By Lawrence Watt

What is the answer to providing affordable, liveable housing in Auckland? Endless suburbs waste arable land, burn fuel and cause traffic jams.

With the high cost of land, surely building up is the answer, with two or three storeys the norm. If it's done right, the new homes might just be affordable for first home buyers.

In densely populated cities in places such as the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Britain, many people live in terraced houses, that use only a fraction of the land of our car-centric city.

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Many cities, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, have thoughtful urban design, with a mix of bikeways, footpaths and rail, instead of just roads.

Obviously cramming more people into a space should make houses more affordable. Unfortunately, the densification process the Auckland Council wants is a curate's egg, good in parts, but some of it rotten.

Leaky looking apartments flank rail lines and even expensive suburbs have some ugly townhouses.

Ken Crosson is a Parnell architect who presented the TV1 series, The New Zealand Home, that screened last year. He has a vision of how good design can make for happy living in a close-knit community.

First, Kiwis' car-centred lifestyle is our problem, he says, recalling a figure of, at one point, a third of new suburbs in South Auckland being covered in tarmac. That figure is slightly lower now.

"Suburban cities are really expensive to run," he says. "The ongoing transport and social costs will be dumped on our children and children's children - in terms of high rates, dislocation of people, and our 'need' to sit, isolated in a metal and glass cocoon."

This car-centric model kind of worked back in the post-war period, when Auckland had fewer people. But today's roads are jammed.

Terraced houses enable people to have a veggie garden out back, or sit in the sun, while using less land than a regular 600sq m section.

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Crosson says such medium-density housing cuts many costs of a subdivision, such as roads and drains, and puts the living environment on a human scale.

The new Hobsonville Point subdivision is a great example, with narrow roads, open spaces, shared car parks, but space for your own barbecue.

"People have been flocking to it," he says.

Against this - the development is expensive and lacks social housing, although initially planned.

Central Auckland's Wynyard Quarter and shared spaces of Fort Lane and Elliot St show how areas can be made people-friendly, enabling walking rather than driving. "We all like our main streets with cafes, bookshops, and that sort of thing," he says.

But terraced and townhouse developments have their challenges. People complain about bigger shadows, more noise and lack of space.

Crosson believes good design, which tries to solve such issues, is inexpensive, but you need lateral thinking.

"The houses need to let the sun in, they clearly need not to leak and they need to be beautiful," he says.

"Good design doesn't cost more, but it has to be done up front."

He believes it is possible to produce terraced houses, at today's prices, in the region of $650,000 to $700,000 in Auckland. To get below that, New Zealand's building supply sector needs to be more competitive.

Height is a factor. Crosson says think of the older parts of Paris or other European cities. "At five to six storeys you can still interact with people on the street."

With three storeys you don't need lifts, which lowers costs. Once buildings are off the ground, Crosson says the trick is to incorporate outside decks, where "people can grow herbs and veggies, share a barbecue and sit in the fresh air".