We need more homes, we all despairingly say. But where?
This week Parliament will be debating a law change with the intention of increasing housing supply and improving affordability. It seeks to do this primarily by allowing developments of up to three stories across residential zones in our largest cities, without the need for resource consent.
Houses aren't going to fall out of the sky – if they did, we wouldn't have to deal with the building materials shortages, let alone housing shortages and the time crunch to build them – and there's still really important arguments to be had about whether this will impact affordability when neither of the larger parties in Parliament are willing to say they want house prices to drop.
Yet, increasing the density of housing developments is one of the most effective tools in the toolbox we need to use to help tackle our housing crisis, avoid urban sprawl, protect productive land for food growing, reduce transport emissions and get climate-resilient.
Data crunched by liveable city campaigners Greater Auckland tells us that a large majority of the new homes consented since the 2016 Unitary Plan have been more than 11km from the city centre. Less than half of that have been consented 1km from the city centre. Half that again and you've got the amounts consented 2, 3 and 4km from the city centre, respectively.
This 2-4 km radius is where the sprawling, "leafy" suburbs are. Very close to all the amenities of a big city, but without much of the density that typically comes with it. Some rationalise this with arguments about "character". Others straight-up acknowledge that they bought into an area expecting it to stay the same, forever.
Sometimes these are the same suburbs that just a few decades ago, were home to essential workers and first-generation migrants, before being turned upside down during the Dawn Raids, then 'trickle down' economic reform. These had been neighbourhoods and communities that had welcomed all; change and chance, vibrant and evolving.
A city is not a museum. It is home, for all one and a half million of us, and it is meant to evolve to reflect us as we grow up. We need wahakura or a crib when we're born, we grow into bunk beds shared with siblings, we eyeball the privilege of our own room and a king bed, maybe one day to share with a partner and our own families.
Awhina Mai tatou Katoa - a social initiative in central Auckland run by those with lived experience of homelessness to address and advocate for the needs of whānau on the street - recently surveyed street whānau about those wants and needs. The answers? A safe space, somewhere with privacy, somewhere with toilets and showers and kai and cooking, a place to make art and music. It sounds like a home.
A city is alive, evolving and vibrant. At its best, it is a family and a community home, with extensions and pencil marks charting height growth of cousins and best friends in the kitchen hallway. It will be painted and repainted, and it'll know many configurations of furniture, lives, joy, and loss.
Discussing the future of our city at a hui a few weeks back, housing campaigner Isla Stewart braced for critique when she said, "Buildings themselves aren't as important as the streets around them." Funnily enough, this is something anti-density campaigners also tend to fight for: a safe walk to school for kids, mature trees shading overhead, visible history and an intentional future; a sense of belonging and pride in our shared place that reflects who we are.
We can have homes, those neighbourhoods and communities for all of us, if we're willing to accept we've all got to live together and the realities that come with negotiating that.
Dense suburbs and leafy suburbs can be and should be the same thing. It's what happens when you privilege people's wellbeing, housing as a human right, and good design. You get those things when you move beyond the binary of 'tiny boxes in the sky' or quarter acre bungalows. You get those things when you build, physically and culturally, a walkable neighbourhood.
This is what will be debated in Parliament over these next two weeks; whether we learn to live together in the best way for all of us, or preserve places and spaces where some of us are unwelcome. The Greens know we can achieve strong communities for all to belong in thoughtfully developed neighbourhoods through design standards, density bonuses – the ability to build higher where there's additional good stuff for residents - and tree protection.
This is our city. It is our home. It should house all of us.
• Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party, is the MP for Auckland Central