The Wrong Side of my Car

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

30 Jul 2016

Residential areas in Auckland, New Zealand versus Leuven, Belgium

New Zealanders and Belgians have quiet different ideas about what a run-of-the-mill residential area should look like. Of course the Belgian way is way better than the New Zealand way. And not just because I happen to be from Belgium.

From the air


The traditional way of building houses in Belgium is terraced housing. You’ll find these in even the smallest villages. And in many residential areas around cities it’s the most common type of building. The long rows of houses are easily recognisable on satellite images.

Kessel-Lo, Leuven, Belgium

And yes, this is a small city, but go to Brussels, and you’ll find areas with a quite similar layout over there as well. But I’m just more familiar with Leuven.

Look at the green in the image. That green is mostly the backyards behind the houses. Streets tend to be narrow, especially in the older areas. There is often no setback at the front of houses at all. In newer subdivisions, houses often have setbacks up front to leave room for parking.


This example can be found in south-east Auckland, and this way of building has been a favourite for developing new land for decades now. Almost the entire south-east and north is covered with variations on this kind of layout.

Botany, Auckland, New Zealand

That’s quite a different look here. There’s a lot less green in this image. The image looks also a lot more coarse. Look at the size of the houses and the streets. It’s almost unbelievable, but both images are at the same scale.

The sections

Of course nobody gives a toss about how an area looks from the air. After all, what was the last time you looked at your house from an airplane? It is more interesting to look at how an individual lot is laid out.

Typical layout of a lot in either area


Yes, these are individual houses on individual lots. It’s not unlike what you find in tramway-era suburbs in Auckland, but without the space between houses. These are single houses on what Aucklanders would know as simple freehold sections.

Those sections are quite narrow, I’d say a typical lot is about 5 to 6 m wide. The depth depends on the street grid. Near corners there might be hardly any room behind the house, but other lots are up to 60 m deep. Most sections are under 300 m². Some new subdivisions follow a similar pattern, but with a finer street grid, so the sections become a bit wider and less deep.


The most striking thing here is the sheer size of the houses. On the smaller sections the house often covers almost the entire section, together with the driveway and some greenspace up front. On some lots you can make out a little corner of backyard. This means that despite the much larger sections, up to 700 m², you don’t get a lot more private space outside.

So, questions:

It’s nice weather outside, let’s have a barbecue

Although that long skinny backyard in our Belgian house may seem a bit awkward, 5 m is plenty of width to get your barbecue and those tables out.

But in that east-Auckland suburb, squeezing a barbecue and guests between that big house and the fence is really awkward. Especially on the smaller sections there’s only a couple of metres between the house and the fence. In a country so keen on barbecues, isn’t that weird?

I want leafy suburbs

Yes, me too. And you know what? That area in Belgium has twice the density as that area in Auckland. And it is a lot more “leafy”.

And then people argue against higher density because, you know, “think of the trees!”. D’oh!

Where will the children play?

Same story as with that barbecue, really. In that long skinny backyard in Belgium you can still properly use a badminton net. You can set up a pair of little soccer goals. Your kid may climb the trees in the back of your yard. You can get that paddle pool or trampoline out.

And here in Auckland? I’m sceptical about how much fun soccer is on a 2 metres wide pitch. Some people can’t even fit in a trampoline. Which kind of sucks if you just bought four-hundred sqm of land.

But is is not too dark in those narrow houses?

No it is not, and I know because I lived in one for a while.

Actually, due to their large footprint, these big houses in Auckland don’t have that much more light inside. In either case any architect worth his dough can come up with a design with plenty of light indoors.

In conclusion…

The Belgian example has its downsides, like limited privacy in your backyard. But overall I think you get a lot for use out of the square metres of land you bought over there.

The Auckland example on the other hand just sucks. I just don’t understand why anyone would even think of building a subdivision like that, let alone entire suburbs. It’s so stupid and dysfunctional. Can we now stop building that crap already?

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