Monday, November 22, 2010

Spatial Planning 3rd (and final!): a real alternative for Auckland

I have reviewed spatial planning for Auckland in earlier posts, and what it might or might not do for the region.  The spatial plan has to go through a deliberative process, the outcome needs to be balanced, and it needs to reflect some form of social consensus.

That doesn’t stop people from saying what they want in it or what it should look like. 

So here is my personal plan.  It needs work.  It needs analysis.  Any comparisons with alternatives, especially the mainstream option of pushing up first and out later, needs to be rigorous and systematic.  It could concentrate on differences at the margin (and not get trapped into comparing averages) to ensure a degree of economic rationality. Evaluation should also explore the capacity to encompass cultural diversity, and to provide the freedoms that a truly attractive city might offer to provide hope for growth, all without undermining the physical qualities that make Auckland – the new, greater Auckland – unique.

My alternative would promote the following:

1.       A simple map of bottom lines, the no go areas for development where we are prepared to make a real commitment (i.e., spend!) to protection and preservation.  It would focus on features and assets rather than zones.  It would be sparse and inclusive (identifying what we really want) rather than extensive and exclusive (focused on what we don’t want).
2.       A polycentric, connected city which reflects our fragmented geography and our cultural diversity and in which the rationale for centres – both those contained in the plan and those that might come into being in the future -- is clearly articulated.
3.       The evolution of the CBD first and foremost as the entertainment, creative, and educational centre, the place where Auckland’s cultures come together.  This is different from forcing it to be the commercial and employment centre of the region with a mix of high rise housing tacked on around the edges.  In the light of what is happening to CBDs worldwide and the need to consider issues of resilience and sustainability, the latter approach is a hiding to nowhere.  But we are hearing lots of good ideas about making the CBD more people friendly, more fun, and more accessible.  If we do that, the other stuff – inner city living and commerce – should follow.  We could promote the role of CBD (and harbourside) in developing a regional community of cultures rather than taking the high risk road of promoting it simply as an international centre of commerce.
4.       Promote the gateway employment zones (Mangere, Hibiscus Coast/Silverdale; Massey-Westgate, Drury) to take pressure off the land market and land prices as growth picks up, cut down on commuting and congestion, and provide good cross-regional, inter-regional, and international connectivity.
5.       Allow the evolution of distinctive villages and village centres within the urban fabric. This implies a more creative approach to city nodes than associated with the 1999 Regional Growth Strategy.  It can’t simply be done with lines on the map, rules about development, and a propensity to build out green spaces.  Urban villages need good local urban design and initiatives to encourage greater self-sufficiency.   We need to find ways to use existing building stock and not overload the capacity of local infrastructure and amenities.  It’s also important not to choke these centres off with unsustainable high density corridors between and through them.  The interstices should be transitional, perhaps with more parks, leafy suburbs, and opportunities for people to fill in the spaces with street scale activity.  The aim is to make centres attractive places to congregate and live, places of choice for residents and small businesses rather than places where people with limited choices are housed.
6.       Provision could be made for satellite centres to cater for a substantial share of growth. The possibilities include Warkworth, Wellsford; Dairy Flat, Coatesville, Beachlands-Maraetai, Whitford, Clevedon, and Pokeno. Some of these are underway already.  Let’s make sure that they are not unnecessarily constrained by poor decisions about transport links, unrealistic land use rules, or inadequate urban design.  Some of these places could end up with populations of 10,000, perhaps 20,000 or more.  Pukekohe is an example.  Warkworth is developing nicely.  These areas provide an opportunity to apply the more useful concepts of new urbanism – pedestrianisation, local work, and local services in village, town or even small city environments.  They may turn out to be more cost effective and sustainable on infrastructure grounds than trying to expand the current urban envelope.  They may even be associated with reduced car dependence.
7.       Focus on the core transport network – the main arterials between urban and ex-urban villages developed with generous corridors which contribute to land use flexibility, encourage localised intensification where appropriate, and leave a variety of transit options open.  Future transit might include implementation of “T lanes” (allowing for cars with two/three or more passengers only), heavy vehicle and bus lanes, even light rail.  Some understanding of the different demands made on corridors – commuting, freight movement, recreational travel, tourism, social mobility, and public transport; local, regional and inter-regional movement  – would lead to a more flexible and open ended approach to arterial roads, whether state or city highways.   
On the same theme, any rail development could be based on addressing and confirming positive land use opportunities such as (1) redevelopment around centres in the inner city and (2) smart growth centres on the edge.  
But I would not want any high cost transport commitment in my plan until its demand, economics, and business case had been proven, and a clear land use rationale established.
8.       Let’s extend our network of urban parks and green spaces.  Compared with many major cities, Auckland is not particularly green. It has several iconic green spaces within the urban area (the Domain, Cornwall Park, perhaps Albert Park, ...?) but that’s not the same as a green city.  Let’s cement nature into the urban area, not with rules for lot owners or obligations on developers but with a commitment to a public network of parks, perhaps even a town belt, where we can advance restoration, enhancement, and accessibility.  And let’s build it in to our bottom lines.

That’s it.  The implementation of my plan would be through the associated budget and programme commitments in the Long Term Council Community Plan and through rules – as few as possible – and some very broad and flexible zones contained in the unitary plan.

1 comment:

Andrew Atkin said...


Contributing a 'techno' comment on buses, to show why I don't believe that rail should be respected as a modern urban option at all:

Guided busways can be electrified like trams, because computers can now hold buses (and other) to a strict rail-like travel path. (Electrification would also require a cheap central rail on the road as an electrical contact, and an overhead wire as well - like a train of course).

Buses can now form into "virtual trains" by operating in platoons on designated guidways, again with the use of electronic controls facilitating ultra-close headways between buses. So in time you could get as much peak-capacity as you could ever possibly use from a bus-only way.

So as I see it, buses can ultimately do everything rail can do and more - for less. So stick with the rubber-and-road format, I say. (At least for new developments).

Note: Platooning is safe with automated vehicles because a close headway can be consistently maintained. With, say, a 2cm gap between vehicles a significant (high impact) collision between vehicles cannot develop.