An Anti-Housing Trojan Horse – Greater Auckland


Header image: Affordable housing in London by architect Peter Barber

This is a guest post from Hayden Donnell

On Friday night’s episode of The Project, planner Graeme McIndoe spoke about what was supposed to be a chilling vision of a future filled with housing. If the government gets what it wants, homes will soon be allowed to be built within meters of each other, with living rooms leading to bedrooms, he said. “There is a risk that this will be a leaky house crisis-wide disaster,” he said.

McIndoe is part of a coterie of town planners, politicians and city officials campaigning in the media against the bipartisan Resource Management Bill (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters), which would allow three homes up to three storeys on residential zoned sections in major cities. These opponents fear that allowing new housing will mean having to deal with demolition waste. They complain that allowing people to build houses will mean having to serve these developments with infrastructure. Most of all, they fear that the bill will allow – in their own words – urban slums.

These concerns are exaggerated at best and dishonest at worst. Some of the most beautiful places in the world are full of the kind of “radical” three-story housing that this bill allows. How many of these critics have taken on vacation getaways across Europe, wandered the alleys of terraced houses and noticed their beauty, only to return home and devote themselves to ensuring that the same cannot be ever happen here?

You don’t have to go abroad to see medium density housing. It’s also on display in places like Oriental Parade in Wellington, where three-story apartments and townhouses rise from the sidewalk. Even in the posh Auckland suburb of Ponsonby, the villas are located just inches apart.

These homes are seen as untouchable buildings by many of the same people who would make them illegal under the government’s new plan. They were built before planners had a say in the architecture of our cities. Many of the design interventions imposed by our councils over the past decades have been imbued with a desire to legally mandate the aesthetic preferences of those comfortably housed. This has often been counterproductive. The withdrawal rules prompted the “sausage dishes”Seen in many places across Auckland. The height / limit ratios have limited density where most desirable.

Opponents of the government’s housing bill have strongly called for a continuation of this finicky approach. In its presentation to the select committee tasked with reviewing the Resource Management (Enabling Housing and Other) Bill, Auckland council proposed a four-meter setback at the front of each property, in order to leave enough space for a mature tree. Apparently in Auckland, berms are reserved exclusively for parked cars.

Elsewhere, developer Nigel McKenna told the committee that mid-density housing is not suitable for Aotearoa due to our national reliance on grilling juicy steaks. “We have different needs. So the densities that actually work in other countries don’t actually work here, because we actually want to live outdoors and have barbecues, ”he said. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff shared the sentiment. “They would love to barbecue on a lawn,” he said, in support of his argument that barbecue facilities should be mandatory in new construction.

Basically, these proposed rules are less about encouraging better design and more about preventing the construction of houses. It might be true that we love to barbecue, but that doesn’t mean it should be illegal not to have room for one. People who prefer to eat take out or feel comfortable grilling kebabs in a park shouldn’t be forced to live in homes that don’t meet their needs. Neither should every tenant have a mature pōhutukawa imposed on their lawn.

At least those submissions focused on the people living in these new homes. In general, planners, politicians and architects have become more concerned about the impact a new development will have on existing homeowners who have seen the value of their largest assets increase by 25% in the past year. Some have argued that the new housing will “deprive” these homeowners of sunlight and have proposed regulations to prevent this potential theft. Project presenter Laura Tupou opened the show’s segment on the housing bill with the words’ could you wake up to find your neighbor building a three-story house next door to you and you don’t. can nothing? “.

These complaints show how many influential people in shaping our cities are operating in reverse. A sensible approach to growth would first ask how allow a sufficient supply of housing in areas where it is needed, so how to design this growth in the prettiest way possible. Instead, they reversed those considerations, asking first how to regulate and reshape development to suit the preferences of wealthy homeowners, and then how many homes can be built once those concerns are addressed. The resulting rules are presented as creating livable cities. In reality, their main purpose is to protect the privilege.

Look at any Auckland or Wellington planning map, and you’ll see visual evidence of the paramount impetus of our advice in isolating the wealthy from the effects of development. The peri-urban suburbs of the two centers were practically exempt from dense housing. In Auckland, Ponsonby, Herne Bay, Gray Lynn, Birkenhead, and Mt Eden all contain large tracts of single-family home zoning. In Wellington, the same goes for suburbs like Newtown and Mt Victoria.

These rules can limit development, but they do not stop population growth. While many councils subject to the housing bill have complained about the potential for sprawl, their own planning rules essentially make this sprawl inevitable. Their decisions to limit housing near city centers ensure the diffusion of growth to peripheral areas. In Wellington, it means Upper Hutt. In Auckland, the most intensive development takes place in working-class suburbs like Massey and Henderson in the west of the city and Manukau in the south. A tour of these suburbs will show why the criticism of sunlight and the setbacks by opponents of the bill ring hollow. Our cities are already full of the type of housing that some of them have called “uglification”. They never worry so much about the shading effects if they happen to the poor.

A map showing the lack of housing permits in areas around downtown Auckland, and large scale growth in the south and west- Credit to Timmy

Henderson isn’t the only place to help keep Herne Bay preserved in amber. While the outskirts of the city remain unchanged, developers are also paving forests, wetlands and productive land to build new satellite towns in the pristine areas of Millwater and Kumeu. Worse yet, part of our city’s growth is forced into overcrowded apartments, emergency motels, and sometimes cars.

On The Project, McIndoe concluded his interview with a warning. “The blind will be shot, they will be miserable places to live,” he said of the housing the bill allows. But a new, warm house isn’t really a miserable place to live. A musty apartment is a miserable place to live. The same goes for a motel or a car. Opponents of this bill talk a lot about slums, but the glaring inequalities of our housing crisis are far more likely to cause social and economic problems than any new building typology.

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For too long, our councils and planners have prioritized their fears of drawn blinds and missing barbecues over this very real damage. Now they ask us to listen to them again. But their concerns are a sort of Trojan horse. They’re designed to appear likable, with cues centered around things we all appreciate like sunlight and outdoor space. Open them up though, and it’s the same poisonous approach that once helped us have the world’s worst housing crisis. Politicians should be wary of taking advice on how to resolve this crisis from the same people who helped provoke it in the first place. Don’t let them enter the city walls.

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