The Project Auckland series looks at the challenges facing Auckland as it seeks to become a world-class city.

Many people are hoping the creation of the Super City will launch a new and better Auckland - more affordable, more liveable, and more efficient.

Unfortunately, such improvements are unlikely while so many are misinformed about Auckland's environment today. If we don't know where we are, we cannot properly plan where to go.

The Auckland Regional Council has convinced many Aucklanders they live in a sprawling, low-density city that requires further intensification to become a "world class city". Nothing could be further from the truth.

The densification of Auckland began in the mid-60s when a team of us in the Auckland City Council changed planning rules to allow town houses, infill housing and high-rise apartments. This was to enable Aucklanders to exercise greater choice in housing types. The consequent "intensification" was not forced, but simply reflected market preferences and no one seemed to mind Auckland's transition to a medium-density city.

But during the 90s Auckland's planners imported the theory of Smart Growth from the US. The subsequent intensification was enforced through planning policies and the constraints of Metropolitan Urban Limits. One inevitable result is that Auckland now has become one of the least affordable housing markets in the world.

Another outcome is that Auckland is now the densest city in Australasia.

Demographia calculate their urban area populations and densities using standard international measures (see sidebar). The urban area is an area of continuous urban development and excludes areas of economic influence that extend beyond the physical limits of development.

The ARC may be calculating Auckland's "low density" by dividing the population by the area of the whole Region - which is a nonsense.The genuine urban area is the continuous area you see lit up when you fly into Auckland at night.

Auckland's urban area has a higher population density than the urban area of New York as their high-density core is surrounded by huge areas of low density suburbs. Those who believe sprawl is the great evil of our times warn that Auckland must not be allowed to grow into a sprawling monstrosity like LA. which is the densest urban area in the US and the only American city with a higher urban density than Auckland. US cities with densities half that of Auckland, such as Houston, enjoy the country's highest economic and employment growth rates.

However, maybe we should be looking at Europe. Some of their cities are much denser than Auckland, but those most popular with visitors, or those which are economic power houses, are the same as Auckland or even less dense.

If we increase Auckland's density even more, congestion will further increase, and more people will want to leave Auckland for those liveable and affordable cities - here or overseas.

Aucklanders are frequently told that each year, more people die prematurely from vehicle pollution than are killed in road accidents. So why do we allow apartment blocks to be built so close to busy roads?

Auckland is too dense already. Let's release the Super City from its Smart Growth shackles. Otherwise our best and brightest will leave for cities where they have more room to move.

Owen McShane is Director of the Centre for Resource Management Studies