10 Mar 2015

Property: Older, smaller buildings preferred

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Washington-based expert on the economics of heritage says social media found people prefer older neighbourhoods.

Instagram and Flickr show people prefer older, smaller buildings to modern buildings, says a leading authority on the economics of heritage.

Donovan Rypkema says a research project in Seattlle – Older, Smaller, Better – studied uploads on social media sites and found older neighbourhoods performed best across a range of economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Washington-based Mr Rypkema is in New Zealand this week discussing the economic benefits of heritage as a guest of the Auckland Civic Trust.

Trust member Helen Geary says heritage is something of a “stumbling block” in Auckland and hopes Mr Rypkema’s message will strike a chord in the council’s Unitary Plan, or new planning rulebook for the city.

Mr Rypkema, who visited New Zealand in 2010, is sure of one thing; the revitalisation of Britomart from decay to super cool, is at the cutting edge of public-private partnerships. A book tracing the first 10 years of the biggest heritage and urban regeneration project in Auckland, shows the precinct contributes $1.3 billion to the regional economy, rising to $2 billion in a few years.

Construction has given the economy a one-off boost of $450 million and 9210 jobs have been created over 10 years, according to Business and Economic Research(Berl).

Mr Rypkema said the United States was a capitalist country with lunatic property rights, but it had done more research on the economics of heritage than anywhere else.

Research, he said, was finding more connections between heritage buildings and economics.

Examples included heritage districts bouncing back faster from the global financial crisis and more foreign investment flowing into heritage cities where there were smart, young people.

He also gave the example of $1.24 in tax benefits for every $1 from a 20 per cent tax credit for preserving designated heritage buildings in the United States.

Mr Rypkema said it was America’s bicentennial in 1976 that triggered heritage preservation and tax breaks, and Auckland’s Unitary Plan could do the same.

Auckland Council, which has limited heritage incentives, could waive fees, offer technical and design assistance, fast-track permits and make better use of transferable development rights, he said.

On the issue of seismic upgrading of old buildings, Mr Rypkema is of the view that risk should be localised, costs on the private sector required incentives and the costs of losing buildings be part of the equation.

“I’m not a rabid preservationist that says you can never tear anything down.

“I don’t care what the reason is, if it is development pressure or seismic. Cities should have a basic principle on demolition and that is when we tear something down we ought to do it so whatever we get is better than what we have.

“I have got to say, candidly, a whole lot of the stuff that has been built here (Auckland) between 1970 and 1990 is crappier buildings than what was here before,” he said.

Mr Rypkema is speaking tonight at the Maritime Museum at 5.30pm as part of the council’s Auckland Conversations’ public series.


Published: The New Zealand Herald – nzherald.co.nz
Written by Bernard Orsman @BernardOrsman