by Phil Hayward
The Auckland Unitary Plan Submission process is underway and we should soon know whether it is a charade with outcomes pre-determined and impervious to evidence. The usual suspects are also claiming once again to be able to “debunk” the latest Demographia Report on housing affordability, and even the government is embarrassed over the dismal ineffectiveness of its trumpeted “Housing Accords”.
My previous essays on this forum could usefully be read or re-read now by anyone interested in this subject.
The prevalent mythology is that Auckland already sprawls too much at low density, already has built too many roads (and that is why it is congested), is letting the floodgates re-open too much towards more new sprawl and not enough new intensification (60% of growth to be via intensification is the plan), the ramp-up in building now is major, and intensification will provide for affordability.
In fact, Auckland is around 3 times as dense as Boston, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Nashville and dozens of other US cities; is the second densest city in the Anglo New World after Toronto (pop. 6 million); is one of the densest first world urban areas of only 1 million people; is close to Amsterdam’s density and is denser than Lyon, Marseille, the Ruhr Valley and many urban areas in France and Germany, especially those with around 1 million people or less.
We have never actually had US style low density sprawl; very little of our suburban development was ever even ¼ acre sections. That always was a “dream” for most, and now nearly every such section has already had townhouses built on what was the backyard. In the USA, suburbs are common with minimum lot size mandates of 1 acre to 4 acres.
Michael Bassett and Luke Malpass (NZ Initiative) “Priced Out: How NZ Lost its Housing Affordability” (2012) show that NZ and Auckland were during the period from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, building as many as twice as many new dwellings as now. Most of that was greenfields suburban development, albeit at considerably higher density than US-style sprawl. We now have congestion problems because there was inadequate planning of road capacity, not because we did the roads we did.
I have estimated from TomTom Traffic index data and Google Earth imagery, that Auckland has 1/3 the highway lane miles and 1/5 the arterial lane miles of Indianapolis, which has a similar population. Indianapolis in the TomTom Traffic Index, scores a congestion delay of 15 minutes per 1 hour of driving at peak (other comparable US cities are similar) versus Auckland’s 45 minutes. Of course its house price median multiple happens to be stable at around 3 as well, in spite of being truly low density, unlike Auckland. Read more »