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.

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