Fran on Christchurch

August 4th, 2012 at 12:01 pm by David Farrar

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

I’ve really drunk the Kool Aid when it comes to the inspirational blueprint for ’s new CBD. It is a stunner. Compact. Cutting edge. Green. Sustainable.

It was crunched out in just over 100 days; a brilliant demonstration of that old maxim “pressure makes a diamond”.

It is also a plan that all New Zealanders need to embrace.

I doubt many of us seriously appreciated that the whole of New Zealand is pretty much a seismic zone until the devastating Canterbury earthquakes hit.

Yeah I thought it was just Wellington that was going to get a big one.

But I’ll never forget the look of abject horror on the faces of the hundreds of people who poured out of the Christchurch CBD after the 6.3 magnitude quake that struck on February 22, 2011 … or the grim chat I had with Mayor Bob Parker at the Christchurch Art Gallery shortly afterwards when he told me “there has been serious death”. Nor will I forget the sincerity of former US Secretary of State Richard Armitage, also in Christchurch when the quake struck, who later that afternoon told me the United States had instantly offered assistance from its own military based in Hawaii.

Disasters do bring out the best in people, as we band together. The memory for me is the Australian police officers and others landing in Christchurch to cheery crowds.

Key has now ordered them to get the L-shaped frame of parks which will surround the new CBD in place by the end of 2013. Decisions will be made super fast. Most will bypass the Resource Management Act.

The tempo will be fast.

If anyone doubts just how fast officialdom can work when the whip is cracked just consider the AMI stadium. David McConnell’s Hawkins Construction got that up in 11 weeks.

Which has proved to be excellent.

The brute reality is that before the quakes struck Christchurch was effectively dying. The very compactness of this new city heart will ensure its vibrancy.

Something I have said also.

What if other New Zealand cities – particularly Auckland – were given the tools so they too could follow Christchurch’s example and wipe the barriers that stymie economic growth?

Hear hear. also writes in NBR:

The government has created a major political risk for itself given the sheer brilliance of its new Christchurch plan.

I try to strictly avoid writing here about anything I am working on in my day job but, like everything else that has happened in Christchurch these last 21 months, this is a once-in-a-lifetime exception.

The Christchurch plan is the result of two madcap ideas by sometimes uneasy bedfellows, Christchurch mayor Bob Parker and earthquake czar Gerry Brownlee.

  Mr Parker led his council’s “Share an Idea” campaign where the people of Christchurch got to say what they wanted in their new city.  

It wasn’t the typically stifling local government “consultation” exercise.  Lawyers, formal submissions and correct spelling and grammar were not welcome.  People just got to scribble down in their own words what they wanted.

Over 100,000 Cantabrians responded, more than a quarter of Christchurch’s population.  The campaign became the first community engagement programme outside Europe to win the international Co-Creation Association’s supreme award and it did so unanimously.

The lawyers and lobbyists who make it their business to get between the public and their elected officials were sidelined.

I wasn’t aware of the award.

The plan is radical and far more clean, green, politically-correct and urban-design-y than would be expected to be signed off by the sometimes gruff and usually conservative Mr Brownlee.  There are all sorts of parks and art and culture hubs and so forth.  Christchurch will be the most beautiful city in the world.

But the plan is far more commercially astute than might be expected from the urban designers and creative types who prepared it. 

It halves the size of the CBD, making land scarce to improve returns per square metre, creating competition among investors and developers for the best spaces.  There is going to be a gold rush.

What is interesting is that the Property Council has welcomed the plan. They represent the property owners who have the capital that is essential to making the plan a reality. They were negative on the original plan, but have been supportive of this final one, which is a good and important thing.

Decisions will be made on urban design resource consents within five working days, by a three-person committee representing the government, the city council and Ngai Tahu and they will not then need to be notified under the Resource Management Act.

Proposals will of course need to be pretty, clean and green and fit the plan but the tradeoff is that developers get a final answer in a week.

Mr Parker’s city council has then resolved to make final decisions on all other aspects of building consent applications within a fortnight. …

Do Aucklanders need to wait for Rangitoto to erupt before Len Brown will launch a community engagement programme about its spatial plan as good as Mr Parker’s “Share an Idea”?

Do Dunedites need to suffer some sort of biblical-type flood before their leaders will develop an innovative 100-day plan to deal with some of the same long-term economic challenges that were faced by Christchurch?

Do Wellingtonians need to suffer their major earthquake before they get access to 24-hour investment services, five-day resource consent decisions and two-week building consents?

Does the Waikato need to be devastated by mad cow disease before delays at the OIO and Immigration Service are sorted out?

For that matter, why on earth doesn’t the government roll out its bold, visionary Christchurch approach on a nationwide basis and just slash all the barriers to economic growth that still exist everywhere but Canterbury?

A roadmap to growth.

29 Responses to “Fran on Christchurch”

  1. Sonny Blount (2,043 comments) says:

    Hooray for planning.

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  2. Nichlemn (60 comments) says:

    But the plan is far more commercially astute than might be expected from the urban designers and creative types who prepared it.

    It halves the size of the CBD, making land scarce to improve returns per square metre, creating competition among investors and developers for the best spaces. There is going to be a gold rush.

    Calling an increase in artificial scarcity “commercially astute” is absurd. By this logic it might be “commercially astute” to restrict the number of doctors in order to “create competition among patients for the best doctors”. All it amounts to is an inefficient transfer from patients and would-be doctors to existing doctors.

    Perhaps there are benefits to the decision which offset the costs, but calling the main cost a benefit makes me seriously doubt Fran’s economic acumen.

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  3. fish_boy (152 comments) says:

    I looked up right wing echo chamber in the dictionary. It said “DPF quoting Fran O’Sullivan”.

    Firstly, O’Sullivan might be a convert to downtown Christchurch as a Stalinist monument to Gerry Brownlee’s ego and his rampant provincial anti-urbanism, but practically all the actual topwnplanners and architects out there think it is a disasterous plan than will see the CBD largely deserted outside business hours, except when the tourists roll in from the ‘burbs to gawk at it. I mean, where is the vitality of small scale capitalism in Christchurch as Pyongyang?? It is all state services and monumental structures. I think Fran ought to stick to kissing the arse of the Auckland business elite, it is all she knows and by God, she is good at it. Her foray into townplanning OTOH has just made her look like an uneducated fool shilling the government line.

    Secondly, John Key and Gerry Brownlee want to provide a nice roofed stadium because it gets down to 0 degrees at night in Christchuch. There is a cheap solution for that. Play the friggging games in the afternoon. No good for Sky? Then the fucking parasites at Sky can pay for the roof. That is called the market taking a risk on the stadium. As it is, the ratepayers of Christchurch are being asked to fork out their money so Gerry and John and Steve Tew can hob-nob with the Sky executives in the VIP lounge of the lovely warm new stadium paid for by Christchurch ratepayers.

    Thirdly, what is it with National and convention centres? I thought Sky city was meant to provide the last word in convention centres. You know world class and all that. Now we are going to build ANOTHER fabulous convention centre in Christchurch? Incoherent policy much? Mind you, this is also the government that wants teacher degrees to be four years long to “improve teacher quality” (only it won;t actually fund students to study that long) then decides charter schools don’t need qualified teachers to be high quality, so I suppose make-up-shit-to-suit-your-prejudices-as-policy is probably the only coherent thing this government DOES achieve.

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  4. fish_boy (152 comments) says:

    “…It halves the size of the CBD, making land scarce to improve returns per square metre, creating competition among investors and developers for the best spaces. There is going to be a gold rush…”

    Jesus. Don’t give up your day job dude. Because there is no reason – no residental or commercial activity – outside working hours to visit the CBD what this has actually achieved is to isolate a monumental CBD behind a barrier of deserted green space, which will quickly become perceieved as dangerous after dark. What this plan will do is cement the CBD as irrelevant to the day-to-day life of the people of Christchurh, who will instead whisk around the periphery roads of the city to big-box shopping developments, their kids schools, and home. There will not be any competition for CBD land, because it will always be cheaper to develop in a fringe, car centric location with plenty of parks.

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  5. Paulus (3,567 comments) says:

    Gee fish_boy

    – no wonder you smell so awful, I suppose because you are rotting.

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  6. Than (843 comments) says:

    fish, if you live in Christchurch I suggets you go visit the Cashel container mall on a Saturday afternoon. Nearly a year after it opened and it’s still thriving. If there are shops and cafes in the CBD that gives reason for people to go there.

    You raise a valid concern regarding the frame after dark, but the same objection can be applied to Hagley park or any other park. The solution is either for the frame to include sufficient streetlighting, or (more likely) for people not to wander through dark places alone at night.

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  7. Viking2 (14,372 comments) says:

    Funny how things turn out. It wasn’t that long ago when another taxpayer wanted to do this all by himself.
    Instead he was hounded out of business by the IRD.

    Perhaps the IRD is the problem? 😯

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  8. Auberon (810 comments) says:

    Fish boy: “all the actual town planners and architects out there think it’s a disastrous plan…”

    Oh really? List them. I bet it’s a short list. You’re a sad, sad creature.

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  9. gravedodger (1,704 comments) says:

    Town Planning as delivered by an educated elite with zero knowledge or understanding of commercial or even social reality has delivered a system that with endless attention to minutiae and personal prejudice from a small group of equally idiotic muppets who seemed to spend every woken hour scanning the notification sites for opportunities to thwart progress for any reason.
    The law grew almost exclusively to accommodate every call they made and there was no process to curtail that obstructive activity.

    Here is clear evidence that the extended “planning process” is being employed for many such perfidious luddites and central government should take the opportunity to curtail the” Plan to oblivion” process that currently exists.

    I wont hold my breath though as it is a gravy-train for elected councilors, current and past to use the hearing process as an income stream most only dream about.
    I know, I had a brief opportunity to participate and the money was good.

    Who studied the landscape of the Rugby League Park for snails and/or Taniwha in that blink of an eye.

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  10. Viking2 (14,372 comments) says:

    Well the taniwha is there. Hr reared his ugly head back a few months ago. And look at what he did. Undoubtably Ngai Tahu Taniwha taking his revenge on the good Anglican Christians of Christchurch for 130 years of Colonial occupation and repression. Obviously didn’t like the sewer being pumped thru his viens.

    Do you think the Taniwha Ngai Tahu will go back to sleep again for another few hundred years until the Ngai Tahu need his help to take over the south Island completely?

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  11. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    Town Planning as delivered by an educated elite with zero knowledge or understanding of commercial or even social reality has delivered a system that with endless attention to minutiae and personal prejudice from a small group of equally idiotic muppets who seemed to spend every woken hour scanning the notification sites for opportunities to thwart progress for any reason.

    so after Moses and Jane Jacobs our town planners still haven’t learnt anything Gravedodger?

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  12. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    If all the land was publically owned there would be no problem and no inflationary unearned capital gains for Donald Trump types.

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  13. mavxp (504 comments) says:

    While I appreciate fish_boy’s critique (iron sharpens iron so it is important to have your side’s ideas critiqued freely), there are a couple of things I’d like to comment on however:

    1) Immediately outside the frame is proposed to be inner city housing – townhouses, apartments etc. which will suit young professionals, students, hipsters et al., and probably also empty-nesters who prefer not to mow the lawns on a Sunday. These people will live in the CBD in the evenings and weekends. It will be their backyard, playground and recreation space, and where they shop instead of driving out of the central city to the big box waste-of-space malls on the city’s periphery.

    2) The Frame parks could be fenced ala Victorian England – Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St. James’ Park in London. With lovely black wrought iron fences with sharp spikes at the top and gates that are closed at dark. Works there, why not here? Makes it more English anyway.

    3) The convention centre (CC) should ideally be funded by business – specifically the Hotels, Restaurants and Casino that benefit from it’s presence. But it is expensive and difficult for businesses that are currently not operating to also pay to set up a CC. It becomes a chicken and egg problem. But if the council has the insurance cash from the previous building, perhaps it’s a silly argument anyway. Just build it and get the hotels to commit to re-establishing themselves in the CBD.

    4) The stadium is a pipe dream at this stage – it will be at least 10 years I’d say before they start on that, and we’ll still be arguing about it then.

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  14. Mike Readman (369 comments) says:

    You’re right Fran and DPF. Nothing like massive government involvement to really get a city’s economy flying. How’s that working out in North Korea?

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  15. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    How’s that working out in Singapore?
    Very well apparently.

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  16. PhilBest (4,976 comments) says:


    So you like the rest of Singapore’s policy settings as well?

    Let’s give Lee Kuan Yew a Singapore-sized piece of NZ (after all, it will only be about one-fiftieth of our land area) to run in exactly the same way as he ran Singapore. Deal? I’d move there like a shot.

    I love the way he set up the Public Service there – rotate private sector workers in and out on short contracts, prevent bureaucratic empires from getting entrenched; transparency and “perfomance based” evaluation core principles. NZ should emulate it.

    The reality in Singapore is its limited size. An enlightened strongman like Lee Kuan Yew would understand that land market volatility would kill the economy unless land was nationalised. Even the Dutch are not Communists, but accept massive State powers of land acquisition to keep a lid on land prices.

    If our advocates of urban growth constraint also advocated nationalisation or compulsory acquisition, I would regard them as a lot more honest than I do under the status quo, where they are nothing more than useful idiots for a capital gains racket. This is what has driven the ChCh Plan too, I would wager. See my next posting.

    Ebenezer Howard, the “father of urban planning” originally believed in the nationalisation of land, but wise contemporaries pointed out to him that rural land was SO CHEAP that if only urban populations could access it for homes and so on, without capital gains being banked by incumbent owners, nationalisation would be virtually unnecessary. Much of Howard’s plans for “new towns” were based on his wish to see this as a reality.

    In our own time, Hugh Pavletich and numerous enightened urban academics by the way (see the list of academics on High’s site), see this as the solution to our housing unaffordability problem. This is how affordable housing is achieved in approximately 200 cities in the US – they actually have a free market in urban development. It is “planning” that prevents this. So if stooges like HJ really know much about what they are talking about, the only reason they would oppose Hugh and advocate nationalisation instead, is because they are rabid property-hating commies.

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  17. PhilBest (4,976 comments) says:

    I am disappointed in David Farrar, Fran O’Sullivan, and Matthew Hooton.

    See THIS thread:

    Hugh Pavletich is the guy who has been right all along about contemporary “planning” fads, and he is right about this particular “plan”. It has the support of the CBD property interests who will “gain”, and has aroused bitter opposition now from those property owners who face “compulsory acquisition”; as well as confirming the long standing opponents of “growth containment” planning like Hugh and his allies.

    ChCh will not recover unless its urban land is allowed to fall to price levels in which there is no “planning gain”. Inflated land prices are an obstacle to economic recovery and economic growth, because they swallow up income streams that SHOULD have been used to actually BUILD stuff and BUY stuff. Tim Robinson’s audit of the Akl Spatial Plan found this – it is ridiculous to expect redevelopment at ANY density to “pay” when all available sites cost millions of dollars an acre even before existing structures are demolished.

    You can rant all you like at me – I have paid this site a revisit after a long absence to make this prediction. See if you still feel like ranting at me in 5 years, or 10.

    By the way, I think Bob Jones’ op-eds on ChCh have been right on the nail. Cities in the USA that are the size of ChCh generally have no CBD at all, they have suburban office parks and malls and agglomerations of activity anywhere they make sense. If you are not Manhattan and you don’t have Goldman Sachs’ Head Office, there is no rational economic reason any more for dense CBD’s. When they are imposed by planning fiat, they are in fact a primary cause of congestion dis-economies that NEGATE agglomeration economies and render the net effect on the local economy NEGATIVE. Notice how ChCh’s GDP (and the port and the airport) has hummed along quite nicely with everything dispersed to the suburbs?
    The “dispersed” model is actually the most efficient for all urban economies except the “global capital” cities.

    And when an urban growth boundary is part of the policy mix, ALL land in the urban economy is so expensive that you can forget about there ever being enough income in the local economy to DO much.

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  18. Richard Hurst (1,228 comments) says:

    I live in and own property in Christhchurch. I like the plan. It’s going to take about 25 years of course and will just like all large govt projects have cost over runs, but I like it. Huge improvement on the waste land the central city was turning into before the quakes and then literally became after.

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  19. tvb (5,514 comments) says:

    Spending $30 billion over 10 years sounds very ambitious to me. I do not think it can be done. But the plan seems quite popular. A smaller CBD means many businesses who have moved out will not be back. I assume there will be some nods to the old heritage buildings but CHCH was rather stuck in that grove so the earthquake is not all bad.

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  20. V (1,592 comments) says:

    Time will tell as to how well these ‘land aquisitions’ go, and how much more of a hit the taxpayer will take paying off already cashed up CBD-based property investors.

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  21. Viking2 (14,372 comments) says:

    LOTs o th busines in htere existed because of cheaply rented derelict buildings.Of course they won’t be back but then that’s about to happen to most mid city businesses as the interet steals their trade. Why would you open a shop?

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  22. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    I like the plan. IMO, it comes across as clean and simple (which so often is best, as there is less to go wrong).
    The general layout of the city that is proposed looks very clean and elegant.
    I’m not sold on the name of “The Frame” though – it sounds stark and sterile to me. They could have used “the Green Belt” – that’s what Wellington has.
    Anyway, apart from that, it looks great! Oh, and I LOVE the idea of “five working days for resource consents” – that is bloody good. That approach should be rolled out nationally.

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  23. berend (1,911 comments) says:

    If anyone really believes the government can plan the economy or built a city, it’s them who drunk the cool aid.

    I confidently predict a mostly disastrous rebuilt which will hit none of its targets, and will be known in history as how not to rebuilt a city devastated by an earth quake.

    Unfortunately it’s not a hard prediction, and even more unfortunate are the people of ChristChurch.

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  24. berend (1,911 comments) says:

    fish_boy, brilliant comment. It’s just sad. But what can one expect of the National Socialists.

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  25. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    I see Hugh gets to some high places:
    How Texas Averted the Great Recession is given prominence and it’s a Demographia article (that’s Hugh and Wendell Cox)

    Houstonians for Responsible Growth (HRG): An Introduction
    HRG’s mission is to work with elected officials and the public to preserve the policies and principles that have made Houston one of the most affordable and successful major cities in the world. HRG organized in response to a significant number of proposals by the City of Houston proposing stringent land-use controls. Our broad based membership includes land and property owners, architects and engineers, home builders, developers of commercial properties and residential communities, Realtors, attorneys, bankers, community leaders, and many others who understand that Houston’s history of rejecting heavy-handed land use restrictions, including zoning, has been a key element to our city’s prosperity.

    Our Leadership
    Kendall Miller
    Tanglewood Corporation
    Vice President
    Bill Huntsinger
    Metro National
    Carter Bechtol
    Morgan Group
    Brian Austin
    Trammell Crow Residential
    Fundraising Chair
    Jim Gustafson
    Gustafson Group
    PAC Treasurer
    Steve Sweet
    Alliance Communities
    Carlos Bujosa
    McDade, Smith, Gould, Johnston, Mason
    Simmi Jaggi
    Stephanie Macey
    Macey Family Properties
    Jeff Peden
    Cushman & Wakefield
    Mark Witte
    J A Billipp Company
    Mike Wyatt
    Core Real Estate
    Laolu Davies Yemitan
    Five Woods
    ‘nugh said.

    Houstonians against Houstonians for Responsible Growth

    “The announcement of the establishment of the Houstonians for Responsible Growth has sparked responses in the Houston Chronicle. First of all, this organization dominates the letters to the editor column today,
    with five letters opposed and none in favor. One of them is even from a realtor who points out that it’s hard to sell someone a house if they feel that next month their neighbor’s house could be torn down and replaced by an enormous, lot-eating, sun-blocking condo. The letters are quite scathing. I don’t know how the Chronicle chooses letters, but usually they publish letters on both sides of an issue, so I suspect they didn’t get many (if any) in favor of HRG.”

    The third piece in the Chron dealt specifically with Houstonians for Responsible Growth. This was Rick Casey’s column, ironically headlined Great News: Developers form PAC.

    Great news! Houston’s major developers are organizing a political action committee to influence City Hall!

    As my colleague Mike Snyder reports, it bears the typically generic, feel-good name “Houstonians for Responsible Growth,” and it’s backed by some of the city’s biggest builders.

    Why is this good news, you ask?

    Because it’s a historic development for developers and builders to have to lobby City Hall.

    It means they no longer own it.

    Houston was founded by real estate developers. The city has, with few exceptions, elected mayors who were either very pro-developer or who were developers.

    This is quite an interesting observation. If Casey is right, Houston developers and builders are now just another interest group (albeit a very rich, powerful one).

    So what has happened that makes the developers worry?

    It isn’t a crusading mayor. [. . .]

    The major change is not the man at City Hall. It’s the people in the neighborhoods.

    Houston’s political landscape is being transformed by adding a sophisticated urban core. Affluent people with urban sensibilities have been filling the neighborhoods inside Loop 610, an area that had been slowly emptying since 1960.

    Many of these people, young professionals and baby-boom couples and families in between, came from other cities and have urban sensibilities that reach farther than their lawns. They are comfortable with laws and regulations that protect them from their neighbors — and their neighbors from them.

    [. . .]

    So groups in the Heights organize to fight condo builders.
    Groups in the Third Ward organize to fight gentrification.

    And the entire neighborhood near Rice University organizes to oppose the proposed 23-story Ashby apartment tower.

    Others organize to fight billboards, or to block the demolition of historic buildings. TMO has organized to bolster both regulations and funding to fight flooding.

    These groups have learned how to put pressure on their elected officials.

    That the developers feel the need to organize against them is a sign of their growing power.

    Now Casey comes back explaining how developers will override unfavorable local regulation by basically buying legislators from small towns and rural areas.

    I’m not worried about the developers. They have too much savvy, power and money to be steamrolled at City Hall.

    [. . .]

    Austin and Houston have already shown what happens if Texas cities get tough with developers.
    The developers get legislators from other cities to help them push through legislation overruling the offenders.

    Still, if citizen groups maintain the energy to organize and good leadership at City Hall brings the various groups to the table, compromises can be hammered out to make Houston a better, more workable city.

    So maybe my previous pessimistic post is too pessimistic. I hope so.

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  26. KH (707 comments) says:

    Fran says that before the quakes Christchurch was effectively dying. In what way was Christchurch dying that is different from the way Auckland is dying or indeed the whole of New Zealand is dying.

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  27. PhilBest (4,976 comments) says:

    KH, you are right. The whole of NZ is dying, with urban planning and grossly inflated land prices a significant contributor.
    the McKinsey Institute’s 1998 paper, “Driving Productivity and Growth in the UK Economy”, estimated that the UK economy was 20% to 40% smaller than it would have been had it had less restrictive urban planning. Significant research has been done since then by the London School of Economics Spatial Economics Research Centre. Visit that site – start with the paper “What We Know and Don’t know about the Links Between Planning and Economic Performance”, by Overman and Gibbons.

    Then check out all the papers co-authored by Paul Cheshire.

    Land costs represent “wealth transfer” to a rentier class, and a COST to the productive part of the economy. The effect of inflated land costs compounds, with discretionary income and reinvested profits eroded by the economic “rents” paid to incumbent land owners.

    As other commenters here have pointed out, Christchurch now has to find the business income, and indeed the personal income, to pay for a whole lot of new buildings in place of the lower-rent depreciated buildings that tended to define the median. It ain’t going to work when urban planning inflates land prices to levels that are already destructive of economic growth.

    HJ and his ilk constantly bang on about greedy developers and their interests. This is typically misguided slope-browed socialist drivel. Developers competing in free markets like Houston and approx. 200 other US cities, make an honest income PER UNIT BUILT in response to customer demand. The incumbent land owning class when slope browed socialist planning lovers enact boundaries to urban growth, rake in literally hundreds of times as much as the afore mentioned honest developers, basically for doing NOTHING more than sitting on their land and watching the rents rise.

    It is HJ and his ilk who are CORRUPT to the CORE. Which big property owner is bankrolling you to shill for strict anti-sprawl regulations, HJ? Because there is SO MUCH MONEY to be made out of your pet policies, by ONE single large CBD site owner, that it is worth that one property owner paying big money to anti-sprawl lobbyists. Let alone a whole CONSTITUENCY of CBD property owners. This is where we need to look for “CORRUPTION”, NOT in people lobbying for the abolition of growth boundaries so honest competition can be restored to urban land markets.

    HJ, you have produced a great rant about “zoning” in Houston. Sure, this is “covenant” type zoning supported democratically by those within the zone. Houston does NOT have top-down, centrally-enacted zoning, and holds a referendum on the subject every few years.

    The crucial thing for affordability of urban land, is the ability of people to convert non-urban land to urban without having to deal with people who have been handed a monopoly by the urban planners. The rest hardly matters. In fact, if you want to do “walkable” centres and “transit oriented development” and “brownfields” intensification, a city with LOW urban land costs will do it faster, just as long as there are not regulations HINDERING it. You are correct to identify large minimum lot sizes and height restrictions and parking mandates as a hindrance to efficiency, however, the effects of these things on land prices is minimal as long as there is no restraint at the fringe. Advocates of urban growth constraint always assure us that “density” will compensate for inflated land prices but there is NO example in the world where this has worked in practice. The prices escalate more rapidly than site sizes shrink. A mandated 1-acre-minimum lot in any of the 200 affordable US cities, will be something like HALF the price of a ONE TENTH of an acre section in NZ cities currently.

    Watch THIS episode of “Close Up”:

    Shoebox living and what you get for your rent

    $220 PER WEEK for 20 square metres???????? With inadequate ventilation and kitchen facilities????????

    You can rent a whole family HOUSE for this in Houston. Or if you love CBD living, you could get 50 square metres for $220 per MONTH.

    This is where urban growth constraint FAILS. It “prices out” MORE people from central locations and makes the locations right AT and WAY BEYOND the urban fringe, the ONLY locations that new entrants to the market can afford.

    This is FISCAL CHILD ABUSE and it is time that those responsible were SHAMED right OUT of polite society.

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  28. Anthony (880 comments) says:

    Phil I’ve always said to those people who say we need to build more ‘affordable’ housing is that we have plenty of housing that should be affordable because it is old, relatively small and often run-down – it is just priced way to high because the cost of building new houses (including land cost) is way too high.

    It doesn’t matter what size housing you building in new developments if you can get the cost down – the flow-on effect of cheaper houses there will make the rest more affordable. It’s amazing how people can’t understand simple economics!

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  29. PhilBest (4,976 comments) says:

    Anthony, EXACTLY. Even the wonderful Productivity Commission Report on Housing Affordability didn’t engage with this simple reality. I remember decades ago, young people naturally bought low-price “fixer-upper” houses. Now, that option has been shut off by the way urban growth constraints have forced up the price of urban land everywhere.

    The HOUSE that is decades old and in need of repair, must still have a fair depreciated value of under $100,000. But the pieces of dirt that these houses are sitting on, of course cost more than the cost of fringe sections, because of course they are closer to the urban centre; classic urban economics.

    This is why in affordable cities in the USA (of which there are about 200) fringe sections cost $30,000 to $40,000 (and that is a quarter acre or larger) and the whole house/land package can be as low as $120,000; AND “fixer upper” houses in older suburbs are often LESS than $120,000. This is because the land is only a fraction of the total house/land package, which is the way it SHOULD be.

    The “unintended consequence” of anti-growth regulations, is that young people buy houses 50-120 miles from Akl and Wgtn and commute 2 hours each way to work, because that is the “least unaffordable” option. NICELY DONE, “planners”. That’s “increasing housing choice” and “conserving energy and reducing emissions”. Hayek must be snorting up there in economist heaven. He was SO RIGHT about the kind of MINDS that are attracted to “planning” and the bossing around of their fellow citizens. “Planners”, far from qualifying as the BEST people to be doing what they are doing, actually all have the kind of brain that is incapable of understanding “unintended consequences” and hence keeps doubling down on the damage they do to society and the economy. The harm these people in NZ Councils do, differs only from the harm done by their Soviet forebears in the scale of its monstrosity.

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