The trade offs of urban form

June 17th, 2014 at 10:30 am by David Farrar

The has published a major research report which examines the trade offs of urban form.

A report summary states:

  • zoning restrictions, such as urban limits, have been quantifiably shown to increase land supply shortages and dramatically reduce housing affordability. According to Demographia, the three least affordable cities in the world are the compact cities: Hong Kong, Vancouver and San Francisco
  • New Zealand’s main cities are characterised by severely unaffordable housing markets, with Auckland particularly unaffordable due to urban growth constraints and inner-city height limits. 
  • high land costs in ‘superstar cities’ have been shown to create a property inflation cycle where prices exceed wage growth, only affordable for wealthy residents, forcing lower income residents from the inner city. 
  • all urban residents share the cost of land prices in rent and mortgage costs, not just property owners, as businesses have to pass on higher operating expenses through prices. 
  • far less restrictive planning regimes in the United States and Europe have consistently nurtured affordable housing markets for decades.

The conclusions are no surprise. The Productivity Commission has also concluded that the artificial scarcity of land for housing is the largest factor in . There is a wealth of evidence that this is the biggest single factor.

They also look at the claims that compact cities have less congestion:

  • US cities that have chosen to pursue compact development strategies tend to be more congested than dispersed urban environments (urban areas in North America most resemble New Zealand cities). 
  • research by the Reason Foundation, which quantitatively analysed 74 US metros over a 26-year period, found investments in public transit systems had little impact on overall traffic congestion. 
  • public transit, such as buses and trains, cannot replace the utility of cars for groups in society who have needs that extend beyond public transport routes, such as young families, working mothers and those who don’t work in the CBD (87 per cent of Auckland’s working age population are not 
  • employed in the inner city).

They also look at the claimed health benefits of compact cities:

  • there is a weak relationship between high population densities and low obesity rates. 
  • some of the world’s most dense and compact cities in Asia are struggling with obesity epidemics similar to that of their Western counterparts, despite high levels of walking, cycling and public transit 
  • landscape and climate have a bigger influence over walking and cycling activity levels than urban form. 
  • quantitative research in Vancouver, a compact city, shows urban areas with high walkability are exposed to significantly higher primary pollutants than suburban areas. 
  • green spaces and vegetation within cities, proven to provide health benefits, are likely to decline as population densities increase, particularly gardens, parks and playgrounds.

Central planners tend to have a holy zeal to try and regulate a city so it is compact. That makes the job of the local authority easier. But it doesn’t make it better for residents.

My belief is that cities such as Auckland need to be able to build both up and out. You need both. Building up is great for younger people without kids who like inner city living. But many families don’t want to live in an apartment block, and are quite happy to live some way from the CBD. As the Initiative points out, only 13% work in the CBD.

Many will attack this report simply because they don’t like the conclusions. But will they be able to back up their beliefs with actual data that refutes these findings?

The full report is only 48 pages, well references and documented, and a good read.

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8 Responses to “The trade offs of urban form”

  1. ROJ (125 comments) says:

    Yes DPF, we need both.

    And protagonists for both sides of the density argument need to recognise people often do change their needs and choices through a lifetime.

    Thought – thats exactly what retirement villages sell!

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  2. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    urban sprawl is GOOD. Why on earth would you have a problem with people living and working away from the central city?

    For some reason I found myself living in Mt Eden and commuting to East Tamaki to work.
    If I’d lived in Pakuranga or Mt Wellington or ANYWHERE over that side I’d have drastically cut my travelling times and costs.

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  3. Don the Kiwi (1,821 comments) says:

    Another expensive report for something that most of us have known by common sense over the past fifty years.

    Most councils are like socialist governments – employ more public servants, charge more, and impose more restrictions.

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  4. unaha-closp (1,067 comments) says:

    Most councils are like socialist governments – employ more public servants, charge more, and impose more restrictions.

    Most councils are crony capitalists – employ more public servants, strip services, restrict everything – to drive up house prices.

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  5. Redbaiter (10,470 comments) says:

    The bottom line here is that councils and govts are exercising power far over and above what they should be.

    Whether we ride bicycles or use cars or are fat or thin has FUCK ALL to do with dirty grubby little power drunk local or central govt bureaucrats.

    The issue is really tyranny.

    These scum should be pulled back into line and we could make a good start by firing the 400 who work for the Auckland council.

    I would like to see a party that took a vocal stand against this kind of tyranny, for example by making a declaration to strip every article from council procedures that relates to the UN Agenda 21, the plan that is at the heart of so much of this govt overreach.

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  6. campit (467 comments) says:

    My belief is that cities such as Auckland need to be able to build both up and out.

    Luckily, that is exactly what Auckland is doing.

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  7. Mark (1,502 comments) says:

    When Simon Upton sold the NZ Public on the move from the Town and Country Planning Act to the Resource Management Act is was on the basis of going from a prescriptive system of planning control to a permissive system. Local Authorities then latched on to the dreaded discretionary use where rather than being permissive the controls became discretionary and virtually nothing was permitted. Completely opposite to the outcome than was pitched by Upton. The result – bureaucratic heaven, out of control planning costs and a consultants dream environment

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  8. OneTrack (3,376 comments) says:

    campit – “Luckily, that is exactly what Auckland is doing.”

    Only because the National government are having to beat Socialist Len around the ears with logic. If Len had his way, everybody would be living in ghettos built over the top of railway stations. Because the goal is simply, to use trains as much as possible, isn’t it? Too bad if you want to go in the opposite direction.

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