Archive | Tracking ideas

Tracking ideas Sun5Mar17 – retail future, government buildings?

Online shopping rings in changes
And – with less regulation – government buildings?

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

Online shopping rings in changes

First, floorspace use

An article on the US National Housing Institute website Rooflines proposes a change in the US tradition of ground-floor retail, upstairs residential in many city districts because online shopping is reducing physical retail demand.

Crains’ New York business website suggested the retail sector was beyond the stage of bouncing back from the online shopping trend.

Project for Public Spaces, however, argues in a January article less about total retail space, more about how many “third places” are vital for the community.

Other ideas, such as “third spaces”

Sociology professor Ray Oldenburg wrote about people needing 3 places: the home, the workplace or school, and beyond that a third place – a public space on neutral ground where people can gather & interact while experiencing a sense of ease & belonging. In his 1991 book The Great Good Place, he argued that bars, cafés, stores & other “third places” are central to local democracy & community vitality.

In Seattle, property developer Ron Sher took up the message and founded Third Place Books after the author’s central theme.

The Project for Public Spaces website said: “Along with piles of books, the stores also contain cafés, restaurants & taverns that attract users of all ages, interests & backgrounds. The common areas host community programmes such as college jazz concerts, game nights, knitting clubs, farmers’ markets, story hours & tai chi lessons, while meeting rooms in the back offer gathering spaces for more private activities like study & support groups, or foreign language & computer lessons.”

And – with less regulation – government buildings?

The Atlantic – like many US media long on Trump criticism – raised an aspect of the US presidency that may well extend the retail vacancy trend into the bureaucracy sector.

Its article was about how there’s not much to do at the State Department, and a suspicion that some early redundancies will be extended within the department. Take that a logical step further: a president who’s averse to regulation is in the prime position to get rid of it, everywhere. And the US, for all its chanting of the words democracy & freedom, is a highly regulated country.

While Mr Trump seems intent on maintaining police lines and increasing the US military presence, it’s easy to see much other regulation being sidelined. In quick time the country could see scores of government buildings being vacated.

Rooflines, 16 February 2017: Should online shopping change how we use space?
Crains, 29 January 2017: Some experts say retail will bounce back. Don’t buy it
Project for Public Spaces, 5 January 2016: Can retail space be an extension of the public realm? A look at Seattle’s Third Place Books
The Atlantic, 1 March 2017: The state of Trump’s State Department

Attribution: Rooflines, Crains, Project for Public Spaces, The Atlantic.

Regular leads: Planetizen

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas Sun22Jan17 – Full steam ahead for floating city

Floating city concept gets formal go-ahead

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

Floating city concept gets formal go-ahead

An organisation which has been working on concepts for floating cities for 8 years, the Seasteading Institute of San Francisco, signed a memorandum of understanding on 13 January with the French Polynesian Government to bring the vision to reality.

The vision is of self-sustaining communities that can withstand rising sea levels, and was piloted in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2013 in partnership with DeltaSync, a design, research & consultancy firm which specialises in sustainable floodproof urban development in delta areas.

DeltaSync research in 2015 showed it was technically feasible to create floating highrise buildings of 15 floors at sea, even under hurricane conditions.

French Polynesia’s housing minister, Jean Christophe Bouissou, said the French dependency had a blue economy initiative to adapt to rising sea levels and the floating island project would have a special governing framework providing for an innovative special economic zone.

Seasteading has formed a new company, Blue Frontiers, to build the floating city.

The pilot: Rotterdam’s Floating Pavilion, built in 2013.

A bright idea or a waste of resources?

On the Futurism Facebook page there’s plenty of criticism, starting with this one: “We can’t create adequate housing for the people already living on the planet now, and you want to go and spend huge amounts of resources and money to build this kind of super-expensive crap! There is no shortage of land in the world, such absolute stupidity. Why not build on the land we already have… And maybe perfect the methods so everyone can have housing.”

Floating city image at top: Artisanopolis, submitted by Gabriel Sheare, Luke & Lourdes Crowley, and Patrick White, 3 expatriate Americans living in Chile, was first equal in the Seasteading Institute’s design competition. They used Roark 3D modelling.

Seasteading Institute
Seasteading, Floating city project
Inhabitat, 16 January 2017: World’s first floating city one step closer to reality in French Polynesia

Inhabitat, 6 June 2013: Rotterdam’s Floating Pavilion is an experimental climate-proof development
Artisanopolis portfolio
Roark 3D modelling
Futurism, Facebook, on Artisanopolis

Regular leads: Planetizen

Attribution: Inhabitat, Seasteading, DeltaSync, Facebook,

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas Sun27Sep16 – sprawl v compact, inclusionary housing, infrastructure funding, related pieces, Making NZ

Sprawl v compact research stops short
Inclusionary housing another debate that’s international
Infrastructure funding options
Related pieces
Making NZ a home for planning thinkpieces

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

This page today flits between foreign, mostly American, information and Auckland. I’ve listed a large number of links to work through – it’s a library piece, not a quick read. And I’ve mentioned a couple of points which may be true in the US but don’t apply in Auckland because circumstances here have changed.

Sprawl v compact research stops short

In another round of the sprawl v compact argument, US analyst Issi Romem produced an article a fortnight ago that’s already been taken by some notable news outlets as something approaching gospel.

Some of what I’ve read among the many links below leaves me mystified about the writer’s point, some of the complicated analysis requires more digestion, here & there I’ve spotted contributions worth taking further.

The first mystery, for me, is how Dr Romem’s figures (down to 2 percentage points) on housing development over the last 3 decades can point to a sensible way forward in times which have started to change very quickly.

An inappropriate template

The US – and New Zealand followed, though to a less extravagant extent – launched into suburban development in the 1950s, pushed along by the availability of cars for general consumption. That doesn’t mean the development of those suburbs was a perfect mechanism for housing fast-growing populations, or that in an isthmus-centred place like Auckland the carpetlaying grid template would be appropriate.

One side of the argument now is that central intensification should be used to provide a larger proportion of housing, that this will be cheaper than sprawl on the fringes of the region. On the other side, proponents of extending the urban footprint say this will provide cheaper land and thereby cheaper housing.

How you count the numbers, and which numbers, makes a big difference. Do you include a travel component, or not? Does it measure cbd to wherever, or some to more local workplaces? How many cars does a household have?

Housing comparisons undefined

All the research, and all the comments, refers to housing, houses, apartments…. You, the reader, can only guess at what kind of economic units are being referred to. At the start of the 1980s, the standard New Zealand house (used in Master Builders statistics) was 93m² (1000ft²). Standard houses now are more likely to be over 200m², perhaps over 300m² including garage, with indoor-outdoor flow to make it hard to assess actual, practical size.

Old sausage-block flats were small, commonly under 80m², and a high proportion of apartments built in the last 20 years will also measure less than that. But, in recent times, terraces, townhouses, cross-leases, standalones on small sections and a smattering of apartments will exceed 200m².

Section sizes have been shrinking for 20 years. From 809m² (one-5th of an acre, far more common than the ‘quarter-acre paradise’, 1012m²), sections now can be down at 200m².

In Auckland, now, the Government is a key participant in redeveloping at Hobsonville Point, in the Glen Innes-Tamaki area and at Northcote. The Government-owned Housing NZ is still contesting unitary plan decisions limiting what it can do on many other sites where it’s aggregated land, wants to reposition old housing or wants to do a mix of upgrade & new.

In most of the American research, apartments or other intensified housing in the city centre are compared to development on the distant suburban fringe, with no indication of how close they are to being alternative options, and no calculation of commute costs.

Commuting from Faraway

In Auckland, we have a 20km stretch through Dairy Flat, between the ridge above the Albany basin & Silverdale, and very large areas between Karaka, Pukekohe and west to the coast likely to be developed for housing. You can bet it won’t be turned over to housing at the US standard of 4 houses/acre gross (10/ha) – more likely a mix of standalones on sub-400m² sections, terraces and, a novelty, suburban apartment blocks.

Where will these residents work? Shop? How will they get there? Do we create new communities – or faraway dormitory suburbs? Will the commute be made easy first, or wait for an economic number of travellers to buy at Faraway?

What kind of local jobs will be there? Rodney District Council, in its last years before the super-city was created in 2010, envisaged an innovation zone of business & education as well as housing north-west of Silverdale, a strategy that would increase jobs & education and reduce the commute. That kind of thinking needs to be revived.

Completion of the Auckland unitary plan enables the course of infrastructure provision to be more clearly defined (the appeals still to be determined shouldn’t drastically alter this), but there will still be questionmarks over how much more intensive development might be put in train in the inner suburbs.

Back to Dr Romem

Today’s Ideas page traverses ideas on infrastructure funding, inclusionary zoning as a way of introducing some more affordable housing, and city shape (focusing on Auckland being linear, having satellites, or concentrated around nodes).

This journey over the weekend has taken me to a wide range of views on transport, land use, access – starting with American, returning to New Zealand via international links (Wendell Cox, co-author of the Demographia studies with Hugh Pavletich of Christchurch; and housing & urban development thinker Phil Hayward of Lower Hutt, whose comments appear in a couple of the international & local threads).

At my first stop, Dr Issi Romem’s Can US cities compensate for curbing sprawl by growing denser? offered 4 central points:

  • The link between housing production and outward expansion is unmistakable: cities that expand more produce proportionally more new housing
  • Throughout the country, housing production is skewed towards low density areas
  • Densification has slowed down across the board, and especially in expensive cities, undermining their ability to compensate for less outward expansion
  • Unless they enact fundamental changes that allow for substantially more densification, cities confronting growth pressure face a tradeoff between accommodating growth through outward expansion, or accepting the social implications of failing to build enough new housing.

While Dr Romem’s research shows his first point appears true historically in the US, in Auckland at least that may be much less so in the last 5 years. On his second point, land price & ease of development are the crucial factors. Auckland has a short history of apartment building (though a long history of much less intensive sausage-block flats), and it’s come in bursts. Building consents are now approaching the 2004 level, but the price range is limited – almost entirely above what’s deemed “affordable”.

Romem says less outward means less overall

Dr Romem is the chief economist at BuildZoom, a San Francisco website aimed at matching clients to construction contractors. He was previously an economist at OnPoint Analytics, earned his PhD in economics at Berkeley, and consulted for the Bay Area Council Economic Institute on matters involving transport, real estate & the regional economy.

In this report, he found that, when cities change their pace of outward expansion, their rate of housing production tends to change accordingly.

“Both expensive & expansive cities are economically vibrant and face pressure to grow, but whereas expansive cities like Atlanta, Houston & Phoenix continually provide ample new housing at affordable prices, expensive cities like San Francisco, New York & San Diego do not. Since the 1970s, expensive cities have failed to produce enough new homes to keep real housing costs steady, and as a result they have curbed their population growth and sent real housing prices on a long-run upward spiral.”

He saw 2 key reasons for housing production to correspond so closely with outward expansion:

  • Undeveloped & low density areas produce a disproportionately large share of cities’ new housing. Restricting the flow of undeveloped land “into” a city chokes off subsequent rounds of densification, because low density areas add new housing more readily than denser ones, and
  • Cities which curb their outward expansion are also likely to curb densification within the existing footprint, eg, through more restrictive land use policy.

“Housing production’s skew towards low density areas is important, because it is consistent with the notion that a greater inflow of undeveloped land helps cities produce more housing, through both initial development & subsequent rounds of densification. For reasons explained earlier, eg, with respect to vacant lots, such densification is easier in low density areas. Crucially, expansive cities’ namesake outward expansion keeps low density areas more plentiful there than in expensive cities. In contrast, expensive cities have limited their inflow of undeveloped land by curbing their outward expansion, thereby choking off the initial development of new areas as well as subsequent rounds of densification.”

Densification has slowed down across the board, but much more so in expensive cities

Dr Romem said an important development of recent decades was the increasing paucity of densification: “During the first post-war decades, it was fairly common for areas to grow more dense through construction on vacant lots, and in particular through the replacement of older structures with new ones containing more dwellings. The data show that densification has grown far less common over time, especially in the expensive cities.”

He said the results were similar for areas first developed before World War II.

“Aside from the slowdown in densification, the numbers also tell us that in the US today, substantial densification is the exception. Just 3.8% of areas adding over 1 home/acre (4/ha) and just 0.95% adding over 2 homes/acre over the span of a decade is not very much, and the fraction of areas that cross the 4- & 10-home/acre (16- & 40/ha) thresholds each decade is also exceedingly small. In fact, the vast majority of the developed area of US cities maintains a fixed level of density that doesn’t usually change much over time….

“By curbing their outward expansion, expensive cities have stemmed their subsequent supply of low density areas that are flush with opportunities for further development. A sizable share of densification occurs through infill – not the kind of infill for which planners reserve the term, but simply construction on vacant land scattered within developed areas. The best land is used first, and as densification progresses the remaining lots are fewer and increasingly more challenging to build on, until redevelopment ultimately becomes the only alternative.

“Expansive cities maintain a robust supply of fresh land that is in the early phases of the progression. In contrast, expensive cities’ reduced rate of outward expansion means that most of their land is farther along in the progression, and as a result it is getting harder for them to densify. It is no coincidence that builders today report an unprecedented shortage of vacant lots that is most pronounced in the West & the North-east, where expensive cities cluster.”

Dr Romem’s assessments may also have been true in New Zealand, Auckland in particular, but the intensification trend is strong at the moment. Building consent figures over the last 2 years show intensive housing (apartments, retirement village units, townhouses & suburban units) showed 29.4% of consents nationally were for such intensive development in the July 2015 year, falling to 28.5% of a bigger total (up from 7600 of 25,700 to 8300 of 29,000) in the July 2016 year. I don’t have the breakdown for each market segment for Auckland alone.

Auckland apartment pricing has risen since the market bottomed in 2011. The market in standalone homes has skyrocketed in that period, but the 2 markets differ in their foreign input. Overseas investors have strongly influenced recent house prices, but have had a much longer association with the apartment market, which has relied on marketing overseas in this boom & the last one to get projects started.

The path forward

Dr Romem saw 3 paths forward in the US:

  • Cities that expand with gusto will maintain housing at more affordable levels, but this will further entrench the ills associated with sprawl; today’s expansive cities are already on this path
  • Avoiding expansion, and maintaining the status quo with respect to densification, will divert population growth towards more accommodating cities and render housing increasingly unaffordable for a growing share of the population; it will unequivocally change the social character of these cities, while keeping their physical facade intact, and
  • Enacting fundamental changes to land use policy that prompt far more substantial densification than any US city has undergone to date; expensive cities would have to embrace redevelopment; if new transport infrastructure connects undeveloped areas to the city, or functionally tethers existing nearby cities to it, then such infrastructure amounts to a catalyst for expansion.

Cox says research supports stance against ‘forced density’

Wendell Cox, principal of Demographia, wrote the book War on the dream: How anti-sprawl policy threatens the quality of life 10 years ago. In an article on the New Geography website on Wednesday, The incompatibility of forced density & housing affordability, he said Dr Romem’s research “supports the conclusion that anti-sprawl policy (urban containment policy) is incompatible with housing affordability. He quoted Dr Romem’s finding: “Cities that have curbed their expansion have – with limited exception – failed to compensate with densification. As a result they have produced far less housing than they would otherwise, with severe national implications for housing affordability, geographic mobility & access to opportunity, all of which are keenly felt today as we approach the top of housing cycle.”

Journal accepts the sprawl argument

In the Wall Street Journal, Laura Kusisto wrote: “Building sprawling suburbs is better at making cities affordable than building tall towers, according to research released Wednesday. Environmentalists, urban planners & economists are pushing cities such as New York & San Francisco to build more housing to help combat rapidly rising rents and home prices that are crowding out the middle class.”

At CityLab, Richard Florida noted the expansive versus expensive comparison and said if most development was low density it would amount to sprawl even if the overall urban footprint didn’t increase, and asked: “Do we continue to try to sprawl our way to the American dream, or do we add the density that powers innovation & economic growth?”

A Planetizen report said Dr Romem’s research “shows that housing affordability increases with a region’s ability to build outwards, as opposed to upwards. Densification largely has not accompanied efforts to curb sprawl.”

The Planetizen take was that the research found “sprawl may be bad for the environment & liveability, increasing dependence on the automobile and making transit less practical, but in terms of housing affordability, it’s a winner”.

In comments on the Romem report, Phil Hayward of Lower Hutt wrote (in a much longer comment): “I believe that everywhere that intensification & redevelopment have been adopted as significant proportions of planned housing supply, the results have been the opposite of the anticipated ‘affordability’. Site values increase to incorporate ‘development potential’ as soon as any rezoning occurs, which increases the costs that developers need to sustain while at the same time reducing their margins. All the gain falls to the incumbent owners of sites. In many cases, the expected ‘supply’ does not materialise.”

Hard boundaries go as immigration spike continues

Auckland, as a region with urban boundaries for 20 years – and “hard” boundaries for most of that time, in that they weren’t easily changed without going through protracted litigation – has been the main host for 2 immigration spikes, in 2003-04 and the present one that began with the turnaround from net outflow to net inflow in January 2013.

The latest annual net inflow was 69,000, of whom 32,200 were destined for Auckland. Neither inflow has been matched by an adequate rise in housebuilding. Consents for new homes issued in the last 12 months, 29,000 nationally, 9600 in Auckland, would barely house the national inflow while the Auckland consents would be inadequate to house all the new migrants, let alone internal migration & natural increase.

That can be turned into an excuse, aided by slow consent processes. Auckland was also behind during the 2003-04 immigration spike, but builders worked to catch up

For the first of those migration spikes, Auckland’s policy statement on land use was in the hands of the now-gone regional council. For the second, it’s in the hands of the successor unitary council, and the spike has coincided with the 3 years it’s taken to get the council’s unitary plan from start to almost finished. The housing accord with the Government through that period has enabled a lift in consents, though still well short of demand, and a finalised unitary plan will make intensification easier in many areas.

The “forced density” Mr Cox writes of is not what we have in Auckland, although the Government is leading rebuilds & newbuilds in 3 suburbs – Hobsonville Point, Glen Innes-Tamaki & Northcote. 2 of those projects involve rejuvenating Housing NZ properties, with additional intensive housing, while Hobsonville Point is all new (except for repositioning of a couple of handfuls of former Defence Force houses) and is being built by private contractors.

Current consents for apartments are no longer just in the central city, and include a number of high-price projects – upward of $10,000/m² for some consented 2 years ago, higher than that for more recent projects.

Occupants of those, and of new retirement villages, will free up existing housing, much of it in city fringe suburbs. The question, then, is: Where is the supply for lower market levels?

The answer is that it’s not going to appear until land prices ease, interest rates rise, speculation diminishes and developers & designers adjust their sights.

Issi Romem, BuildZoom, 14 September 2016: Can US cities compensate for curbing sprawl by growing denser?
Wendell Cox, New Geography 21 September 2016: The incompatibility of forced density & housing affordability
Planetizen, 16 September 2016: If housing affordability is top concern, let metro regions sprawl
Wall Street Journal, 14 September 2016: What if urban sprawl is the only realistic way to create affordable cities?
Richard Florida, CityLab, 14 September 2016: The difficulties of density
Phil Hayward comment, 18 September 2016

Inclusionary housing another debate that’s international

Debates over housing affordability, inclusionary zoning, sprawl & urban boundaries are international and can often relate to what happens in Auckland.

Jamues Brasuell wrote on the Planetizen website this week that Portland, Oregon, was considering a new inclusionary zoning policy – ending a statewide ban – but some believed it would have the opposite effect to that intended.

The inclusionary zoning policy is up for debate following a decision by the state to repeal a statewide ban on inclusionary housing requirements. City Observatory columnist Joe Cortright, a panellist at an Urban Land Institute forum on it, suggested ending parking requirements instead, saying inclusionary zoning & weakened urban growth boundaries weren’t effective tools for reducing the price of housing.

Mr Cortright focused on the consequences of “bursting” Portland’s urban growth boundary, saying that possibility, combined with new inclusionary zoning, could make Portland’s affordability worse.

He argued 7 points:

  1. Affordability is about growing up, not out
  2. The market demand/affordability problem is in the urban core
  3. Adding more supply in the core is the key to addressing affordability
  4. Inclusionary zoning increases market prices
  5. Inclusionary zoning creates only token numbers of affordable units
  6. Inclusionary zoning requirements would encourage further sprawl. (Because inclusionary zoning is likely to apply only to housing built in Portland, but not in suburban jurisdictions, it will effectively be a way of penalising & disincentivising dense development in the city relative to housing on the periphery)
  7. If we want to make housing more affordable, let’s get rid of parking requirements. (Oregon actually does allow inclusionary zoning – for cars, in the form of parking requirements. Requiring parking reduces the amount of land that can be used to house people, and directly drives up the price of new homes & apartments. These costs get passed on to homebuyers & renters. Studies show that in urban centres, parking requirements drive up rents by something in the order of about $US200/month. If we want to increase affordability we ought to be getting rid of this kind of hidden housing tax).

Planetizen, 19 September 2016: Inclusionary zoning & unintended consequences
Planetizen, 4 February 2016: Cortright: Oregon legislation would make housing affordability worse
City Observatory, 3 February 2016: Bursting Portland’s urban growth boundary won’t make housing more affordable (and a number of counter points in the comments)

Infrastructure funding options

Only when it doesn’t work does anybody think about infrastructure, says Just Economics LLC director Rick Rybeck.

In an article for Revitalization News, Funding infrastructure to rebuild equitable, green prosperity, said divorcing payment from infrastructure from payment for it made it harder to understand how the money was spent.

People also didn’t understand that, when infrastructure was designed & implemented well, it often inflated the price of well-served land. Where does that lead? “The infrastructure we create to facilitate development pushes development away and is partly responsible for sprawl,” he said. User charges, including road user charges, could help focus the mind on cost.

Just Economics says on its website it helps communities harmonise economic incentives with public policy objectives to:

  • reduce blight by putting vacant & boarded-up properties back into use
  • enhance business & employment opportunities
  • fund transit & other public infrastructure
  • reduce parking & traffic congestion
  • enhance housing affordability
  • enhance the environment, and
  • reduce sprawl.

The company says it accomplishes these goals by helping communities re-engineer taxes, fees & regulations so:

  • incentives embedded in taxes, fees & regulations encourage the private sector to create jobs, affordable housing, transport efficiency & sustainable economic development
  • needed public revenues are obtained, and
  • government sustainability, efficiency & competitiveness are enhanced.

Related pieces

These articles led me to several related articles on various websites. Check them out:

Charles Marohn, Strong Towns, 19 September 2016: Infrastructure spending for dummies
Revitalization News, 15 July 2015: Funding infrastructure to rebuild equitable, green prosperity
Rick Rybeck, report for Washington DC Tax Revision Commission, 2013: Funding long-term infrastructure needs for growth, sustainability & equity
Just Economics LLC (Rick Rybeck)

Making NZ a home for planning thinkpieces

A group of professionals who want to raise the level of public debate & understanding about housing, infrastructure, cities & planning launched the Making NZ blogsite in July.

I’ve quoted some of them below about the launch & their reasoning, but Making NZ cracks a mention today because of links to a number of its contributors who’ve commented recently on topics above – notably intensification & affordability.

Blog editor Matthew Webster said the group of contributors saw affordable housing, economics, infrastructure & design as important components.

Phil Hayward, an independent researcher, writer & lobbyist on urban policy issues, said: “A lot of urban policy is based on plausible assumptions that actually are not supported by real-life experience anywhere. For example, changing zoning to allow more intense development is always forecasted to unleash far more supply of housing units than what actually ends up being built. This is mostly because these zoning changes cause land values to increase even faster than otherwise and, as Arthur Grimes pointed out in a 2010 paper, all the profit potential is captured in land values rather than in newly constructed buildings.

“We should learn from the decades of over-estimated housing supply by urban planners in the UK, and avoid a replay of their costly & now-irreversible blundering.”

Development planning consultant Phil McDermott said: “Transport policy in our largest & most troubled market aims to focus investment in already intensively developed urban areas, raising environmental & financial risks. It’s a double whammy for unaffordability. Existing urban areas with limited capacity for growth receive expensive improvements. While that will increase the desirability of living there for some of those that can afford the higher costs & inflated property values, it leaves many more stranded without access either to traditional suburban housing or to multi-unit dwellings of any quality.

“One key, in the case of Auckland, is to free up for development sufficient greenfields land so the land value/rent curve is at least stabilised from the fringe back into the inner city, allowing more affordable & better quality housing to be developed citywide.”

Andrew Atkin blog, Building Utopia, 12 June 2013: Auckland versus Los Angeles
Making NZ, for urban planning that works
Phil Hayward, Making NZ, 1 September 2016: The myth of affordable intensification
NZ Herald, 29 February 2016: Dushko Bogunovich & Matthew Bradbury: Curing Auckland’s growing pains
Peter Nunns, Transport Blog, 7 March 2016 (and a long line of comments): The linear city and other science fictions

Attribution: BuildZoom, New Geography, Planetizen, Wall St Journal, CityLab, City Observatory, Strong Towns, Revitalization News, Just Economics, Making NZ, Andrew Atkin, Phil Hayward, NZ Herald, Transport Blog

Regular leads: Planetizen.

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas M20June16 – Sprawl & infrastructure, tiny house rules

Sprawl not the problem, infrastructure is
Affordability versus rules

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

Sprawl not the problem, infrastructure is

Charles Marohn, founder of the Strong Towns organisation in the US, writes about ever-topical subjects such as sprawl & intensification without the dogmatic approach of many American protagonists.

He wrote about the term ‘sprawl’ a couple of months ago, got drawn into a debate on definitions and came out the other side still saying sprawl wasn’t the problem he was trying to solve.

The problem is the development of infrastructure which can’t be sustained long-term. It will be fine for a couple of decades, and then the repairs come due – at great cost. One of those is roads, another is underground pipework.

We have the same issues here, and the stentorian monologues of recent weeks – of politicians saying ‘This is what you will do, or else’ – ensure that we will suffer those problems. In small towns we already do. With an ageing population, a proportionately shrinking workforce, changing imperatives.

Will the newcomers – the next generation, immigrants – want to pay to dig up & replace old pipes if they can get new ones more cheaply without the dig?

‘Inter-generational equity’ is a term I became acutely aware of as it was bandied about a decade or so ago, and I cringed. Now it’s in the handbook. It supposedly meant passing some of the cost of developing infrastructure on to future generations who would benefit from it.

What it really meant was handing large debt & tired or obsolete assets to your grandchildren.

Back to Mr Marohn: “I’ve repeatedly made the claim that Texas 2016 is essentially California 1986. Texans pride themselves on having a high growth, dynamic economy, free of legacy costs & burdensome regulations….just like California did a generation ago.

“California got started on the suburban experiment 3 decades ahead of Texas (thanks to a more forgiving climate) and has arrived at the logical destination 3 decades earlier. The Lone Star state need only look west for a preview of coming attractions.”

Detroit the story of America

Detroit is the town where they made the cars that enabled suburbs everywhere to sprawl into the sunset, and it’s now hit hard times. Mr Marohn again: “The auto-centric style of development undermined the resiliency of the city, tearing down social, political & financial strength that had made Detroit one of the world’s greatest cities. Once this strength was undermined, once Detroit became a fragile city, it was only a matter of time.

Detroit is the story of America: hard won, incremental gains replaced with an illusion of wealth ultimately sustained by a mountain of debt.

Dallas story familiar

On Dallas, Mr Marohn’s sub-headings will tell you a familiar story:

  1. Rising revenues
  2. High debt levels
  3. Persistent structural deficits
  4. Dissatisfied population

Auckland Council & the entities it controls have an abundance of critics of their performance. We all have our gripes, and a council survey out this week shows we’re very much at the ‘dissatisfied population’ stage.

The question, for Mr Marohn, was this: “How can Dallas be growing robustly, have relatively high tax rates and yet have persistent & large budget deficits? It’s not wasteful government. It’s not incompetence. It’s not right-wing crazies starving the government beast. The problem is that growth on the top line is not turning into growth of the bottom line. For each dollar of revenue the city is receiving, it is taking on far more than a dollar of liability & expense. In the second life cycle of the growth Ponzi scheme, that can be covered up with debt (done that) but, ultimately, the lack of financial productivity starts to produce recurring, structural deficits that have no obvious cause and no apparent solution.”

Strong Towns, 15 June 2016: Dallas, a budget soap opera
Strong Towns, 7 June 2016: We are all Detroit
Strong Towns, 20 April 2016: The sprawl conversation
Strong Towns, 18 April 2016: Sprawl is not the problem
Strong Towns, tag: The suburban experiment
Charlie LeDuff: Detroit, an American autopsy (published 2013)
Strong Towns, 10 December 2015: America’s suburban experiment

Affordability versus rules

Housing affordability is an issue around the world. This San Francisco take on it, by Johnny Sanphillippo, sets out many of the barriers you might face here:

“Many years ago when I was infinitely younger & a lot poorer I rented a little 9ft x 18ft (about 3m x 6m, so 18m²) backyard cottage behind an old Victorian in San Francisco. Today you might call it a Tiny House or Micro Flat. But back then it was just a 1930s potting shed that had been fitted with a toilet, shower & kitchenette. I was incredibly happy there.

“The space was exactly what I needed, the rent was low, and I didn’t need roommates to make ends meet. The landlord was also happy to have rental income to augment his pension as he aged. This was ‘affordable housing’ that was entirely supplied by the private sector without government subsidies. Yet every aspect of this little backyard cottage is completely illegal under today’s zoning & building codes.”

Johnny Sanphillippo, Strong Towns, 16 June 2016: Affordable housing that might have been

Attribution: Strong Towns

Regular leads: Planetizen

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas Sat16Apr16 – Challenging policy, parking ratios, rules of thumb, strong towns

Effectively challenging policy
Parking ratios
Rules of thumb
Parking as economic destruction
Strongest town

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

By the time I’d wandered through a few links I’d forgotten what brought me here in the first place – often the case on a Saturday morning when I pick up a few threads set aside during the week.

My 2 questions for Tracking ideas items are:

  • Is this relevant to Auckland?
  • Will it prompt you to think of how things might be done better?

The Strong Towns website has done a lot of such prompting for me recently, and today’s Tracking ideas page carries several links directly to Strong Towns columns, plus related pages.

Effectively challenging policy

What prompted me today was less a MinnPost article, What most neighbourhood activists don’t understand about real estate development, more the comments beneath it.

Among the topics raised were comments about zoning, nimbyism, timing of consultation, destruction in the name of affordable housing, making a difference at policy level, progress versus progress (or, definitions versus reality).

I don’t know a thing about Minnesota or Minneapolis, which is what MinnPost is about, but the points raised are relevant here. For instance, on zoning, Auckland is going through the process of making long-term zone decisions which have involved many people in presenting submissions on individual sites, suburbs, right up to the whole isthmus and right across building types or living styles.

The process has been too much for me to follow intimately; I’ll write more when Auckland Council deliberates on the recommendations of the independent panel that’s about to finish hearing submissions on the unitary plan.

Parking ratios

Also in Auckland, as public transport has begun to improve, the campaign against minimum parking ratios has grown. For many years, the Auckland Regional Council & Auckland City Council were at odds on this, advocating different ratios for new commercial development.

My favourite example of timidity versus firm action on parking/public transport (right or wrong) occurred in 2007, when Architect Greg Boyden, then a director of Jasmax Ltd, wanted to build a 2-level apartment above 2 office floors, with far less parking below than the rules dictated.

Mr Boyden left Jasmax in 2013 to set up his own architectural practice from his new building on Railway St, a small side street off Newmarket Broadway. At the initial hearing, he withdrew his application as councillors weren’t prepared to allow less onsite parking if it meant more vehicles being parked elsewhere, in conflict with the push for more people to use public transport – and Broadway had plenty of that.

Parking ratios are an issue elsewhere too, as the Strong Towns website testifies. Blogger Joe Cortright wrote about those ratios & other transport & design issues in a column there in January, questioning the old rationale, and Urban3 analyst Joshua McCarty wrote more those ratios last November.

Rules of thumb

In Strong Towns in January, City Observatory blogger Joe Cortright wrote an article, Our old planning rules of thumb are “all thumbs”: “We all know & use rules of thumb. They’re handy for simplifying otherwise difficult problems and quickly making reasonably prudent decisions. We know that we should measure twice and cut once, that a stitch in time saves 9, and that we should allow a little extra following distance when the roads are slick.

“What purport to be ‘standards’ in the worlds of transport & land use are in many cases just elaborate rules of thumb. And while they might have made sense in some limited or original context, the cumulative effect of these rules is that we have a transport system which is by regulation, practice & received wisdom, ‘all thumbs’.”

His lists of old & new rules of thumb (go to Strong Towns for the detail):

1, We should have a high “level of service” on our streets
2, Wider streets are safer streets
3, We should require “enough” offstreet parking for every use
4, We should plan for a certain number of car trips to be generated by every land use, no matter where it is
5, We should have a hierarchy of streets

1, Closer is better
2, Slower is safer
3, Sharing is efficient
4, Our objective should be accessibility, not mobility.

Parking as economic destruction

The Strong Towns website describes #BlackFridayParking as a nationwide event in the US “drawing attention to the harmful nature of minimum parking requirements which create a barrier for new local businesses and fill up our cities with empty parking spaces that don’t add value to our places”.

In a Strong Towns column last November, Urban3’s chief analytics researcher and resident geo-accountant Joshua McCarty wrote: “What makes surface parking so destructive is that it consumes a finite resource with virtually no direct financial benefit. Our preoccupation at Urban 3 is local finance. From that perspective, parking – in particular the vast kind that adorns strip malls & box stores – is dead weight. Local governments, be they in cities, towns or counties, are all constrained by the land they can develop. What they do with that resource is thus paramount to how well they can pay their bills. Tax revenue is but one of many resources squandered by each acre of land devoted to deactivated cars.

“This year for #BlackFridayParking, I’ll delve deeper into the pattern of tax efficiency in our 3D models to focus on the impact of surface parking. Those of you who are familiar with Urban Three will recognise this image as the incredibly common pattern of property tax production per acre.”

Mr McCarty’s work focuses on new ways to visualise local finance: “At the core of this work is an ongoing effort to quantify, measure & communicate patterns of urban development & the outcomes of design choices.”

Urban 3 LLC is a private consulting firm based in Asheville, North Carolina – actually, in what used to be the boiler room of the George Vanderbilt Hotel built in 1928 – specialising in land value economics, property & retail tax analysis and community design. Its name acknowledges that cities & towns are a “cubed” or 3-dimensional representation of space, its aim is to “help communities make better decisions through the understanding of data & design”, so it provides analytical tools for a 3-dimensional world.

A signature product is the maps it does of cities showing tax productivity, among a number of other results inclined to make you think about inputs & outcomes.

Strongest town

Strong Towns founder & president Chuck Marohn asked in a presentation to the winner of the website’s strongest town competition this month:

  • Why are our cities & towns so short of resources despite decades of robust growth?
  • Why do we struggle at the local level just to maintain our basic infrastructure?
  • What do we do now that the economy has changed so dramatically?

His response: “The answers lie in the way we have developed; the financial productivity of our places. This stunning presentation is a gamechanger for communities looking to grow more resilient and obtain true prosperity during changing times.”

Carlisle, Pennsylvania, population 19,000, won the website’s 2016 strongest town contest against 15 other towns across the US after a competition of one-on-one playoffs to carry out a series of tasks to showcase their strength & resilience through words, photographs, interviews & a live broadcast.

Mr Marohn wrote: “The winner has proven its commitment to safe, accessible transport with a recent road diet down its main street, new bike/walk trails & bus routes. Children in this town regularly walk to school. Its community organisations have come together to improve the public realm through parks, gardens & events, and its local colleges play a central role in the life of the town. Diverse residents make their home in this place, and challenges like the loss of factory jobs are met as opportunities for growth & transformation.”

MinnPost, 6 April 2016: What most neighbourhood activists don’t understand about real estate development
Arian Horbovetz, The Urban Phoenix, 5 April 2016: Revitalisation of small cities: Challenges & advantages
Strong Towns
Strong Towns, 12 April 2016: Strongest town contest winner
Strong Towns, 4 April 2016: And the strongest town award goes to…
Strong Towns, 7 January 2016: Our old planning rules of thumb are “all thumbs”
Strong Towns, 24 November 2015: Mapping the effects of parking minimums
Urban 3
Urban 3 blog

Earlier stories:
Tracking ideas W16Mar16 – affordability, strong towns, Walmart syndrome
14 February 2007: Civic-minded Boyden offers less parking, but councillors play to the rules

Attribution: MinnPost, Strong Towns, Smart Growth, Urban 3, Urban Phoenix

Regular leads: Planetizen

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas Sun3Apr16 – Red Hook, city travel

Red Hook’s path to an unswampy future
Getting around the best way you can

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

Red Hook’s path to an unswampy future

This item is local as a study in how New York neighbourhood Red Hook is starting to deal with bad weather – the kind that brought Hurricane Sandy in 2012, might revisit with another hurricane or might swamp, through rising seas, what used to be a swamp.

I also throw in – in case the New Yorkers want some more constructive ideas – some of the change occurring in Auckland.

Chemical company BASF organised a case study last year on low-lying Red Hook, Creator Space New York City, but also wanted to find solutions relevant to coastal cities globally.

Hurricane Sandy put much of Red Hook under water and set back years of redevelopment. The questions arising at the BASF event included: “How can we preserve Red Hook’s unique character & quality of life while also promoting its economic growth and safeguarding it against future floods? How can measures taken in Red Hook serve as a model for other cities?”

Ideas included green corridors, a coastal park, establish “a centre for job training & human services”, rethink the district’s public housing, and inspire change with a model city block.

The most glaring omission is this: Make it a place you want to be.

This one idea, I think, is the crucial one changing Auckland (downtown so far, but it’ll spread), and one which I think many critics of Auckland Council’s role in organising change don’t understand. The visible signs are streets that are friendly to walk, an atmosphere that’s receptive to inner-city residents, shops that are intended for city residents and the business & education communities, precincts that are becoming communities.

Another question, as much for Auckland as for Red Hook, is who the “you” above is. Do you remake a neighbourhood for existing residents or reshape for new ones?

A cover photo on the BASF study prompted me to look more closely at what I thought were wharves lined with cars – ha! the South Brooklyn marine terminal, just like Auckland – and I landed on a story about the disappearance of waterfront jobs from New York’s smallest container terminal, which a century ago was the busiest freight terminal in the world, so far not displaced by anything else.

In a way, that aerial view of the Red Hook wharves offers Aucklanders an idea of what might occur here with wharf extensions – or what might be a future if reclamation was reversed.

Planetizen, 29 March 2016: Saving coastal cities from climate change
BASF: Co-creating solutions for urban neighbourhoods in coastal cities: A look at Red Hook
Jordan Fraade in Next City, 26 May 2015: There’s money hiding in New York City’s waterfronts

Getting around the best way you can

City travel is changing everywhere. On a VerdeXchange panel in California, Lyft transport policy manager Emily Castor said: “The more viable it is for people to live here without owning a car, the more likely it is that they’re going to use Lyft frequently in combination with transit & other modes. We need to look at how we can create this robust ecosystem together.”

Planetizen, 29 March 2016: Creating an urban mobility ecosystem helps public & private actors
The Planning Report, 16 March 2016, edited discussion: Public & private pros opine on how ‘choice’ impacts urban transport

Attribution: Planetizen, The Planning Report, BASF, Next City

Regular leads: Planetizen

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas W30Mar16 – Housing concept for elderly catches on

Cohousing concept gains ground

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

Cohousing concept gains ground

A Bloomberg article on EcoVillage Ithaca on Friday highlighted the benefits of communally supportive cohousing, and also pointed out some of the pitfalls.

EcoVillage’s 240 residents share kitchens, car rides & a commitment to sustainable living: “Born in Denmark in the 1970s, the cohousing concept has been gaining ground in the US, where more than 150 such communities exist, according to the Cohousing Association of the US. While most are intergenerational like EcoVillage, senior-only cohousing developments are growing in popularity, with 10 completed in recent years & 14 in progress.”

Bloomberg, 25 March 2016: From shared values to shared quarters: Scandinavian-style co-housing is gaining traction among boomers

Attribution: Bloomberg

Regular leads: Planetizen

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas W16Mar16 – affordability, strong towns, Walmart syndrome

Affordability solutions in France & US
Strong towns, and the Walmart syndrome
First, the competition, running in towns all over the US this month
Second, the Walmart syndrome

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

Affordability solutions in France & US

Affordability: “It is by no means obvious that the default answer of ‘build it’ is the right one.”

Writer Alan Mallach, a fellow at the US National Housing Institute and senior fellow at the US Centre for Community Progress – “the only national non-profit organisation solely dedicated to building a future in which entrenched, systemic blight no longer exists” – has written many works on housing & planning.

In a Rooflines article, Using the wrong tools to build affordable housing, he said he spent a few weeks in France 8 years ago, talking to developers, non-profits & public officials about how they moved away from the social nightmare of the 1950-70s public housing projects on the outskirts of major cities: “Now, when French developers build subdivisions or condo projects, non-profit housing corporations enter into turnkey contracts with the developer to buy blocs of apartments or houses, up to a maximum of 50%, of the units in the development. Based on those contracts, the non-profits apply for a package of government loans, grants & tax breaks so they can both buy the units and make sure they remain affordable. When the projects are completed, the non-profit buys the units and operates them as affordable rental housing.”

The Government also offered combinations of tax incentives & 0% second mortgages to enable moderate-income families to buy homes in the same developments. “The point is that developers do what they do best, which is to build housing, and the housing programmes take it from there. As a result, a lot of French housing developments contain a mix of both market-rate & subsidised rental units, and both market-rate & subsidised owner-occupied units.”

Another lesson: In the US, “most everyone in the housing industry knows that many market developers create a decent product for a lot less than low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) projects going up in the same area….

“If one could use LIHTC funds simply to buy blocs of units from developers, or buy existing homes on the private market and turn them into long-term affordable rental housing, we might end up creating a lot more affordable housing than under the current system. We would save millions in construction costs, transaction costs, and in the costs of keeping projects alive for year after year while putting together ever more complicated subsidy layering schemes, and dramatically reduce the multi-year lag from when a project is first conceived to when the first tenants move in.”

Rooflines, 1 March 2016: Using the wrong tools to build affordable housing
US Centre for Community Progress

Strong towns, and the Walmart syndrome

2 articles now from the US Strong Towns website, the first on a competition – at this point down to a 16 draw like it’s being played at Wimbledon – between US towns, fighting out their ability to rise to strong town principles.

The other is superficially about the retail giant Walmart, which has muscled into towns but has recently closed many outlets. We have the same syndrome here – large retailers who “need” to build outside the main retail area (on cheaper land) and proceed to decimate the established centre.

First, the competition, running in towns all over the US this month: It’s about showcasing towns that are doing their best to be strong, that have the building blocks in place to be strong towns today & in the future.

It dropped down to the final 16 on Monday, gets cut to the last 8 on Friday and will see the winner crowned on 1 April. Winners will receive “eternal fame & glory”, plus signed copies of Strong Towns’ upcoming book, Thoughts on building strong towns, Volume II, and a certificate.

The strength test:

  1. Take a photo of your main street at midday. Does the picture show more people than cars?
  2. If there were a revolution in your town, would people instinctively know where to gather to participate?
  3. Imagine your favourite street in town didn’t exist. Could it be built today if the construction had to follow your local rules?
  4. Is an owner of a single family home able to get permission to add a small rental unit onto their property without any real hassle?
  5. If your largest employer left town, are you confident the city would survive?
  6. Is it safe for children to walk or bike to school & many of their other activities without adult supervision?
  7. Are there neighbourhoods where 3 generations of a family could reasonably find a place to live, all within walking distance of each other?
  8. If you wanted to eat only locally produced food for a month, could you?
  9. Before building or accepting new infrastructure, does the local government clearly identify how future generations will afford to maintain it?
  10. Does the city government spend no more than 10% of its locally generated revenue on debt service? [Auckland has a 12% ceiling]

Strongest town
Strong Towns strength test

Second, the Walmart syndrome

I wrote above that this is superficially about the retail giant Walmart, which announced in January it was closing 269 stores – 154 in the US, including 102 of the Walmart Express format opened as a test in 2011, 60 in Brazil, 55 elsewhere in Latin America.

In a Strong Towns article, the organisation’s founder & president, Charles Marohn, wrote: “Walmart builds cheap buildings in order to sell Americans cheap stuff. This model is harming small towns across America.”

He opened his article saying lots of people had predicted the demise of Walmart: “Mostly it is wishful thinking; people who dislike Walmart are inclined to think it has no future, despite signs that it does. I don’t think Walmart is going away any more than I believe American cities, along with state governments, are going to suddenly stop propping it up. Yet it’s fascinating to watch their really fragile business model fraying on the edges.”

Focus on the words “propping it up” and think, in Auckland terms, of the different structures for parking in the city centre & malls, councils’ centres policies designed to combat retailers setting up on cheaper land just outside a town or suburban centre, the pull of the mall and the belated response of creating business improvement districts.

In Sydney now, mixed developments of apartments above retail & office are being built. In New Zealand, residential uses remain separated from commercial. At St Lukes, Westfield/Scentre wants to turn the mall into a more mixed centre, but residential is still excluded, and it will still essentially be a mall as an island in a parking lake – 2000 more parking spaces, up to 3500.

In a 2012 article on Planetizen, The smart math of mixed-use development, Joe Minicozzi documented the breaks available to fringe large-format projects and compared the returns to the public purse: “In basic terms, we’ve created tax breaks to construct disposable buildings, and there’s nothing smart about that kind of growth.”

Mr Marohn quoted a smalltown example from Oriental, North Carolina, where Walmart opened its doors 2 years ago. The Town ‘n Country grocery, a fixture in the town for 44 years, closed its doors last October – and Walmart announced the closure of its business in January.

He followed up: “Walmart buildings are designed to last 15-20 years. Simply, the city’s commitment to maintain the necessary infrastructure extends generations beyond that, let alone the cost of policing & other needed services. If cities did the math on these kind of developments, not another one would ever be built.”

Strong Towns, 8 March 2016: The Walmart trophy
Planetizen, 23 January 2012: The smart math of mixed-use development

Attribution: Rooflines, Strong Towns, Planetizen

Regular leads: Planetizen

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas T9Feb16 – New York argues rezoning, Houston mayor talks highway alternatives, oldtime response already on way

New York arguing rezoning & affordable housing too
Congestion, solutions and the rationale
Boost to roads programme already prepared

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

New York arguing rezoning & affordable housing too

Our view of New York is coloured by Manhattan, home of the skyscraper. Squirming beneath the highrises, however, is a coalition formed last October called New Yorkers for a Human-scale City, which has arguments akin to some of the anti-intensification protests being voiced at Auckland’s unitary plan hearings.

New Yorkers for a Human-scale City launched a petition in October with the support of a number of community & neighbourhood groups opposing New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s upzoning proposals, Zoning for quality & affordability and Mandatory inclusionary zoning.

New York City Council will run 2 public hearings on these proposals this week – Tuesday-Wednesday 9-10 February – followed by votes by the sub-committee on zoning & franchises, then by the committee on land use, and finally by the entire council.

The zoning proposal contains a long list of changes, including allowing buildings with affordable or senior housing to be taller, eliminating parking requirements for affordable or affordable senior housing near subway lines, and changing rules which affect the shape of new & enlarged buildings.

New Yorkers for a Human-scale City’s petition calls for “an end to the violence that real estate developers have inflicted on our skyline, parks, public areas & cityscape with the proliferation of dramatically over-scaled buildings that ignore the historic context of our city”.

Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Junior detailed extensive concerns in a letter to city planning commission chair Carl Weisbrod: “These text amendments pose an abundance of concerns & questions by my office, the community boards, advocacy groups, elected officials & others from all points on the spectrum of the development & public policy community”, and said not one member of the borough board had supported the mayor’s proposals.

“Among the most widespread and universal concerns are:

  • The submission of multiple text amendments at the same time is an unreasonable burden on the capacity of most community boards to adequately review and evaluate their local neighbourhood impact
  • Despite the impact these combined proposals will have on density, there are no mitigation plans identified to support the social and physical infrastructure necessary for the development for which this zoning plan allows
  • Bronx residents have expressed concerns about a lack of green space provisions in the proposals
  • Another criticism has been that no serious discussion of job creation – and the types of jobs that would be created – to build any of the senior or affordable housing developments has taken place. Nor is any reference made to employing New York-based minority- or women-owned firms in furnishing the supplies or workers for building construction.”

In another clash of principles – essentially down-up versus up-down – Mr Diaz wrote: “The ‘neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood’ approach to planning has been very successful in the Bronx. The borough has adopted no less than 14 rezonings since 2009. These text amendments go against the grain of these successful approaches to community-based planning… I am deeply concerned about this broad-brush approach to planning. One size does not fit all.”

Mr Diaz also questioned the options for affordability that would be available under the mayor’s proposals.

New Yorkers for a Human-scale City said in its petition: “Nearly every community board in the city has voted these proposal down. We do not want the city council to ‘make a deal’ just because that is what politicians do. The proposals should be rejected and human-scale alternatives sought.”

The group said the mayor’s proposals “seek to intervene in the market by juicing developer profits to even more shocking levels in exchange for destroying neighbourhood character with out-of-scale buildings. And contrary to what the city planning commission says, this profit giveaway comes with no guarantee that we will get either quality improvements or affordability within the new development. What the proposals do is give our light, air & neighbourhood character away to developers as a field of gold for them to play in.

“The upshot is that proposals will not create a human-scale city or affordable housing, but instead launch a process of hyper-gentrification.”

On the Project for Public Spaces website, Stephen Burke wrote that, “rather than directly protesting developers or luxury housing or zoning changes, we frame the conversation differently – everyone has the right to live in a human-scale city, and one way to achieve this is through placemaking”.

In a Guardian column, Columbia University sociology professor Saskia Sassen wrote last November: “Does the massive foreign & national corporate buying of urban buildings and land that took off after the 2008 crisis signal an emergent new phase in major cities? From mid-2013 to mid-2014, corporate buying of existing properties exceeded $US600 billion in the top 100 recipient cities, and $US1 trillion a year later – and this figure includes only major acquisitions (eg, a minimum of $US5 million in the case of New York City).”

She said cities were always reinventing themselves, “but today’s largescale corporate buying of urban space in its diverse instantiations introduces a de-urbanising dynamic. It is not adding to mixity & diversity. Instead it implants a whole new formation in our cities – in the shape of a tedious multiplication of highrise luxury buildings.”

Links: New York City proposals
New Yorkers for a human-scale city
12 January 2016, Project for Public Spaces: Placemaking & the human-scale city
24 November 2015, The Guardian: Who owns our cities – and why this urban takeover should concern us all

Congestion, solutions and the rationale

In a US state where the car dominates, new Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, elected in December, conveyed an alternative message to the Texas Transport Commission on 28 January. But (in the news item below this one) you’ll see he has a hard journey to get his view heard.

Mr Turner told the commission: “If there’s one message that I’d like to convey, it’s that we’re seeing clear evidence that the transportation strategies that the Houston region has looked to in the past are increasingly inadequate to sustain regional growth.”

He said the region had 6.5 million people now and was projected to grow by another 3 million in the next 20 years.

“The region’s primary transportation strategy in the past has been to add roadway capacity. While the region has increasingly offered greater options for multiple-occupant vehicles & other transport modes, much of the added capacity has been for single-occupant vehicles as well. It’s easy to understand why. The Texas Department of Transport has noted that 97% of Texans currently drive a single-occupancy vehicle for their daily trips. One could conclude that our agencies should therefore focus their resources to support these kinds of trips. However, this approach is actually exacerbating our congestion problems. We need a paradigm shift in order to achieve the kind of mobility outcomes we desire.”

Mr Turner said the Katy Freeway (Interstate 10) west of Houston, widened in 2008 to make it the widest freeway in the world with up to 26 lanes, still had the eighth most congested section of roadway in the state last year.

Mr Turner made 3 points:

  • Don’t pander to the 97%, but prioritise projects that increase the use of alternative transport
  • Focus resources in the urban core, where congestion is most severe, and
  • Agencies should collaborate to find comprehensive solutions for the travelling public. As an example, he said, “Highway improvements impact our local thoroughfares, and that last mile must have adequate capacity to receive increased volumes resulting from highway improvements.”

Points like these are being argued in Auckland too, but what I liked most was the comment on the Streetsblog story, by one Jarred R: “In the north-east with old, industrial, pre-auto cities, nearly all mayors think like this – it is part of their DNA. This is versus sunbelt cities. Sunbelt cities have a long tradition of anti-urbanism, which is the primary reason these cities are today so single-occupant-vehicle auto-oriented. I highly recommend reading the book Americans Against the City by Steven Conn. Good luck to the mayor of Houston, but he will have to overcome a very powerful myth that pervades the culture there: that urbanism & rail transit are harbingers of socialistic behaviour. You will see plenty of middle-class homeowners showing up with ‘Don’t tread on me’ yellow flags claiming that Houston’s minimum off-street parking requirements are the only true way to ensure that the US remains a free, democratic & capitalist nation.”

Streetsblog, 29 January 2016: Houston mayor calls for paradigm shift away from highway widening
Turner speech

Boost to roads programme already prepared

The day before Mr Turner addressed the commission that heads the Texas transport department, the department made clear its intent on roadworks as its congestion palliative.

Under the heading Agency ready to deliver projects aimed at reducing gridlock, improving drive time, the department announced $US1.3 billion of works: “On average, Texas drivers in 5 of the state’s largest metropolitan areas each are losing about 52 hours & $US1200 annually due to traffic congestion. Upon approval by the Texas Transportation Commission, the Texas Department of Transportation plans to improve drive times and reduce costs to Texas drivers through a $US1.3 billion effort focused on delivering projects at an accelerated pace that addresses gridlock in some of the state’s most congested areas.

“The projects, which add up to more than 42 miles, include interchanges, flyovers & congestion relief efforts at some of the state’s worst chokepoints. They will be funded using $US1.3 billion made available through ending the use of diversions of highway money by other agencies.”

Link: Texas Department of Transport, 27 January 2016: TxDOT unveils initial $US1.3 billion to address congestion

Attribution: Project for Public Spaces, New York City Council, New Yorkers for a human-scale city, Streetsblog, Texas Department of Transport

Regular leads: Planetizen

Continue Reading

Tracking ideas W27Jan16 – Tactical urbanism; biking & walking survey

‘Don’t write a plan, try it out’
Who bikes & why

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

First tactical urbanism, then walkable urbanism….

‘Don’t write a plan, try it out’

The mantra of minimalists is: Install core infrastructure and make it work. That means roads, the waters & rubbish.

The mantra of the left is to do that plus help those less able to help themselves.

It’s only when people get near the council chequebook that they discover all these other great things they can do. In Auckland, that means the tasks of the council-controlled organisations, not just looking after the waters but transport, a portfolio of mostly community properties, stadiums, parks, reserves… And then there’s Ateed, adding tourism, events & economic development to the list.

Now, in the US, there’s tactical urbanism too. Tactical urbanism? As the Smart Growth website put it: Start with a minimal product, test it in the real world, learn on the fly and be ready to change. Activists & non-profits are pushing cities to be open to experimentation by supporting temporary parks, pop-up street prototypes & guerrilla bike lanes. The term ‘tactical urbanism’ has been coined to describe this shift in thinking about cities. The idea is to take planning out of the endless cycle of concept sketches & public meetings, and help citizens see & influence change in a more hands-on way.”

Or, as David Morris wrote in his article on Fortune, How cities are learning to think more like startups: “Tech & innovation have tested cities & urban planners in various ways, from Google’s buses & the spectre of inequality to the infrastructure challenge posed by driverless cars. But the 158 finalists for the Knight Foundation Cities Challenge, announced last week, show that ideas from the tech world are impacting urban planning in a much deeper way – and for the better.

“’There’s a lot of interest in trying things,’ says Carol Coletta, vice president at the Knight Foundation. ‘We don’t have to plan forever, we don’t have to have the biggest idea. Let’s try something and see if it works.’”

Smart Growth, 21 January 2016: How cities are learning to think more like startups
Fortune, 21 January 2016: How cities are learning to think more like startups

Who bikes & why

2 Washington University engineering researchers, Xi Zhu & Cynthia Chen, found from a study in 2013 that rich & poor people walk & bike for different reasons – the rich if they like the neighbourhood, the poor because they have to.

They asked over 100 self-reporting questions for their study of people’s non-motorised travel behaviour, and the results suggest the different pathways that underlie the built environment effect on walking & cycling trips for the 2 groups.

“Walking & cycling for the lower-income appears to be the result of their constraints – with limited personal resources (income & cars), if the built environment facilitates the use of non-motorised modes, people will walk or cycle more. On the other hand, for the higher-income, walking & cycling appear to be the result of their choices, and the only factor that will help is the attractiveness of the neighbourhoods.

“These differences have important policy implications. The study shows the significant effect that the built environment plays in non-motorised travel behaviours. However, the effect appears only significant for the lower-income group. This is a message that is both welcoming & disappointing. Welcoming, because it suggests that increased density & improved accessibility will likely result in more walking & cycling trips for the lower-income; disappointing, because the effects of these density- & accessibility-enhancing measures are likely fading away when the income levels of the lower-income improve.

“An improved income will lead to owning more vehicles, which will then reduce the use of non-motorised modes. The implications for the higher-income group are more complex. Does the result suggest that the policies shall focus on the beautification of neighbourhoods? The answer is not likely a simple yes or no, as related issues such as cost & equity must also be considered.

“One finding that is significant to both groups is that access to bicycles will likely increase non-motorised trips. It is conceivable that when people cycle more, they will most likely walk more. This finding lends great support to the bicycle share programmes that are now available in many cities.”

And in Auckland?

Unlike Christchurch, bikes haven’t been standard transport in Auckland and I suspect there’s more than a rich/poor divide here. Apart from the occasional councillor out to exultantly find nobody in a bike lane, and the marauding gangs of exercising business people on racing bikes, there are committed greens and a few commuters.

Commuters need safe routes into business areas while exercyclists need safe routes that don’t clash with walkers. If Auckland follows Seattle, biking commuters will grow into driving commuters, but gridlock will encourage off-road travel – the new trains, bikes and an increase in walking.

For that reason blank landscapes like Nelson St will have to change more than getting a bikelane, and more than getting additional blank furniture in the form of a convention centre.

Washington University research paper, 30 July 2015: The built environment affects non-motorised travel behaviours differently for lower- & higher-income people
Smart Growth, 20 January 2016: Rich people walk and bike for different reasons than poor people do
Grist, 15 January 2016: Rich people walk and bike for different reasons than poor people do

Attribution: Smart Growth, Fortune, Grist, survey paper.

Regular leads: Planetizen

Continue Reading
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux