Bogunovich dissents from Institute of Architects’ support for “unreal” intensity plan

Urban design professor Dushko Bogunovich has dissented from the Institute of Architects’ submission supporting intensification in the Auckland Council unitary plan.

In return, he’s been criticised for not providing his view within the institute’s process for formulating the submission – and he’s told the institute he’s made every effort through a wide range of public outlets to express his opinions.

Dr Bogunovich, associate professor of urban design at Unitec, said he didn’t oppose compact urbanism and believed Auckland needed more of it. But, he said, the unitary plan ratios of 70% greenfield development, 30% inside the rural:urban boundary (or  40% allowing for slippage), were unreal.

The ratio should be reversed, he said.

The institute’s own submission during the earlier feedback process, while not going as far as Dr Bogunovich, retains a questionmark over the practicality of the ratio, saying the council hasn’t completed its analysis to show the 70:30 ratio is possible.

Dr Bogunovich took issue with the Institute of Architects’ summary sentence in its proposal for a formal submission on the unitary plan – sent to members last week – because it seemed to endorse the ‘concept of quality compact city’ without any conditions. The formal submissions period closes on 28 February.

The sentence which has offended Dr Bogunovich reads: “In summary, the Auckland branch supports the concept of a quality compact city and the development of an enabling planning approach that is design-led, with the goal of a sustainable livable city which supports holistic growth.”

Dr Bogunovich responded: “If my reading of it is correct, this means the Institute of Architects endorses the idea that the quality compact city is the way to accommodate about 70% of all future growth of Auckland inside the present urban boundary.

“This idea is a complete nonsense, possibly one of the biggest nonsenses in the history of urban planning in New Zealand. Do we really want to support it?

“I have criticised this over-zealous approach to Auckland’s future on many occasions and have explained why. I am pretty sure history will show that I was right, at least to some extent. But even at this early stage, we have already seen why this cannot work.

“I am not against compact urbanism as such, and I do believe Auckland needs more of it. But about 30% of all future growth would be just about right. In other words, I could support an exactly reverse ratio – 30% of future growth by intensification, 70% by greenfield, satellite & upper North Island centres – as opposed to the council’s ideology-driven, no-evidence-whatsoever-based fantasy.

“The council’s vision is not only unrealistic – for a host of spatial, legal, financial, economic, cultural & political reasons – it is also unnecessary. If you want ‘the world’s most liveable’ – or even ‘most sustainable’ – city, it does not at all follow that this city should be built from now on in an overwhelmingly intensified manner. Certainly not Auckland, a very unusual city by many standards, even at world’s scale.

“But worse of all, the council’s 70% vision is dangerous: Auckland is one of the most exposed cities in the world to natural hazards. Add to this the growing global warming-associated uncertainty over weather systems, and put it on top Auckland’s tricky physical geography – you get one of the most vulnerable big cities on the planet. Why on Earth would you want to compact such a city and make it even more dependent on expensive, centralised urban infrastructure?

“It would be much wiser – and politically responsible – to see what advantage an already low-density, polycentric Auckland has, and then plan for its growth in a manner which prioritises resilience, not some second-hand, Eurocentric idea of what liveability is about.

“Again, I am uncomfortable with my institute supporting an urban planning vision which is not based on science but ideology, and cannot become a reality even if it was a good idea. Please reconsider the text.”

Dr Bogunovich went on to expand on his long-held views that an extended Auckland is banana-shaped (continuing from Whangarei to Hamilton & Tauranga), naturally fits into a linear design and should continue to have many centres.

“I think the Institute of Architects needs to distance itself from the council’s idea of force-feeding Auckland with European urbanism – especially now that climate change is starting to show-&-tell what it can do to cities at ‘interesting’ locations.

“We should endorse the quality compact city idea as one of a mix of spatial strategies how to make Auckland a better city, not the main one. Somebody has a funny idea that metro Auckland – one of the most dispersed & pronouncedly linear city-regions in the world – should, and could, look like central Copenhagen.

“Auckland should be a polycentric, predominantly low-density urban region, with many old & new satellites (about 100). It should be growing in co-ordination with the rest of the upper North Island (the ‘Whanga-Tane banana’ theory – to ease some of the pressure for growth.

“And the shape of greater Auckland should be – in fact already is – fundamentally linear, not ‘compact’. Both the central spine of that linear metropolitan area, and the many local centres east & west of the spine, contain plenty of opportunity for intensification and for the quality compact city concept. But not to the extent of cramming into them another 700,000 people!

This is the part I do not want my institute to stand behind. Because we will all look silly – and perhaps even reckless – sometime after 2020.”

The institute wanted to see the intensification analysis showing Auckland had the capacity to deliver 280,000 dwellings inside the rural:urban boundary (and 140,000 outside it over the next 30 years, providing for a million more residents at a ratio of 2.5:dwelling) before unitary plan was notified: “In the absence of that information, it is difficult to see the council has sufficient data to correctly determine zonings & zone boundaries. We submit that the council completes this study and makes it publicly available prior to formal notification of the unitary plan later this year.”

The institute also raised questions over the many constraints on intensification apparent in zoning maps, which were increased in the last week of council deliberations in August: “The study we have made of the planning maps included in the draft unitary plan indicates that there are many instances where scope for intensification has not been pursued and, to a lesser extent, instances where less intensity would have been preferable.

“The significance of not having taken opportunities for intensification is yet to be established because of the absence of the data that would confirm – within reasonable limits of certainty – that 280,000 dwellings could be accommodated within the existing metropolitan area within the required timeframe.

“We do, however, consider that the prudent policy with respect to the zoning maps at this stage would be to zone all the opportunities for intensification that seem reasonable. Not to do so risks sending a message to the community that there are significant areas of metropolitan Auckland that will not be subject to change that, indeed, may well have to change. Our analysis of a very limited number of locations has indicated that there may well be a very significant under-utilisation across the metropolitan area.

“This under-utilisation appears to fall into the following groupings:

  • Inappropriately low provision for density around a town or metropolitan centre
  • Land adjoining a public transport route not utilised for intensification
  • Land adjacent to physical or visual amenity not utilised for intensification
  • Land in market-attractive areas not utilised for intensification
  • Planning map overlays effectively preclude intensification
  • Largescale ‘rollover’ of low-density residential zones compromises intensification
  • Inappropriately high provision for intensification around a town or metropolitan centre”

Links: Bogunovich, Oxford University presentation
NZIA feedback submission

Attribution: Bogunovich correspondence, NZIA submissions.


5 Responses to Bogunovich dissents from Institute of Architects’ support for “unreal” intensity plan

  1. Francis McRae Monday 2 December 2013 at 4.36pm #

    Bogunovich is a seasoned contrarian who dresses up arguments in support of suburban sprawl in the jargon of sustainability in an attempt to distinguish himself as an original thinker in urban planning.

  2. Nigel Cook Monday 2 December 2013 at 9.10pm #

    That ad hominem comment, Francis, is not at all useful. It only serves to hide the fact that you are saying nothing substantial in support of the council’s or of the Institute’s position. As Jasmax showed the original intensification aims of the council were, actually, impossible and the 30/70 mix are no closer to reality.
    Not only is the council intensifying beyond reality but at the same time they are trying to turn Auckland, a Settler city, into a European one.

  3. Francis McRae Tuesday 3 December 2013 at 11.32am #

    Apologies for the ad-hominem, I should have attacked the arguments rather than the man but still I think those arguments have no merit.

    I cannot see anything in Bogunovich’s work other than a call to maintain the status quo of accommodating growth through continued suburban sprawl. The only slight point of difference in Bogunovich’s work is a faith in the ability of technology to offset the inherent unsustainability of suburbia. I don’t see how concepts like peri-urbanism are any different from existing large lot suburbia or countryside lifestyle blocks.

    The 2011 Jasmax study did not find that accommodating up to 70% of growth over the next 30 years within the current metropolitan limits is impossible, only that it would be impossible with the moderate rezoning of town centres that was proposed at the time the Auckland Plan was being drafted. As the report states:
    “With major rezoning in most current urban areas (requiring huge political resilience) could provide 200 – 270 000 extra dwellings.”
    This would be difficult, but not impossible.

    Patrick Fontein found that the draft Unitary Plan, released in march 2013, only provided for 45% of future growth to be accommodated through intensification, and the notified Unitary Plan, significantly watered down by local board members and councillors, would yield 32 % intensification. That is less than half of the 60 -70% intensification target but it is important to note that only 15% of residentially zoned land in the notified UP allowed for moderate intensification (Terraced housing and apartment zone and Mixed housing urban). A much greater level of intensification would be possible by both enlarging the extent of these medium intensity zones, and by loosening density limiting rules (such as parking minimums) in all zones.

    I think fear of turning Auckland into a “European City” is misplaced. Even with an additional 280 000 intensified dwellings in 30 years time, the majority of Auckland’s housing stock would still be standalone houses. Also the largest growth is going to be in households of two people or less, a household type much better suited to medium intensity housing than large suburban homes on the outskirts.

    • Phil Hayward Tuesday 3 December 2013 at 10.49pm #

      What real life data is the expectations of the planners based on? Where is the data that shows, for example, the correlation of urban density with commute-to-work time, which is the important measure of “efficiency”?

      The correlation between urban density and transport energy consumption could be based on so many causative elements other than efficiency per se, that we need to confirm our assumptions by way of a proxy for efficiency.

      I actually suggest that the correlation between density and transport energy consumption, is discretionary income and housing costs. Every higher density city is so because economic land rent is much higher, which in turn is due to inability for rural land to be converted to urban use without massive capital gains due to permission processes or factors which have the same effect, ranging from central “infrastructure planning” to outright corruption.

      Systemically affordable-housing cities are all lower density because the above effect is absent, and when land is something like 90% cheaper per square metre (without exaggeration), you can consume several times as much and still be ahead. Households in these cities tend to own thirstier cars, and more cars, and do more discretionary non-work trips, and even have more children, necessitating compromises in location relative to schools as well as work; because they can afford to. But one thing they DON’T do, is take longer getting to work…..!

      “British commuters have the longest journeys to work in Europe with the average trip taking 45 minutes, according to a study. That is almost twice as long as the commute faced by Italians and seven minutes more than the European Union average…..”

      The US average is 26 minutes……

      The UK has the highest urban density, with Europe next and the USA below that. The outlier Italian result is probably due to very intensive road networks, and chaotic patterns of development (an amazingly high proportion of newly built property in Italy is not even on “titled” sites) that have allowed maximum balancing of housing, jobs and amenities.

      A Recent OECD study contained a graph that was published in the New York Times; which has aroused much controversy among those who regard the USA’s cities as the worst possible models of urban form:

      Note that Italy does not perform so well on that graph.

      The appendix “Table 8” beginning on page 36 of this paper is quite comprehensive and enlightening:

      I wish there was data on NZ cities (there is data for congestion delay, which is different, nevertheless our cities are international-outlier disgraces on this measure).

      Lori G. Kennedy, in the noted “Transport and Social Exclusion – a United States View”, points out the following:

      “……The cost of transit in the US is drastically different…… In 1960, when most transit companies were private and not subsidized, the cost of transit averaged 18 cents per passenger mile (1997 dollar), a little less than the cost of driving. By 1975, when almost all transit agencies were publicly owned and heavily subsidized, the cost per passenger mile reached 44 cents (paid mostly by taxpayers – non transit riders). Today in the US, transit costs exceed 50 cents per passenger mile, three times the cost of driving…..

      “…….A lot of factors caused congestion to increase in some regions faster than in others, including population growth, urban layout, and the location and distribution of employment centers. But the one important factor under the control of transportation planners is how transportation funds are spent. Over the past decade or so, the leaders in urban areas, including Portland, the Twin Cities, and San Diego, have openly given up on highways to relieve congestion and funneled transportation dollars into transit instead. Other regions, such as Houston, Phoenix, and Kansas City, decided to stick with highways. Urban areas that focused on transit had the greatest increases in congestion. All of the top seven urban areas (as ranked by change in Travel Time Index) became fixated on rail rather than roads sometime in the 80s or 90s. Meanwhile, urban areas that focused on highways had relatively low increases in congestion…….”

      Eric A. Morris says, in “Los Angeles Transportation Facts and Fiction” (“Freakanomics” Blog):

      “…….by the standards of U.S. cities, Los Angeles is not sprawling, has a fairly extensive transit system, and is decidedly light on freeways. The smog situation has vastly improved…..
      “……..Los Angeles’s traffic woes stem from the fact that it doesn’t sprawl enough and has overinvested in costly rail transit at the expense of developing its undersized freeway network…..”

      Links to supporting articles are embedded in the article itself. LA is the densest US urban area. It has one of the lowest road lane miles per capita of any US city. Since the 1970’s a full 1/3 of its road budgets have been diverted to public transport that still only provides 4% of total travel.

      Toronto is the only Anglo New World city denser than LA, and Auckland is second equal with LA. Germany’s average is similar to this. Most urban areas in France are less dense. Amsterdam and some other famous European cities are not significantly denser than Auckland.

      Truly low density cities are 1/3 the density of Auckland; and most such cities actually have far cheaper housing, far less traffic congestion delays, and sounder local finances.

  4. Phil Hayward Tuesday 3 December 2013 at 10.22pm #

    Bogunovich is actually not making anywhere near as strong an argument as can be made against the “compact city”.

    The alleged aims could not be sought in a more cost-ineffective, distortionary, and economic-rent-creating way. The outcomes will firstly be in massive increases in economic land rent, and secondly, only minimal actual relocations of people and economic activity can possibly occur due to the increased economic land rent “pricing out” most of the intended “movers”.

    Anthony Downs, in “A Growth Strategy for the Greater Vancouver Region”, 2007:

    “……The cost of land poses a key dilemma for urban planners everywhere who want to concentrate jobs together so they can be best served by public transit. Such concentration raises the costs of land near centers; in fact, it would confer a monopoly advantage on landowners who owned such land and could exploit firms trying to locate there. Then firms will want to locate elsewhere to cut their land costs.

    Planned concentration of jobs in a few centers is not consistent with private ownership and control of land. Some type of collective control over that land would be necessary to prevent monopolistic exploitation of land values. In theory, this could be done with high land taxes in such areas and special zoning rules. But adopting those devices is politically difficult in a free enterprise economy…….

    “……A similar but less intensive dilemma concerns land near transit stops, where it would be most efficient to concentrate high-density housing and jobs. That also creates ownership monopolies over such land unless it is specially controlled or taxed. Yet focusing development near transit stops is a key to using more transit…..”

    Curitiba compulsorily acquired the land for their famous “TOD” BRT-based system in the 1970’s. This is why it worked so well. If saving the planet is the issue, compulsory acquisition of land is justified. Good luck retaining the status quo level of “support” for the compact city policy under those conditions, though.

    Most economists who have pronounced on the subject of “urban sprawl” have said that what is needed, is getting the prices right for energy and infrastructure use and letting all market actors work out their own best response. Downs again, says in his book “Still Stuck in Traffic” (2004), that trying to alter energy consumption by way of urban form mandates, is like trying to adjust the position of a picture on a living room wall by moving the wall rather than the picture.

    This view is echoed by such alumni as Edwin S. Mills, Paul Cheshire, Alain Bertaud, Patrick Troy and dozens of others. Bogunovich has been a good learner from some good people. There is far too much vested interests and useful idiocy involved in all this.

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