Imagine this: you're lucky enough to be looking to buy a new home and have heard about a greenfield development on the outskirts of your city. You decide to take a look and plan a visit on the weekend. After your morning flat white, you catch a train from your local station, it drops you in the heart of the new development, right next to the show homes and amidst a forest of cranes.
As you get off, you can see a variety of housing being built, a mix of terraced homes and apartments. The masterplan for the community shows entertainment, retail and community services hubs, everything you need will be right there. And getting to work? Easy, the trains are already running and it's a quick 40-minute commute to the city, no motorway, no traffic.
This sounds like a dream right? But it isn't.
Forward thinking puts transportation and services at the heart of accommodating growth, ensuring our city is not only an attractive place to live, but supports a growing city without adding to its challenges.
Sydney's south west has some fantastic examples of large residential communities being built with the future in mind. These developments enjoy existing public transport infrastructure, offering transport options and establishing sustainable behaviour from the start. There is housing choice, but it all delivers compact medium- and high-density living.
This creates not only a more visually appealing and varied community, but also
sufficient population to support the success of the public transport system, local services, entertainment and local businesses. This forward‐thinking approach puts transportation and services at the heart of the development, ensuring it is not only an attractive place to live, but supports a growing city without adding to its woes.
Take Ed Square for example, a masterplanned development by Frasers Property at Edmondson Park. When complete, this will have nearly 1000 apartments, around 900 terraces, a dining and entertainment precinct and about 120 shops spread across 45,000 square metres of retail and commercial space creating an attractive and liveable new community.
The state‐funded train station was completed in 2015, when the development was still a green paddock. This example of public transport infrastructure preceding development provides the opportunity to establish a critical mass around the station, supporting the
passenger rail services and limiting additional traffic on Sydney's arterial roads.
Why aren't we doing this in New Zealand?
Although we are utilising brownfield opportunities, our current position in Auckland is to build residential developments on the outskirts, with the number one selling point often the accessibility to the primary roading network. Designed typically with single-dwelling homes, and few community services, we are creating the houses, but generally not the urban communities and public transport infrastructure to support them.
While these new developments provide housing for our growing population, they are driving more traffic onto our motorways, creating communities less connected than ever and putting increased pressure on our existing infrastructure.
So, what needs to be done?
Like the earlier example from Sydney, we need to be more future‐focused when master planning our developments and seek better alignment with investment in public transport facilities. Building around existing train stations or committing to build new ones is essential, creating sustainable travel behaviour from residents from the outset. Medium- and high-density housing, including apartments and hybrid medium-density typologies is required. This creates larger populations that drive demand for public and community services, entertainment and retail, making the development a more attractive place to live.
But who pays for this?
More central government investment, value capture and more public‐private funding arrangements could be a way of making the deals stack up. For example in Drury, in exchange for greater development potential, the private sector could contribute to funding an increase in network capacity and building a train station, thereby ensuring residential development is delivered at densities which better support the passengers services.
Admittedly, there's a lot of complicated issues in the mix, including the risks and costs of building at greater densities and the capacity and preferences of the market, but surely we need to get ahead and capture these opportunities instead of developing land along rail corridors at low densities and losing forever the opportunity to deliver a true and sustainable transit-oriented system?
This forward-thinking approach puts transportation and services at the heart of accommodating growth, ensuring our city is not only an attractive place to live, but supports a growing city without adding to its challenges.
Now imagine for a moment, if Hobsonville Point or Drury had an operating passenger train station, would the north western or southern motorways be increasing in congestion every week? Would living in these communities become more attractive for Aucklanders?
We must be focused on driving better collaboration that enables private and public endeavours to come together, and ensure investment that anticipates our future, not current, needs.
• Lauren White is an urban designer from GHDWoodhead creativespaces who recently travelled to Sydney to research large growth projects