14 Apr 2013

Get over it and grow up, not out

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Written: Paul little
Photo: Janna Dixon
Published: The New Zealand Herald – 14 April 2013

Paula Bennett admitted she named her lambs then ate them.

Paula Bennett admitted she named her lambs then ate them.

The debate over the voluminous Auckland Unitary Plan, with its vision for the future of the city, including solutions to the housing shortage, has coalesced around a simple and simplistic choice: do we grow out, into the empty land around the city, or up, into the air above it?

Numerous economic levers could be pulled to encourage people to live in other centres, but this is not that sort of government. So let us accept that sooner or later all New Zealanders will live in Auckland, with the rest of the country being turned into a giant movie location broken up by the odd dairy farm and ski field.

Where, then, shall we put everyone?

The thought of extending Auckland, a city that has never placed any importance on the appearance of its built environment, to consume more open land is short-sighted. Do we really want another Albany or Dannemora with their cut-and-paste rows of identical mini-mansions showing all the design sense of a North Korean retirement home?

No great city in the world is as spread out as Auckland. There are great cities with a larger area than Auckland’s, but the best of these, such as Tokyo or London, achieve greatness by accommodating more people per hectare.

The trouble with medium-density housing within the existing boundaries is that it will require the demolition of existing buildings. This apparently is a choice Aucklanders only countenance for the building of the environmentally unfriendly new motorways to which they have become addicted.

So the growing up option encourages fanatical nimbyism, especially among residents of Milford and St Heliers who are whipping themselves into a frenzy with mass viewings of Les Miserables and preparing to throw up the barricades at their golf courses and bowling greens.

The benefits of medium-density housing are numerous. More people means more demand for amenities – cultural, recreational, commercial – and the supply will soon turn up to meet that demand. Facilities are packaged into a compact, human-sized space. Throw in basic public transport improvements and a whole bunch of problems are solved.

So for cities, like people, it is better to grow up not out. “Out” will be used “up” long before up runs out. Managed properly with such criteria as encouraging diversity, heritage protection and design excellence given priority, Auckland’s unavoidable growth could result in a city that is as great as its medium-density natural environment, which already packs a lot of variety – bush, volcanoes, two (count them) coasts – into a small space.

It seems only fair that we should take a few of Australia’s asylum seekers, as John Key would like us to. After all, they take tens of thousands of ours every year.

You know you’re seriously middle-aged when stories about Arthur Allan Thomas and the Wahine tragedy appear in the news and you find yourself thinking: “What? Again?”

And you know something even more important when you hear Thomas speaking in his familiar dry drawl and hear the 45-year-old memories of survivors and rescuers from the day of the tragedy in Cook Strait and are reminded of how everyday the heroism of everyday people is.

A human interest backgrounder on the social welfare minister reported this week that as a child she had pet lambs called Wilma, Bam Bam and Pebbles. Once the gambolling balls of fluff had served their time, confirmed Paula Bennett, “we ate them”.

In a regrettable example of careless journalism, the writer of the piece neglected to ask whether or not the lambs were alive at the time they were consumed.

– Herald on Sunday



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