We Have A Plan For Auckland

June 29, 2016
Iain MacLeod

Four years of wrangling with Councillors ducking for cover and refusing to stand up against vested interests and “Nimbyism”, Auckland finally has a blue print for its development over the next 50 years and beyond.

Making Auckland the ‘most liveable city in the world’ has long been a catch cry of local politicians and while it is consistently voted in the top three most desirable cities in the world to live, we have of late been suffering from our own success.

Record levels of inward migration, thousands more New Zealanders concluding the grass is not greener elsewhere, record numbers of Australians pouring in coupled with not enough houses being built to cope with demand, 40,000 more cars on the road this year over last and public transport struggling to cope with demand – has made this wonderful city of ours start to groan under the pressure.

Now, however, with the release of the city’s ‘Unitary Plan’ everyone can start planning a future that integrates even better public transport, moderate intensification of housing along major public transport corridors, modest new height limits in ‘village’ shopping precincts (for retail and commercial buildings) as well as the limited (but necessary) freeing up of rural land around the fringes that will enable more housing in the surrounding satellite towns that lie 50-80km north and south of Auckland.

Our biggest city, already outward looking, globally integrated and cosmopolitan has, I believe, struck the right balance between growing out and growing up and encouraging more intense housing that will in turn reinforce a city based more on public transport than car use. With intensification of housing, it will encourage the growth of communities and allow people to meet their daily shopping needs within an easy walk of their front door.

I can tell you, as an Aucklander, we notice those additional 40,000 cars per year on our roads.

In my own street, our current ‘single unit dwelling’ status has been changed to allow apartments of 3-4 stories in height.

I have written before that I welcome the change principally because this intensification will (one hopes) stop the relentless rise in property values across the city and allow my children’s generation to enjoy the home ownership dream my generation and those that came before me took for granted.

On a personal level, imagining our beautiful Victorian Villa which is full of character (not to mention memories) that has stood for nearly 110 years being bowled to make way for 3-6 new and smaller apartments does sadden me on one level. There have been more than a few nights lately I have wandered around admiring the pressed steel plaster ceilings, the native timber flooring and the carved hardwood arches that line the hallway, telling myself that it would be cultural vandalism to knock it down.

Then I ask myself if such an early 20th century building represents the peak of urban architecture and I conclude that it does not. While it is a wonderful example of its period, it is cold in winter even with double the legally prescribed insulation in the roof cavity, walls and under the floors, still requiring heaters for 5 months of the year. In summer it is like a Turkish bath – the heat from outside creating heat inside where we need fans constantly whirring.

In this age of wanting to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, such houses are an aesthetic luxury we really can no longer afford to have or sustain.

The future is in smaller, more energy efficient and affordable homes close to work, schools, shopping, leisure and public transport.

Public and green spaces have been preserved (and more are zoned) in the new plan which was non-negotiable for Aucklanders who demand parks, playgrounds, trees and natural spaces for everyone to enjoy.

I can but imagine what this city will look like to my grandchildren, but I suspect very habitable and still on a human scale.

Already, with increasing density of some housing in our suburb of Mount Eden, my eldest son has all but abandoned his car (in my driveway I might add), and when he isn’t catching buses tends to use Uber. At 22 years old he can’t understand why I bother with a car; ‘it’s just an expensive hassle’, he tells me, and he may not be wrong.

Once the ‘City Rail Link’ is complete (construction is currently underway) our already excellent electric train service will become even more appealing to commuters and those looking to get from one side of the city to the other, who can also now live close by the train stations being expanded and developed along the link’s winding path.

With such plans come change and while debate will no doubt rage among some over the details, having looked at the plan in some depth in recent years I have no doubt that we will end up with a city that is more liveable for more people.

The time for arguing about it is over. The plan is in place and Auckland is set now to become an exciting, even more vibrant grown up ‘big’ little city of 2 million people, equipping itself for a more energy efficient and sustainable future.

Auckland has done well in my view.

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