Dushko Bogunovich and Matthew Bradbury: Curing Auckland's growing pains

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Better distributing the population throughout the region would have the flow-on effect of improving housing affordability. Photo / Chris Gorman
Better distributing the population throughout the region would have the flow-on effect of improving housing affordability. Photo / Chris Gorman

The problems of a growing Auckland are becoming more and more urgent. Bunk-beds in the city are being let for $170 a week; the average house costs 10 times the average annual income; ugly terraces and apartments are built in random locations; mature trees are felled and reserves encroached upon, while parks and golf courses are eyed by developers; the Ports of Auckland is filling in the harbour; motorways are doubling in width. And the suburbs are rising in revolt against the Council.

But what if we thought about Auckland not as a traditional city but as a city-region that extends at least from Wellsford and Helensville to Pokeno and Orere Point?

In Europe planning authorities have long ago realised the inevitability of urban sprawl and neighbouring cities and towns coalescing into conurbations. Frankfurt is a famous example of a super-efficient city that consists of more than 70 local authorities. It prides itself on its inclusion of agriculture into the metropolitan fabric, its first class, evenly distributed, recreational green open spaces, and international airport amidst a forest, which serves three major cities.

Other famous models of successful, decentralised and polycentric development are metropolitan Munich and the urban region of the Ruhr. Both cover large areas, include plentiful open spaces, and have managed to contain urban sprawl in the form of a coherent polycentric pattern.

The Auckland city-region could do even better. Being located on a land-bridge, Auckland has mainly grown in the northern and southern directions. After 100 years of growth and amalgamation, it has grown into a linear conurbation some 70km long. By 2040 it could be 150km long. This is not bad news; linear cities are famously efficient.

They typically have a single transport corridor, often accompanied by other cardinal infrastructure. This enables investment into fast, high-capacity, high-frequency transit. In Auckland this corridor is State Highway 1. But, with strategic investment into a new harbour crossing and improving the existing rail infrastructure, this corridor could be also the main public transport spine, as railway or busway, or both. It is in this corridor that most of the intensification should take place. Increasing density in places like St Heliers and Kohimarama makes little sense.

Growth is already happening along this corridor anyway - witness the boom in Te Rapa, Pokeno, Silverdale and Warkworth. However, this development is haphazard, exacerbating traditional urban sprawl and commuting distances. It also relies too much on expensive and vulnerable infrastructure.

Instead, we suggest a linear, city-region that follows the opportunities and respects the constraints in the landscape. Its central spine would connect many nodes of density, functioning as centres of commerce and production, with high-rise living. There could be 20-odd nodes between Whangarei and Hamilton.

This is what we call the "working city". In contrast - the "lifestyle city" would be situated on the glorious east coast. We see it as part of the larger "NZ Riviera", stretching from Whangarei to Whakatane. Here, the world-renowned qualities of Auckland's superb suburban lifestyle would mature to the level where Auckland would truly become the "world's lifestyle capital".

New infrastructure technologies, such as localised sewerage and water systems, super-efficient solar panels, internet and electric cars, mean that any new urban settlement is not necessarily reliant on expensive centralised infrastructure systems. We no longer have to get our power from the South Island or by burning fossil fuel, and we don't have to drive two hours to work.

Distributed, small scale, clean, green and smart infrastructure also means more autonomy in securing the basics of life. This means less exposure to disruptions and crises - a vitally important consideration in the face of advancing climate change.

Housing affordability then comes as a bonus. By acknowledging that Auckland is a city-region, the housing crisis - which is actually an urban land crisis - can be tackled in a rational way, distributing the population across the whole region.

Similar reasoning applies to the Ports of Auckland dilemma. By looking at the upper North Island as one region we can figure out the inevitable division of roles between our three big northern ports.

Historically, this area was always the most desirable part of Aotearoa. It has been home to four great iwi - Ngapuhi, Ngati Whatua, Tainui, and Te Arawa - for many centuries. Let us then embrace our new-old regional home - Te Hiku o Te Ika, The Tail of the Fish, Auckland, the Regional City.

Dushko Bogunovich and Matthew Bradbury teach urban design at the Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Unitec.

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- NZ Herald

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