Friday, November 27, 2015

Planning to Fail - Wrong Assumptions, Wrong Policies

A Complex and Contested Plan

Deficiencies in the vision for a compact city promoted in the Auckland Plan are apparent in the contested nature of the statutory document intended to implement it.  The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) has attracted 13,000 submissions and is subject to extensive hearings by an independent panel

The proposed Plan is complex and detailed.  It aims to manage the public domain and private behaviour mainly by regulating land use, defining in detail what can be done, how, and where. And because there will be winners and losers from applying its many rules, it is not surprising that many people are concerned at the content.

Where is the evaluation?
Given the direction underlying the Auckland Plan – a compact city focused on an intensively developed CBD and relying on a legacy of heavy rail and buses (and now, perhaps, trams) to alleviate congestion – the PAUP will inevitably impact on many people and organisations.  It is surprising, then, that the evaluation of policies did not deal with the distribution of costs and benefits. 

But then, the analysis, such as it is, is not very strong on costs and benefits at all.  Anyway, despite the long list of papers and reports assembled in support of the PAUP (the “Section 32 Report”), few appear relevant to or reflected in the land use policies adopted. 

The evaluation is focused, the S32 Report claims, on “the objectives and provisions within the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan that represent significant changes in approach from those within the current operative Auckland RMA policies and plans”.
The comparison of policy options required for evaluation appears to have relied on a bunch of like-minded people comparing four somewhat arbitrary scenarios of the future.  Curiously, all four scenarios are based on a single population projection as if how we plan has no impact on the outcomes!  That hardly matters, I guess.   I could see no recourse to any formal analysis of policies anyway, and no obvious attempt to distinguish the marginal differences among them that an evaluation of changes from “current operative policies and plans” would call for.
And what of the quality?

My concern about the quality of evaluation is heightened because the proposed Plan’s spatial policies are based on misleading analysis.  The fundamental assumption that the proposed plan needs to provide sufficient capacity for an additional 400,000 households over the next thirty or so years is demonstrably wrong.  

Having heard the level of disagreement among experts about the credibility of this number, the Hearings Panel back in April asked them to jointly produce an estimate that they could agree on. 

They couldn’t. Over several months of collaboration and analysis the best the group could come up with was an estimate of 83,420 “developable feasible” dwellings – or 26% of the Auckland Council’s Plan estimate (013 Expert Group, p5).[1] And despite acknowledging that this was much more realistic , the Group failed to reach a consensus on a final number. 

Which to my mind was just as well: to believe that we can predict both dwelling demand and supply without even seriously referencing the impact of price on demand (among other shortcomings) over 25 to 30 years is a conceit too far. The more we refine such projections, seek consensus, and treat the results as reality, the less we are prepared for the uncertainty that inevitably attends our plans, and the greater the risk that, in our ignorance, we adopt inappropriate policies.

So what happens when the policy makers get it wrong?  They keep going regardless

What is even more disturbing, though, is that the Council gives the appearance of cynically changing the Plan rules to offset its miscalculation. This has been done in haste, apparently, without reconsideration of the policies they support, without obvious analysis of the effects of these changes, and certainly no consultation with those affected.  Hence, the New Zealand Herald reported in September that by relaxing rules within the plan, council planners were able to get their capacity numbers over 150,000 (still a long way short of what the plan is supposed to deliver).  

To help achieve this, the heritage provisions of the Plan, always problematic, were effectively dumped in October. And in November, the Council’s Unitary Plan Committee accepted changes to the Single House Zone in central and western suburbs to Mixed Use to enable townhouses, studios and apartments to achieve the new number.

Now where did that come from?  I have searched the Council website for an analysis of the effects of these new policies and cannot find it.  At least the media is prepared to air the changes and their potential effects.

Dumping on the suburbs
The Plan certainly needs to address the future of Auckland’s suburbs: this has been a failing all along in a city which is no longer mono-centric and in which any expansion will be shaped by the simple fact that it is contained on a narrow isthmus.  But this sudden zone change is knee jerk reaction to what has been revealed as an ill-informed plan.  It has no apparent regard for matters of open space, transport and transit, commercial services, schools and other public services, or community and recreational amenities, all critical to the quality of suburban life. 

Simply creating new rules that can fundamentally change the character of suburbs because the planners got it wrong first time round without any obvious attempt to appraise or moderate adverse effects undermines the credibility of the proposed Plan, the process, the planners, and the politicians. And it’s cynical to the extent that it potentially circumvents the independent hearing process and suggests that the Plan is no more than an ad hoc means to an arbitrary end.

A step too far?
The uncritical foisting of a particular set of beliefs – that the way to the future is through less of what we have now -- raises fundamental questions over the practice of resource planning, not just in Auckland, either.  Whatever we call it -- urban design, place making, or resource management –an autocratic and patronising mind-set today permeates urban planning and is increasingly reflected in the diminishing capacity of elected councillors and board members to influence outcomes. [2]

Planning to fail
All this will make life that much harder for many Aucklanders to live here, especially those who do not already own a home.  While much is made of the City's growing diversity there is little evidence that the plan is sensitive to differences in places, communities, and circumstances, or that it is flexible regarding where and how different peoples might live. It looks set to sustain and even exacerbate the division between those who stand to benefit from property ownership and those to whom the Plan offers little hope of home ownership, and the social, health, schooling and employment benefits that brings. 

The proposed unitary plan looks set to accentuate divisions rather than accommodate diversity.

Time to think about connections and consequences
Unless there is a radical change in the way we plan, I see little prospect of sustaining the growth Auckland has recently experienced or of achieving the projections that the Plan is built on. For all its expertise, the Group convened by the Independent Panel failed to agree on what the Plan provides by way of capacity, or to forge the link between housing supply and demand .

A new approach is called for.  Let’s treat housing as a right, land for housing as a necessity, and prepare a plan that enables us to provide it in a cost effective and timely manner. 
The failure to provide land for sufficient dwellings so graphically illustrated in the Expert Group’s report (and in others[3]) must lead to a decline in demand as prices escalate.  We may have a liveable city on some measures if the PAUP is somehow implemented, but for whom and for how long?

[1]           Topic  013 Expert Group (July 2015) Residential Developable Capacity for Auckland Report to Auckland Unitary Plan Independent Hearing Panel
[2]           And unfortunately this is not about to be changed by the Government’s latest tinkering with the Resource Management Act,
[3]        Quite apart from the many submissions to this effect (see Hearings Topic 13 at the Independent Hearings Panel website), the Productivity Commission has published two compelling reports on this issue.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Living with Giants - Lessons from Industry Organisation

Bigger is not Necessarily Better

Management consultants McKinseys were the advisors behind the creation in 2002 of the mega-cooperative, Fonterra.  Owned by dairy farmers, the new organisation was intended to consolidate New Zealand's dairy processing, exploit its export strength, diversify its output, and move it up the value chain.  This all looked good while increasing demand in China in particular sustained increasing output and prices, especially given that  Fonterra accounts for around one third of global dairy trade.   

But price escalation was never going to be sustained in what is essentially a commodity market.  Consequently,  over-production and cyclical pressure on consumer demand have seen a rapid collapse in prices, and increasing questions over Fonterra's performance.

Commodity Trading Still

There are no surprises here. We have seen a series of collapses in New Zealand's commodity sectors over the years. Where are industry giants New Zealand Forest Products and, in the meat sector, Waitaki New Zealand Refrigerating today? Where are those former behemoths of the pastoral sector, Borthwicks and Fletchers? Dominance of a sector all too often carries the seeds of its own destruction. Even that giant of the IT sector, Google, has reset itself as a cluster of smaller, more focused entities.

Fonterra was meant to drive the innovation that would increase the value of dairy exports, to reduce its dependence on commodity sales.

Its biggest innovation appears to have been the Global Dairy Trade an auction platform it established in 2008 that has become the benchmark for world dairy prices. It is no more than an instrument of the commodity trade, though. It simply confirms the cyclical nature of the market - and leads the race to the bottom. 

In fact, dairy prices have gone nowhere over the past decade. Those that have sunk capital into the sector on the back of the promise of "white gold" have seen poor returns, insufficient in many cases to cover the costs of their capital. This is especially the case for those that purchased or extended farms in the boom years.

Global Dairy Trade Price Index

What Went Wrong?

Industry commentator, Tony Baldwin, identifies five factors behind this indifferent performance.  These are detailed in his NZ Herald piece today. In summary:
  • The organisation remains producer-driven rather than consumer-focused;
  • It misunderstands its own strengths and weaknesses and therefore where it needs to address its role (and value) in the supply chain,;
  • It has confused roles and objectives;
  • As a cooperative it is capital constrained;
  • It has effectively misdirected capital into lower value volume production capacity rather than into higher value product development.
Not everyone will agree with this diagnosis, but the outcomes speak for themselves.  Whatever the vision was for Fonterra, the architects surely were not looking for more of the same - volatile commodity trading writ large?

The Lessons for City Organisation

So what's this got to do with city matters?  Everything.  Fonterra is another example of the fallacy of thinking big when it comes to reforming organisations. 

When Auckland municipalities were amalgamated in 2010 I suggested that large organisations are slow moving and resist change as internal relationships and established ways of doing things dictate their responses to changing external conditions.  Consolidation was the wrong response to whatever was wrong with Auckland.

Nothing I have seen since leads me to change my mind. And the comparison with large industrial organisations holds.

Think about it: 

Producer Driven
The new Auckland City remains focused on shaping the city according to a particular brand of planning. No room for innovation there as  the architects of Auckland draw on precedent from elsewhere to fulfil a vision of more people in less space. Intensification was a keyword in dairying as larger herds became established but that did nothing for the consumers of dairy products or, really, for the sustainability of the New Zealand economy. Citizens in Auckland are now faced with a future closer to the crowded cities of the past than the open city that could define our future.

Role Confusion
The role of Auckland Council has become one of dictating rather than  enabling, of shaping rather than servicing, and of participating in an unwinnable auction based on contrived city indices rather than facilitating and supporting a competitive private sector or housing the community in a sustainable manner.

Capital Constrained
Ultimately councils are constrained by their population and population expectations. Whatever form city taxes take, there is a limit to the capacity of citizens to fund current and future development.

Increasing the indebtedness of future generations to fund assets through debt is an option - an option that sours if the underlying population expectations fail to materialise. On that score, it is probably worth reviewing the volatility of the global dairy trade index when thinking about just how much debt it is sensible for the Auckland Council to take on. We need to acknowledge the uncertainty around our population projections - an uncertainty exacerbated in the short-term by unsustainable increases in housing costs.

Misdirected Capital
Time will tell - but intensification of the population requires highly expensive investments in public transport if the city is to continue to function without extreme congestion.

In due course this will constrain the investment that might be made in making Auckland as a whole (and not just as a CBD-centric conurbation) a more attractive place to live in. What will define a successful city must include reliable and quality services, green spaces, and ready access to community and recreational amenities across the board. 

Where to From Here?
Can Auckland get away with its mantra-based path to intensification as a means of creating a liveable and competitive city?  I think not.

Can the current structure deliver?   Not, I don't think, without a radical overhaul. 

And if there are any immediate lessons we might take from the Fonterra and Auckland City examples - bigger is not necessarily better. Oh, and choose your advisors carefully.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Too little, too late: finally fronting Auckland's housing problems

Singing an old song
It’s hardly worth blogging about the Auckland housing crisis any more.  It’s an old song few people wanted to hear in the past. Now everybody’s singing it. Today’s comprehensive coverage by the New Zealand Herald neatly highlights the ultimate contradiction – how can Auckland be one of the most liveable cities in the world when it is one of the least affordable?

When the problem of where to put our growing population could have been relatively easily solved 20 or so years ago, planners were stuck in an eighties groove promoting Plan A - a city contained within strict boundaries against the clichéd chorus of “no more sprawl”.

The idea of urban sprawl was – and still is – used to raise an image of ever-expanding, continuous development of monotonous housing and crowded roads swallowing pristine bushlands and a pastoral cornucopia.  From this it was a short step to damning all and any greenfield development that might have kept the housing market functional, offered opportunities for smart urban design, and made new communities viable –and liveable.

Even though geography, economics, and preferences favour a city in which employment can disperse and urbanisation can take place on greenfields divorced, if necessary from high cost legacy infrastructure, we put up the shutters and were blind to the consequences and costs of a high density, high rise alternative.

The tide has turned 
The resulting shortage of affordable housing has finally risen to the top of the Government agenda. The Minister of Housing and even Auckland Council are starting to push the boundaries and look at options for a realistic city footprint.   Initiatives include extending the capacity of hinterland villages and towns , identifying areas well suited to urbanisation on or beyond the city edge, and tackling the thorny issue of how to re-form swathes of the existing urban area to accommodate greater density. 

It’s a sign of our past failures, though, that these initiatives necessitate bypassing the Resource Management Act and leapfrogging the fraught process of translating the Auckland Plan into a meaningful statutory planning document.

But things will get worse before they get better. 
The Council still estimates a shortfall of 25,000 dwellings in 2018 compared to 15,000 today.  The Productivity Commission estimates an even greater 32,000 shortfall and says another 13,000 homes would be needed annually just to cater for growth.    Whatever the number turns out to be, it will swamp the best we have achieved, a peak of 12,000 dwellings consented in 2005, and a long-term average of little over 7,000 a year. 

Unfortunately, it's no longer just a numbers game.  We have procrastinated to the point that we are now faced with an enduring structural problem in a housing market that will be marked by increasing reliance on offshore capital, a lift in long-term rental tenancies, and ultimately a slowdown in population growth as the city loses its appeal.

Do we have the capacity?
It’s no longer just a question of releasing land for development.. 

One problem is that we have let our investment in infrastructure fall behind.  That can be solved with time, funded by more rates increases, foreign capital, or, better perhaps, the municipal infrastructure bonds long promoted by advocate of affordable housing Hugh Pavletich. 

But don’t expect any early boost given the small size of the civil engineering sector in New Zealand, and, like new housing, don’t expect it to be achieved without a solid injection of foreign capital.

We may also lack the capacity to ramp up residential construction and in trying to do so increase the risks around the quality and cost of building houses.  The challenge for the building sector will be to achieve levels of productivity not enjoyed since 2004 while boosting building personnel, and promoting a more competitive materials sector.  Without gains in these areas, Auckland may need twice the builders it had in 2014 simply to reach an annual target of 13,000 new homes, let alone make a dent in the existing shortfall.  

Finally, and fundamentally, prices have reached the point that the traditional drivers of new demand, the first home buyers, are effectively excluded from the market.  Incomes have simply not kept pace with house prices.

The flow-on effects are insidious
The consequent shift to a housing market dependent on investors funding new stock rather than occupants raises a new set of uncertainties (including a divisive populist reaction against offshore investors, as if their presence is a cause and not a result of a housing shortfall contrived by poor planning).

For a start, we have an insufficiently developed rental sector to provide tenants the degree of security necessary to underpin education, health, and career . Without a strong institutional and regulatory framework, rental housing is a second best solution for families, undermining commitment to community and increasing mobility. While that may not worry the young and transient, it is not conducive to family formation, household stability and savings, or strong communities.

A high rental population tends to be associated with high labour turnover, lifting the cost of employment and undermining in particular businesses that employ the less skilled.  At the same time, higher salaries and wages are needed to compensate for high cost housing (and commuting) in Auckland, boosting the cost of the professional and management services to the corporate and government sectors.

Can we afford the bubble to burst?
Auckland's distorted housing market contains the seeds of its own destruction that no amount of fiddling with macro-economic settings will now resolve.  And even if some twenty years too late we take the brakes off land supply, prices are unlikely to fall quickly and quietly enough to restore order as we knew it, if only because of the costs that have become embedded in the construction sector and are likely to be amplified if demand for development outruns the capacity of the market to supply it.

And if we could drop prices sufficiently to bridge the affordability gap we risk bursting the bubble.  Highly mortgaged householders will find themselves without equity and banks without collateral. The social and economic consequences and the fiscal and political impacts would be grim.

On the other hand, we may no longer have a say.  As the rock economy encounters softening commodity prices, falling consumer confidence, and a weakening labour market, expect that pillar of economic activity – the Auckland housing market – to encounter its own rocks. A weaker economy could burst the bubble without any supply side response.  On the other hand, global deflation and a low New Zealand dollar could prop up a bubble market for a little longer, exacerbating the problem in the long run. 

Will the market simply slow down as people move out or stop moving in?

There are other scenarios that might just ease the pain and slow the market.

For example, the trickle of households exiting Auckland (which has exceeded any gains from the rest of New Zealand for over twenty years) could turn into a torrent .  Detached housing, lack of congestion, and ready access to amenities underpin the growing attraction of secondary cities and towns.  Retirees have known this for a long time, and the potential to cash up their Auckland home for two or three times the cost of a better dwelling in a smaller city or town is likely to boost the momentum as increasing numbers of baby boomers retire.

And despite loose talk of zombie towns, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities are out there to complement the lifestyle opportunities associated with small town living. 

And we can expect many more families to make the move.  A return to the regions and a slowdown in gains from international migration as excessive house prices and lagging infrastructure diminish Auckland’s liveability may be sufficient to lower the city's temperature.

Retreat of the baby boomers?
We also need to think about what will happen to the stock of baby boomer housing 10 or 20 years out. While we can incorporate the ageing of the population into naïve demographic projections, do we really know how their behaviour might shape the housing market ten or twenty years hence?

Only a minority might move out of Auckland, but that will have a significant impact on the housing market.  Many more may opt for the convenience, comfort and security of retirement villages.  That, and a little natural attrition along the way, should see the options for suburban revival increase as the large houses of the 1950s and 1960s are recycled or replaced, increasing residential capacity in existing suburbs.
Add to that the changing household characteristics in an increasingly diverse Auckland– including more multi-generation families occupying larger individual dwellings, more sharing among non-family members and households – and the numbers game might change substantially.

So what do we plan for now?
Of course, either of these scenarios – a bubble burst or a market moderated – creates another problem.  What do we do with all our plans and projected spending predicated on another million Aucklanders – or thereabouts – by 2041.  How should we revise the massive spend proposed for transport infrastructure that assumes that the growth of the past decade is somehow inevitable over the next?  And how do we maintains the conceit that as much as 70% of it might be contained within the existing built-up area?   And pay the debt that we are accumulating on the basis of growth assumptions that we were never ready for and are consequently unlikely to be fulfilled?

It’s time to think about Plan B; Plan A has clearly failed the city.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Beyond constraint - urban form and housing affordablity

Resolving the housing affordability crisis

New Zealand’s rock star economy might just get deflated.  Prices in the Auckland and Christchurch housing markets are growing at unsustainable rates.  And when the bubble bursts, the implosion will be far-reaching.  The solution proposed here addresses the critical issue – how to get the land market working effectively and efficiently.  Without that, abstract aspirations for liveability in our main cities will, like a bubble, burst.

The solution is multi-faceted.  It lies in:
·     acknowledging the centrality of land supply;
·     changing how we think about urbanisation;
·     bringing multiple sites forward for development;
·     moving on six related fronts
  • change traditional mindsets
  •  realign institutions
  •   regulatory reform
  •   rethink infrastructure
  •   rethink funding
  •   back off excessive prescription
·     Moving to “why not?”

I expand on these points below.  If we can pull all this off, we might not only create a more productive, liveable city, we might also save the bubble blowers.

Sort the supply problem and the rest follows
It’s no news that that the housing affordability problem is multi-faceted. It’s tied up with fiscal and financial conditions, incomes, the size and structure of the market, inter-generational “competition”, the unpredictability of migration, the configuration of the building industry, and so on.   But without resolving supply constraints, and especially land supply, forget initiatives in these other areas. 

Get land supply right, though, and some of the other impediments might just melt away.
The issue really is land.  It is simple minded to think we can simply build our way out of a supply problem by Increasing building coverage and heights.  Boosting densities within cities might help, but raises a number of other issues: the cost of replacing or extending ageing and under-capacity infrastructure, how to spend our way out of congestion, redevelopment of transport corridors, and obesity and other health and social issues associated with confined and crowded living conditions.

My suggestions focus on Auckland but with relevance, I believe, for other settings.

Changing how we think about urbanisation

Get away from the obsession with contiguity.  Places aren’t urban simply because they are all joined up.  Urbanisation has its roots in transactions, not simply being there. Better to think about cites as networks – a mass of corridors linking nodes across a variegated landscape.  Take this approach and urbanisation and nature need no longer be in conflict. 

Think outside arbitrary administrative constructs. In Auckland, we might start with a focus on the super-regional corridors, and the quality and strength – or potential strength -- of our linkages with the smaller cities of Hamilton, Tauranga, and Whangarei.  Through this we can act beyond local constraints, as part of a potentially powerful and extensive crucible for New Zealand’s next round of development.

Breaking out the land
A growing city is not homogeneous.  Increasing land supply for urban development can and should take multiple forms.

Bring aboard multiple sites and forms of greenfield land. Within Auckland these can readily access and strengthen the region’s well-defined north-south access corridor.  They can also be distributed in such a way that they extend but work within the realities of sub-regional and sub-urban housing and labour markets. 

Think of townships as well connected urban nodes, without necessarily enveloping them within a creeping built landscape.  In Auckland we can apply well thought through extensions to villages and townships – Wellsford, Warkworth, and Waitoki in the north, Waimauku and Helensville in the west, Whitford and Clevedon in the east, Pukekohe, Tuakau, and Pokeno in the south, all surrounded by bush and farmland, linked to each other and to the urban core by a dense network of roads and, for some, by rail.   

And we can envisage of larger settlements closer to the existing built up areas, creating sub-urban communities with character as well as mass, some building on incipient development.  In Auckland we have multiple opportunities that align with existing sub-regional communities but assume their own form and character: Think Dairy Flat and Riverhead in the north, Kumeu in the west, Beachlands-Maraetai in the east; Drury, Ardmore, Runciman, and Karaka in the south.

And for traditionalists still wedded to singular edges, contiguity, and sprawl, seeking to preserve the city within arbitrary limits there are still possibilities for pushing existing suburban boundaries outward beyond, say, Albany, Orewa, and Silverdale in the north;  Massey and Hobsonville in the west; Wiri, Weymouth and Papakura in the south.

Suburban opportunities for selective intensification are still around.  They will increase as boomers age and voluntarily or otherwise relinquish their particular legacy of modest houses on large plots.  Medium density housing – perhaps by way of terrace houses and duplexes, low rise apartments, and especially residential villages (the retirement industry leads the way here) – offer the prospects of modest intensification without undermining communities or destroying the amenities which make the suburbs attractive in the first place.  But the costs can be high and progress slow.  Growing cities cannot wait around for successive generations to be bought or simply die off. 

Brownfield development may be seen as the silver bullet at the moment, because it implies swathes of already urbanised land simply waiting for the first sod to be re-turned and deliver intensive inner city settlement. Well that’s not so easy.  Issues around title consolidation, infrastructure rehabilitation, decontamination and the removal of hazardous materials, impacts on households and businesses in adjoining and proximate communities, the consequent battles for consenting, and the cost associated with often prolonged holding periods all-too-often turn brownfields into red ink or black holes.  Brownfield development is no solution for a supply constrained city.

While we are at it, let’s put the CBD into perspective.  It’s the leading office, visitor, and entertainment precinct in a city.  But it’s not where many of the city’s population lives, works or plays.  Sure, it may make sense to surround it with cheap apartments for Generation Zero to pass through, and where a very small group of the privileged may purchase a water-view, high amenity apartment.  But even in our wildest dreams, that’s not a path to the affordability or the capacity that a growing city requires.

So resolving the supply and affordability housing crisis presumably requires action on all those fronts, and in a wide range of localities.  One consequence of such an approach would be to reduce the capacity for speculative gains and land banking.  Another might be to encourage and sustain the development of significant, medium sized developers and builders, moderating current reliance on a small number of large developers on the one hand, and a large number of very small builders on the other. 

What to do?

All this is easily said.  So how is it to be done?  Here are some ideas.
First, we have to change from the traditionalists’ mind set.

What we have today, or what we thought of yesterday, may not suit tomorrow.  Tomorrow’s urbanisation may be more connected but less contiguous.  Greenfield development need not raise images of never-ending suburbs or houses to the horizon, but of settled landscapes that are penetrated and defined by natural features and green corridors.  Fields of green will stretch away from a diverse urbanised core interspersed with supplementary settlements – towns, villages, suburbs – connected to corridors that link a network of cities into a coherent economic and social unit across multiple administrative boundaries. 
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

More immediately, let’s throw off an outmoded mind set, and think about communities, not just housing.  Urbanisation involves business and work settings, community centres, local transport and recreational networks, and houses – detached, semi-detached, multi-storeyed, high and low density.  Don’t just count house sites when assessing potential; allow the land for a whole community.   Then let the landscape, the designers, the developers, and the market –future residents – bring it about (subject, always, to appropriate environmental constraints). And think about how connections with other centres work rather than how to maximise densities in any one of them.
Second, we need to realign our institutions.  Simply moving planners from one Auckland Council office to another was never going to ramp housing supply up quickly in Auckland.  Changing planning rules around Auckland’s plan may have slowed the process and dimmed the prospect for significant early movement as well.

How about setting up a government agency charged with assembling or defining the areas of land throughout Auckland and adjoining regions that might be brought to market?  A development corporation might tag or even purchase, consolidate, and then on-sell land for urbanisation, or put it out for tender to develop with some clear social objectives included. 
A complementary approach would be to draw on development agreements reached between council on behalf of community and developer.  These would spell out required (and realistic) outcomes as a condition of proceeding with the development of substantial parcels of land.  This approach should give more satisfactory outcomes than relying on the long-winded consent and appeal process encouraged by the Resource Management Act which may only achieve a compromise between public and private objectives. 

The proposed approach would need public input, though, so that as the agent of the community the local council would have a clear mandate regarding what provision for community amenities and infrastructure should be provided for in a development agreement.
Third, we need to change the regulatory framework within which it so is comfortable for traditional minds to remain wedded incrementalism and yesterday’s answers.  I have discussed elsewhere an initiative that might help, the rejigging of New Zealand’s environmental and local administrative legislation. 

Fourth, rethink infrastructure supply.  It may be time to get away from monopolistic suppliers wedded to old technologies and allow the innovative to seek out and apply more localised solutions to such matters as water supply, wastewater disposal, solid waste handling, and even power generation and distribution.  Of course, most alternative initiatives tend to be small in scale and currently relatively expensive to implement.  Costs tend to be dropping, though, and people may be prepared to pay a little more if resilience is increased and running costs are low.  One way or another the door needs opening to innovation, modernisation, and increased resilience, if for no other reason than to push current suppliers down this path. (I also wonder whether localised solutions are really more expensive than gold plating the capital works applied to large scale, monopolistic services).  
Fifth, rethink funding.  Why should future owners fund upfront the long-term infrastructure required when purchasing new homes given the value they bring to a community by playing an active role in its social and economic life as well as assuming a share of current fiscal liabilities. 

The real beneficiary of development is the party that sells land into a higher value use.  So a development levy on the profit realised from the sale of rural land into urban use, an underutilised brownfield site into intensification, or a large single-dwelling suburban site into apartments might be a more expeditious means of funding the works required to realise the enhanced potential.

Another possibility is to promote the commercial funding of infrastructure.  Privatisation of energy companies has facilitated this. Competition has been allowed into solid waste collection.   The creation of council controlled organisations for the provision of local infrastructure, however, hasn’t necessarily achieved improved funding. 

Commercial entities, whether investors or operators, can be expected to define an appropriate level of service and find efficient means to achieve it.  The long-term income streams may be an attractive proposition for bank lending (especially in deflationary times) or for the issue of high ranking bonds to raise finance.  They might also attract private and public equity.  There are plenty of examples – but we need more effective coverage of local infrastructure.  Regionalised entities for basic services can reflect the particular needs and circumstances of communities and tailor development options rather than simply extend the old system to new users.

Sixth, back off prescriptive plans by local councils and instead require that spatial plans set out long-term, broad-brush land use options and a commitment to where public money will be  spent on public services and amenities.  This should help shape a city in ways that the community wants.  It should also supply sufficient certainty for providers of infrastructure and services to plot their own investment priorities and programmes subject, of course, to their capabilities and risk management policies.  And where they fall short, expect other suppliers to step in.

The role of risk: moving to “Why not”
Risk and how it is treated may well lie at the heart of the problem.  Rather than evaluating risk and adopting protocols which allow for it without undermining the capacity to innovate and extend, policy makers in public institutions and monopolies appear to manage it by sticking with what they know, through imitation, replication, and repetition, and by the simple expedient of saying no: “Why should we?”  This is a sure recipe for constraint – of supply and of opportunity. 

I wonder if the biggest risk, the one that explains this conservative attitude, is that in pricking the housing bubble we might just bring the bubble blowers down.  Any significant readjustment of the housing market would hit the banking sector the hardest.  The American experience shows us what the banking sector does when it gets hit.  The community, economic and the political consequences of widespread mortgage foreclosures and business failures loom large over the whole housing crisis. 
If nothing else, an approach to managing the release of additional land supply that identifies and works through multiple sites and agencies, that helps to free up and fund the infrastructure sector, and boosts the development and construction sectors would moderate any such impact.  It might even allow the banks to participate in the transformation we need in the housing market  by moving some of the current funding from houses to infrastructure, .