The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

23 Nov 2015

So, to “Auckland 2040” and other NIMBYs…

I see it’s fearmongering time again…

Secret housing plans for Auckland

Tens of thousands of homes in Auckland’s leafy residential suburbs are being rezoned for multiple townhouses and apartments and Auckland Council says homeowners will not be notified about the changes.

Anyone following this saga over here can probably guess who is behind that article…

Auckland 2040 and Herne Bay Residents Association co-chair Christine Cavanagh said there were serious issues of natural justice for residents of the single-house zone.

Oh, boo-hoo.

And by the way, check out the cover image of one of those other articles about this issue:

OMG! Apartments! Those are 3-storeys, right?

D’oh! I’ve seen this fear mongering before. A few years ago, when the Auckland council was notifying that Unitary Plan. Some “concerned citizens” were spreading flyers, warning us about “3-storey high-rise”. They were dead serious. And the council actually backed down over those protests. It was mesmerizing.

Update: I tried not to use the term NIMBY, but the NZ Herald didn’t cooperate with that and titled their interactive map Will apartments be built in your backyard?. Oh man. This is getting pretty embarrassing again.

So what does that actually mean, 3 storeys? There are some 3-storey buildings along Karangahape Road:

OMG! Look at that high-rise!

Oh, wait. That’s supposed to be ugly enough to ruin that area? Didn’t work out that way, did it? Or did they maybe think it was going to look like this?

Actual high-rise

That’s 20 storeys, not 3. Nuance.

Now, pop quiz. How many cities can you find with large areas with a maximum density of 1 dwelling per 600m² less than 3 km from the city centre? And what’s more, how many cities do you know where density increases as you move away from the city centre? For example Albany, New Lynn or Botany Downs have zoning which allows higher density.

And how large do you think the typical lots in those “affected” suburbs are? Spoiler alert—a lot of them are smaller than 600 m² and thus violate those proposed rules. How does that make any sense?

And the “home owners don’t get a say”. Um, that’s not how zoning works. Upzoning doesn’t mean all owners have to tear down their house tomorrow and start building apartments (call them 3-storey towers if you want). Obviously property owners get the final say. If they don’t sell to a developer, or renovate, or decide to build a few smaller homes on their lot, then nothing will happen.

And what if the neighbours do? Well, then the area is going to change a bit.

Auckland wasn’t built like it is now millions of years ago. A century ago, lake Pupuke was surrounded by pastures.

The area around Lake Pupuke, 1911.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1274

…and now it isn’t. Cities change all the time. Some areas gentrify, pushing the less well-off, or at least their children, out of the areas. People in big lifestyle blocks find themselves surrounded by urban sprawl. After the harbour bridge was built, all the little villages on the Shore turned into a sea of urban sprawl. Trams once formed the backbone of those beloved ‘leafy’ suburbs. Constant change. Why would these areas all of a sudden need to be frozen in time?

Of course, a large house and backyard to call your own appeals to a lot of people. But so does living in a central, well-connected area. For most, 600 m² in this area is too expensive. Some are willing to make a compromise on size, eg. they may settle for a townhouse on a 250 m² section. Who are you to deny anyone that choice? What are you so afraid of? Is it that 3 people buying those smaller lots may outbid one of your members wanting to buy a single large lot?

Did you know that almost half of the households here in Auckland are 1 or 2 people? Why would they need that large house on that large section? Or do you want to deny them the choice to live in a central area altogether? And what about retired couples wanting to scale down? Should we put them away in retirement villages, or do we still give them a chance to live in their community?

Or are you afraid of the traffic? That traffic will come anyway. 100,000 people commuting in from Silverdale are probably going to cause more mayhem than 100,000 more people on the isthmus. Many of the latter have access to better public transport, and they will on average live closer to their jobs. So more of them can get to work on bus or by bicycle. Those who can’t have to drive less kilometres with their car. Or are you just afraid this traffic mayhem will happen in the wrong backyard?

What about the leafiness? There’s likely to be plenty of people who can live in a somewhat smaller terraced house. With one of these, even on a 250 m² lot there will still be room for a couple of trees. And for parking in the front, if you’re worried about on-street parking.

Sketch of a terraced house on a 250m² section

If you build 3 storeys on that footprint, you’ll have a fairly large house, with room for another 2 cars in your garage. And still an useful backyard, all on less than half of that 600m² section. Of course, it’s quite different than the usual free-standing house over here. And maybe it doesn’t afford the same level of privacy. But who are you to decide in my place if I want that privacy or not?

Drop the parking requirement, and you can build a two-storey house and use that 50m² in the front for something nicer than storing a car. But wait, then how would I get to the shops? The mall? I’ll make my front door wide enough for my bicycle, thank you.

Anyway, as the article concludes

Maps showing changes to the single housing zone are expected to be publicly available next month.

Let’s have a look at these maps first, shall we? If that plan is a bit smart, most of the upzoning will concentrate around the old tram lines. Where we today still have our bus lanes. And the new residents won’t cause as much congestion because they will be able to get around without a car in the first place.

Take a look around, maybe overseas. There’s plenty of cities where they can achieve much higher density while still creating a nice place to live.

In short, I think you worry too much. And that worrying may turn out to be quite harmful for our city.

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