treated as a social add-on. That it is built into society and its institutions and becomes a conscious and maintained state of mind of the people.

Some western democracies build it into the school curriculum, so that students leave school with a grounding in civics and an understanding of politics and that it is normal for people to hold different values from each other requiring processes, negotiation and understanding to reach jointly agreed decisions.

I accept that not everybody wants to involve themselves in public minded activities and processes. Life's too short, they might say, and prefer to concentrate on their own individual pursuits and objectives. It has always been thus. But I think we have seen a number of structural changes in Auckland that are causing its climate of democracy to fail putting at risk its ability to act for the common good, in the public interest, whatever that might be.

When I was first in local government - councillor on North Shore City Council, board member on Devonport Community Board - I gradually came to understand how local democracy functioned here, and the role it performed in maintaining the local climate of democracy. Most meetings were attended by reporters from the North Shore Times Advertiser (NSTA). Local issues were extensively reported. Councillors were named and shamed. I remember how anxious councillors would become on NSTA publication days. They wanted to see how they'd been quoted, what angle the reporters had taken. And these newspapers were very widely read, but often not by the section of the community busy with their own lives and objectives. The impression I gained was that the avid readers of the NSTA were the ones who voted in the local elections at least, and were often the "go to" people in the community for others wanted some guidance on who to vote for.

School projects focused on local issues that became hot topics: sewage on beaches, cycle lanes, public transport, recycling, water demand statistics. Students would phone councillors. Take clippings from the NSTA. Debate the issues with their parents. All of these activities fostered what I'll call North Shore's climate of democracy.

And this is what we are losing. Local government amalgamation, centralisation and corporatisation has pretty well gutted local communities of the nucleus of local democracy. The same issues exist, but without that institutional focus, local communities are disempowered and their ability to make a difference reduced. The NSTA still exists but its utility is diminished by the loss of local government purpose. Many resort to individualism which is understandeable, but given we are a species that has adapted to working successfully in groups, we are unlikely to be as successful as we could be working more collectively on shared problems.

It is interesting to reflect that free speech and a free press is seen by many as an essential component of a thriving democracy. It is OK to walk down to your front gate and voice your concern for all to hear who open their front doors to listen. Previously you could go to community forums and vent your spleen, get a few nods of agreement, and if there was merit maybe even lead a change. Increasingly individuals resort to facebook (or even a blog) to express themselves.

Which brings me to the role of a free press in a democracy. Newspapers of record - that reported most of the important decisions or issues of the day - form an essential part of the body politic of a local democracy. Reports, opinions, think-pieces, investigative journalism, letters. All of these components would be contained within those pages. Not friends sharing with like-minded friends, but a diversity of views and ideas and stories and articles. It is the range and breadth that we will lose in Auckland as NZ Herald quietly divests itself of writers and reporters, and as the pages of the newspaper shrink in content and devolve into an expanded stuff.co.nz.

That's why I think Auckland's climate of democracy is failing. And it will need to improve to develop the sort of conscious and engaged communities that will be a pre-requisite to an educated, engaged and organised response to atmospheric climate change on the one hand, and to changes in urban form on the other.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Another Council Consent Processing Error

Is Council's policy of non-notification leading to future budget blow-outs at best, or future bus commuter health and safety hazards at worst...?

There's been a couple of recent hearings relating to the Precinct Properties and Auckland Council PPP in downtown Auckland (The one with the new tower, proposed partial Queen Elizabeth Square sale, CRL enabling works, and shifting a bus terminal from Lower Queen Street to Lower Albert Street). The first was a hearing of objections to Auckland Transport's proposal to "stop" the road status of the part of the Queen Elizabeth Square proposed for sale, and the second was Precinct Properties private plan change 79 to change the zoning of the part of the Queen Elizabeth Square proposed for sale from public open space to zoning more conducive to private development. The latter hearing was covered by Bob Dey here, here and here.

One of the issues many submitters raised at the hearing related to laneway width proposals worked out and modelled by Precinct Properties working with Auckland Transport. I posted about this issue here. This demonstrates that using Fruin's formulae (Fruin is the acknowledged expert) and his approach to modelling commuter pedestrian flows in corridors, that to safely move an average of 10,000 people per hour, the corridor needs to be between 8.3 and 8.9 metres wide, when the corridor is lined with shops.

This is Precinct's architectural rendering of the proposed east west laneway - a narrow 6 metres wide and connecting Lower Queen Street with Lower Albert Street. The section of the laneway (proposed to be available 7/24) from Lower Albert Street to the current western edge of Queen Elizabeth Square is about 60 metres long. It is intersected with a small dog leg lane running north to south (which is not 7/24), and, as the image shows, is lined with various retail outlets.

What I have discovered since the hearing is that Auckland Transport must have been using the same Fruin formulae when it did the modelling with Precinct Properties, but it came up with a figure of 6.5 metres based on a "conservative" flow rate peaking at 16,000/hour. Interestingly, Fruin suggests that an average of 10,000 per hour would include a peak flow, which he suggests would mean that 40% of the 10,000 might go through the corridor in just 15 minutes. For those of you mathematically minded, this means you have to do a sum where you divide 0.4 by 0.25 (40% of the pax in a a quarter of the time), giving a multiplier of 1.6. This ratio, x 10,000, gives 16,000, the "conservative" rate. But in this case Fruin carefully distinguishes between moving pedestrians through a corridor without colonnades, shop fronts, and side entry-ways - from a corridor (or laneway) that is lined with shop fronts etc.

I believe that Precinct Properties have been mis-advised by Auckland Transport. The proposed 5 metre wide (or 6.5 metre wide - with 0.75 metres on either side of a "free" 5 metre wide passageway), will not be wide enough to safely allow the passage of 10,000 pedestrians per hour through its shop-lined laneway (which is really just an arcade - laneways are quaint, open to the sky, cobbled, crooked....).

Which raises several interesting questions.

The Plan Change 79 hearing ONLY relates to the bit of laneway that would be built through the part of Queen Elizabeth Square that is proposed for sale. A section about 40 metres long. The other section, the 60 metre section, has ALREADY been consented in June this year. At that time a non-notified consent was granted for this 60 metre section of 5 metre / 6.5 metre laneway. Which, as I've explained, according to the experts, will not safely allow the passage of 10,000 pedestrians per hour.

I surmise that because the June hearing was non-notified, and because there were no submissions about the laneway, then the particular matter of corridor width was not an issue for the commissioner considering the application. I am not aware of what evidence or information was available to the commissioner at that hearing supporting the application for a 5 metre/6.5 metre wide mass transit access corridor. What can you do with a permit that allows a public pedestrian hazard to be constructed?

One of the reasons officers would have used to justify non-notification of Precinct's June application would have been that it was largely based on the previous consent obtained by Westfield for the tower and mall redevelopment (which is examined here and here), and which was purchased by Precinct Properties when it purchased Westfield's interests in the downtown site.

However the situation and context had changed from when Westfield obtained its permits because more detailed information existed related to proposals to shift the entire Lower Queen Street bus terminal into Lower Albert Street. This information better quantified the impact or requirement of the proposed laneway serving as a critical link in Auckland's CBD passenger transport terminus and interchange. However it seems to have had no impact or effect on the laneway plan. Which is now consented. What a cockup.

This awkward and poorly planned situation closely resembles, and was influenced by, what happened when Westfield applied for consent for its tower and mall redevelopment in the first place. At the time ARTA (Auckland's then Passenger Transport Planning Agency), raised concerns that the basement parking and foundations of the proposed tower would interfere with the proposed Central Rail Link tunnel. However Auckland City Council ruled that ARTA had no standing because it could not designate the route. ARTA was not even able to make formal submissions relating to proposals to put bus interchange facilities in Lower Albert Street. Auckland City Council proceeded with the application on a non-notified basis.

This has subsequently meant that Auckland Council was forced to pay through the nose compensating Precinct when it finally got round to designating the CRL route. It also meant, because ARTA was not able to be properly involved, that the matter of the safe laneway width was not dealt with at that time either.

Looks like the CRL compensation history might repeat. This time, because Precinct Properties has been permitted to build a narrow and unsafe laneway, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport will have to figure out and pay for an alternative that allows public transport passengers to interchange modes and to directly access their destinations. Or maybe they'll just do nothing. Auckland CBD public transport passengers will have to put up with poor planning and figure out alternative, safer and less congested routes. Or maybe they'll just close the laneway if it looks like too many people are using public transport.

And by the way, the 10,000/hour commuter pedestrian flow figure is not a lot different from today's patronage data. Shouldn't we be planning public accessway infrastructure capacity that will meet the needs of a growing city population, with an increasing public transport mode share?

And all because significant applications are not being publicly notified.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Understanding PPPs: NY Workshop on Public Space


I write this brief report in New York. I was invited to attend this International Workshop because of my university research on public space planning on Auckland and Wellington waterfront land. The workshop was attended by academic and expert geographers, anthropologists and urban planners from France, Austria, USA and New Zealand (moi).

Title: Understanding Public Private Partnerships: governance, urban development and spatial justice. Held at City University of New York at the CIRHUS - Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, sponsored by CUNY-CPCP and Metropolitics/Métropolitiques.

The intro to the workshop reads: "As cities have adopted the entrepreneurial turn (Harvey, 1989), many urban interventions initiated or encouraged by public authorities rely on the financial capacity and the know-how of both for-profit and not-for-profit private interests to (re)develop land. Presentations will examine public-private partnerships that contribute to the development of ostensibly public space, the creation of urban amenities as well as the formulation of urban design aesthetics and production of architectural quality..."

Professor Elliott Sclar was the discussant. The morning was allocated to a series of 15 minute presentations (very tightly managed!), then discussion. After lunch a smaller group concentrated on the mechanics of producing a journal issue on the workshop. The presentations were attended by a much wider group of academics and practitioners.

I won't go into detail here, but just a few highlights. Phil Berge-Liberman from University of Connecticut kicked off talking about "Conservancy Park" planning where private investment in parks maintenance and development increasingly gives the investors the right to determine "proper use" of the park, and to introduce ideas like "the landscape has rights too". He described in detail the amount of private money that now goes into New York's Central Park - with ideas like "adopt a tree" and suchlike to the extent that investment now shapes the way it is used. Large "political" gatherings are much less likely. Many behaviours are prohibited. He produced statistics that showed in 2009 the park added $17.7 billion in value to properties adjacent to the park. One throw away line he used, "the difference between parks in working class neighbourhoods and wealthy ones, is that the first are brown - because they are used so much for football and basketball, and the others have much greater tree canopy and green - because they are hardly used at all by comparison.

Yvonne Franz from Austrian Academy of Sciences spoke about residential PPPs in Vienna, what she described as "social democratic city", operating in compliance with the "EU Stability and Growth Pact" - which she didn't really explain, but sounds similar to what's happening in NZ, where Central Government imposes its growth targets on Auckland Council and Auckland. Apparently Vienna (which is not a big city) is building 8,000 to 10,000 new apartments per year. Her concern was the fact that private investor is not interested in schools or kindergartens. She described it as "single project thinking". Lack of integrated planning. She described "under-utilized open space semi-private park spaces". Her concern was that this results in "limited sharing practices", and for connecting. Her work suggests there needs to be thinking and design about "interaction between generations" - to "create social mixing amongst new and existing residents". What also struck me about Yvonne's talk was that the carrot of "affordable housing" is used to get political and public sign-off of PPP residential projects, but there is little effort put into ensuring those numbers get delivered and are protected. (Invokes in me the thought of how often in Auckland the carrot on the waterfront is public space - and how frequently it is either not delivered, or that it is taken away and privatised).

I compared public space outcomes at Auckland and Wellington - under the same statutory environment, yet so very different in quality - and provided an analysis of the reasons for those differences. And finished with an account of what is happening now in downtown Auckland. The risk that public space will be appropriated in the interests of the deal that has been reached between Auckland Council and Precinct Properties unless third sector groups like Auckland Architecture Association, Civic Trust and Urban Auckland intervene in the public interest. This sparked response from visitors. Sclar suggested their action might be subversive. Another commented, "same as here, can't see daylight between the interests of municipalities and developers. Calls into question what you call public..."

You get the picture. I was among fellow travellers. Other interesting presentations followed. Lots of ideas shared. Will share more in the blog later.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Precinct's Downtown Laneway: How Wide?

This posting is about the laneway proposed in Precinct's plans for redevelopment of the Auckland Downtown block bounded by Lower Queen Street, Quay Street, Lower Albert Street and Custom Street West. The picture below shows a rough plan of this laneway.....


The laneway I want to discuss here, is the one connecting Lower Albert Street through the development to Lower Queen Street. The laneway will be about 100 metres long if the whole of Queen Square (shaded in green) is sold for development, and about 60 metres long if Queen Square stays in public ownership as public space. (The other proposed laneway, running north-south, is more of a dog leg than shown here, as it has to side-step the HSBC building to get to Quay Street.)

In June this year, Precinct obtained resource consent for a development on the site that does not use Queen Square. This consent was non-notified. It includes consent for the 60 metre section of laneway. The question I want to address in this posting is how wide should this laneway be?

At the hearings that have occurred in the past couple of weeks, there have been varying widths discussed by the applicant's experts and by Auckland Council. The Road Stop notice stipulates a 5 metre width east-west laneway. Other witnesses have said 6.5 metres, and that this provides a 5 metre wide central section, allowing shoppers to look at the shops using the other 1.5 metres of width. Various submitters have raised questions about the safety of this - because the laneway will be used by passengers to walk between the bus terminal in Albert Street and the Britomart rail terminal or other buses that terminate there.

At the Plan Change 79 hearing, Blair Johnston of Warren and Mahoney Architects, (who are doing master plan and architecture work for Precinct) stated that he had worked with Auckland Transport, and that modelling showed that a 5 metre wide corridor was safe and appropriate, even up to conservative estimates of 16,000 people going through per hour.

The world authority on these matters is John J Fruin. You can see a summary of his work for New York Transit here. This is a bit dense, so I've unpacked relevant sections....
PEDESTRIAN CHARACTERISTICS
The primary characteristics needed to evaluate pedestrian facilities are walking speeds, walking distances, demand patterns, and traffic-flow relationships. The ability of pedestrians to select their own individual walking pace and speed is a qualitative measure of convenience. Walking distances define the effective service area of transit stations, with shorter distances improving passenger perceptions of service and convenience. The patterns of passenger demand affect the methods used to analyze pedestrian facilities and the applications of service standards.
WALKING SPEEDS
Pedestrian speeds, in addition to being directly related to traffic density, have been found to vary for a wide range of conditions, including individual age, sex, personal disabilities, environmental factors, and trip purpose. Normal walking speeds unimpeded by pedestrian crowding have been found to vary between 150 and 350 ft/min (0.76 and 1.76 m/s), with the average at about 270 ft/min. As a point of comparison, running the 4-min mile is equivalent to a speed of 1320 ft/min or almost 5 times normal walking speed. Walking speeds decline with age, particularly after age 65, but healthy older adults are capable of increasing their walking speed by 40% for short distances. Dense pedestrian traffic has the effect of reducing walking speed for all persons. The smaller personal space limits pacing distances and the ability to pass slower moving pedestrians or to cross the traffic stream.
Photographic studies of pedestrian traffic flow on walkways have shown that individual area occupancies of at least 35 ft2/pr (3 m2/pr) are required for pedestrians to attain normal walking speeds and to avoid conflicts with others. Interestingly, the maximum pedestrian traffic-flow volume is not obtained when people can walk the fastest, but when average area occupancies are at about 5 ft2/pr, and pedestrians are limited to an uncomfortable shuffling gait less than half normal walking speed. At individual space occupancies below 2 ft2/pr, approaching the plan area of the human body, virtually all movement is stopped. When there is a large crowd in a confined space, this density can result in shock waves and potentially fatal crowd pressures.
Fruin has developed a set of useful metrics and measures that allow walking speeds and infrastructure capacity to be calculated. These are depicted in the following two diagrams and tables:


What this tabulates is the different levels of service (LOS) experienced by pedestrians, as the space between pedestrians gets more cramped, in order to get more people through the same corridor, per hour. LOS A is the most comfortable, and LOS E and LOS F are where things get tricky. In between is a LOS that gets the most people through, and retains an optimal level of comfort - but you can see that cross flows become difficult (eg people using the north-south laneway) etc.
This graph shows this relationship quantitatively. At the top are the different LOS, with "A" to the right. Which is described on the graph as "commuter bi-directional" - people easily going in both directions. Then you have LOS "B" described as "shoppers multi-directional", and then LOS "C" described as "commuter uni-directional" - people going in similar directions, and taking up between 15 and 25 square feet/person. And so on.

Crucially, Fruin, in his piece poses this question:
Determine the recommended width of a 200-ft (61-m)-long corridor connection to a transit station with a forecasted two-way, peak-hour pedestrian traffic of 10,000 pr/h under the following conditions:
Alternative 1: commuters only, no doors entering the corridor, no columns, no other services.
Alternative 2: same volume, but with retail development along the corridor edges in a shopping mall configuration.
And provides the answers (which you can look at in the link) as follows:

Solution for Alternative 1: This requires the selection of a design LOS and appropriate design peak. Unless there are significant restraints, the approximate mid-range of LOS C, or 12.5 pr/ft min, is an appropriate standard. The 15-min peak, typically about 40% of peak-hour volume, is an appropriate design period. (Ans=6.8 metres) 
Solution for Alternative 2: The shopping mall alternative can be analyzed as (a) a corridor with additions at the edges to allow window-shopping and door-opening "lanes" or (b) on a time-space basis, assuming some percentage of the commuters will spend additional time in the corridor. For illustrative purposes, it will be assumed that 100% of the commuters walk through the corridor, but that 30% of this total stop to window-shop for an additional 1 min each. It is desired to provide a density of 20 ft2/p average within the corridor during the 15-min peak. (Ans for 'a'=8.3 metres, or 'b'=8.9 metres).
The laneway proposed by Precinct is the "shopping mall" alternative with shops lining both sides of the corridor/laneway. Thus, according to Fruin's calculations, that laneway should be somewhere between 8.3 and 8.9 metres wide, and that's for 10,000 passenger movements/hour - rather less than the "conservative" number of 16,000 mentioned by Blair Johnston for Precinct.

Until we are very clear about this, extreme caution should be exercised in the planning of this crucial link in Auckland's downtown passenger transport station infrastructure.


A History of QE Square

I needed to go into Auckland Council archives to get the real story on this contested piece of Auckland Open Public Space. It's not what I thought. And it's not what staffers thought when they prepared planning reports for the Road Stop hearing and Precinct Property's private plan change 79. Here's some edited highlights....Images are from presentations to hearing planning commissioners. This one's today.
Here's how the downtown area was in 1959. You can see it was a fine-grained piece of old Auckland. This posting shows shots of Little Queen Street. The frontage to Lower Queen Street - across the street from the CPO/Britomart railway station - was much the same.
Now for some archives. From the Town Clerk's files for Downtown. A selection tells the story of what happened. And how it happened. In this letter - which you can click and read yourself - the Auckland Harbour Board writes to Auckland City Council's mayor and councillors informing them of AHB plans to redevelop the whole of its reclaimed Downtown site bounded by Hobson, Quay, Lower Queen and Custom Street West. And of the fact it had advertised a prospectus internationally, seeking developers, and providing certain constraints which are described in page 3 of the letter...

These are that Sturdee Street and Little Queen Street would be closed, and that a "public square" would be provided opposite the CPO. Other detailed land use changes are listed. But the essence was to take Sturdee and Little Queen streets from Auckland City Council, and in return provide a public square across from the CPO.
Very shortly after writing to ACC, the AHB released a media statement to the NZ Herald containing images of the two planning schemes it had previously commissioned for the redevelopment. These are the Kennedy and Connor schemes. Both show civic squares opposite the CPO. Both also show significant public open space in the block now occupied by a hotel, the PWC building and the carpark building. Significantly, the Kennedy scheme shows a building on the site now occupied by the HSBC (initially the Air New Zealand tower), that is relatively small in footprint, and which conforms to the height control that applied to the land of 110 feet.

Here is the Connor Scheme as it was presented to the public in NZ Herald's story. NB: this story post-dates AHB's confidential letter to ACC which states that the only public space intended was the space opposite the CPO building.
The next few images are from an important internal ACC policy document prepared for the Town Clerk's office by the ACC's Dept of Works. It ends with an array of resolutions that were eventually adopted by Auckland City Council. My arrows indicate content of particular interest. This one kicks off the document. Its purpose is to obtain support in principle from ACC to AHB's downtown development scheme.
In particular AHB wants ACC to Stop Sturdee and Little Queen Streets. It explains that AHB is purchasing street access and land use rights from all those business owners that fronted onto those streets.
This map from the Town Clerk's office shows the pieces of road to be stopped - and notes all of the land titles that fronted onto Little Queen and Sturdee Streets.


Under the heading: Status of open spaces, council officers advise: "It is understood that the Board wishes to vest Queens Square in Council as a public space under agreement, or, alternatively, as a street over which a special agreement would apply to the use of this land and to the street furniture contained within it..."
The first arrow here refers, in essence, to the fact that the land area in Little Queen Street + Sturdee Street is greater than the land area in the proposed Queens Square.

The second arrow describes AHB's intention, "The scheme is so conceived and designed so that there are generous open public spaces and other amenities for the convenience of the public. These amenities include covered areas for the passage of pedestrians, covered area for bus terminii, and pedestrian malls which will ensure the safety of pedestrian traffic moving through the area...."

Under a heading in the report headed General is this bombshell, "The placement of the building, shown as office block no.1, in the plans submitted, in relation to the proposed Queens Square gives occasion for some concern because the shadow of this building will have a detrimental effect on the public enjoyment of this square...." I suggest you read the final paragraph yourself. Council officers had seen plans for what was proposed. They were concerned. The actual plans were not made public until two years later, when they were notified because they "departed from the district plan".

These are some of the recommended resolutions from this policy advice document.
Negotiations between AHB and ACC over the exact nature of the land swap and exchange arrangements proceeded in accordance with the resolutions. This Valuation Dept advice shows how the respective values of the pieces of land came into balance. Detailed documents indicate that Sturdee and Little Queen Street land was valued at 2 pounds per square foot, while Queens Square was deemed more valuable.
Interestingly, the Valuation Dept advice also notes and quantifies the increase in rates revenue that ACC will expect from the redeveloped land. As far as ACC was concerned this would be a significant financial benefit for it.

I suggest you also read (c) of special considerations. As far as Valuation were concerned, the closed streets don't owe ACC anything, because they got them "at no cost". What were they worth, however, as open public space?

This NZ Herald article reports ACC's decision to go ahead with the land exchange deal. You will see that the detail in the report accords with the numbers in the Valuation balance sheet shown above.
This advice from ACC's retained law firm Butler, White and Hanna, took a little bit of detective work to unravel. You can see that though ACC had resolved to agree the land exchange deal, there were statutory duties to discharge relating to the stopping of the two streets. The advice notes, "although unlikely, objections could be made to the closing of these two streets, and these objections might be upheld by a magistrate in which event the scheme would be held up for a period of at least two years...". BW&H suggest legislation to avoid this risk. They also note that legislation is going to be required anyway (what for...?) and that might present an opportunity for a package deal...

The fruits of my detective work answered the question. A Local Members Bill was successful in 1967. It dealt with two crucial issues. The first (in (2)) was to grant ACC the power to stop streets in the downtown area by public resolution. No need to go through a risky public notification process. The second (in (13)) took a little longer to figure out. Turns out that AHB had sold the freehold title to the developer of the Air New Zealand tower on Lot 1 in 22 November 1966. Problem was that at the time, Lot 1 contained a chunk of Little Queen Street which - at the time - was still owned publicly. Enactment of this Empowering Act validated that transaction. Made it legal later. Man oh man. It's not what you know....

This map shows how the subdivision was finalised in preparation for the whole AHB scheme development. It's a fact that after this subdivision was finalised, every building on this land was demolished. So were two fine-grained streets. The land was prepared for a modernist style redevelopment with towers and a civic square. Very important to remember that. Trying to put some aspect of that grain back - be it a laneway or an old style Lower Queen Street frontage - is inevitably in conflict with the urban form that was so dramatically established in the late 1960's. And which was designed into both the Kennedy and Connor schemes. It is also significant that the public square designed into both the Connor and Kennedy plans, and which survived in the Auckland Harbour Board plans, was the first Auckland CBD public square. Aotea Square was the next one. Auckland City Council planning has been slow to grasp, understand and embrace these opportunities.
 
Here's a closeup of the part of the downtown area that is up for redevelopment now. Only the HSBC and Zurich Towers will remain in place, and the land use scheme. Unless that is changed.
Finally the public become involved. You can read the date of the NZ Herald report. August 1968. Two years after Auckland City Council had the AHB plans for the Air NZ Tower. Two years after AHB had sold Lot 1 to its preferred developer. One year after Parliament validated that unlawful sale.

Turns out the proposed tower was 266 feet high, while the zoning allowed it to be 110 feet high. Council was in support. The public had 21 days to make its view known and to appeal Council's decision.

The Auckland Branch of the NZIA appealed, and later the Auckland Architecture Association appealed. This is a story that needs more detailed telling - based on the comments made at a recent meeting of the Urban Issues Group attended by a number of professionals who were involved and who have very detailed memories.
Reading the newspaper reports at the time, I sense that AHB media managers (with Auckland City Council in the background) held sway with NZ Herald. It pours scorn on the appellants (suggests NZ noses were out of joint because the AHB contract went to an Aussie firm). Even the PM's visit to turn the first sod had to be delayed. Shock, horror, scandal, probe!
For a variety of reasons the appeals were withdrawn. I understand that much of the information revealed here in this posting was not known to the architects and planners who mounted the challenge. They only had a short statutory period to mount their challenge and get support for it. Council and Harbour Board had carefully done their deal in the two years that led up to public notification.  
The Town Clerk's files contain other details about happened with Queen Square. This one, dated January 1973, records that the part of Lower Queen Street directly outside the CPO was declared "pedestrian mall". Plans for integrating Queens Square are also evident, and these also use the amenity yard that is the forecourt for No1 Queen Street (then AirNZ Tower, now HSBC tower). You can also see the bus turning plans from Galway and Tyler, that have returned to the current plans for bus movements in the area.

And then in April 1976, Queen Square was also declared pedestrian mall. And the whole area between the CPO and the downtown shopping centre was named Queen Elizabeth Square. This is the first reference I found for the name: Queen Elizabeth Square. Queen Square - as it was known for almost 10 years - makes up about half of Queen Elizabeth Square.
There are many reasons why this history is important. At the very least, if we don't learn from it, we're doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

We can make this space work better. It often takes time to get public spaces to work well. Aotea Square is going through a redesign now - triggered by changes to Council's civic building. It's been through previous redesigns. In my opinion, it won't be successful until more buildings that surround it are activated onto the public open space. Which is one of the urban design aspects that everyone agrees upon for Queen Elizabeth Square. I'm writing this in New York. Most of its civic squares are surrounded by tall buildings. It means that parts of the all of these squares are in shade for part of the day. It also means that sometimes they are windy, sometimes they are sheltered. Depends on the wind direction. Same is true for Queen Elizabeth Square in Auckland.

A year ago I modelled Queen Elizabeth Square without the the bus terminal that was imposed there, across the pedestrian mall, when the CPO was transformed into a railway station. Here are a few of images from that model.








The main thing that I've taken away is the bus interchange and through road which bisected the square's Pedestrian Mall status. The interchange includes a glass covered canopy above bus-shelters which also served as a sheltered walkway for people accessing ferry services from downtown. This is gone from my renderings because Auckland Council's plans are to re-locate the QE Square bus interchange. This will be done by expanding the Britomart bus interchange (behind the heritage CPO building which functions as the railway station), allowing buses to turn in and out of Galway and Tyler Streets, and constructing a new facility at the bottom of Lower Albert Street.

The key to transforming the feel of this space is to ensure that the ground floors of the rebuilt shopping mall are open to the square and activated, and the ground floor of the HSBC building (once it's lost its internal carpark floors) is also activated onto the square (onto the space where the Kauri trees are now). To sell Queen Square now would be to add insult to the injury that Auckland Harbour Board in cahoots with Auckland City Council inflicted on an unsuspecting Auckland Public almost fifty years ago. Now's the time to repair that urban damage and build a postcard civic space downtown.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

CBD Infill Threatens CBD 'Commons'

The planned balance of private and public urban outcomes at Auckland’s redeveloped Wynyard Quarter has won international recognition. Private investors have developed successful structures and businesses there, while visitors, residents and tenants alike enjoy a wide range of publicly developed and owned spaces, squares and amenities including playground areas for children and youth. These inclusive common areas are attractive and already well used by citizens from all parts of Auckland.

The same cannot be said of Auckland’s Downtown waterfront where the existing commons is under threat of being sold for retail infill, encroached for private and exclusive uses, and congested by traffic particularly bus public transport.

This is not a new phenomenon for Auckland’s waterfront central business district. Quay Park, Britomart, Downtown and Viaduct precincts are relatively recent developments mostly built upon land reclaimed from the seabed by Auckland Harbour Board which it later redeveloped and vacated when containerization rendered wharves largely obsolete.

Over the past fifty years waterfront redevelopment plans have gradually rezoned CBD land that was previously used for port purposes into typically urban purposes by permitting office and retail development. Changes have always been contested by neighbouring property owners protecting private interests, and by Auckland City Council whose duties included provision of public infrastructure goods including transport and water infrastructure, and public commons including streets and public squares.

Civic calculations of gains and losses have played a critical role in decisions about the balance that is needed between enabling private investment and economic growth, and providing sufficient public commons to meet the civic social and cultural needs of the city’s growing and diversifying population.

One story about this planning activity is the Auckland Harbour Board’s sequence of headquarter buildings. Before 1970 Auckland Harbour staff were housed in an elegant three storey building at the corner of Quay and Little Queen Streets. Little Queen Street no longer exists having been “stopped” and swapped for Queen Elizabeth Square when Auckland Harbour Board redeveloped its Downtown site in the 1970’s to make room for the Air New Zealand Tower which it then occupied (now named the HSBC building). In the 1980’s, claiming that its lease was running out, Auckland Harbour Board applied to build a new headquarter building on Quay Street at the base of Princes Wharf. At the time Auckland City Council played a critical role in ensuring that open public space would be provided “contemporaneously” beneath the new futuristic looking building, and along parts of Quay Street.

In the mid 1990’s Ports of Auckland Ltd (established from Auckland Harbour Board) sublet all office space in that new headquarter building, and, arguing that the associated waterfront spaces were unsuccessful and better used for retail and office purposes, obtained consents to completely infill to the wharf deck. Quay Street public space was lost, the Port company gained increased rents, and opportunities to redevelop that commons and make the public spaces along Quay Street and Princes Wharf more successful were also lost.

Corruption might be too strong a word to describe what happened behind the scenes in this little bit of Auckland’s waterfront redevelopment history, but the urban politics relating to how public investment was allocated to produce something that looked like a common good but which eventually promoted gains in asset values for privileged property owners is an unhappy precedent.

Proposals to sell the Queen Elizabeth Square commons and reinvest the proceeds in possible waterfront spaces along Quay Street are being challenged by a number of public interest associations (including Auckland Architecture Association, Urban Auckland, Auckland Civic Trust, Living Streets Aotearoa). While Auckland Council has for at least two years issued media releases and engaged in selective stakeholder engagement processes relating to these proposals and plans for the Central Rail Link which passes beneath the square, it was not until June this year that statutory submissions were sought. Submissions generally acknowledge that Queen Elizabeth Square is an unsuccessful, windy and shaded space, raise questions about the planning processes for the whole downtown area which includes a new tower and the relocation of the downtown bus terminal, and call for the provision of commensurate or better public space.

Auckland’s waterfront is changing from being an industrial port to becoming a place that is attractive and interesting to the public and also to private investors. This is the story of urbanization around the world. The better the commons the more likely it is to be raided and appropriated by those seeking to make gains and to profit from it. Queen Elizabeth Square is 1800 square metres of prime commons estate within a city block which is being entirely redeveloped apart from two pre-existing towers. This urban commons was established by Auckland City Council when it built Little Queen Street. It is an urban space qualified and defined by surrounding buildings. Comprehensive redevelopment of the downtown site provides the opportunity to create a downtown square that is sunny, sheltered from the wind, and qualified by the buildings and uses that can surround it. Residents, office workers and visitors alike can use it.

Precinct Properties owns much of the Downtown site and has a conditional arrangement with Auckland Council to purchase Queen Elizabeth Square for $27 million. Its property promotions for the currently proposed redevelopment show the main 'public' space to be created is a six metre wide glassed-in laneway lined with shops aimed at “premium and high-end apparel retailers” and “stores which will attract the cruise ship and tourist markets”. This would be another waterfront retail infill development.

Streets are an important part of a city’s urban commons. Provided they are not congested with traffic. Streets and squares are the places where social and cultural exchange occurs within a city and where civic values of tolerance and understanding are fostered amongst a city’s people and its communities. Auckland needs more urban commons so that the possibility of an egalitarian population can be realised. These precious CBD spaces must not be handed over to become playgrounds dedicated for the use of “high net-worth individuals”. The redevelopment of the downtown block provides the excuse to properly incorporate the equivalent of Queen Elizabeth Square as a successful urban commons within the new built fabric of downtown Auckland.

Hanoi: Density through land use planning

Just why are Hanoi’s houses so narrow? Like many oddities or inconveniences, one need look no further than government regulation. For centuries, governments in Hanoi used a method of determining property taxes based on the width of the property from the street. The wider your home, the more you paid. Not surprisingly, people responded by building houses so narrow that two people can barely stand next to each other in some of them. But it has led to interesting density outcomes, and little in the way of highrise.

Here's a useful paper about Vietnamese housing and buildings combining shop and home. I've quoted from it in this post.

If you're interested in recent Vietnam property tax and land ownership reforms - here's a good paper.
There are two main things you'll probably notice about the architecture in Hanoi. Firstly there are the foreign influences, particularly from the French colonial period.  This is especially apparent in the Old Quarter of Hanoi where people buy houses with very narrow frontages so that they minimise their tax burden while having a place to display their merchandise to passers by on the street. These buildings are sometimes referred to as "tube houses" - some run through from one street to the next - and often include courtyards partway through to improve air flow. Tube houses tend to be long and low - rather than tall and high. But the property tax outcomes are similar.

DECREE No. 188/2004/ND-CP OF NOVEMBER 16, 2004: On methods of determining land prices and assorted-land price brackets. This reform is from the communist run central government. Note that Vietnam - like China - has adopted various market policies.

Article 10.- Classification of urban areas, streets, land positions in urban centers of each specific land category for land price determination For urban residential land, non-agricultural production and/or business land and other non-agricultural land categories in urban centers such as land for construction of working offices, construction of non-business works; land used for defense or security purposes; land used for public purposes, including traffic land, irrigation land; land for construction of cultural, medical, education and training, physical training and sport facilities in service of public interests; land with historical and/or cultural relics, scenic places; land for construction of other public works as provided for by the Government; land used by religious establishments; land with works being communal houses, temples, shrines, small pagodas, worshipping halls, ancestral worship houses; land for cemeteries, graveyards and other non-agricultural land as provided for by the Government shall be graded according to types of urban centers, types of street and land positions for price determination. 1. Urban centers include cities, provincial capitals, district townships, set up and graded under decisions of competent state agencies. Urban centers are classified into 6 grades: special-grade urban centers, grade-I urban centers, grade-II urban centers, grade-III urban centers, grade-IV urban centers, grade-V urban centers according to the current regulations of the State. For provincial capitals, district townships not yet graded as urban centers, they shall be classified into grade-V urban centers. 2. Classification of urban streets Types of street in each grade of urban center shall be determined mainly on the basis of profit-generating capability, infrastructure conditions convenient for daily- life, production, business, service, tourist activities, on the distance to urban centers, trade, service and tourist centers. Streets in each type of urban center are classified into different grades of street with ordinal numbers from No. 1 on. Grade-I streets apply to land in the hearts of urban centers, trade, service and/or tourist centers; have the highest profit-generating capacity and the most convenient infrastructure conditions; the following street grades from grade 2 onwards shall apply to land not lying in the hearts of urban centers, trade, service and/or tourist centers, with lower profit-generating capability and less convenient infrastructure conditions. In cases where a street consists of various street sections with different profit-generating capabilities, different infrastructure conditions, such street sections shall be graded into the corresponding street grades. 3. Land positions in every street grade of each grade of urban center shall be determined on the basis of profit-generating capability, infrastructure conditions favorable for daily-life, production, business and/or service activities, on the distance to traffic axes. Land positions in each street grade of each urban center grade shall be classified into positions from No. 1 on. Position No. 1 shall apply to land adjacent to streets (with frontage) with the highest profit-generating capability, most convenient infrastructure conditions; the following positions from No. 2 onwards shall apply to land not adjacent to streets, with lower profit-generating capability and less convenient infrastructure conditions.

A detour via a semantics study allows for a better understanding of the particular concept of the street within Vietnamese culture. The Vietnamese language provides a categorization of the world characterized by the use of classifiers for nouns, according to whether they are living things ( con ) or inanimate objects ( cái ). It is quite revealing that the common name for “street” is therefore “ con đ ườ ng ” and not “ cái đ ườ ng ”. The street is thought of in Vietnamese as an active being. The social practices contribute to define the street’s identity and they accompany its metamorphoses.


There are many alleyways like this. They feel a little like designs you see in Dubai - keep the hot sun away from street level - and promote air movement. Though the alleyways of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh Cities are places of trade, their functional organisation has a different nature.The alleyways are characterised by their lack of sidewalk, which does not prevent them from having a strong commercial use but requires a different spatial organisation. The households with small shops on the ground floor use the space in front of their houses to display goods or install tables and chairs if they own a coffee shop.Alleyways are most of all defined by the presence of hawkers or temporary market places that succeed each other throughout the day. Crossroads are considered the most strategic place to invest in, and every blind wall is considered a location to be freely used for trade. The alleyways’ urban space corresponds to what the urban sociologist Tôn Nữ Qu z nh Trân identifies as the “quiet city” as opposed to the “dynamic city” of major arteries (Qu z nh Trân, 2007). This distinction is mainly based upon the criterion of urban rhythm.

This is a communal space shared by several houses off a common laneway in an old part of Hanoi.
Interesting. These are streets where social encounters and exchange are the 'commons' that local people value, and which shapes and maintains social cohesion and organisation. Lose that, and you lose the heart of urban civilisation.