Thursday, October 23, 2014

Driving Blind – Driverless Cars Ramp up the Risks for Rail Transit

In a brief radio interview yesterday I was asked about the possible consequences of driverless cars for Auckland’s planned big spend on its rail transit system.  My sound bite wasn’t too coherent, so here are some follow-up thoughts.

Driverless cars are coming

The driverless car is with us today, and its working.  The Minister of Transport’s expectation that it is “moving closer” is in line with international expectations and experience.[1]

In fact, the fully autonomous vehicle is just a further step – admittedly a big one – in the progressive reduction in the driver’s role in vehicle operation.  Automated train systems have operated since the 1960s.  Even aircraft today perform most operations automatically, and we are well on the way to the technology where they even interact to manage air traffic movements.

We can look forward to driverless road vehicles within the foreseeable future.  We are already well on the way.  Consider gains over the past 30 years by way of automatic transmission, power steering, automatic braking systems, electronic stability control, backing sensors, and most recently automated parking.  These innovations, while taking time to diffuse, reduce driver-related accidents and lift the efficiency of vehicle operation. 
Throw in the gains readily available from enhanced traffic management technologies, the use of GPS for better route planning and of GPS-derived Floating Car Data for real time traffic management and we have the promise of ongoing gains in efficiency in on-road vehicles and the prospect of a revolution in personal mobility.  And that’s on top of the promise of further gains in fuel efficiency following the 25% lift recorded by the US EPA between 2004 and 2014 and the impact of alternative fuels.

What are the consequences?

The Rand Corporation recently published a comprehensive study on Autonomous Vehicle Technology that is worth a look.

From this and my take some of the gains we might expect from driverless cars include: 
  • The costs of travel will diminish as drivers are frees up to engage in other tasks and as greater travel efficiencies are realised;
  • Lower accident costs because there will be fewer of them;
  • Vehicle efficiency will improve as a result of: the capacity to use lighter materials; easier uptake of alternative fuels; smoother acceleration and deceleration;
  • Development of more efficient parking facilities;
  • Network productivity gains from higher vehicle densities and fewer disruptive events. 

This may not mean less congestion.  Numbers on the road may increase as people currently transport disadvantaged find it easier to access and operate motor vehicles.  Cost reductions are likely to boost car use.  And such gains may encourage more long-distance commuting.

On the other hand, the use of driverless vehicles is part of a convergence changing the environmental impact of motoring.  Together with the shift to smart cars for urban travel and to alternative fuels, driverless cars will contribute to a fall in the emission of particulates and CO2 .

A new mode of public transport?

Driverless cars offer a new take on public transport by providing for shared vehicles that respond to individual demands.  They may be held in private pools; widely accessible vehicles may be in public ownership, or vehicles may held and maintained by a variety of organisations, including specialist operators (equivalent to today’s taxi or rental companies), bodies corporate on behalf of residents of apartments, or businesses on behalf of employees.  

Such arrangements will support the higher densities favoured by urban planners, reduce the costs of car ownership, and maintain efficient point-to-point travel.  In addition, vehicle pooling may encourage more trip sharing, lifting car occupancies.

Supporting fixed route public transport

So what will the consequences be for buses and trains?  Buses should benefit, both in terms of enhanced vehicle flow and, in due course, through adoption of the technology.  This could lead to smaller, more flexible buses with variable routing better meeting demand.  In other words, buses will be part of the revolution in personal mobility resulting from autonomous vehicle development.

Rail is a different matter.  In increasingly fragmented cities, fixed route transit is at a distinct disadvantage, especially when it is based on a limited network.  For rail to penetrate in Auckland it requires either effective feeder road access to park-and-ride facilities or the clustering of high density dwellings and jobs around already busy stations. 

Driverless cars could contribute to both of these.  The intensity of local cross-commuting required to support park-and-ride facilities may be eased by use of driverless cars.  The heightened congestion associated with higher densities in the inner city and on arterial roads targeted by the Auckland plan might be similarly eased by their adoption by residents as well as commuters.

But will driverless cars save rail?

While the adoption of driverless cars might marginally improve the effectiveness of rail transit, this will still be constrained by the intrinsic limits of rail .  Unlike rail, personal vehicles do not run empty for much of the time.  They operate from point to point and largely avoid the high time costs of transfers.  There may be some waiting time in accessing shared cars, but the inconvenience is a lot less than that associated with fixed timetables.  And with technical gains the externalities associated with car use will continue to fall.

Traffic flows should improve, costs fall, and convenience increase for car users.  Car-based transport will be more accessible, reducing the numbers dependent on traditional public transport.  Buses will also be more effective.  None of these positive outcomes bode well for rail with its high capital costs, the lumpy nature of investment, and high operating, maintenance, and depreciation costs.  What they do is increase the fiscal risk associated with Auckland’s plans for an inner city rail loop or extensions to the airport or North Shore as the alternative of road-based transport becomes that much more attractive.

The risk profile of rail investment is already high.  The prospect of driverless cars raises it higher.

Driving a revolution?

In just 25 years we have seen revolutions that have fundamentally changed the ways in which we deal with information, communicate, work, socialise and recreate.  There is every reason to expect the advent of driverless cars to signal a similar revolution in personal mobility. 

Who today would buy a typewriter, a telex machine, or a floppy disk?  So why buy a railway?


[1]              See for example recent articles in The Scotsman and Forbes Magazine.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rebooting New Zealand's Resource Management Act

Do we continue to tinker, or do we act on the Act?

Following many years working in strategy, planning, and development I have some suggestions for reforming the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), as many others do!
My first proposal is for more of the same – incremental improvements in the hope of streamlining the Act. This has been the response favoured by Ministerial advisory groups over the years, tinkering with process and increasing complexity without necessarily improving outcomes. If tinkering is the only option my suggestion, below, is for a stronger focus on clarity of purpose, defensibility of policies, and accessible plans. 

My preferred proposal is to return the Act to a focus on environmental matters by locating the onus for setting and applying standards in a scientifically strong central agency operating through regional offices.  Through this an environmental envelope can be established within which local communities – including resource users – can pursue development, moderated, perhaps, under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA).  This Act, too, would needs refinement though, to avoid it becoming as litigious and onerous as today's RMA.  Under the proposed arrangement a clear line can be maintained between protecting environmental assets and advancing local development.

Before outlining these proposals, a quick bit of background on costs and why they are so high. 


The costs of environmental regulation

These proposals\have been developed following analysis of the costs of the RMA. These include:

·        Substantial overheads associated with preparing and reviewing plans within councils;

·        The costs incurred by resource users, interest groups, and the public in responding to proposed plans and plan changes by way of submission and appeal;

·        The costs of applying for and responding to resource consents, including council costs (which are usually charged back to the applicant so that there is little incentive for containing them);

·        The costs of making submissions on or objecting to notified applications  for consents;

·        The cost of complying with any conditions imposed by the plan or as a condition of consent, and

·        The opportunity costs of development foregone or delayed by ambiguous or specious environmental claims and conditions.
Costs can be justified by the need to maintain environmental standards . They are the price society pays to manage natural resources wisely. But how much is too much?  And what if the societal costs are high and the environmental benefits no more than modest?

The costs and benefits of environmental regulation are hard to measure. But not attempting to do so means that it is too easy for costs to be excessive and benefits limited.  Given this prospect, procedural issues, attitudinal differences, and an adversarial approach all-to-often prevail in the dealings between resource users and councils.  Particularly problematic is the failure at the objective setting and policy development stages of planning to appreciate the difficulties of applying and enforcing rules if we are to pursue other societal objective.  

Consequently, a fractured and fraught process, often based on cursory or partial evaluation, may impede the opportunities for society to provide for its economic and social needs while failing to deliver the desired environmental outcomes.

Mission creep

High costs result when matters not obviously to do with the impact of activities on the natural environment are written into plans and weighed into decisions on applications for resource consents.  It is timely to ask how this situation arose, and how we might put it behind us.

While the original intent of the Act was to protect the physical attributes of the natural environment, its scope today has been extended to include the built environment.  From the Act:

environment includes—

(a)        ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities; and
            (b)        all natural and physical resources; and
            (c)        amenity values; and
            (d)        the social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters
                        stated in paragraphs (a) to (c) or which are affected by those matters

The definition of amenity values is also all-encompassing:

amenity values means those natural or physical qualities and characteristics of an area that contribute to people’s appreciation of its pleasantness, aesthetic coherence, and cultural and recreational attributes,

... as is the definition of natural and physical resources through to "all structures":

natural and physical resources includes land, water, air, soil, minerals, and energy, all forms of plants and animals (whether native to New Zealand or introduced), and all structures.

The result? A statute designed to manage the effects of development on the natural environment is now being used in attempts to manage social and economic matters.


Mission creep explains the size and complexity of today’s plans.  Yet the Minister’s Technical Advisory Group in 2012 suggested accepting this by further reducing emphasis on the natural environment and adopting a perspective informed simply by “general principles”.  The statute was not designed for this expansion and practitioners are poorly equipped to apply it. 

This raises the question of how far tinkering with an act that was arguably never implemented as intended simply continues to move it away from its purpose.  Has the departure from the original environmental principles reached the point that the Act is today counter-productive?


Complexity of process arising from a history of tinkering is a source of uncertainty.  Uncertainty consumes time and drives up costs. 

Complexity means that resource users must rely on a host of professionals to progress development even when the scope of a proposal is modest or consistent with the objectives of a plan. They include the planning professionals who specialise in writing and interpreting plans.  Lawyers are needed to advise on how best to navigate the process, represent protagonists views, and search ever-expanding case law for precedents and principles.  Physical scientists assess and propose responses to effects on the natural environment, and social scientists are called on increasingly to deal with possible economic, community, and cultural effects.  

And in the name of a better built environment, urban designers now participate in a process under a statue never intended to achieve urban design outcomes and not obviously equipped to deliver them. Codifying rules to enforce standards on the creativity, visions, and collectivity that underpin the urban landscape is not something the RMA was intended to do, if indeed it can be done at all. And as with the other specialists there is not often consensus among the experts on what constitutes a good outcome.

Uncertainty is not measured just by the length of time plan change and consent processes take, the number of experts involved, or by the lottery-like nature of the decision process.  It is compounded by the discretion consenting officers may exercise in approving, rejecting, or modifying applications for resource consent.  Such discretion often appears arbitrary, ad hoc, and inconsistent, although it seems generally to start from the conservative position of preserving the status quo. 

And how, in all this complexity, can communities hope to have a consistent or coherent say on the development outcomes they might favour?


Option 1: Further Amendments to the RMA

The first option is to continue to amend the RMA but in a fundamental way.  My proposal calls for a focus on the quality of plans and plan-making on the grounds that simplicity and clarity will eliminate the need for discretionary rules, increase certainty for resource users (including those contemplating activities best prohibited), and reduce consent processing demands.  This might be achieved by:

1.     Enforcing the simplification and reduction in size and scope of district plans by requiring that they include objectives only when a causal link can be established between them, the policies identified to implement them, the efficacy of rules under those policies, and their likely outcomes:

2.     Requiring a risk assessment likely costs against the probability of successful implementation and the magnitude of likely benefits (defined with reference to the relevant objectives);

3.     A commitment to monitoring outcomes and to modifying or eliminating objectives and policies if rules are not delivering against objectives;

4.     Eliminating non-complying activity status as far as possible in plans, with activities permitted, subject to explicit conditions, or prohibited, and the basis for any remaining discretion fully prescribed in the plan;

5.     A commitment to pre-application meetings for resource consents between policy officers, applicants, and their advisers.  All too often this meeting of minds (or at least clarification of differences among experts) only occurs at the behest of the Environmental Court following a council decision and subsequent appeals!

6.     Requiring notification to be used sparingly, restricted to matters which have potentially significant environmental effects that were not anticipated at the time of plan preparation and therefore fall outside plan parameters;

7.     Ensuring that plan preparation gives all parties the opportunity to influence objectives, policies, and rules, requiring quality consultation at each stage based on a “no surprises” principle;

8.     Allowing disciplines only indirectly associated with the effects of development on the environment to participate in plan preparation rather than implementation;

9.     Maintaining clear separation of responsibilities for objective setting (by elected representatives advised by their executive),  policy and plan development (the ambit of specialist policy analysts and planners), and implementation.  Provided that plans have clarity and practical rules implementation, which covers confirming permitted activity status, processing consents, and enforcing them, is largely a procedural matter that can be undertaken by people with appropriate technical training.  This is an area in which the current initiative to introduce competition in the planning process may have something to offer.

10.  Training for policy analysts, planners, and consent officers should ensure that their skills and experience meet community expectations for and understanding of development.  I would expect the educational and institutional paths for development of the planning profession to be reviewed to support any further reform of the RMA.

Time to Move on

The preceding suggestions constitute just another in a string of propositions for improving the RMA.  Most of these have simply complicated matters. It is instructive that the Government sees it as appropriate to truncate RMA processes for the preparation of Auckland's unitary plan and circumvent the Act altogether to advance residential development there and elsewhere. 

If nothing else, this tells us the Act is not working, and it is time to move beyond incremental statutory adjustment.

Option 2: Starting over – centrally-driven regional environmental plans

More fundamental reform would confine the RMA to managing the natural environment, to measures that manage, preserve, and enhance biodiversity, soils, and air and water quality in the face of the pressures of development, production, habitation and consumption. The principles of avoiding, remedying or mitigating effects can be maintained and, indeed, strengthened.  However, the grounds for intervention would be based on a combination of international protocols and nationally agreed standards mediated by local physical conditions, all subject to rigorous evaluation.

Form follows function

Changing the way things are done requires breaking down institutional inertia.  A reorientation of statutes and practices cannot easily be imposed on existing organisations, as we learned in the difficult and protracted transition from the Town and Country Planning Act to the RMA.

It is proposed that a national environmental agency should absorb the functions of the Ministry for the Environment and the current Environmental Protection Authority.  It would also take over consenting responsibilities for the Department of Conservation which would consequently become more clearly the manager of and advocate for conservation values and the conservation estate.

Given that regional councils are generally effective in environmental management, it makes sense to transform them into the regional offices of the environmental agency with responsibility for delivering nationally mandated environmental outcomes locally. They could develop regional environmental plans to do this and have delegated authority for issuing consents and enforcing plan rules.

The knowledge and skills base of regional offices would ensure that the rules to implement policy are sensitive to local conditions.  Rules should also reflect extensive consultation in the course of plan preparation, including territorial councils.  Proposed regional environmental plans could be challenged, perhaps before panels comprising independent commissioners and local council members.  The Environment Court would continue as the final arbiter on matters of substance. 

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment could assume an Ombudsman role. Its independence would counter the potential for any partisan political agenda to over-ride the primary focus of a national agency on the quality of the natural environment.

Managing development

The impact of decisions on land use, infrastructure, and urban form suggests that many matters that councils are trying to deal with through the RMA may be better dealt with under the Local Government Act.

The LGA requires councils to provide for the social, economic, cultural, and environmental well-being of communities when they prioritise, plan, and budget their expenditure. The change to the RMA proposed here would exclude councils from controlling matters to do with the natural environment though.  Instead they would be required to comply with regional environmental plans.

Local regulation of development may be through spatial plans which map a council’s commitments as defined in its long-term community plan.  They would include provision for future land use, expectations for built form, and the infrastructure and public investment required to achieve desired development.

Strengthening the local in local government
Separating environmental regulation from planning for the built environment could pave the way for significant institutional changes in local government.  Territorial boundaries may be modified to reflect communities of interest and not simply physical boundaries.  The shape and composition of local boards could be aligned more clearly with the different circumstances, values, and needs associated with sub-urban areas, smaller settlements, and rural areas. 

Changes would be required in Council Controlled Organisations.  CCO business plans often influence development outside plans prepared under the RMA.  Consequently, CCOs may act as de facto consent authorities when their corporate plans do not provide support for the land uses a council requires. 

To promote integrated planning a greater onus might be placed on CCOs to implement agreed spatial plans. Among other things, this would mean that the fiscal consequences of spatial plans would need to be established at the outset. 


In summary

The proposed changes to function and institutional form suggest a different way forward. 

1.     They consolidate responsibility for environmental regulation in a national agency operating through regional offices;

2.     The agency would respond to international environmental commitments, central policy direction, and the state of the natural environment in the regions;

3.     National policies and standards would be founded on robust scientific evidence and implemented through regional environmental plans subject to rigorous evaluation and prepared in consultation with local communities;

4.     Territorial councils would be bound by these plans but responsible for community well-being within the development envelope established by them.  Their role would focus on ensuring adequate land is available for development, programming infrastructure, providing public services and amenities, and maintaining the quality of the built environment (particularly with reference to efficiency and safety);

5.     Boards would have the capacity to influence the built environment in the interests of local communities;

6.     CCOs would be accountable for the delivery of the infrastructure required to support spatial plans (but need not have a monopoly in this role).
While reducing local autonomy over environmental matters, the capacity of spatial plans to respond to social, cultural, and economic matters should be enhanced, albeit in a light-handed manner, especially as a major cost to councils – that of environmental regulation – is shifted to the taxpayer. 

At the same time, the transparency of council plans and council accountability will be raised as their mandate is clarified and conflicts around the RMA are reduced.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hardening Arteries: Intensification and Inner City Congestion

Apartment creep
One tool in the compact cities toolbox is boosting residential densities along arterial roads. It’s a tool that should be used sparingly.

According to a report by Bernard Orsman in the New Zealand Herald, it’s a tool giving rise to mixed reactions along Great North Road, Grey Lynn, as planners apparently exercise their discretion to
rise above the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan by allowing apartment buildings higher than originally planned.

This raises questions over the rights (or otherwise) of current residents to sunshine and views and over the impact of new bulky structures on heritage areas and buildings in the inner city (Figure 1). To be fair, the car yards along Great North Road hardly merit preservation, although adjoining and nearby villas may do. The trouble is, though, this is not an isolated example.

The other issue worrying residents is simply the impact of so many more people – and their cars. Allowing six storeys where the original intention was four (something that some local residents could apparently live with) makes for a substantial increase.

Do inner city apartments stack up?

I questioned the economics of higher density inner city dwellings in Auckland some time ago. These concerns are confirmed by developer Brady Nixon in the Herald article. 

He cited costs of $8,000 to $10,000 per sqm to build apartments in Auckland. Evidently a single bedroom 54sqm apartment at North Apartments on Great North Road cost $11,462/sqm. Brady compares this with $3,150/sqm for a 238sqm house at Flatbush.

Figure 1: Planned North Apartments, Great North Rd

    Source: Google Earth



Good for some
There is no doubt that inner city[1] living suits particular markets, primarily the 20 to 30 age group, people in tertiary education, starting jobs, building careers, yet to develop permanent relationships. This is demonstrated in my last post.
But that will account for well under 20% of population growth over the next 15 years [2]. How many of this group and recent immigrants (40% of inner city residents lived overseas five years ago) will be able to afford well designed apartments?

What can we deliver?
The push for higher buildings is necessary so that high inner city land and development costs can be spread across more apartments. Adding storeys is one approach to achieving commercial returns. Sacrificing quality is another, an approach apparently adopted for a number of projects in the past. While that may suit a transient inner city population, it does little for the quality of urban design and may well contribute to social problems in the long term.

Can boomers give apartments a lift?
Another way forward if intensification is the objective might be to produce apartments that appeal to more mature households, and simply leave Gen Y to their own devices (not a happy prospect).   Apparently there has been a surge in demand for apartment living among older people in Brisbane. But, they are looking for well-appointed three-bedroom apartments where they can sustain – and afford – a lifestyle similar to the one they are used to. Given the economics of apartment development it’s difficult to see a similar standard and style in Auckland being affordable among those ageing boomers who might favour inner city living.

As it is, they are not likely to account for a lot of demand. Only 1.2% of Aucklanders aged over 50 lived in the inner city in 2013 (compared with 5.2% of Aucklanders aged between 15 and 39). So what is the likelihood that inner city apartments might appeal to more of them?

 Not great. Members of the boomer demographic in Auckland are
suburban dwellers, used to space and privacy. Retirement villages offer a suburban alternative that does not require their withdrawal from the communities where they currently live if they choose to trade down. They still receive the benefits of low maintenance and security while retaining access to a little space and privacy. 

Congestion - the elephant in the apartment
That might be just as well because mindlessly boosting residential development on arterial roads promises simply to compound Auckland’s congestion problems.

We know higher densities are associated with higher congestion. Auckland’s geography means it already performs poorly on this count. The Tom Tom Congestion Index confirms this.  

When the 2013 congestion index for 65 American and Australasian cities is plotted against population density (sourced from the
Demographia website) Auckland sits among the worst performers – Vancouver, Sydney, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Population Density and Congestion


Inner city dwellers still use cars

Intensifying housing on arterial roads can only make that worse. While proponents of inner city living might cite a reduction in car use as a result of proximity to work and cafes to justify it, the reality is that people use cars for more than commuting and dining.

 In 2013 inner city households owned over 10,000 cars (0.7 per household or 43/ha). Doubling or tripling the number of residents by promoting inner city apartments will lead to increasing congestion, especially when that takes place on arterial roads. 

Given that households in the inner suburbs (the rest of the Isthmus) focus their travel on those roads and owned nearly 200,000 cars in 2013 (1.6/household and 14/ha), Auckland’s main arterials could well resemble parking lots rather than roads in the future. 

Gilding the lily
This makes the before and after images in Figure 1 somewhat misleading given that there is no sign of additional activity in the second image despite the prospect that the North Apartments alone will house another 40 to 60 inhabitants.

This omission reminds me of a pitch for intensifying dwellings around arterial roads in Melbourne. The before and after images in Figure 3 were intended to illustrate how Australian cities might be transformed. Detached houses are replaced by continuous four to six storey apartments, all achieved, if we are to accept the rendering,  with no more people on the footpath, no more rubbish bins to sidestep, no more tram stops and no more cars .
Figure 3: Half a transformation: packed apartments, quiet street


Less haste, more thought
Oh that it were so easy: that with the stroke of a pen and perhaps a little airbrushing planners could solve our housing problems and retain a pleasant, uncongested inner city environment.

The reality is that it is hard to make apartment living work in the inner city, and short-sighted simply dumping it onto arterial roads.  Unthinkingly reaching for the sky is a risky response to the need for more housing, especially affordable housing. A lot more thought needs to go into this particular planning tool before it is applied in such a cavalier manner.

[1] The CBD and “outer central city” as defined in my
previous post
[2] This estimate is based on the Statistics New Zealand age-specific Auckland population projections (2006 base). This groups 15 to 39 year olds together, a group projected to account for 27% of growth from 2016 to 2031, compared with 61% among the over 40s.

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 cafĂ© 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.