Saturday, June 13, 2009

Smart Growth?


By Andrew D Atkin:

This article illuminates the inherent foolishness of forced urban geographical intensification (cramming people together in high-density developments against their will).


Confession: Once upon a time I believed that sprawl was inherently bad and that public transport was good. I even came up with some loose ideas based on this belief. But as time went on, and a bit of homework was done, I quickly came to realise that some of my ideas were based on false assumptions (that we are all fed) and likewise my views, and ideas, were updated.

I hope this piece helps others to update their views, too.


And the urban planners debated and debated as to what would be the best way for the people to live their lives. And all the while they forget to consider if it was even their question to ask in the first place.

The following is my video introduction. I chose to provide this due to the seriousness of this particular issue.

My claim is that urban Intensification in Auckland is a serious logistical mistake. It leads to substantial economic and social costs, and in exchange for an almost negligible environmental gain. The following is my argument.

1. If Auckland sprawled all the way to Hamilton and just as far northward, it would house well over 50 million people. The populations of the developed world are stabilising and may even decline soon. Clearly there is no reasonable argument to preserve farmland, of which there is plenty and is hardly affected by sprawl.

-Correction Note: New Zealand is about 0.8 percent covered over (geographically) in urbanisation. I will use Ministry for the Environment figures. (Others claim, maybe more accurately, that it is only 0.7%).

2. Sprawl can be ugly or good-looking - the same can be said for high-density developments. Aesthetics are an issue of design, not development type.

3. Intensification leads to much more traffic congestion than with sprawl. With the ARC's intensification goals, cars will become basically dysfunctional.

Most people want a car and to be able to use it, regardless of the proximity of a train station. In turn, the ARC may be more likely to export as opposed to inhibit sprawl, as chronic intensification seriously interferes with people's chosen lifestyle i.e. accelerated brain drain.[Which is being actualised today]

4. Due to the effects of greater congestion impeding smooth traffic flow, high-density development does not lead to real increases in transport efficiency. This fact has been demonstrated with existing high-density cities.

Traffic congestion damages economic efficiency and growth. If the gap between New Zealand and Australian living standards slips any further, things could get serious - if they are not already. Respecting the need to have a competitive city, it's questionable whether Auckland can even afford restrictive zoning.

--Population growth produces congestion, not sprawl as such. As jobs progressively move out to the city fringes along with the sprawl, city expansion helps to keep the development of congestion under control as new traffic is largely localised to the fringes.

--Intensification increases public transport demand, but no way near enough to justify the impact that it has on the existing road network. Transit-oriented development is basically an act of forcing an entire city to evolve to meet the needs of a rail system, and at the expense of the operability of cars. Nevermind the fact that most people far prefer their private, cosy and more economical cars, and only option for rail on the strange presumption that everybody else will use it. And nevermind the fact that in any circumstance public transport will never achieve market share above about 20% (in Auckland).

5. Higher traffic densities greatly increase pollution in terms of what people actually inhale. New Zealand has an asthma epidemic. [We also have very dirty cars]

6. Intensification dramatically escalates the cost of land via restrictive zoning, as increases in demand cannot be met with an adequate increase in supply. Restrictive zoning is necessary to force people into high-density developments. This makes life very tough for young couples trying to buy a home to have a family, who are particularly intolerant of high-density living. This in turn reduces fertility at biologically competent ages which in turn increases infantile trauma. Infantile trauma is the most significant component (for most individuals) producing mental sickness and other general health and development problems.

It also forces parents to "outsource" parental duties for their young children, as they must work longer hours to pay for their costly homes. This does nothing for their child's development or happiness, not to mention the parents own well-being.

--Overall this is the worst effect of Intensification. It unfairly concentrates resources away from the people who need them the most, and the negative effects of this can be far-reaching and even inter-generational. In evolutionary terms, this situation is completely backwards.

7. Current house prices in Auckland are inherently insecure, as median house prices are far higher than their actual construction cost/value. When restrictive zoning is removed [and it ultimately will be to keep Auckland competitive] there will be a huge number of devastated people with $500k mortgages on ~$250k houses.

If New Zealand does not independently correct its house prices (via the removal of restrictive zoning) then the global market ultimately will, as people consistently refuse to invest in Auckland's unattractive housing market and economy. As it stands today, I would [unfortunately] recommend to young New Zealander's to move to Australia, rent and save better money, and then wait for the bubble to burst.

First home buyers are pressured to buy into the market because they need a home and to get on with their lives, that is why this is such a serious issue - we can't just say "It's your own silly fault". There is also the fact that new home buyers often don't realise how risky the market is, because they are young and don't have the time to learn everything about everything, and of course this further compounds the problem.

People who are already rich can afford to play games with their surplus - first home buyers can't. In principle at least, it's extremely important to keep house prices stable and accurate.

To clarify: High demand, lower interest rates (facilitating affordability) and speculative investors have all fuelled the property boom. However, it's restrictive zoning that has allowed this boom to happen in the first place. Quite simply, if people could build new homes at or near construction cost on the outskirts of Auckland they would not touch the established property market as it stands today. This would inevitably lead to a rapid price correction overall.

I explain more intensively on this issue here:
Explaining New Zealand's property disaster

8. New Zealand's current economic growth has been fuelled by the boom in property prices. People have been borrowing (on their houses) with confidence from their new found "wealth", and this has led to an increase in consumer spending. The problem is they're borrowing on wealth that doesn't really exist, and that spells trouble. When the bubble bursts people will find themselves with an uncomfortable debt-to-asset ratio, and they will then focus on paying off debts as opposed to consumer spending. This will inhibit growth and maybe even send us into recession.

--True economic progress should not be defined as an increase in economic activity, but actual increases in the efficiency of the economic machine. New Zealanders are not earning more/hr, they're just borrowing and working more - we have a highly active but inefficient economy. This is not what I call progress, but it's what we have to show for our current restrictive zoning induced economic "growth".

New Zealand's "good times" have led to no real economic progress, and the economy has been riding on a bubble. Sooner or later we will have to answer to our misinvestment and pay off our debts. It will hurt.

The following video presents an interview with Peter Schiff, a now famous and vindicated economist. He clarifies my assertion with the American example. America has been subject to the same basic property dynamics--and economic consequences--as New Zealand.

To add to Peter Schiff's commentary: Say a group of people who supply water for a city are outlawed from expanding their enterprises, for as they otherwise would in response to natural population growth. The effect would be a developing under-supply of water, and in turn the price of water would increase. Potentially the price would increase massively because water is considered an indispensable "product" to the consumer. In turn, the market value of the water supplier's infrastructure would be increased hugely, because the market value of infrastructure is primarily based on its profitability.

There is nothing different to the water example I just modelled and what has happened with the New Zealand (and American) property market. It is obviously a nonsense to consider the escalation of market value as induced by a deliberately enforced under-supply as real wealth creation. Government economists cannot be this stupid or ignorant. There must be corruption with respect to the implementation of these policies.

9. Money talks: If people didn't care too much for low-density living then the cost of land would not dramatically escalate, as most people would "merrily" move into apartments as soon as suburbia gets a little costly. We can see that it doesn't work that way - people will typically pay almost whatever they have to or can.

By restricting the supply of land we heavily compromise real living standards by making it so much harder for people to obtain their most valued and important asset. Due to the serious fallout effects (which are now demonstrated), restrictive zoning should not be tolerated until a decisive and objective argument for its necessity can be established. That 'decisive' argument has never been established.

10. Intensification leads to "social mixing". Speaking simply this forces people to live amongst the most socially troubled sectors of society, regardless of their personal preference. We can't pretend that most people don't find this scenario depressing and stressful to tolerate.

11. Planners often believe you get better "community" with high density development, and they frequently use this argument to help justify Intensification.

The modern community is not significantly geographically defined, and nor does it need to be. Most people prefer to privately choose their company, though of course a good-natured relationship with neighbours is desired. Regardless, it's not the place of councils to socially engineer people's lives - people should have the freedom to live where they want, so long as they are not unreasonably affecting others or the environment.

12. Some people oppose sprawl because it interferes with their physical view.

Any individual that chooses to buy or build their home on the outskirts of Auckland does so with the understanding that their view may be affected by further expansion of the city. In turn they should accept this, especially as they themselves have affected other people's view for the luxury of building/buying on cheap land.

13. There is the idea that building our cities at a higher density is justified for the sake of our children's future. I do not understand this argument as the next generation will probably want low-density living just like the present generation, and low-density living is in fact sustainable.

14. Greater construction and operating costs associated with sprawl (if they exist) should be passed on to those who choose to live in low-density developments. With fair taxation there is no argument for outlawing sprawl on the bases of cost.

--I will point out that the cost of Intensification can be greater than sprawl when it equates to a large amount of disruptive "demolish and re-build", as it frequently does. Intensification is more reasonable where existing infrastructure is operating under capacity.

15. There is the argument that we will need to use mostly trains in the future because we're running out of cheap oil, and therefore we should prepare for this by basing Auckland's development on electric trains.

How about a 500kg composite/aluminium 2-seat 30kw plug-in electric car, with a small 20kw ultra-efficient diesel-electric generator that is only periodically used when the batteries run out (of range)? This affordable and proven technology would cut automotive oil dependence to less than 5% of what car owners use today. Higher priced oil will lead to changes in the type of cars we buy - not our lifestyles.

Update 18-1-2012: The following video gives us VW's latest concept car, achieving an extraordinary 260mpg. It is very similar to what I just hypothesized. It is too extreme, using expensive carbon fiber, but this would not matter if it were a network-based vehicle used throughout the day. Also there are much more affordable composite materials being developed, such as hemp-based composties.

Update ends:

--The following video shows the electric or petrol Aptera, which should be commercialised late 2008 in California, USA. It is about 5-10 more efficient than a conventional car, depending on operating conditions. This is an extreme example (ultra aerodynamic and light) but makes a statement of how far cars can go if makers aggressively invest in efficiency in car design. Aptera would actually be far more efficient still if it was built as a tandem (narrow, with one seat behind the other). The only reason why cars are not built more in this direction today is because fuel is still, comparatively, very cheap.

Respecting all the present and emerging transport technologies available to us, transit-oriented development has got to be the most inefficient and impractical alternative. In terms of reducing carbon emissions and oil dependency, transit-oriented development will ultimately prove to be a waste of time - in any circumstance cars will never be compromised in performance and/or economy to a point where public transport could be broadly competitive. As I said, transit-oriented development is neither a necessary nor realistic alternative.

--Unless there are more significant advances in battery technology, we can eventually electrify main roads to compensate for the range deficiency of batteries. So even if the use of oil was effectively outlawed, there would be no real problems. Indeed, guideway electrification may come much sooner than needed for no other reason than it is already commercially viable.

--With computer-controlled electrically based cars we can also develop exclusive guideway networks that facilitate automotive platooning. This means we can build economical over and/or underpasses that accommodate as much as 10X the traffic/lane, providing the ultimate solution to both congestion and pollution. Our technology base is already well developed to support this [platooning is relatively easy with electrically-based cars], and we should see some demonstration systems coming through in the next 5-10 years or so.

I speak more intensively on transport here:Automated Transport Network

16. People like the idea of public transport investment because it is more energy efficient than cars and therefore more "sustainable".

This is a myth. Worldwide, public transport has about the same real energy efficiency levels as cars. From application to application, you will see variances where sometimes public transport is more efficient relative to cars, likewise sometimes cars are more efficient.

Regardless, there are cars available today that are about twice as energy efficient as a typical public transport system, and they can be made even more efficient than that. In turn if we want to reduce energy consumption, it would be more reasonable to employ an 'eco-tax' on fuel as opposed to over-subsidising public transport.

For the objective of reducing energy consumption, there is no argument for having a bias for public transport.

--By far the most significant immediate thing we can do to reduce transport energy consumption is invest in congestion-charging.

17. Another argument for Intensification is that it supports urban renewal.

This is about as rational as idealising a horse-and-cart renewal. The reason why urban environments are decaying is because people would rather be somewhere else. Urban decay is not a problem, but an expression of consumer demand.

Irrationally forcing people to be where they don't want to be is a problem, and that's often what urban renewal means.

18. In conjunction with the expressed concern for urban renewal is the concern about the health of established retailers, as though we should be taking action to protect those established businesses from the effects of sprawl. This is another false argument. If people prefer to do their shopping at big-box stores and at the expense to traditional retailers, then that is simply economic development.

It makes no sense for a government to protect a given industry from the effects of competition, and if it were to do so then to be fair they would have to provide that protection for all tax-paying industries. Of course that would be foolish because it would freeze economic development.

19. Restrictive zoning can eliminate the backyard for many or most people. This in turn can make it impossible or extremely impractical for people to grow their own food. Likewise, there may be no defense against genetically modified foods, or foods compromised by plant breeding for variables other than nutritional quality (and at the expense of nutritional quality), or foods that are nutritionally compromised due to long storage times. Of course it also takes away a defense to market price variations for food.

21. Smart Growth requires high-rise building construction.

High-rise construction has the image of efficiency with its scale, but in truth it can be anything but efficient.

To explain: A single-story structure only has to support itself, whereas the bottom floor of a double-story structure must support itself and also the story above it. The effect is, of course, progressively exaggerated the higher you go. You will notice how much concrete and steel is required per-floor in a tall high-riser when you look at a construction site. Massive material investment is required to build tall structures that can support their own weight, and also resist high winds and earthquakes.

Single or double story structures (especially made from wood) typical of low-density suburbia require nothing of the structural mass of high-risers, for a given living area. They are obviously also much safer in the event of a major earthquake.


Sprawl has been irrationally demonised for decades to a point where people "instinctively" believe it should be stopped, even though the picture presented of "the nightmare" of low-density living is so often grossly off centre to how most people actually find it. If sprawl is so bad and people don't want it, then why do we have to make it illegal to stop it? If people typically want to live in high-density developments, then why do they have to be [basically] forced into them?

It's true that cars have had some negative effects such as pollution, and they have generally had a major impact on killing the otherwise peaceful and aesthetic atmosphere that our residential areas could otherwise provide [in particular where residential areas have been poorly designed]. Car-based cities can also be rather punishing for those who cannot drive. However, transit-orientated development does not make sense in a predominantly car-oriented market. A 'transit city' jam-packed full of cars is still much worse than a low-density city built to more properly accommodate them. Though Intensification does have it's place to a minor degree and in very specific areas, it is not a solution to any of our fundamental urban problems. I believe that large scale Intensification is almost entirely destructive - you get the worst of both worlds.

Note: We should be honest about the fact that though many people do not want development in greenfield areas, public perspective of how environmentally destructive this is has been mostly conditioned through the media. If the anti-sprawl sector of the public read this paper would they still be enthusiastic for Intensification? I am sure that at the least they would be asking questions. I believe that where public opinion is based on poor or "impressionistic" perspective, we should not dogmatically respond to it without at least first providing some unbiased education.

Finally, if Auckland Regional Council must insist on higher density development, then at the very least they should impose this policy on new subdivisions only. They should make the new developments medium-density, composed mostly of terraced housing in short segments, and no higher than 2-stories. This way it will not lead to significantly aggravated congestion, and the medium density developments can be built in an aesthetically co-ordinated way (rather than making a mess of established suburbs).

An Intensification focused growth strategy should be for medium-density fringe development (no green ring), with established areas being essentially left alone. You would still have an over-inflated property market, but to a lesser extent, and providing more attractive alternatives for people that cannot afford detached houses.

By directly regulating the nature of fringe development to provide higher density, you can create higher densities without increasing the cost of land, so it makes far more sense for the social advantage. Naturally, with this type of development the alternative to cars would be buses, not trains, but there is nothing wrong with that in a low density ~1.2m pop city like Auckland. Buses are much more efficient than trains, especially if congestion-charging is employed.

--We should also not ignore that low-density development in itself can be regulated for environmental and maybe lifestyle advantage. We can insist on mostly small-size car usage in new developments, and design circular subdivisions made up of single-lane one-way roads so as to reduce the need for roading. There is also a recently developed transport system called 'Ultra' which can revolutionise low-density property development. My point is Intensification is not the only altermatve to some level of environmental advantage - it is only the most costly.

Regardless, there is no doubt in my mind that the future lies in the development of low-density living in the long-term. Intensification strategies cannot survive because they seriously contradict consumer demand and can be shown to be totally unnecessary and environmentally irrelevant. Our investment should be based on improving sprawl, not inhibiting it.

Real debate:

I believe the real argument with the Intensification issue has been poorly defined. It's been dressed as Intensification versus Sprawl when really it's: Forced Intensification versus Individual Choice.

Realistically, the only honest argument for inhibiting sprawl and therefore individual choice is environmental, as whether or not it's better or worse to live in a high or low density development is a question for the individual to answer - it has nothing to do with anybody else*.

This means there is only one essential question we should be debating on: Are the fallout effects of forced Intensification worth the environmental advantage?

The only environmental advantage achieved from Intensification is that you save a very small amount of farmland from roading. Remember Intensificaiton does not lead to real increases in transport efficiency.

By my perspective Intensification achieves scant environmental gain relative to the cost - it does not make sense. Surely we would be better off letting people live where they want and without undue cost, and then from there devote our resources towards more substantial environmental concerns?

--How about a major tree planting programme for soils prone to erosion? If we're concerned about farmland, then environmentally this would be far more significant. Speaking for myself, I would be quite happy to have some of my taxes go towards something like that.

*There has been confusion over the difference between individual and democratic choice. Imagine the government conducted a survey that determined that 80% of the public believed that pink bathrooms were more ideal that blue bathrooms, and in turn outlawed blue bathrooms on the grounds of democratic preference. Obviously that would be ridiculous because bathroom colour in a private home is a concern only for the individual resident - it has nothing to do with anybody else. Of course the same can be said for lifestyle choice.

Interfering with people's decisions of which only concern the individual (on the grounds of apparent public perspective) is not democracy. That's just playing silly games, and wittinging or not an abuse of power.


An absolutely sustainable society must mean a "closed circuit" society. This means we take nothing more out of the earth and put nothing new into it i.e. a totally recycling society*. Though a degree of sustainble development should be targeted and achieved today, the need for absolute sustainablilty is a very long way off and would probably never be required.

I define an absolutely sustainable society as a totally recycling society, because that is the only form of society that can inarguably go on forever, without ever exhausting its resources of which it is dependant. Hence, it can therefore be defined as absolutely sustainable.

Note: Defining our current society as 'unsustainable' is ultimately impossible because our societies are (and always have been) evolutionary, so the character of our resource dependency is always in flux. This is why sustainabilty projections that go beyond 100-200 year timelines should be considered irrelevant, and why any model of a planned 'sustainable' society should be continuously open to review. Optimum sustainable forms will constantly evolve in response to ongoing social, industrial and technological advancement.

Agenda 21:

Agenda 21 is a prominant international planning document [apparently] designed to structure our world into a sustainable form. It aggressively promotes Smart Growth planning as "an answer".

Agenda 21 is extremely poor policy. It completely contradicts the status of our technological infrastructure (especially with respect to transport), the facts about low-density development, and also our ability to adapt low-density developments into an absolutely negligible eco-footprint, even with vast population growth.

To make a simple picture: Our cities could be built like treehouses, where dense fauna grows under all our low-density buildings of which could be easily and cheaply mounted on 6-foot high stilts (providing interesting and beautiful views, for that matter). The supporting ULTra transport system can also be put on stilts if you really want to go crazy with this. Human settlement could be nothing more than a canopy over a bio-diversity "utopia". In fact we can even increase the biosphere's footprint by also employing roof-top gardens, and by progressively greening our deserts as human settlements might expand into them. We can also build low-density floating cities which weave out into the oceans, creating major man-made ocean eco-systems in the process, providing all the sushi we could eat. There is also a lot of potential with tunneling. So how far do we want to go? All these crudely suggested alternatives are far more efficient, humane and ecologically sound than Agenda 21's Smart Growth madness.

The following image brings attention to how little land is required for transport, in particular if we move to full-automation network-based transport. With the ULTra system or similar, we need nothing more than two concrete "rails" (no more than about 12 inches wide) to support a one-way network of roads. Modern 'sprawl' can look as the image suggests: overwhelmingly Green, and not paved over. There is indeed no reason why humanity cannot sprawl out all over the Globe, creating and protecting ecological habitats in its wake.

And how about a "green home"? Concrete walls supporting a wire mesh for creeper plants should do it. It should be rather cheap too.

Economic environmentalism:

Effective environmentalism must be economically based. This means we should ask ourselves how much we want to spend (directly and/or indirectly), and then from there prioritise to ensure that we get the maximum environmental profit for our cost.

If we do not insist on this approach then the environmental label becomes open to abuse - we end up with people wildly throwing the term 'sustainability' around as justification for virtually any kind of uneconomic or socially controlling venture. When this happens (and it certainly does) we can see that environmentalism becomes more of an excuse than a respectable purpose.

There is nothing wrong with caring for the environment, of course, but environmentalism minus the cost-benefit analysis leads to waste and at the expense of both the environment and society. Again, evironmentalism must be prioritised to maximise the environmental benefits to costs.

1. Here is a good link to learn more about Smart Growth and resource issues in New Zealand today, for those who may develop a serious interest. I personally learnt quite a lot from Owen McShane's site.

Centre for Resource Management Studies

2. Hugh Pavletich's site, Performance Urban Planning, links to an abundance of NZ-related articles, and his news-clip video is a must watch.

3. Here is the direct link to Phil McDermott's blog, as forwarded to me by an anonymous in the comments. Being a specialist and professional in this arena, he certainly comes from a more detailed angle than what I do, which many readers might find useful.


  1. Couldn't disagree with you more.

    Can you give an example of a city that has embraced urban sprawl and is still a pleasant place to live?

    Have you been to Wellington lately? The topography has saved it from becoming like Auckland and Chch with sprawling suburbs, malls with massive carparks, and lacking a vibrant CBD In my opinion it makes Wellington a much more attractive place to live (apart from the weather ;-)

  2. Kieran,

    Most (virtually all?) modern cities are based on sprawl. We live in a world of suburbs. There are good and bad versions of it everywhere. There are countless 'nice spots' of sprawl, all over the place. There are also countless high-density areas that are terrible to live in.

    Remember this is an argument opposing *forced* intensification. You should read my content carefully to see if I got it wrong.

    I agree with your comments about Wellington (I live there), and I agree that Auckland has some truly horrible examples of suburban design. But these are design issues - not sprawl issues.

  3. I would like to add further here:

    If the ARC really believes that Auckland would be better off as a high density city, and that this is really what the people of Auckland want, then why don't they put their money (er - the ratepayers money) where their mouth is? Why don't they directly invest in urban redevelopment so as to create high-density areas, and then sell off their high-density "utopia" for a premium?

    If "Smart Growth" really is what people want, as the ARC (and other councils) claim, then they should have no problem doing this. The market would be happy to pay for what the ARC wants to provide. An indeed, if Smart Growth is what people want--and are prepared to pay for--then the ARC should in turn be able to turn Auckland into a high-density city WITHOUT drastically driving up the cost of the Sprawl option via restrictive land zoning.

    So why doesn't the ARC work like this? Why don't they just invest in their intensification plans and leave the "Sprawl" market alone? Why do they have to suppress the competition (Sprawl) to achieve their vision for what they believe the people want?

    The simple fact the urban-intensification policies represent a FORCED form of development, where competitive alternatives are deliberately choked off, in itself indiciates how creepy and bullshit this whole Smart Growth movement really is.

  4. Kieran exhibits the classic attitudinal arrogance of a born-again authoritarian town planner dressed in green drag to "qualify" as a resource (miss-)manager. He presumes that his middle-class and doubtless well-paid idea of "quality" should prevail over (lesser???) issues such as the affordability of "a home of our own" for our growing disposessed and stakeless "underclass" of poorer people (now reaching into his own middle class) who come below his radar, even today when they number a rapidly growing percentage of the total population and almost 100% of those under 35. He has no idea of, nor is he interested in finding out about, what a market is, or how it "enables people and communities (including companies)..." (RMA S.5 - wholly upended by current town-planners-in-gree-drag) to create their own betterments including (but not restricted to) $wealth, aggregating to prosperity in all areas including $prosperity, and the ability therefore to afford the environmental and social "lolly-desirables" (such as rail transit) and environmental protections which, as a resource (mis-)manager) he would absolutistly demand on behalf of his own on-going monopoly empowerment in "smart (sick) growth" as "the only game in town". Has he not yet noticed that we are borrowing at the rate of $250 million PER WEEK to prop up his "ideal"??? LORD SAVE US from such idiots.

  5. Thanks Anonymous for your input...

    but I must say that I do appreciate respectful commentary from the critics. They give me the opportunity to see what they (and probably others) are thinking, and to then hopefully oppose/correct them.

    I recommend Jesus's advice "Love your enemy"--otherwise there's no way you're gonna change their minds! (smile!).

  6. Andrew,

    Nice to see someone else who has not yet succumbed to the invasion of the body snatchers. Keep up the good work.

    There is all the contrast in the world between your futuristic ideas and the "utopia" image that our planning classes and the left wing of politics generally has adopted as received wisdom. In the process the left wing have betrayed the very humanity they are supposed to exist for. You are totally onto it about the effects of unaffordable housing and high intensity urban living.

    Are there any other discussion groups you participate in? Yahoo Urban Policy? Do you make submissions to government and councils?

    Have you checked out Hugh Pavletich, "Performance Urban Planning"?

  7. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the nice words. Well I have certainly bugged a number of our politicians with some of my views - especially from the National party. No formal submissions.

    No to Hugh Pavletich. I'll have a look at it though. I've also only casually looked at other blogs - can hardly recall which.

    You say: "In the process the left wing have betrayed the very humanity they are supposed to exist for."

    Boy that's an understatement. If only people realised this.

  8. Yes, mostly the people who vote for the leftwing politicians end up hurting the most as a result. Of course they will accept the narrative that "greedy property developers" and "capitalist speculators" are to blame.

    Popular culture celebrates the suburban lifestyle without one inkling of how under threat it is, and from what direction.

    I love this sort of stuff, by the way. I wish the artists involved in this sort of musical celebration of our lifestyle, would get involved in the protection of it, instead of being lined up on the wrong side all the time without even realising it.

    By the way, a Google search of your name brings up THIS, which is making some people think you are just another mouthpiece for property developers.

    I actually suspect it is one of those ridiculous errors that automated internet information services make.

  9. Anonymous,

    I had to laugh with the 'Atkin Construction' association. That's my Uncle's company (Doug Atkin), based in Hawkes Bay. I'm in no way associated with it. I'm under the impression he's doing quite well too - no need for a 'mouth piece' I don't think.

  10. As for those artists who are on the wrong side, I think it's because they are more concerned with believing the "right" things than actually working out for themselves what is right.

    I think it's that grossly over-simplistic and therefore non-thinking good-guys/bad-guys mentality which the political left (+media) promotes and feeds off. Ie. if the "good guys" say sprawl is bad then it's bad: End of story. No more homework required.

    To say, one entertainment idea I had was to create a short video for a "counter vision":

    Maybe a beautiful, richly green garden city with good-taste housing construction, interesting landscapes, natural sounds, and a discrete electric transport network weaving through the development...and then a statement along the lines of "Your kind of thing? It won't be. Our local politicians have made it effectively impossible for you"...And then another image of a congested, noisy and high-density spot somewhere in Auckland city, with a caption that says something like: "This is your future - whether you like it or not"...and then some further clear-cut statements.

    Pictures stick much better in peoples minds than words.

  11. You might be interested in THIS newly-started blog:

  12. Yes thanks anonymous...I've got that link, and will look at it more closely later.

  13. I was online researching smart growth for a school paper and stumbled upon your blog. I found your view on "smart growth" to be very helpful and insightful.
    Thank you for posting this.

  14. Thanks Nikii - always nice to hear my work is appreciated.

  15. This long blot post is chockers with sound insights. People want to live in quiet leafy neighbourhoods, and it is time we all make our peace with that.

    For decades, I read that low density urban development was bad because it supposedly:
    * "Consumed" precious land better used for farming or left alone;
    * Made public transit unviable, and public transit is "obviously" better, in that urban motorways are a horror.

    Andrew Atkin is correct: these and related assumptions don't hold up under close examination. A major change in my lifetime has been the decentralisation of work. More and more of us work in suburban office parks. Warehouses and manufacturing likewise have been decentralised. These business siting decisions are incompatible with mass transit. The only form of mass transit that it economically viable in New Zealand is taking advantage of extant railway trackage.

    The recent experience of Christchurch very much bears that out that we New Zealanders are better off living in one storey houses with timber frames. A substantial number of 10 storey apartment towers have been condemned there.

    I have lived in New York and Chicago, in neighbourhoods densely packed with walk-up apartments built before 1930. They are at best a necessary evil, and no place in which to raise children. These buildings were ugly, packed close together, vulnerable to fire, and even more vulnerable to earthquakes.

    Finally, it is quite possible that the economies of scale driving the giant cities that grew like mushrooms last century, are a thing of the past, especially once the price of bandwith falls low enough to make video conferencing widely affordable. Hence technological and economic evolution may solve the problem of urban "sprawl" by making it possible for us to live in cities like Hastings or Rangiora, and earning our living anywhere English is written.

    1. Thanks Philip,

      I think we could say that cyberspace is the "new CBD" - proximity at the speed of light.
      On commercial grounds and of course others, the argument for forced-intensification couldn't be weaker.

  16. People should note that our government (along with every other government that was at the Rio summit in 1992) signed the Agenda 21 agreement which includes the "Smart Growth" plan, among other things designed to control our lives in every minute detail. They fully intend to implement it, with or without consent from the public. That is why they don't even tell us it exists. They are about to have a "Rio+20" summit to see how things are progressing and to pressure those countries who aren't keeping up... NZ is one of the few countries that has not yet submitted a report to detail how they have implemented the agenda so far.

  17. Anonymous:

    Do you have any links that allow me to investigate New Zealand's legal status to Agenda 21 directly?

  18. We are not legally bound to implement Agenda 21, but that does not stop politicians from doing it anyway. They are all on-board and won't do anything counter to it, there is too much pressure from the UN and other countries. outlines our 'obligations'. The info I had on report submission only applied to 2002, so just ignore that.

  19. Anonymous: Thanks - I appreciate that link.

  20. Interesting stuff Andrew. I appreciate the info. I've somewhat newly awakened to A-21 and am looking to somehow combat it here at home (Welly). What I'm struggling with is the lack of evidence, in NZ at least, of A-21's more devastating implications. Policing of the new socialist controls and any implications of depopulation? Would you have any helpful links or resources in those regards. I can't imagine I'm going to find the "smoking gun" US FEMA camps but we're probably not on the same trajectory.

  21. Anonymous:

    Thanks for your interest. To be honest if there are covert motives in NZ politics (yes, probably) I am not really familiar with them. I'm looking from the outside in. I see some seriously stupid and vicious policies being pushed (and I attack them in their own right as well as I can) and I get to the point of asking and speculating as to whether or not these guys are as dumb as they look, and wonder if there is a hidden agenda beyond it - which I certainly do not dismiss.

    You might like this link for my broad thoughts on this:

  22. Andrew, I have read through your ideas and there is some truth in some of the things you claim but you have used rose tinted glasses when describing your utopian view and have not explained how the transition can be managed or how you will convince everyone to approach your way of thinking. If we were all living in a permaculture situation then urban sprawl will indeed take on a different reality, however this is not likely in the near future. I would like to see your evidence that shows that cars can perform more efficiently than public transport in urban environments. I appreciate your enthusiasm but unless you take a lees aggressive approach on Frogblog you are always going to come up against opposition.

    How about looking at one idea at a time than just rubbishing the entire intent of Agenda 21 as some sort of evil conspiracy and try not to call those who accept AGW as morons.

  23. bsprout,

    I don't think I actually referred to people who believe in problematic AGW as morons - if so that was not the real intent. No one can be called a 'moron' in a topic that is that complex. Anyone can go either way depending on where they've been in terms of their research and thinking, at least up to a point. I apologise if my expressions were a bit loose.

    I don't mind opposition so long as it is respectful - and aggressive, to me at least, can be respectful depending on the attitude behind it.


    I have more than end-conclusion research, I have a comprehensive understanding of the physics of transport systems, relating to energy consumption. I just can't go back over the last 10 years citing all the many research examples proving what to me is essentially obvious - and yes, cars can be REAL efficient. Maybe I should do a post explaining the physics directly? (I can do that later on - too busy right now). You could also try Demographia as a research spot to start, as well.

    Agenda21 - more specifically their 'smart growth' focus - is bullshit. And yes I will be aggressive in saying that because it's vicious stuff and it deserves nothing less.

    As for conspiracy I am open minded - I don't 100% know until I know. I have my suspicions and think they should be looked at. My goal in Frogblog was to create an invitation/suggestion for others to do likewise.

    Green sprawl application:

    Firstly, sprawl in NZ is 0.8% of the land area, and that's Ministry for the environments figures (I use to quote 0.7% - I'll go with their figures).

    In my opinion the best way, by far, to produce a 'sustainable' city is to allow satellite green-towns to develop that are independent. Regulate *new* sprawl developments so they are super green, if we must, but LET them develop. Don't pretend that forced urban intensification is the "only way" because that much is a lie (and I'm talking to the politicians, of course). Let the city status-quo compete with new-build green potential. It's that easy. We don't need a "green ring" - and we can too easily have Green sprawl.

    Here is my main idea relating to this. It's not so much Utopian, just a modernised form of decentralisation:

  24. Btw: I'm ok with commenting here for now, Sprout, but in future I will not publish comments that effectively import discussions from other forums onto my blog. Comments should relate to the content of the Building Utopia pages directly. Thanks.