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Planning for tomorrow

This article was originally posted on the Radio Live website.

There’s an old saying that Auckland is great at planning – for yesterday’s needs.

So I was disappointed at the decision by Auckland Council to reject the plan for greater housing density in Auckland City. It betrayed short-term thinking and a lack of vision by our city leaders, and will leave our city about 200,000 homes short of what we will need by 2040.

At other times in Auckland’s history, we’ve really got it right.

I remember the government apartments being built at the bottom of Beresford St in Freeman’s Bay. At the time they were written off as slums. But history has shown they were ahead of their time: compact, affordable, built with good design principles, great shared spaces and solid materials.

Half a century later they are more popular than ever. Actually they’re almost too popular: the young families they were designed for have mostly been priced out now.

When I lived in Grey Lynn the Tattersfield factory at the top of my street was demolished and two- and three-storey town houses were built. Again, people like living in them and living near them, and they continue to command high prices.

High density is nothing to fear. It’s bad design we need to guard against.

It’s bad design that has frightened some Aucklanders off the high-density living our city so desperately needs. Look at the Scene One, Scene Two and Scene Three apartments at the bottom of the city: they’re ugly, towering examples of where we’ve got it wrong.

We have an obligation to look forward and face up to how our city is growing. Take our City Rail Link. It should have been well underway by now, but the first sod hasn’t even been turned.

That’s because our government didn’t want it and continued to tell us our future lies in more motorways. To quote Steven Joyce on the City Rail Link: “that is not smart transport; that is pouring money down a hole”. Well, five years later Auckland is in worsening gridlock and the government is playing catch-up.

If only our city and government leaders would take that lesson into our housing shortage and show bold action.

Some very impressive young people submitted to Council in favour of higher density living. Their thinking was long-term and clear.

They’re young professionals who want to live in the city near work, entertainment and public transport.

They don’t aspire to a quarter-acre in the suburbs. They’d rather live in the city than spend hours commuting there. Their hopes and expectations align more with the reality of great international cities everywhere than the Auckland of the past that we seem to be planning for. They’ve travelled the world and they know how great high-density cities work.

They’re the ones who are looking forward. But they spoke of the ‘ladder being pulled up’ by existing property owners.

They were heckled as they gave their evidence to the Council by well-heeled, older residents from Kohimarama and the Eastern suburbs who argue Auckland doesn’t need more intensification – or at least not in their leafy suburbs. Their answer to an expanding city is to build more houses around the edges of Auckland – at the Southern and Western ends of our over-clogged motorways.

They seemed oblivious to the fact that living in terraced housing is no longer a second choice, but what many people now aspire to.

And with the average Auckland house price topping $900,000, it’s the only affordable option.

So the need for higher housing density in Auckland is clear. It’s obvious. Let’s get on with it.

And instead of fighting what Auckland so desperately needs, we should embrace density and henceforth put our energies into insisting on good planning, thoughtful rules about building envelopes and heights, robust restrictions that protect privacy and light and – always- quality materials that will further beautify our city and stand the test of time.

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