The debate surrounding the intensification of Auckland has established two counterpoints of view.

On one hand we have those who support the restriction of development beyond the metropolitan limits whilst on the other we have those who argue that growth should be accommodated by opening up more land for residential subdivisions.

Without delving into the language of affordability, sustainability and economics that now influence this discussion without much critical thought, it is worth noting the rhetoric of fear used by those who oppose densification.

There is a desire and motive to perpetuate the negative stigma surrounding multi-unit housing developments, despite increasing demand for a choice of housing types and the success and indeed reliance upon such developments around the world.


It is fair to say that multi unit housing has had its failures both here and internationally. By trying to keep up with the speed at which populations have shifted to urban centres designers and planners have experimented and, just as in all experiments, there have been lessons learnt.

More specifically, higher density housing in Auckland has suffered from the leaky homes crisis with many higher density housing schemes featuring amongst those suffering from failed cladding systems. Further, multi unit housing schemes have been pushed to marginal, but available land where any housing type would struggle to flourish.

Those in favour of spreading our city encourage us to think of these examples when they make their case for continued sprawl. With densification, they suggest, we will be forced to live in houses we don't want and have proven to fail. Although it's never made clear what exactly that means the inference is that higher density housing attacks part of what makes us kiwis - the quarter-acre dream, we are lead to believe, is under threat.

The fact of the matter is that the quarter-acre dream a thing of the past and more importantly the market shows us we don't want it any more. We no longer subdivide land in sizes that allow for the big back yard (in some places one tenth of an acre is the new kiwi nightmare) and most of us who can subdivide, have.
As a city we have chosen to densify, site by site and in the most unfortunate and irreversible of ways.

Well designed medium density housing offers us the types of amenities we might expect to have in our detached homes whilst retaining the qualities our neighbours already enjoy. A city that embraces medium density housing as part of its housing mix can offer us advantages that our current model can't.

Most importantly however, and before the chants of "not in my back yard" begin, it doesn't mean that existing houses need to be adversely affected. Good design should result in a built environment that improves everyone's lot.

People enjoy being in a city. Cities attract people for a number of reasons and the best cities in the world have a vibrancy gained by people occupying it.

Auckland rarely achieves the sort of vibrancy we have seen over the past few months but through good planning and properly designed developments we can achieve the sort of density the city needs to become a great place to be. All of this can be done without losing those things that make us, and the places we live, special.

We need not be scared of what densification might bring but rather we should shift our attention to understanding it and ensuring that when it does happen, it's done well.

* Mathew Brown is a registered architect and part time lecturer at Unitec, Department of Architecture.