|Special Digest – Retro Visions vs Current Realities|
|Library Archive - Centre Digests|
1. Auckland’s Spatial Plan – Government’s Great Leap Forward.
Occasionally Governments bring good news.
Yesterday morning a colleague alerted me to the fact that Rodney Hide had released the Government's position papers on the key policy areas to be addressed in the Auckland Council Spatial Plan at:
He observed that:
The transport paper is prolix but the planners will be unhappy with this sentiment:
"33. Consideration should be given to spreading development more widely across the urban area to make full use of the available and planned capacity within the transport network."
This lifted my spirits no end, and looked forward to reading the contents of the full overview. To date, the commentary on the spatial planning exercise had been much like the curates egg – good in parts. And the worst parts have gained the most traction in the media.
The new evidence-based counter-arguments to the retro-vision based arguments of the Mayor and his Council are firmly rooted in the current reality of what is actually happening in Auckland, rather than on utopian visions of how and where Aucklanders should live work and play in the future.
These two papers, alone, are breath of fresh air.
Naturally, these policy positions have raised the ire of those vocal lobbyists who insist that “in public transport lies the saving of the world”. Read the whole blog here, with a typical list of rants, all of which are based on authoritarian fantasies rather than democratic realities.
See if you can pick the false assumptions and conclusions. That may be too easy. See if you can find something they get right.
2. The Counterfactual Response.
Wendell Cox responds to these kinds of visionary claims in a paper Urban Transportation Policy Requires Factual Foundations
He notes that a group of Heritage Foundation reports based on the theme of “Washington’s War on Cars and the Suburbs” conclude that:
Newer large-rail transit systems have not attracted drivers from their cars for work trips;
Increases in transit funding tend to produce a considerably smaller corresponding increase in transit ridership;
Transit’s capital and operating costs are excessive and preclude its potential for expansion;
There is little potential for transit to attract drivers from automobiles for the vast majority of urban trips because of transit’s limited competitiveness with the car; and
The claimed benefits of transit have been exaggerated, including economic impacts, energy efficiency, and savings in congestion, consumer, and accident costs.
And Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution, and Vikram Maheshri of the University of California, Berkeley, make this plea for evidence based policy:
“Public policy should be based on reality, otherwise financial resources are likely to be misallocated, a situation already evident in federal transit policy. This is especially a concern in light of the imperative for reducing the federal budget deficit and the need to find cost-effective solutions for congestion relief.”
3. The Urban Reality
The simple reality is that the successful major cities of the Anglo-American world are decentralizing, and reducing overall urban area density, rather than centralizing and increasing density.
This dentralisation is driven by demographics, technology, and people’s personal preferences.
These add up to a potent mix, and regulators have found that attempts to halt or reverse this trend have counterproductive outcomes. Auckland Mayor Len Brown may prefer a more compact city to more “urban sprawl” but the evidence suggests the Auckland residents may sprawl to the regional centres of Australia rather than be regulated into Smart Growth submission.
Many planning and media pundits insist that suburban residents are both hugely dissatisfied with the high costs and congestion of their current locations, and want to break their dependence on the car, by moving into high-density apartments near to public transport nodes.
However, the producers of popular television programmes, as opposed to the newsroom “journalists”, have a well-founded sense of real-world market preferences. There is a never-ending stream of programmes about “relocation” and I have yet to see one focusing on the delights of making such a move to the inner city. Their most common theme is living life in the countryside with room for growing their own vegetables and enjoying their open space with room for their pets.
For example on a single Sunday, the “Living Channel” featured Better Homes and Gardens, A Place in the Sun, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Country House Rescue, Life in a Cottage Garden, and Escape to the Country. The Food Channel featured River Cottage Autumn, featuring Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall and his passion for home-grown vegetables for whole rural communities.
The motoring programme, Top Gear, is hardly on a mission to help people cure their addiction to cars. Is there any television programme, or even newspaper supplement, featuring the joys of public transport?
3. The International Research tells a Convincing Story.
Some might argue these foolish media magnates are captured by the big multinationals, or similar, but the international research, and the census data, suggests the TV producers, and their sponsors, have really got it right. The international research sends a clear message – and the evidence base is up-to-date.
Joel Kotkin’s Newgeography site has been running a series of essays on the patterns of urban migration, and “urban form” based on the recently released US census data.
Wendell Cox (22/02/11) set the theme in a paper, The Still Illusive “Return to the City”, with the following summary:
In each of the eight metropolitan areas, the preponderance of growth between 2000 and 2010 was in the suburbs, as has been the case for decades. This has occurred even though two events – the energy price spike in mid-decade and the mortgage meltdown – were widely held to have changed this trajectory. On average, 4 percent of the growth was in the historical core municipalities, and 96 percent of the growth was in the suburbs
In each of the eight metropolitan areas, the suburbs grew at a rate substantially greater than that of the core municipality. The core municipalities had an average growth from 2000 to 2010 of 3.2 percent. Suburban growth was 21.7 percent, nearly 7 times as great. Overall, the number of people added to the suburbs was 14 times that added to the core municipalities.
On March 8, Joel followed up with an update (The Protean Future Of American Cities)
The ongoing Census reveals the continuing evolution of America’s cities from small urban cores to dispersed, multi-polar regions that includes the city’s surrounding areas and suburbs. This is not exactly what most urban pundits, and journalists covering cities, would like to see, but the reality is there for anyone who reads the numbers.
To date the Census shows that growth in America’s large core cities has slowed, and in some cases even reversed. This has happened both in great urban centers such as Chicago and in the long-distressed inner cities of St. Louis, Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., and Birmingham, Ala.
This would surely come as a surprise to many reporters infatuated with growth in downtown districts, notably in Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and elsewhere. For them, good restaurants, bars and clubs trump everything. A recent Newsweek article, for example, recently acknowledged Chicago’s demographic and fiscal decline but then lavishly praised the city, and its inner city for becoming “finally hip.”
Sure, being cool is nice, but the obsession with hipness often means missing a bigger story: the gradual diminution of the urban core as engines for job creation. For example, while Chicago’s Loop has doubled its population to 20,000, it has also experienced a large drop in private-sector employment, which now constitutes a considerably smaller share of regional employment than a decade ago. The same goes for the new urbanist mecca of Portland as well as the heavily hyped Los Angeles downtown area.
None of this suggests, however, that the American urban core is in a state of permanent decline. The urban option will continue to appeal to small but growing segment of the population, and certain highly paid professionals, notably in finance, will continue to cluster there.
But the bigger story — all but ignored by the mainstream media — is the continued evolution of urban regions toward a more dispersed, multi-centered form. Brookings’ Robert Lang has gone even further, using the term “edgeless cities” to describe what he calls an increasingly “elusive metropolis” with highly dispersed employment.
Joel’s latest paper, California’s Demographic Dilemma: A Class And Culture Clash, warns that Smart Growth visions come at a high price:
The newly released Census reports reveal that California faces a profound gap between the cities where people are moving to and the cities that hold all the political power. It is a tale that divides the state between its coastal metropolitan regions that dominate the state’s politics — particularly the San Francisco Bay Area, but also Los Angeles — and its still-growing, largely powerless interior regions.
He explains that one explanation lies in the difference in housing affordability.
Yet not all of California is stagnating demographically. The state’s interior region — what I call “The Third California” — is growing steadily. While Orange County, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and the Silicon Valley increased their population by only 6% or less over the last decade, inland areas such as Riverside-San Bernardino, Sacramento and the Central Valley, saw growth of 20% or more. Overall, the interior counties together gained 2 million residents, roughly twice as many as the combined coastal metropolitan areas.
The reasons for this growth are not difficult to comprehend. In boom times and hard times, housing prices in the coastal regions tend to equal as much as seven or eight times a median family income. The prices in the interior can be three times or less.
Councils and Government ignore the importance of housing affordability at their peril, and the Government is obviously aware of this truth. However, Council and its advisers seem determined to stay wedded to Metropolitan Urban Limits and Development Contributions and the host of other factors contributing to DURT. (Delays, Uncertainty, Regulation, and Taxes.)
Go to the Newgeography home page here, for the updating of numerous states, both the failures and the successes, as they come in. So far the analyses have dealt with: New Jersey, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Indiana.
They all tell the same story. And the story totally undermines the Auckland Council aspirations.
The same is happening in the major Australian Cities. See Big City Exodus Demands a Rethink at:
But note the last gasp of the central planners in the final paragraph.
4. The Conclusion: Possible Good news for Christchurch.
If the Auckland Council follows its fanciful retro-visions and ignores the Government's position papers, which are based on the evidence of current reality, then in ten years time, Christchurch will almost certainly be the major economic centre in NZ and Auckland will be a basket case. Christchurch leaders are already promoting decentralization, but events may be overtaking them as CBD business establishments relocate to suburban locations; they cannot wait to be out of business until the Central Area is rebuilt.
Even if the Cantabrians lose the Rugby World Cup events they could still have an exciting future to look forward to.
Christchurch will be our Houston and Auckland will be our California.
5. Some Minor Criticisms of the Government Position Papers.
There is so much positive common sense in this collection of papers that I am reluctant to carp. However, these two additions below would strengthen the overall argument and bring the collection more up-to-date.
5.1 Resilient Cities.
The recent events in Queenstown and Christchurch remind us that we should be building cities that are resilient if the face of natural disaster and terrorist attacks. (This is dealt with in detail in earlier recent Digests.)
5.2. Telecommuting and Other Technologies.
The retro-visionaries seem determined to ignore the impact of new technologies either in the market now or just around the corner. I suppose they have to because the radial tramways evidently represent the technological peak of modern times.
Telecommuting is now the fastest growing non-road based means of commuting in the US today. It not only genuinely reduces congestion but provides a host of benefits to both employers and staff alike.
We have had these arguments before. They still go on.