Saturday, December 28, 2013

Agenda 21: The Real Deal?

Andrew D Atkin

There's a lot of talk on Agenda 21, which is the UN planning document formulated to drive forward a sustainable world. Critics of it (such as myself) have interpreted it as the backbone document behind the international move to force-intensify cities, in the name of making them more environmentally sustainable.

Ok. But how does/has Agenda 21 worked? I don't know exactly, and the following is speculative, but I want to write about the document from what I have read of it myself.

Firstly, it's a massive document and horribly tedious to get through (which I didn't - not to completion). But what I noticed was that the document was heavy on environmental goals yet, overall, extremely weak on actual methods for achieving those goals.

The promoted goals were of the type that few people would fail respect as commendable, in themselves. On this level it was a good sell. However, what I specifically noticed within Agenda 21 was the constant and repetitive promotion of developing managerial human resources to actualise the promoted goals.

Now this is what interests me. Looking at the Agenda 21 document bluntly, it gives me the impression that the whole document, before anything else, is just one big advert to get the incumbent power structure (of the time) to accept letting the UN, directly and/or indirectly, train-up the next generation of environmentally-focused managers for the public bureaucracies of the future.

So Agenda 21 seems to have effectively marketed itself by carefully avoiding criticism by keeping away from the 'methods' conversation, in the early days, and instead just sticking to a goals-focus of the type that any reasonable person would probably agree with. And then from there, with obviously a long-term focus, indoctrinating the methods part of the game into the next generation of managers through universities. An indoctrination process safely hidden away behind the tertiary sectors closed doors.

That may not be completely right. To a degree I am speculating. But from what I have seen of the whole mad game of modern urban planning thinking, that is the jacket that fits. We have had an explosion of environmentally-focused education in our tertiary institutes, and the dubious and ideological components of it are quite obvious, and there seems to be a striking lack of internal debate within these new indoctrinated classes (example).

I am not the only one to see it this way. The late Owen McShane (one of New Zealand's most experienced and esteemed experts on urban development), for example, developed such a contempt for what was being taught in our tertiary institutes that he said a good rule of thumb was to avoid any individual with the word "environmental" in the title of their qualification - expressing contempt for both their education and their intelligence. And McShane, like virtually all of us, was no anti-environmentalist.

But why would the UN have something to hide? What is their objective?

Well, the truth is force-intensifying cities is in fact "sustainability" policy. But not how most people think it is. High-density cities do not deliver a reduced ecological footprint in themselves. In fact they are, or certainly can be, much worse on this level.

Forced high-density cities deliver greater sustainability by suppressing human breeding. This is done in two basic ways. They make housing hugely expensive by inflating land costs, and high-density cities are associated with a high stress atmosphere that most parents don't like to bring their children up in, as a preference. Forced intensification provides a deterrent to human breeding, especially in the industrialised world where people can comfortably choose to have less children.

Population control and Eugenics. Is it real?

Population control sounds evil, like eugenics, but the fact is that any significantly sized government controls its population and is likewise an entity of directed bio-demographics (that's the best term I can think of).

Think about this. The only way our government/s can claim to be non-eugenics is to be wilfully blind to the [direct or indirect] bio-demographic impact of their policy. (And that impact is both a calculable and a serious long-term issue)*.

Now the moment our government admits this, at least to themselves, they are functional eugenicists. So have the social planners and policy makers within the UN made these calculations? Do they integrate this kind of thinking into their policy formation? I would bet my left arm that they have. Why wouldn't they? It would actually be irresponsible for them not to. And if they integrate this thinking into their policy-formation they will become secretive, because although bio-demographics is a critical dynamic of social evolution you obviously cannot afford to be associated with it (openly) due to modern public sentiment with these issues.


Within the highest levels of public policy development is probably just a bunch of people who model how they think the world should develop, and then from there formulate their methods to achieve their idealised goals. Agenda 21, with its seemingly (or superficially) irrational focus of forcing higher city densities, may only be one of many methodologies to effectively manage and guide the human animal to an idealised end-point. And the truth be damned? The propagandist has no time for the truth. He sees you as an ignorant masses (which is what most of us are - sorry!) who simply need to be guided in the most efficient and responsible manner possible.

I have casually said before that there are only two great problems in the world: Population control and eugenics. Because they are ultimately necessary as a policy focus (unless you believe humans are above natural law - serious thinkers don't) yet extremely difficult to deploy and be open about. All other problems, by comparison, are academic.

This is why I am open to the possibility of a kind of conspiracy behind the Agenda 21 movement. Again I might not be completely right, but it really is, overall, a jacket that fits. Agenda 21 just looks like another population-control policy.

*And indeed, as you probably realise modern social policy is (functionally) suppressing the breeding of what we could call the professional classes, and subsidising the breeding of the lower and underclass. If this is deliberate, then we must ask ourselves why!?

Addition: 12-1-14: 

The mind of the true elite:

Imagine this scenario. You and your colleagues (all on the same level as you) have a responsibility, as much as anyone else, to form public policy on national and global levels, and are therefore responsible at least as much as any other human being to think on a long-term basis about the environmental and social evolution of the planet. An extreme but real responsibility.

Now how would this affect your thinking? Really, you would be under huge pressure to confront your comfortable opinions and, basically, become deathly realistic. At least insofar as you can be. You would do this because you know that you simply have to be this way.

Now, from this position how would you think about things like eugenics and population control? Well for a start you would think about them - because they are real concerns and it's up to you to confront them, and respond to them, because if you don't then no-one will. And not responding to serious concerns is potentially incredibly dangerous, because you would then be playing Russian roulette with an entire planet.

Can you see my point? Put yourself in the role of whoever it is at the top of public policy formation and you can relate to their mentality, or what at least should be their mentality.

The common man's emotional programming is to never think in terms of eugenics because it has been so deeply associated with Nazis's and mad scientists. The man on the street goes through some kind of identity crises if he even goes there, in thought. But a true elite would never do this. They would sigh, take a deep breath, and then say: "Ok, Let's look at the human breeds, and types, quantify the differences insofar as we can understand them, and then relate this understanding to our policy. Because as long as we are developing international public policy we must be realistic on all fronts so that we can model, to the best of our ability, long-term developmental impacts".

Again, this is why I don't think any of us should assume that eugenics is not a very real part of policy formation at the highest levels of social management. Indeed it should be expected.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

POLITICS: The real reason why most people just don't care.

Andrew D Atkin:

The real world of politics belongs in the public arena - not behind closed doors.

In principle, it's strange how we see only casual interest in politics from the wider public. Our government/s spend about half our money, dictate our children's development, send us to war, spies on us, makes policy for financial bubbles and cartels, regulates workplace conduct, breeds the underclass, controls much of our wage and unemployment rates, and retirement incomes, and basically has a finger deep in the pie of nearly every major aspect of our lives. Indeed, modern government is more like a God than a mere keeper of the peace. Hence politics, you would think, should be a really hot topic.

So what's wrong? Why the lack of focused interest?

Well, I remember one event from when I was a union delegate associated with the aviation industry. We had a Skype meeting where we debated amongst each other whether or not to push for a contract that unifies two separate parts of our operation. The meeting was civil and polite, but rather intense as I firmly opposed what the EPMU wanted to do.

So what? My point is, if I recorded that meeting and uploaded it to YouTube, with that particular meeting's genuine discussion-style debate, I probably would have had all the members I represented watching it keenly. That's because it was relevant to them of course, but also because it was REAL. It was not a manicured PR-display whereby myself and others all hold hands together (after talking behind closed doors) pretending to have a unified opinion, with carefully sculptured speeches, but instead it was (would have been) a display of the real discussion behind the policy position, including the real motives and personalities driving it. THAT is politics.

And that is my contention. People do in fact care about politics - we just don't give it to them. What we give them is bullshit. And instinctively they know it, and react accordingly. Generally they don't waste their time with our sterilised rubbish, of which does not leave them critically the wiser. And fair enough?

Imagine, if you will, if we could see the National and Labour party insider-meetings where they talk freely, without pretence, debating and discussing amongst each other so as to formulate their policy. Imagine the interest that would develop if people could see what they naturally want to see - and, I would argue, what they should be seeing, which is the real thinking and the real people behind the policy-development of which basically controls our lives.

If only we could see in like a fly on the wall, we would then get an idea for who our representatives really are. And indeed, the enhanced public engagement from this kind of reality-TV show would wise us up (a lot) to the dynamics behind the issues. It would be educational on many levels.

Okay, it's still going to be hard to get genuine interest in politics from the public at large, when their vote is a somewhat brutally diluted one in a million, so there's a lot to be said for decentralising governmental power for if you want to achieve a true democracy (like Switzerland). But there's nonetheless a good argument for demanding that our political parties video-record their internal debates, for any voyeuristic citizen to see.

You can hear the agonising opposition to my idea already. How terrifying to be exposed so explicitly! But incumbent politicians can't really complain because their competitors would have to do the same. And if the bully, the bigot, the impotent, or sycophantic fool can't survive the light of day, then good riddance to bad rubbish. Indeed, this is a core advantage of this kind of transparency - it enforces respectable conduct in policy development.

And maybe we don't need legalities to enforce my ideal? Maybe we just need one courageous political party to do it anyway, and likewise create a standard that the others might have to match?

It's our government. They are our representatives. The real world of politics does not belong behind closed doors. It belongs in public view - and to the greatest degree possible. We now have the tools to expose it, so why not embrace them? It could redefine/restructure politics into something that, I believe, it always should have been.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Demographics of Auckland's Unitary Plan

Andrew D Atkin:

When you get to the facts and away from the nonsense in the Smart Growth debate, the grey zones within the conversation shrink - and radically. The arguments for promoting Smart Growth ahead of demand-responsive planning become somewhat absurd (and mysteriously so). Now that is true, except for this one issue that I highlight in this post.

If Smart Growth is ultimately a tool of social engineering, which it might very well be, then what we need to do is expose what could be the hidden conversation driving this movement. As follows:


Possibly the most important issue relating to Auckland city's Smart Growth movement is its social and demographic effects. It's also something that we never seem to talk about. Well we should talk about it, because it's absolutely relevant.

Okay. By force intensifying Auckland city via restricting land supply, we create the inevitable effect of making low-density living extremely expensive. (With $50,000 fringe sections now going for $300,000 and more, mission accomplished). Because the majority preference is for low-density living, we likewise achieve the basic effect of: Low-density living for rich people, and high-density living for poor people.

We see this today with domestic over-crowding in poorer areas, which is the nastiest and certainly most unhealthy form of high-density living. Not just too many people in one area, but too many people in one house.

Over time, we will see the development of apartment blocks and terraced housing to cater for the new demand, as induced by the (now-created) formidably expensive land for development. This is all part of Auckland councils Unitary Plan. So what all this means, in short, is that the poor will be concentrated into designated high-density zones within specific areas of Auckland city.

Now, it doesn't matter how pretty we make these new developments, they will effectively become slums because of the average type of person who will come to live in them. Not all poor people can be described as the underclass* of course, but the underclass is most certainly a large (and growing) sub-set of the poor.

One thing that we know about high-density living is it's not family-friendly. People (most) instinctively don't want to bring up a child in a high-density zone. They want a safe, quiet atmosphere for their kids, and easy access to room for them to play in (physically). We also know that high-density (urban intensive) living leads to greater social stress, which has been recently observed even in neurological studies. This stress will no doubt be compounded in high-density environments heavily concentrated with "undesirable" people.

With this developing situation, coupled with easy access to contraception and abortion, we could presume that the high-density poor-person zones will achieve the suppressed breeding of this class. Maybe. I don't know. But we can comfortably speculate that anti-family policy (which is what Smart Growth is) will suppress human breeding, if done in the "right" way. Basically, if you create the conditions that take away people's desire to have children, then with a little help they surely won't.

Has Auckland council thought about this? Have the people behind Auckland council's planning ideology thought about this? Dare I say that for all we know it could be central to their thinking. I say that because I can relate to these demographic concerns. On other posts I have explicitly expressed concern for the fact that we are subsidising, through welfare, the breeding of the underclass with all its distressing problems and negative characteristics, and I have expressed before the we need to look for serious solutions in dealing with these problems. Business as usual, in my view, is not a respectable option. My point is I doubt I'm the only one who thinks in these terms.

...Indeed, I have had concerns before that if my ideals for urban development were to be actualised, then we might well see an accelerated explosion in the growth of the underclass. Making life easier for these people to breed will probably induce them to breed even more - to some degree at least. So is that really a good idea for the long-term prosperity of our society? Do we really want people who routinely rape, beat and chronically neglect their children passing on their legacy to their children and the rest of society, unabated?**

Yes, this issue is so taboo that most of us don't dare talk about it unless we're in carefully selected company. What can I say? Realities that effect us significantly should, surely, always be discussed. Refusing to confront issues like this, and pushing them into the underground, only gives others justification for doing our thinking for us (not good!).


If the real purpose of Smart Growth is ultimately to suppress the growth of the underclass, then let's admit it. Let's bring the issue to the table and map the cause-to-effects of our social policy. I for one do not have a problem with putting barriers up to stop broken people from breeding, but I most certainly do not believe in Smart Growth as a method to achieve that end. It should be done with direct controls - not controls that seriously compromise real living standards for everyone. Note that with Smart Growth, even the middle class must struggle. Forcing people to pay double for their detached home obviously cuts enormously into disposable income.


*When I say underclass I mean the social sector with the following types of characteristics; Broken homes, fatherless children, serious child abuse, entrenched welfare dependency, reckless promiscuity, criminality, drug abuse, gang-association and predatory aggression, etc. And please note that my goal here is not to beat-up on these people. I understand more than well that ultimately no-one chooses to be part of this group, and they are indeed terribly unfortunate people. I am simply trying to be strictly realistic about the demographic effects we are or might be creating with Smart Growth policy.

**Note, I am not exaggerating or going onto an emotive tangent. For perspective, it is estimated that about 25% of girls are seriously sexually abused in their childhood's by someone well known within their family, in New Zealand. The greater proportion of that abuse will be within the group we recognise as the underclass.


Addition: 25-6-13: Social mixing?

Poor people are being zoned into high-density areas via the Unitary Plan, but depending on how and where the development is located exactly, it may still be very close to low-density zones. If so, then this will in turn lead to social-mixing on a broad level. Basically the middle and working classes will have to live closer to the underclass.

Now I don't know how much of a problem this will be in itself, but take note that we have the system of school zoning in New Zealand. You have to send your child to a local school from where you live, unless of course you can afford a private school or to homeschool. However, both of those options are probably not going to be affordable to even the middle-class, because of massively high property prices eating up most of their disposable income*.

So what this means, basically, is that people in the "civilised" classes will have no choice but to send their kids to schools well-populated with children who have been seriously emotionally damaged. And that will mean kids who are compelled to dish-out to others what they have had to endure in their personal home lives (I'm keeping it simple).

And what will the effect of this be? I can only speculate, but based on my own 'worldly' understanding, I will say that rather than just ignoring the underclass people may come to despise them. Maybe this will induce enough social tension, over time, of the type leading to political pressure for serious counter-action, such as breeding licenses?

Alas, this is speculation, in part, but we should certainly think about it. Because whether Auckland council realises it or not, they are engaging in serious social engineering.

*Also New Zealand has an advanced welfare system (WFF) that heavily flattens incomes across the classes, no matter what people do (professionally), and likewise making it all the more difficult for people to escape these forced-associations. And further to this, with a struggling middle-class suffering from heavy taxation and costly housing, I would imagine further antagonism towards the underclass who will be perceived as an unaffordable monkey on their backs.


Addition: 30-6-13: Wealth and classing:

The more you have of anything the less it is worth to you, per unit. The difference between earning $200k and $100k a year, for example, is not nearly as significant as the difference between earning $100k and $50k a year, in terms of real living standards. Appreciating this we can see that making housing, an indispensable product, twice as expensive as it should be has the direct effect of making money hugely more important for most people, as their disposable income is essentially castrated. You're taking big money from people inside the income bracket who can't really afford to lose it, at least not without a real impact on their day-to-day lives.

The social effect of this is that you increase institutional conformity-pressure across the board. You end up with a society of struggler's who are very aggressive in working for that promotion or degree, etc, because a failure to professionally perform has much more serious implications for their living standard. When stepping out of the game means living under a bridge, everyone starts to live more like slaves as people must work so hard not just for luxury but mere survival. The 'alternative' or more laid-back lifestyle no longer becomes an option for anyone, or at least those who are not apathetic about their future. So how would this affect your democracy when no-one who might care has the time or energy to think, except those who would probably only want to preserve the status-quo?

Among other things, Smart Growth policy looks to me like a recipe for the development of explicit social classing, whereby a distinct elite herds itself together into clubs as an instinctive protective mechanism, because they have too much to lose should they fall from financial grace. And contrasting, the hard-working and non-thinking poor will tend to buy whatever nonsense an elite might hand to them because without understanding, politics becomes (as it then only can be) little more than a soundbite-driven celebrity show.

The point is I believe that democratising prosperity is important to avoid social classing of the type that we see in poorer nations, and historic societies, where a stratified elite lives in a truly isolated bubble. Do we want this? When an elite becomes isolated it naturally doesn't care about its lower classes, in the same way that you or I don't really care about the plight of the poor in external countries ie. another world, another problem.

Caring is linked to identification (or lack of). The problems tend to happen when those who have power over you (elite) also don't care about you, and that indifference is what happens when an elite becomes isolated into its bubble. I'm not saying this to be contemptuous - it's only human. None of us really have the emotional surplus to care beyond our social perimeter, at least not on a serious level.

Note: Defining elite: When I refer to an elite, I mean the wealthy and influential social class that sees itself as "number one" and to the point where they feel it's their responsibility as much as anyone's to be stewards of mass-social direction. Though, most of these people are not really 'elite' in that sense as they are usually themselves just agents of their in-group opinion ie. playing along to get along. The true "elite's" are the thinkers and researches who influence them, whoever they might be.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Auckland Versus Los Angeles

Andrew D Atkin:

When planners get visions - the people get nightmares.

The following video is of an interview conducted by Anne Gibson of the Auckland Mayor, Len Brown. Len Brown claims that Auckland does not want to turn into LA, and that his "vision" is to steer Auckland away from the LA direction.

Video interview: Here.

One problem. Len Brown's policy, and his vision, is in fact exactly designed to turn Auckland into LA, and has largely already done so: Carpet sprawl, heavy traffic congestion, diabolically unaffordable housing and high-density living.

Materially, what is (or will be) Len Brown's vision? Very simple: High-density stack-and-pack for poor people - Low-density living for rich people.

Len Brown calls this "balance". What a beautiful word. But when a country is only 0.8% urbanised, and we know that over 85% of local demand is for detached housing, we can see that Len Brown's beautiful word is as meaningless as it is pathetic.

Balancing what people do want with what they don't want, so people can't get what they do want (without formidable, artificially inflated cost) is obviously absurd. Real balance is balance to demand. If 85% of the people want detached homes then let them have that, at fair cost. If the other 15% wants high-density living then let them also have that, at fair cost. Enforcing 50% high-density and 50% low-density in the name of "balance" is an insult to the public's intelligence.


Anyway! Let me provide you with Phil Hayward's response to Anne Gibson's interview. (Note, permission to duplicate this was received).

Phil is a true expert on this issue (based in New Zealand). He is extremely knowledgeable about the broad dynamics relating to housing, urban development and their economies. His fact-ridden response, as follows, was excellent and I wanted to give it this dedicated post (too good to waste in a private email!).

*Formatting and paragraphing has been slightly modified.

Phil Hayward's response:

Hello Anne,

Hopefully you are aware that I am a researcher of housing affordability issues, and urban and transport economics. I am pleased that you are taking an interest in this subject.

I appreciate your video interview with Akl Mayor Len Brown. Points that badly need to be made:
Recycled myth from Len: “We don’t want to sprawl like LA”. I choked at this point when watching your interview.

LA is the USA’s most unaffordable “urban area” and the densest. “New York City” is the densest municipality but is surrounded by a “greater New York” urban area that is so much less dense than LA, that its average is dragged down to below not only LA, but San Francisco and San Jose as well.

Data here:

AUCKLAND is the identical density to LA...2,400 people per square kilometre.

Other cities around the world with a similar density include Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Milan and Verona. Basle and Geneva. Most cities in Germany. Most cities in France outside Paris, are far LOWER density than this.

LA and Auckland are already both on the dense side, for first world cities. Auckland especially so for a city of its population.

Auckland is extraordinarily dense for a “new world” city of around 1 million people! No city in Australia gets near it. Toronto – with more than 6 million people - is the only city in Canada that is more dense.

Some of South Africa’s cities, with their ghettoes, are more dense than Auckland – and others are less dense. Great company to be in, huh?

Let’s look at TomTom (GPS) traffic congestion delay data.

LA is the worst city in the USA. The average delay per hour of driving is 39 minutes.

AUCKLAND IS 41 MINUTES….!!!!!!!!!!

Quite an achievement for a city of around 1 million people, huh?

If you look into the TomTom data, you will spot that greater urban density correlates pretty much with worse traffic congestion. The UK’s cities are extraordinarily dense for their size – denser than most cities in Japan, in fact – and have probably the worst congestion for their population level. They also have some of the most unaffordable housing, low economic productivity, and social crises related to housing (very poor average housing condition, high average housing age, overcrowding, socio-economic segregation, and health issues).

Why is LA the USA’s most traffic congested city, and its least affordable, when it is the densest? Hello? Do we see a pattern here?

Eric A. Morris says, in “Los Angeles Transportation Facts and Fiction” (“Freakanomics” Blog):

“ the standards of U.S. cities, Los Angeles is not sprawling, has a fairly extensive transit system, and is decidedly light on freeways. The smog situation has vastly improved.....

“........Los Angeles’s traffic woes stem from the fact that it doesn’t sprawl enough and has overinvested in costly rail transit at the expense of developing its undersized freeway network.....”

Prof. Robert Bruegmann, one of the world's greatest experts on cities, says the following in "Sprawl and Accessibility" (2008):

".......contrary to what many people assume, Los Angeles has been getting denser rather than less dense for at least the past half century during an era when most people have used the automobile as their primary means of getting around. The Los Angeles urbanized area (the census bureau’s functional definition of “urban” that includes a central city and all of the surrounding land above 1,000 people per square mile) has increased in density from barely over 4,000 people per mile to over 7,000 people per square mile, making it the densest urban area in the United States. It is this increasing density, not sprawl, together with the fact that Los Angeles has one of the lowest provisions of freeway miles per capita in the nation, that has led to increasing traffic congestion in Los Angeles. This has happened despite the fact that Los Angeles has one of the most extensive transit systems and lowest car ownership rates in the country today……”


The “public mandate” Len Brown boasts of, is based on mass public ignorance. In any case, the “mandate” is based on Aucklanders wanting to have their cake and eat it too; they all want a compact city and sustainable public transport, but everybody assumes someone else will have the apartment blocks in their street and someone else will stop using their car (and leave the roads clearer for [themselves]...don’t laugh, every average Aucklander I have talked to actually does think this way!!!!)

The other side of the story that Aucklanders need to be undeceived about, was covered in my letter to you below [not included]. I am disappointed at the non-publication of my letters to the Herald on this subject, as I have vitally important things to say, and I wonder whether the reality is so contrary to popular belief that your letters editors assume I am “making it up”. I am not; and can provide backup data for every claim I am making.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The boundaries of Neurology

Andrew D Atkin

What neurologists can't see:

Science is based on what can be observed and measured. The problem with neuroscience today is that it can't see and measure far enough. More specifically, not far enough to show us the relationship between mental information (the data) and neurological processes.

This needs to be clear: Let's say I placed you in a chair, and then hooked you up to an EEG machine to examine your brainwaves, and in response to a stimulant to be introduced later. As the stimulant, I shoot your spouse dead in front of you. From here, your brainwaves would function differently as shown on the EEG scan, as a result of the trauma.

So the changes we see in your brains activity would be a response to information: The raw information from seeing your spouse killed goes to your visual and acoustic centres, and then the meaning of the event is understood and processed emotionally, which translates to trauma, which in turn drives a neurobiological response in your brain.

So this is what I mean by information driving neurological processes. Though the relationship is obviously real, from a clinical perspective it is invisible. We can't, from an external viewpoint, see the information - we can only see the brain's reaction to it.

The only person who can "see" information is the subject themselves. So we need the subject to tell the neurologist: "Hey, the reason why your EEG scan went crazy is because I just watched my wife get killed".

Now here comes the interesting bit. In practice, if I blew your wife's brains out, the trauma might be so severe that your brain totally gates the event from your conscious mind. So, the information driving your brains reaction is not just invisible to the neurologist (who can only see what's going on within his scans) it is invisible to you as well.

From here on in, your brains hyper-inflated amygdala, panic attacks, chemical imbalances, depression and post-traumatic stress-disorder, etc, become a great mystery to both the neurologist and yourself. You don't know where your symptoms are coming from and neither does he.

And from here, you and your neurologist make what might be a great (though understandable) mistake. You both assume that the problem is with your brain itself, and not the unconscious information driving it.

The nature of trauma:

But then in comes empirical research, kindly provided by those who observe and quantify human behaviour (at its surface). They notice a striking correlation between childhood trauma and later mental disturbance. So we know from this research that information really does damage the brain, or at least damages the way it functions.

That's all very well, but there's still a problem with our lack of understanding leading to false, or possibly false, assumptions. There are basically two assumptions:

One idea is that trauma hits the brain like a missile hits a ship. The trauma hits, does its damage, but once the trauma has happened it has nonetheless been and gone. You have the breakage but the traumatic event, in itself, is gone.

Ok, now if it really did work like that then the current focus of neurologists would be about right. They see a broken brain on their EEG's and MRI's, and so their focus is to try and fix the brain. They try to 'plug the holes' with either drugs or surgery, to correct the imbalances that they see.

But this approach is riding on an assumption that is ultimately questionable. It's especially questionable considering that interventions based on this "broken ship" assumption have been delivering mixed results at best. Enduring drug dependency (with harsh side-effects) is hardly a cure, and this is what the mental health industry has been largely resorting to.

Now the other assumption relates to trauma-imprint theory. The idea is that the trauma is not a been-and-gone reality, like a missile strike, and the brain is not broken as such, but that the observed distortions within the brain are actually a normal reaction to an abnormal input. So the trauma, as it occurs, becomes imprinted information that later acts as an enduring (albeit unconscious) force on the brain. So the 'event' of the trauma is there...doing its damage from the unconscious, where it has been internalised and repressed.

In turn, the focus of those who sign-up to trauma-imprint theory has been to remove the traumatic imprint itself. They claim that if you do this, the imbalances within the brain will take care of themselves. Think of a good loudspeaker producing a distorted sound due to a bad electrical input. Don't touch the speaker - get to the input.

Dr Arthur Janov, who has been the central leader in the development of trauma-based therapy, claims to have had success with this approach for over 40 years. Though Janov has induced notable opposition from competitors, his work, or more importantly his theory, have yet to be discredited.


Regardless of who is right or wrong, what we can see is a theoretical black hole. I don't ask neurologists to sign up to trauma-imprint theory (which is not, I believe, the current assumption they operate on) but I do ask them to respect it as a substantial possibility. Because the truth is we don't and can't yet know which theory is correct (from a strictly objective measure), because our tools simply can't penetrate that far to tell us, today.

No-one can argue that information is not a real force on the brain. It is. What we need to do is clarify the nature of that force, or at least clarify our assumptions and likewise what we do and do not know about it.

The relationship between information and the brain, especially traumatic information, should be a hot topic for study in the world of brain science. I do respect that this is a difficult territory to navigate, due to its nature. We will need to see a close marriage between theoretical thinking and clinical observation, because this is how we penetrate past what is directly observable. We should not accept direct observations leading to only cheap and undisciplined assumptions.

Note: Though I have a lot of confidence in trauma-imprint theory and for many reasons, in this piece I am writing with respect to what I can and cannot prove. My argument is for neurologists to investigate trauma-imprint theory. Or more specifically, the impact of unconscious information on the brain. At the very least, this focus can be respected as credible and important.

Monday, May 13, 2013

New Zealand: Short and Long term threats to the value of your home

Andrew D Atkin.

If you're thinking of buying a home as an investment nest-egg, then you might want to consider the following.

Firstly, please don't ever believe the myth that property prices can't fall. I don't know who invented that idea, but it's nonsense. They can and do fall. Your house is a product like any other, and it's answerable to the central question like any other: What else can my buyer get for his money? 

If your buyer can do much better for themselves with a deal down the road, then the sale-value of your home will have to answer to the fact of it. Of course you can't sell your house for $400,000 when the buyer can build a new and better house a couple of hundred meters down the road, and for half that money.

And that is the crux of the issue: What, in the future, will your buyer be able to get for his money? What are the short and long-term threats to the value of your home?

1. The removal of artificial new-build costs:

Already, existing house values in New Zealand are terribly insecure. This is because they're based on scarcity values via the artificial restriction of land supply. "Artificial" is the word to concern you, because any cost artificially imposed can also be easily removed.

Local councils need new revenue to keep their bloated bureaucracies afloat, for when their costs get out of control (as seems to be the case in much of New Zealand). But because major rate increases are politically difficult, councils can and do achieve new revenue by restricting land supply with Metropolitan Urban Limits (MUL).

MUL's serve to drive up the cost of land to the point where housing inflates to the maximum of what the market can afford. The council then invents new fees (taxes, really) to cream much of that inflated land value from the new-builds for themselves, which is of course the idea. Though they generally hide the taxation motive behind anti-sprawl mantra, of which has long been a demonstrated nonsense.

But how long can this go on? When will the public penny drop, considering the long-demonstrated effects of housing unaffordability of which have been socially and economically devastating?

In New Zealand the game is starting to crack, and the national government is already threatening to override Auckland council so as to "demolish" their MUL's.

Ok. But how serious is the intent our national government? How much of this is show rather than conviction? And to what degree will they do such a thing? This is ultimately unknown because the cause-to-effect of property-policy spans the political term, but the fact is that the market value of your home would collapse to about half its value of today, from the removal of MUL's alone.

19-5-13: A recent talk from the NZ deputy Prime Minister, and finance minister, Bill English.

All that has to be done is for our government/s to allow people to build new houses for what they're really worth, like we have done in the past, and it's game-over for New Zealand's radically inflated housing stock. Though it would take a few years, at least, for the supply-response to kick-in as induced by the liberated land supply.

It's important to note that we are ultimately in competition with the Australian property markets as well. The Australian markets are beginning to confront the same problems of affordability that New Zealand has. If Sydney, for example, allows affordable homes to be built on their fringes (which they indeed say they have plans to do) then New Zealand will have no choice but to follow suit to avoid a gale-force exodus from turning into a hurricane, and depressing real New Zealand property values that way (along with the entire national economy).

2. Credit:

If you build a million-dollar mansion in some economically depressed nation in Africa, then it's market value would, maybe, be more like $100,000...because "market value" means "what you can sell it for", and if your market is poor people then you will never be able to sell your mansion for what it cost you to build in the first place.

Hence, your markets access-to-credit is a critical factor. If interest rates go up, or your banks demand high deposit-down on loans, or your local economy becomes economically depressed, then the value of your home will go down with it insofar as house prices are prior-set at the peak of what the market can afford.

The function of access-to-credit in driving house price inflation is mostly only relevant for where sale prices are detached from (real) new-build costs, like they are in New Zealand today. Hence, house prices are particularly vulnerable to changes to interest rates, today, because houses are already set to the maximum of what the market can afford. (See here to understand the principle clearly).

If prices inflate much further from where they are now, it will not be from "real" buyers but from wealthy speculators whose only goal is to ride out the bubble, and then flick off the house at a best-guess projected peak, for a quick buck. And once you have a true bubble market (ie. values based on projected capital gains, not just scarcity values) it's 100% guaranteed that the market will collapse. It's just a matter of time.

My ultimate point, is that excluding the development of a massive (non-scarcity based) housing bubble (which, importantly, our Reserve Bank will fight with higher interest rates. They understand too well the massive damage these bubbles cause), the only way the value of your home can go, from here on in, is down.

The real market doesn't have the money to pay more for houses than what they're already paying today, and I doubt that the banks would give them more. The lending is already very high risk. Again, only rich speculators can the drive the price higher from where it is right now, and it's not likely that that will be allowed to happen in practice.

3. Transport technology:

The under-sung transport revolution, right on our doorstep, is driverless cars. They will be with us in 5-10 years or so. The technology has already been successfully demonstrated by Google, and the race is on among car-makers to bring them to market.

They will be a taxi service for the most part, so you will not have to own one (which equates to rapid deployment of the auto-taxi system). And most importantly there will be the option of commuting in very small cars, or even enclosed motorcycles, which can reduce transport costs to about 10% of what they are today, while leaving you with the option of working/eating/sleeping etc, on your commute.

There will also be "micro-cars" about the size of vacuum-cleaners coming along soon, which can deliver any odd item from and to your home...or wherever.

So how will this affect property development, and likewise the value of your home?

It can do it in two key ways. Firstly, many people already escape massively inflated house prices by commuting beyond the MUL's, into distant areas outside the councils regulatory control. (Indeed, there has been an explosion of this kind of  hyper-sprawl in New Zealand). This market basically swaps expensive housing for expensive (very long distance) commuting.

When people can travel long-distance for cheap, and do things in their cars other than drive, then the appeal of MUL "boundary-hopping" will increase further, maybe dramatically, allowing new-builds well beyond the city fringes to compete heavily with housing within a given city, driving down prices further.

In short, driverless car technology can weaken the functional power of the MUL's. The market value of your home will have to answer to that. And believe me reader, in spite of our media's typically weak technology coverage, you can be sure that driverless cars are coming.

The other effect of driverless technology is that it allows for new property developments based on driverless technology. In short, this means silent townships with cheap, discreet roading, and developments heavy with trees and gardens. This is especially the case in New Zealand with its exotic topography and ease of natural growth.

Likewise, the potential for an enhanced lifestyle with new-builds can greatly increase their appeal as a place to live, and again established properties will have to answer to the status of those new-builds in the competition for sales. Speaking personally, I believe that new-builds based on driverless technology could devastate the market value of traditional suburbia, over the long-term. Your $400k home could drop to more like $100k.

4. Telecommunications technology:

Though telecommuting is still a minor player in the professional world, it's growing rapidly nonetheless.

If there is no operational need for an individual to be at work, in person, then over time I think telecommuting can only grow further. With ultra high-speed internet, cheap flat-screen displays (as a second "phone terminal" that shows body language, not just the face), and refinement in the culture and techniques associated with telecommuting, I think telecommuting will become ever more dominant and its growth will probably accelerate.

We also have a robotics revolution coming down the pike (not as close as driverless cars, but it's certainly coming) which will allow even manual labourers to telecommute, via remote-controlled robotics.

Over time, we will see the progressive development of a mixed-working style, where people are based at home yet still come in to work for the odd times when it makes sense. Staff will probably move into telecommuting but only once a relationship has developed with their employer, first. Remote communications are most efficient with people who first "understand" each other.

This telecommuting progression can of course only reinforce the appeal of boundary-hopping past the cities MUL's.

5. Housing construction technology:

In my current view, the cheapest way to build a good home is with concrete and steel reinforced styrofoam.  Basically, make a giant chilli-bin and implant minor reinforcing where required, and only where required. The result can be a huge reduction in materials and labour costs in housing construction. But, of course, this is only one idea and better ideas might be developed further down the line. (3D Printing: Here is an interesting development).

Regardless, the march of technology is endless and there is huge room for development in both materials and construction processes. Big cost-cutting advances can happen relatively quickly, and at any time.

Costs won't be significantly cut from manufacturing advances in 5 years time, but in 10-15+ years the impact could well be dramatic. Also, manufacturing advances will have a lot to do with housing accessories and supporting facilities. I can easily imagine the more efficient production of compost toilets, water catchment, shower systems and ground-based heat pumps, etc, reducing the cost of new-builds, and also their need to be serviced with plumbing, etc.

Advances in housing construction will not reduce house values in the context where land supply is artificially restricted. This is because when there's not enough land to go around, by legal force, reduced construction costs will only subsidise even higher land prices. But, when people can escape costly land via technology or MUL-breaking political pressure, the impact of reduced construction costs will then become an additional driver making new-builds ever more competitive with existing housing stock.


The value of your home probably won't fall, or fall too drastically, in the short-term - within the next 5 years or so. So don't freak out. But when you look at all the factors, existing and developing, that could impact your homes value in the long term, you can see that you would be mistaken to believe that your home will be some kind of sure financial nest-egg for the future. It won't be. Far too much can and almost certainly will happen over the next 5-30 years or so.

If you're thinking long-term, then you want to think about the things I have talked about, and consider how these dynamics might affect you. From here you can make an intelligent decision on when and if to buy, and whether to sell, etc.

I believe there are 3 key variables you want to watch for, for a long-term focus. Changes in local politics around Metropolitan Urban Limits, movements in the Australian property markets, and the implementation of driverless transport technology. These are the really big game changers.

Personally, I wouldn't touch an Auckland home right now with a 200-foot barge pole. But that's just me. Your situation might be different of course. It would take me about 20+ years to pay off a house, at least, and with unacceptable expense to my current living standard, and huge risk, financial stress, and with probably nothing more to show for at the end of it other than a dingy shack corrected to its real (low...or even near-worthless) value. No thank you. I'll keep on renting and saving - for now.

It's a real shame that I have to donate hundreds every week to a landlord as opposed to acquiring my own asset, and frankly it's corrupt and unfair, but it's a lesser of two evils nonetheless.


The best place to go to follow the politics behind New Zealand's housing market, is here: Cantabrians UNITE facebook. I promise you, you will not hear what you need to know, as time goes on, from a mainstream media that doesn't (usually) want to upset its property advertisers. Cantabrians UNITE is objective and expert, with informed commentary by Hugh Pavletich. It's focus is intensely anti-housing inflation (and too right), but it will keep you informed regardless.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The remarkable mega-cities of the future

Andrew D Atkin.

Everyone says you can't predict the future. I say up to a point you can. You can look at technology, costs, consumer demand and from there you can make some comfortable assumptions. 

Note: This is an extension from my older post, Green Sprawl. I recommend you read this first, to understand the living and environmental advantages of intelligently composed low-density development. We can, and will, drive forward richly green garden townships of the type where the houses are hard to see for the trees.


We know that over 80% of the market wants a detached home in a suburban setting (and maybe even a rural setting, if convenience wasn't a problem?) which some surveys have shown. This should surprise none of us. Everyone wants their own space, and most want to have part of their own space as outdoors. We also know that the vast majority of people like the ambiance of trees and gardens, and they don't like traffic noise. You only have to be human to work that out.

So the question is: Why do we still live amongst traffic noise and look out at ugly wide roads, and dingy lawns with usually equally dingy gardens, and a poor extended view, and too often tolerate a lack of sometimes sorely needed privacy?

Obviously we are compromised. Suburbia as we know it is a compromise. We only have what we want in part because it costs too much money (and time) to live in a more idealised domestic setting.


The following image was taken from the New Zealand Herald's survey, showing common preference's in New Zealand.


Well all of that is about to change, and drastically. Google (and now other players) are in a race to deliver driverless car technology to the market. The technology itself is already here and it works. First commercial deployment will be between 5 and 10 years from now. [excluding the ULTra system, which is available today].

The consequence of this will be an explosion of a new-type of sprawl, that I call Green Sprawl. Green sprawl can be described as resort-style property development supported by cheap, discreet, and environmentally benign full-automation electric transport.

How do I know this is the future? Because I know it's what most people want, and we can now give it to them at less cost - not more. It's that simple. Proximity to services will not be a problem. This is due to the virtues of telecommuting, the fact that services and jobs follow the people as cities expand (the modern city is polycentric - not CBD-centric), and the fact that fully-autonomous vehicles can reduce real transport costs by a factor of 10 or more.

Green sprawl will generally be built in "clumps" as small satellite townships, on the fringes of major metro's. The good thing about this is that the developments can be built in an aesthetically coordinated way, and economically at scale. The incentive is there for the developer to make the whole development look and feel good to live in, because he's concerned with the sale-value of every home within the development. (He won't want to build ugly houses that other people have to look it will affect the sale-value of those 'other' houses, which is of course his concern).

So where will the growth happen?

Agglomeration advantages are clearly real. When you link people together in a city, each individual functions as a resource and opportunity for the others, and agglomeration facilitates the obvious advantages of competition and scale. This is why we generally earn more in big cities. However, the advantages of higher density saturate and can backfire at a point, because higher densities, when excessive, lead to aggravated traffic congestion and other problems such as expensive structures (up costs a lot more to build than out) and high rents.

Appreciating this, and appreciating the nature of consumer demand, we will see that the optimum will shift more heavily toward lower-density cities that are geographically massive.

If you're going to build a new township of green sprawl, then you might as well do it next to a big affluent city. Why wouldn't you, when you can have the best of both worlds (small and big) and at the same or even less construction cost?

Note: Creating the "small town oasis" in a large metropolitan district is easy enough. It's simply a matter of structuring access to your development so that it's a place where people go to and not through ie. don't run a thoroughfare right through the middle of it. Segregating cross-traffic is key.

Which metro's will be favoured?

In a world where accessory products are ever easier to come by, I believe that people will become more temperamental about where they live in terms of climate. There will be a strong growth preference for cities that have great climate and topography, and especially if they're coastal.

Queensland, especially Brisbane, should be a favourite for Australia, and expansion from the north of Auckland should be a favourite for New Zealand.

The politics:

Some cities in this world are dedicated to forcing high densities, and green sprawl is the opposite of what they want to achieve. They want to replicate the atmosphere of Hong Kong - not Fiji.

No matter. If they want to fly in the face of consumer demand and commit economic suicide, then that is their concern. But rather than suppressing sprawl, you will see they merely outsource it. It will go to other cities and states that allow for geographical expansion. Already we are seeing this trend in America, where cities like Houston, Texas have growth rates 4x greater than cities like Los Angeles, the latter of which severely restricts expansion.


So that's what I see as the future of our cities. Massive, clustered growth around big, metropolitan cities that can offer "best of all worlds". We will see major, green low-density urban expansion integrated with ultra-efficient and silent electric transport.

Agglomeration advantages will be reinforced from telecommuting (which has much room for technical development, in itself) and full-automation transport that will be supported with new over and under-passes, eliminating all congestion. (With full-automation you can build tunnels at about a half the cost, and put 5x the number of cars in them via platooning).

The big cities will get massive, yet in an environmentally positive way, and the small cities will stagnate or decline. I can see a lot of ghost towns developing.

There will still be a place for high-density. Indeed, I think we will see a developing contrast of extremes. The CBD's of big cities will get more dense because full-automation cars allows for the removal of parking requirements, liberating development space and making walking more easy. These CBD's will offer wildly varied recreation. Exciting centers of "bright lights", of which are so easily accessible, will only further reinforce the appeal of the biggest metro's in growth dominance.

With the introduction of fully-autonomous cars, it will be a fascinating evolution.


Addition: 12-5-13: Organic cities:

I don't believe that you can underestimate the value of providing people with top-quality food. It penetrates deeply to real living standards, and should on its own be a significant driver in city structure and form, for in the future and more so than today.

One of the problems with the logistics of our modern cities is the large time-gap between harvest and consumption, particularly for foods that depreciate quickly such as fruit and vegetables. The result is too often tasteless, nutritionally compromised food.

Full-automation transport supporting micro-cars will turn this on its head. It can reduce the general time-gap between harvest and consumption to as little as 2 hours or less, with the potential for aggressive streamlining of the supply-chain.

With streamlining in food production, we can and will avoid all kinds of parasitic costs that we tolerate today, which will reinforce the appeal and drive greater demand for [otherwise] more expensive organic foods. If the difference is a ~50c addition on an already cheap meal, why then would you tolerate insecticide with your cauliflower?

When people can order-up a meal that's second to none in nutrition and taste, and it's cheap, and can be delivered in 20 minutes or less, then this capacity in itself will function as a major driver supporting the growth of a given city.

However, of course, to achieve this effect your city must still be relatively agrarian. Orchids and vegetable farms cannot be more than, say, 200 kilometers away, and so the soils and climate of the surrounding area must be able to support the production of foods with low real shelf-lives.

In response to the natural demand for premium food, I believe we will see reinforced growth preferences for cities within the more favourable climates. Climates not just supporting beauty and natural attractions/recreation etc, but climates supporting immediate access to quality food.


Addition: 14-5-13: Social segregation:

It's human nature to want to mingle and be amongst your own kind, at least generally. And it's most certainly human nature to want to avoid the company of people who are emotionally disturbed and/or dangerous. Facilitating this demand is important for the prosperity of a city.

In the modern western world the underclass is growing, as clearly pointed out by the social analyst Charles Murray [Murray's generalised definition of the underclass: Fatherless homes, chronic welfare dependency, unemployed young men with no desire to find work, criminality, etc. And if I may add the more important bits that I think he left out: Prevalent and serious child abuse, and child neglect, reckless promiscuity and drug abuse].

Murray has pointed out that the American West has attempted to solve the problem of its underclass via social programmes meant to 'cure' people of their upbringing. However, this has been tried for decades now, failed miserably, and so America has (successfully) moved onto plan-B. According to Murray, America has "solved" its underclass problem by segregation. The underclass has been removed from "higher" public view into segregated zones - out of sight, out of mind.

Without going into the politics of the underclass, the fact remains that no "good" citizen wants to live amongst it if they can help it, especially not if they have children. This is not snobbery - it's human. Everybody wants to live in a happy, safe atmosphere, and the underclass are not generally conducive to this.

And this is where we see a further major advantage of living in a rapidly growing, large city. It allows for the easy development of socially-controlled communities, which in turn allows people to isolate themselves from the underclass, but without having to do so with hefty property inflation so as to price them away from their locality. You can instead segregate directly, and therefore cheaply.

With the internet being used for video interviews, and also basic screening for criminal records, etc, people can choose their own company directly and develop their own communities, and irrespective of personal incomes. This is a powerful advantage that will further drive demand for the biggest growing cities.


Addition: 03-6-13: Design revolution?

When my brother designs a house he spends a huge amount of time with his eyes closed, simulating in his imagination what it will actually feel like to live in, as he walks through the home in his mind. It's a strenuous challenge even for the talented - yet essential for good housing design.

Countless houses, including expensive ones, have major mistakes in their design compromising their liveability. And a huge amount of this revolves around people embracing "great ideas" that have not been simulated properly.

Well, we now have the tools for accurate simulations accessible for everyone, using 'virtual reality' systems. We can design a home, put on the goggles, and see whether or not we have conceived of something that actually feels good to live in - or not. Refer to the following video:

I do not believe we can underestimate the value of being able to design homes with virtual real-world feedback perception. At a guess, I would say it could add as much as $100,000 of comparative value on the average home in a new development. Virtual reality systems also, quite importantly, make it a lot easier to sell a home off the plan. This reduces investment risk and therefore costs.

The point? New technology compounds the competitive value of new-builds over existing housing stock, further driving investment in new-builds which will lead to an ever more rapid expansion of cities in idealised locations.


Addition: 24-10-13: Privatisation of urban life?

A curious feature of a growing city, based on driverless car technology, is that it could (and I believe will) lead to the exaggerated development of highly privatised lives.

Every day we go out of our homes we are constantly dealing with strangers - casually or specifically. But in a driverless-car world the streets will be mostly empty; and by today's standards, strangely so. People will do almost all their business online, and their purchases online; and when people do need to travel a car will take them to their destination-building directly, foyer to foyer, just like a private lift in a building. For the most part we will only interface with people who we genuinely need and want to see.

People will still mass into groups of unknowns, but those groups will tend to be of and for a specific kind - like a club. Your city and your life will, in effect, reduce itself to your select needs and preferences, and everything else around you will functionally disappear.

In my view, this would be a positive thing. Privacy is vital for reducing social stress and, conversely, facilitating genuine relationships (via freedom of association and disassociation). Research has also indicated that cities (as we know them) lead to forms of social stress that are significant enough to be directly observed with brain scans. Alas, we are tribal animal at the end of the day - not a mass-city animal.


Addition: 31-10-13: The future of work.

The Internet is about to grow limbs via robotics. The online (based) world, for most operations, is going to swallow much of the existing commercial/industrial world due to its ability to actualise a drastically superior cost-base, of which more traditional operations can't compete with. (This is more likely to happen via start-up's than traditional operations reforming themselves, because the latter has too much old inertia to deal with and on too many levels). General economic operations will be streamlined aggressively, and we will finally give birth to a true technologically advanced society.  

Ok. The theory goes that as work gets automated, or made more efficient in general, then jobs are lost and prices for products fall. This in turn liberates the consumers dollar enabling them to spend their money on other things, which in turn drives new job growth in those industries of which support those other things. Now that is sound; that is the way it's worked for as long as we can remember. Our economies have progressively evolved from (only) supporting our core needs on the most basic of levels, to economies that support luxury as well.

However, I believe this principle has limits and we could soon see a shift from this progression. With driverless-car technology co-functioning with the Internet as a supporting structure, the room for automation via mobile robotics becomes massive. We may get to the point, soon enough, where there's little for people to do that can't be done better and cheaper with a robot, relating to low-skilled jobs, and also many systematic high-skilled jobs for that matter. This is not necessarily a concern for people on the right-hand side of the bell-curve, who can up-skill and master more technically-orientated work, but it's a concern for people who are specifically dependant on low-skilled work. Unemployment for the latter group could become seriously entrenched. This is not an issue so much of wealth, as a robotised society should be extremely efficient - it's an issue of human dignity.

So how do you deal with this problem? I don't have all the answers, but one thing I suggest (in this event) is to simply give the less capable social classes their privacy. Let them have their own autonomous communities, independently worked and managed, where they can develop their own cultures and pastimes. Don't ram their status down their throats by forcing them to live like a redundant slave-class alongside you. By giving people their privacy, we allow ourselves to be no longer part of their social world of "significant others", which should greatly reduce the psychological impact of (otherwise) being made to feel inferior, or even worthless.

Note that with the implementation of driverless cars the actual speed of technological progress, in terms of implementing advanced systems into civil operations, should accelerate. Driverless cars allow us to robotise general operations efficiently by supporting rapid and low-cost access for this technology. That is the difference. It's about to become an innovators economy, more than ever.

Friday, March 1, 2013

THE REAL DEAL: Housing in New Zealand

Andrew D Atkin:

Ok people, here it is - short and sweet!

Please forward this flyer on to your friends and associates, and print it out for work and wherever else you think it could go. This is one issue worth being an activist on. This property madness must stop.


Note: Cantabrians UNITE appears to be currently offline. I suggest referring to Hugh Pavletich's main site if you want more detailed information.

Direct link to: Hugh Pavletich, of Performance Urban Planning, who is New Zealand's leader on the drive towards housing affordability.



But isn't sprawl environmentally destructive?

With only 1 part in 125 of New Zealand's land area covered over in built surfaces, and approx one or two parts in 100 world over, you can hardly claim that sprawl is anti-environmental. The geographical human footprint is overwhelmingly a food issue. Indeed, we do not have enough farmland (actual or latent) to feed a population so large that human settlement could cover a more significant 10% of the earths surface. We would starve before we could pull that off.

What's more, sprawling suburbs tend to induce considerable garden and biodiversity over time, promoting environmentalism, and sprawl can be (and at times has been) designed to be so Green that you can hardly see the houses for the trees.

It would take about 100 years for New Zealand to double the size of that black line, representing artificial surfaces on the graphic. And this assumes deliberate growth from immigration, because natural growth from native births has stabilised in both New Zealand and most of the industrialised world.

But doesn't sprawl lead to greater transport costs?

Overall - no. When cities sprawl out they take most of the new travel demand with them, as jobs and infrastructure follow the expansion. Most new transport demand becomes localised to the fringes. What's more, the alternative to sprawl is densification, and densification increases traffic congestion which in turn impairs transport efficiency.

But doesn't sprawl cost lots of money in new infrastructure?

With population growth, new infrastructure must be provided regardless. In a city that is already operating at capacity, densification (not sprawl) requires demolish-and-rebuild for greater capacity, which is hugely more expensive than simple add-on's at the fringes.

Won't the introduction of affordable housing make my home worth less?

In terms of local market value, yes, but this is a correction and it must happen if we are to ever see rationally priced housing.

What's more, over-inflated housing is fools gold. You can only cash-in if you downsize your home aggressively, and most people don't. Note that every dollar of appreciation you win from the artificially inhibited land supply, your children lose (and more) for when their time comes to buy a home. So you're hardly winning them an inheritance.

Finally, the impact of artificially restricting land supply goes well beyond the residential sector. Forcing commercial operations to pay-out big money to landlords for industrial/commercial land makes your locality a bad choice for new investment, likewise inhibiting economic growth (often severely). It also, of course, drives-up local prices for almost everything.

What we're seeing, basically, is nothing more than a mass-collective monopoly of landholders using political savvy to rig the game so as to inhibit their new-build competition. The result is a major (and totally unfair) wealth-transfer away from those who don't hold land to those who do. The landlords win, everybody else loses, and economic investment gets suppressed.

But the people want the "smart growth" [forced densification] vision. They voted for it!

Did they? There are questions here. Regardless, the vast majority of people just don't know the facts, and that is why I am writing this.

When did you last hear your mayor tell you that only 1 part in 125 of New Zealand's land area is covered over in sprawl? Is it not curious that all they can say on the issue is "sprawl takes up valuable farmland"...yet can never find enough space on the page to state the most basic and important fact? Alas, there are many pigs in the trough that don't want to see affordable housing come about, and they have been (and still are) providing a torrent of grossly ill-informed, nonsense commentary on the issue. And that is being polite.

The following image was taken from the New Zealand Herald's survey, showing common housing preferences in New Zealand. Sadly (though predictably) this excellent graph has now been removed from their page.

Democracy at its worst is a 60% majority voting to turn the other 40% into their personal slaves. And this is why we have (or should have) constitutions. Constitutions are meant to protect individual rights from governmental/democratic abuses. Sadly we do not have legally binding constitutions in New Zealand.

Forced urban intensification has facilitated a massive wealth transfer from those who do not own land, within the metropolitan urban limits, to those who do. The cost of restricting land supply has not been shared among the population fairly. This scenario has been enforced by the power of the government - and the power of the vote. It is a disgrace.

We have also achieved the amalgamation of local government in Auckland - giving every resident in the city the vote on how every other resident must live (by dictating development form). But is it really reasonable for the people of South Auckland to vote on how the people of North Auckland must live, considering that the people of South Auckland spend 99% of their time in the South? Why are the public being asked to vote on how others must live their lives, when the question has virtually nothing to do with them personally? Another disgrace. Lifestyle choice is an individual decision - not a democratic decision.

But isn't a compact city a world-class city?

It's more than rich to attribute the largely subjective words of "world class" and "most livable" to a city that has enforced radically unaffordable housing - and on the generation who can least afford it. That is, young people trying to create a family.

Please ignore these empty "livability" claims. All this mantra is designed to get people to make the "right" assumptions without thinking.

And then there is the issue of competitiveness. Melbourne and Sydney are at last looking to reform their forced-densification agendas. They have come to accept it was a mistake, and has been (is) a social disaster. They are making moves to open up new land on their fringes, enough to reinstate affordable housing. What will this mean to the Kiwi exodus to Australia? The current out-migration gale stepping up to a hurricane?

...And if you want to get academic-heavy, more.

...if you want to see a great video, here.


Addition: 22-06-14:

The New Zealand Initiative, New Zealand's (rightly) leading think tank, has very recently made an excellent contribution to the "Up versus Out" debate. The full report here, and the video introduction as follows: