Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Living in the CBD - or Simply Passing Through?

Liveability on a pinhead
The CBD accounts for under 0.1% of Auckland’s land area.  Yet Auckland Council is boosting it as a key to its ambition of making Auckland the world’s most liveable city.  Spatial and transport planning and infrastructure investment are all geared towards this. Among other things, plans include tripling the CBD population based on promoting medium to high density apartment living.

It has to be asked who this benefits?  Sure, the notion of laid-back café culture in the CBD may work for middle class Aucklanders. It may encourage people to visit more often, and stay longer.  But who wants to live there?  And who lives there now? 

The Data
I addressed these questions with a little number crunching using the 2013 Census. I divided Auckland into four areas for illustrative purposes: the CBD itself, the surrounding inner city Census Area Units (CAU); the Rest of the Auckland Isthmus (the city’s central and longest-established suburbs); and the Rest of Auckland.  The latter takes in suburbs to the north, west, and south, and rural areas.  It encompasses diverse, growing communities also worthy of analysis if plans are to be sensitive to local circumstance.  However, they are not the focus here.

The CBD is booming (in a small way)
At 26,300 people the CBD accounted for 6.6% of Auckland’s population in 2013.  It grew at a high 5.8% a year from 2006 (albeit from a low base) and accounted for 7.5% of Auckland’s growth. The “outer central city” grew at 2.6%/year, and housed another 10,000 residents.

The Rest of Isthmus grew pretty slowly (0.7%/year), but still accounted for 18% of Auckland’s growth. 

Even at a modest 1.1%/year the Rest of Auckland, however, accounted for 73% of growth, confirming that suburban living remains the popular and practical choice for most Aucklanders.

A transient population
So, in residential terms the CBD is a bit player.  Its residents are also distinctive: Census statistics show just how unlike the rest of Auckland it is. 

The CBD may be a great place to visit, but living there appears temporary.  Only 11% of residents were at the same address five years ago. 46% were overseas and 41% elsewhere in New Zealand (Figure 1).  73% were born overseas, with 53% of 2013 residents Asian (Figure 2), compared with 23% across the city as a whole.

Figure 1: Years Living at Current (2013) Address

      Note: In this and following graphs percentages sum to100% within each of the four areas
Figure 2: Ethnicity

Packing them in
The CBD is densely settled with 31 dwellings/ha compared with just 15/ha in the outer parts of the Central City and 8/ha across rest of the Isthmus. 

The heart of the CBD, Central Auckland East and Central Auckland West CAUs, is the most intensively settled area in the city, with 50 dwellings/ha and between 100 and 109 residents/ha.  These compare with medians of nine dwellings and 30 people/ha across the 298 predominantly residential CAUs in Auckland (defined to exclude CAUs with under 5 houses/ha, thereby omitting predominantly rural, commercial, and industrial areas).

The dwellings
CBD housing is dominated by small units and rentals.  Only 26% of residents own the homes they occupy (in part or whole, privately or through a trust).  This compares with 58% elsewhere on the Isthmus and 67% beyond the Isthmus.

The majority of dwellings in the CBD are apartments, units, or townhouses (Figure 4). And they are generally small, with only 10% having more than two bedrooms. A high 47% have only one bedroom (Figure 3). 
Figure 3: Dwelling Type
Figure 4: Number of Bedrooms per Dwelling
The People
Not surprisingly the CBD population is dominated by young adults (Figure 5).  35% are aged 15 to 24 (the age of tertiary education) and another 35% are aged 35 to 34, the family formation/career development age group.  The all-Auckland figures are 15% and 14%.  Only 12% of CBD residents are aged over 50, compared with 29% city-wide.
Figure 5: Age Structure
A youthful population is distinctive in a number of ways.  32%of CBD residents study fulltime compared with 13% across Auckland.  Fewer are in long-term relationships, with 41% partnered compared with 59% city-wide. 

There are fewer family households than in other parts of the city (Figure 6), and fewer of those families include children (Figure 7).

Figure 6: Household Composition
Figure 7: Family Status

The list goes on
CBD residents are different. They generally fall into lower income groups; they are more likely to be unemployed; they are less likely to hold senior management or professional positions than residents of other parts of the Isthmus; they are more likely to be in sales or service occupations.
The lessons are clear
The residents of the CBD (and surrounding areas) do not represent Aucklanders.  Recent CBD growth does not indicate a switch in housing preferences.  The CBD population is transient, people passing through: migrants arriving, students studying, young people commencing their working careers, relatively few settled relationships, and so forth.  It is not a place of families and children, of people settled in their jobs and housing, or of retirees.

For those people, the preferences remain for three or four bedroom dwellings, a little space, and suburban living. 

If Auckland's plans continue to elevate the high density living options tuned to the youthful, the transient, and the less well-off, they will fail the majority of Aucklanders.

The consequences
The message is not new, but the 2013 data reinforces it.  Plans and policy must front up to who wants to live where in Auckland, rather than imposing a narrow model of urbanism based on an unrepresentative demographic profile that overrides the city’s physical and social realities. 

New housing would ideally be directed to more expansive areas throughout and beyond the city, areas that offer the best opportunities for community amenities, employment, recreation, and connection without congestion. 

An obsession with increasing densities in and around the CBD and on ageing arterials won’t deliver that.  It will instead undermine rather than lift the city’s liveability. 


Luke C said...

You've added 2 and 2 and taken 7 to be the answer. The answer for Auckland is range of housing. Question is not CBD vs edge suburbia. However is clear than in a little over 10 years CBD has gone from employment to diverse mixed use area with substantial residential component. No one is claiming it will be for everyone. Need a range of medium density housing in inner suburbs and popular locations. The geography of Auckland means that new suburbia is distant from jobs, shopping and common popular destinations. Therefore becoming less popular overall.

Anonymous said...

Nah, the question was whether the ratepayers across the entire region are getting bang for buck from the Council's focus on boosting number of people living in the CBD.

Phil McDermott said...

Luke - The council has looked at 2 and taken 4 to be the answer without actually asking the question.

I actually agree that offering diverse housing options is the way to go and have long argued the case (and pushed the argument for inner city living in the 80s -which Auckland City planners resisted).

But that's not the way the Unitary Plan is heading.

And you're onto something else - let's allow employment to decentralise. Of course that would require the council to allow investment to go where it might be most efficient rather than assuming we can cram more jobs into existing business areas. Auckland's geography calls for a move from monocentric planning. The Unitary Plan looks like missing impeding that approach.