Wednesday, May 4, 2016

QE Square Taking Shape

Good things are happening in downtown Auckland. Great things.
Council has moved the buses off Lower Queen Street into Lower Albert Street.
So now Lower Queen Street is back to the Pedestrian Mall it was declared to be in 1973.
Now contractors are getting rid of the shelter that has divided the whole of Queen Elizabeth Square down the middle since the early 2000's. It's looking very promising....
In these rough panoramas you'll see half the shelter gone.
Pity they seem to have turned the gas flame off the spiritual sculpture.
I think it should be left to burn. A light in the darkness.




Sunday, April 17, 2016

PCE: Sea level rise in NZ & Devonport

Jan Wright gave a great presentation to the NZPI conference on Wednesday. A highlight. Sea level rise and its consequences so well and simply explained.

"We're used to the sea going up and down, but basically staying put..."

"It's all about the high tide. There's a natural variation in level. When there's a storm surge, when isobars show low pressure, the low pressure sucks the sea up to it. When the Wahine sunk the storm surge was measured by Ports of Tauranga as 88 centimetres...". (Research: Atmospheric air pressure at the time of the storm in 9 April 1968 (due to Ex-tropical Cyclone Giselle) dropped to 970 millibars (97.0 hPa) - a record low for New Zealand.) 

Picture from PCE's website promoting its 15 November 2015 report:
Preparing NZ for rising seas: Certainty and Uncertainty
Jan Wright built up the picture of what can cause flooding. River flooding will also be an issue. Every 1 degree warmer the sea becomes, there is 7% more moisture held in the atmosphere. Basic physics. So when it rains, more water comes down, and rivers will carry more water.

The PCE report about coastal flooding combines sea level rise, storm surge risk and river flooding to produce maps of low lying urban New Zealand that should prepare to be flooded in the next 20 to 30 years.

The most recent projections of global mean sea level rise by the IPCC relative to 1986–2005. The green band represents the range for the RCP2.6 scenario, and the overlapping purple band represents the range for the RCP8.5 scenario. The PCE has picked a conservative figure of 30cms for sea level rise for the present work.

Jan Wright says that PCE are being conservative choosing a sea level rise figure of 30 cms, combined with a storm surge figure of 20 cms, giving a total rise in coastal water level of 50 cms as a basis to produce maps. (30 cm background sealevel rise is conservative because all of the scenarios indicate that level of sea level rise is certain to occur - even with stringent mitigation.). PCE has produced maps showing the risks of flooding to urban areas throughout New Zealand. These very accurate maps - showing modelled inundation of land lying lower than 50 cms above sea level - have been enabled by the lidar accurate maps now being prepared by territorial authorities. Here is an example:

Here is the PCE map for a part of North Shore including Devonport. The purple areas are less than 50 cms above present natural sea level. These are the urban areas that will be prone to inundation under the conservative scenario described in the PCE report combining 30cm of climate change induced sea level rise + a 20cm storm surge.

This blog posting shows what happened around Devonport when there was a high tide and storm surge combined in January 2011. (Research: According to historic weather data, on that day in Auckland the atmospheric pressure dropped to 995 millibars. This was the main cause of the flooding that day).You just need to add 30cm in water height to the photos in this posting to get an idea of what PCE's forecasts suggest is certain to happen in the not too distant future. And that's without the sort of storm surge low pressure weather system that led to the sinking of the Wahine.




Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why Are House Prices Rising?

I've just returned from the New Zealand Planning Institute conference which was held in Dunedin. One of the best I've attended. I was there as NZPI's Policy Analyst and there were some interesting sessions about NZ's planning system - with Productivity Commission, MfE, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, the Hon Nick Smith and Labour MP Phil Twyford.

The debate and discussion about house prices is alive and well and most commentators argue that the main influence driving house prices is supply - that more houses need to be built - in fact Phil Twyford went so far as to be reported in the Otago Daily Times that Labour would "flood the market" with houses.

Coming home today, I read this letter in the ODT:


A graph that was shared with an NZPI conference workshop by Productivity Commission staff is drawn from a study carried out last year by the Productivity Commission on the supply of land for housing:


Much of the popular discussion in Auckland has suggested that the problem of increasing house prices is only in Auckland. This graphic clearly shows that the problem is right across New Zealand. All of the lines indicate the same upward trend in land price (for the cities reported). The "rest of New Zealand" line shows the same trend. This tracks along at about 0.3 before 2005, then increases to about 1.2 after 2010, an increase of 4x. Auckland, between 2002 and 2004 is about 1.5, this increases to around 5.0, an increase around 3.5x. Thus you could say that the increase in land price (expressed as a multiple) is about the same in Auckland as it is in the "rest of New Zealand".

Yet nobody is suggesting that there is a lack of supply of housing in many parts of New Zealand (Dunedin and Balclutha for example).

So. If land prices are increasing at about the same rate right across New Zealand, apparently unaffected by variations in supply (supply is generally considered to be tight where growth is high such as in Auckland, but supply is not considered an issue where growth is low such as in Dunedin - or the rest of NZ excluding the high growth cities), then you have to look elsewhere for the reason for that increase in land price that is shown in the Productivity Commission data.

In today's NZ Herald, in the editorial which is headlined: "House rises fuelling gap in society", tucked quite a way down we find this line:

Money has seldom been cheaper.

Drilling into this a little deeper, look at this RBNZ graphic:


Following the crash of 2008 Governments around the world reacted in various ways. It's easier to find out what happened in the USA than what happened in New Zealand. The US Dept of the Treasury provides an account of what happened in the USA which I have put here:
In the span of a few weeks, many of our nation's largest financial institutions failed or were forced to merge to avoid insolvency. Capital markets — essential for helping families and businesses meet their everyday financing needs — were freezing up, dramatically reducing the availability of credit, such as student, auto, and small business loans. Market participants, consumers, and investors were rapidly losing trust in the stability of America’s financial system. Faced with this reality, the federal government moved with overwhelming speed and force to stem the panic. 
The first series of actions, including broad-based guarantees of bank accounts, money market funds and liquidity by the Federal Reserve, were not enough. Realizing that additional tools were needed to address a rapidly deteriorating situation, the Bush Administration proposed the law creating the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). That measure, which was passed by Congress with bipartisan support, was signed into law by President Bush on October 3, 2008. Some of the programs under TARP were implemented by the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration continued these and added others, utilizing its authority under TARP to keep credit flowing to consumers and businesses, help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure, and prevent the collapse of the American automotive industry, which alone is estimated to have saved one million jobs.
Reading between the lines, as a layperson, you can see that in New Zealand, one of the major Government responses was to reduce the cash rate, in order to make money cheaper. As this graphic shows:


The red line records the Government decision, and the other lines record the consequences for various mortgage rates, and shows how money became cheaper.

In effect an individual (or a couple or a property speculator or investor) could buy twice the house for the same interest payments, after 2008, anywhere in New Zealand. Most commentators state that an important reason for increasing house prices is low interest rates. For example the web advisory "global property guide", describes New Zealand's property market like this:
One reason for strong house price rises from 2012 to 2014 was the rapid expansion of New Zealand’s economy, which grew by an annual average of 2.9%.
A second reason was low interest rates.
A third reason was high immigration.
Non-residents are generally allowed to buy houses in New Zealand.
Nowhere in this text is "supply" given as a reason for "strong house price rises"....

Finally, check out what happened across the Tasman, in Australia:


The source for this information is the Reserve Bank of Australia. What is particularly interesting is the policy responses immediately after the crash of 2008. The target cash rate was dropped to just above 2%, like in New Zealand's case, but then it was lifted slowly up to 4% by 2011, and gently reduced again. This mid-course correction appears to have had a significant effect in damping down the real estate gold rush effect that cheap loans can have, and is why Australia is having less of a problem than New Zealand with housing affordability.

Anyway. I'm a physicist and planner. Not an economist. But seems to me that it's about time for New Zealand's government, and the opposition Labour Party, to stop arguing that increased housing supply is the answer to our problem with housing affordability.






Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Picture Postcard Queen Elizabeth Square

A good example of how a civic square can be used in Auckland. Was walking past Queen Elizabeth Square yesterday about mid-day when I spotted this cultural event. These pictures convey what it is about this Auckland civic space that will enable it to become the "picture postcard" space described in the Auckland City Centre Master Plan at pages 58 and 61.

It's got a lot of potential. For a start it's a civic square. It's a good sized public square whose shape and character are partly due to it nestling between buildings.

It's a good size - ie not too big, not too small. Goldilocks. Look here for a posting I did about the public space assessment methodology used by New York's Project for Public Spaces. They describe what it is that makes a good civic space, and what differentiates it from a poorly performing public space.

Their assessment provides some explanation as to why Aotea Square performs poorly. It is partly to do with its large undifferentiated size, and partly to do with the absence of activation around its edges.

You can see in these pictures of Queen Elizabeth Square (taken mid day on the 15th March 2016) its potential to be much more successful than it is now. The redeveloped Westfields shopping centre needs to have activated edges - like we see even the modest Zurich Tower has provided. Zurich Tower's activation is also at level 1 - enabling people to overlook QE Square. Giving an amphitheatre feel to QE Square.

This is very special and worth developing as a premier picture postcard civic space for downtown Auckland. Message to Auckland Council: Implement your plan.






Monday, January 18, 2016

Blogging Holiday and Review

Trying not to be distracted from serious business of fishing and other activities just now.

So am taking a blogging holiday. Am reviewing content. Apologies if a post you are looking for isn't available. The most popular posts are still accessible.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Heritage Restoration's Hollow Ring

Devonport's Masonic Lodge. The site of much heritage angst and district scheme heritage protection controversy over plans to redevelop the historic site into luxury apartments.


Here's the development site today. Shrouded in plastic - if not in secrecy.


But wait, there's a hole in the plastic Dear Liza, Dear Liza, a hole. So I sent my little camera up for a look-see...


A void. Avoid. You can't help wondering about a heritage and historic conservation policy that allows, and does not abhor, such a vacuum. Devonport residents calmly walk past. The community runs its tongue over the teeth in its street and finds it all good. No gaps. A convenient plastic cap popped over the cavity so it all somehow feels normal. Can pretend nothing has really changed. And when the shroud is removed, the building revealed will be better than what was there, in the bone of the street, a crown no less. A gleaming shiny crown. To confirm that feeling, reinforce it. Life is good. Continues as before. All change, but no change. Not a scrap of what was there exists inside the hollow. Like a funeral without the pyre.    


There's talk of the fad of facadism in heritage - keep the facade - but remove everything behind it. But there's not even a facade here. A comment on society and what keeps us all sane and in a straight line.

A metaphor of urban neoliberalism maybe. All form and no content. All GDP and no civilisation. All economic activity for today and no long term memories of yesterday. Maybe that's what they really mean when thy speak of the post-political. But then, if that was true, no-one would've spoken out about what would be lost and what the effect would be on community with the changes to the Masonic. It's not just a building. It was a way of life. Public pubs and clubs are as much at the heart of community and civic life as are public parks and squares. And while their very existence is under threat because they are regarded as private development opportunities and because many institutions now prioritise that activity, it won't always be that way. Because people are naturally communal and have adapted over millenia to function best for the common good together. You might take the public out of the urban, but you can't take the public out of the people.


Mangawhai loses in Court of Appeal

Well I guess it's Christmas and not everything that comes in the stocking is the present we were expecting. On the 17th December 2015 Harrison, Miller and Cooper JJ delivered their decision on the various matters that had been put in front of them by the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents Association (MRRA) relating to the PPP EcoCare wastewater scheme.

The decision is lengthy - 69 pages - and very detailed. Much of it concentrates on Bill of Rights Act matters. Justice Miller prepared the main decision. In their follow up decisions, Cooper and Harrison generally agree with Miller's findings and decision, though their reasons are not all the same.

My summary here of the decision should not be taken as gospel, but the guts, as I see it from a couple of readings are essentially these:

  • when Parliament enacted the Local Government Act with the late addition of Protected Transactions provisions, it was to deliver the option of lower cost loans to Councils. The interest rates charged would be lower essentially in exchange for ratepayers having limited powers to challenge loans taken by their council, and therefore banks would be subject to fewer risks and costs.
  • while residents had rights to challenge these loans through judicial review, Parliament always had the power to validate loans and loan processes later, and it had the power to do that despite Bill of Rights Act provisions which grant the right of judicial review - but those rights extend to process only (council compliance with the local government act duties to consult for example), and not substantive matters (ie the loan still has to be paid).
  • Mangawhai ratepayers and residents got all the vindication they were ever going to get from the findings in the High Court judicial review that Kaipara District Council had acted against the law in whole variety of ways. There is the hint of a suggestion that MRRA might have gone further in getting its pound of flesh from the perpetrators. And there is an impression that perhaps MRRA should have pursued the Office of the Auditor General for its failings - but then the Auditor General got a prize this year didn't she - for a job well done.
  • while there were process illegalities associated with the loan, which were validated by Parliament, Parliament always intended that ratepayers should still pay for those debts, and not the taxpayer.

There were some complexities in the decision relating to the fact that MRRA' membership did not include all Mangawhai ratepayers - which raised questions about precisely which persons would materially benefit from a favourable CoA finding - and an order for costs against MRRA, I believe the above pretty much sums up the decision of Miller, and likely concludes an unfortunate example of poor local governance compounded by failures in the Audit Office and the Office of the Auditor General.

Miller has cited speeches from Hansard given by Phil Twyford (for Labour) and Eugenie Sage (for the Greens) in respect to an effort by Andrew Williams (for NZ First), to explicitly exclude from the Validation Bill, provisions in respect to the outstanding debt. William's efforts did not attract the support needed in Parliament, suggesting - without really nailing it - that Parliament always intended that ratepayers would have to carry the can for their council's decisions - and that nobody else would. That is one interpretation of what Parliament did. I don't think Parliament - in respect of individual MPs - explicitly accepted that what they were doing with the validation bill was washing their hands of every aspect of this institutional failure.

I wrote some time ago about the law being an ass in respect of what happened at Mangawhai. Unsure now.

Expert, Social engineer, Critical Expert or Smuggler?

AESOP's BEST PUBLISHED PAPER AWARD 2015 goes to Mee Kam Ng for the paper: Intellectuals and the Production of Space in the Urban Renewal Process in Hong Kong and Taipei published in Planning Theory and Practice, 2014, 15(1) 77-92.

I came across it last week while I was doing a bit of research.

The abstract grabbed my attention:

Through two concrete urban renewal cases in Asia, this paper develops a schema of “social engineers-smugglers-experts-critical experts” to differentiate the roles of system-maintaining and system-transforming intellectuals in the production of space. While pro-establishment “social engineers” and “experts” use their “epistemic authority” to produce top-down renewal plans to promote exchange values, “critical experts” outside the government and “smugglers” within the bureaucracy play significant roles in “de-coding” the use values of people’s lived spaces. The cases highlight the important roles of system-transforming intellectuals in reproblematizing urban renewal issues and experimenting with alternative policies and plans to restructure space that sustains community building.

A bit of a mouthful - but it's Christmas, it's tasty, chew well. You can always spit it out. But you might just swallow it. Another extract:

The two case studies to be discussed in this paper highlight the roles of “intellectuals” in the course of spatial restructuring in the two cities. In Taipei, if it were not for the advocacy of students and professors from the National Taiwan University (NTU), the Organization of Urban Res (OURs) (a civil society organization), and the “progressive bureaucrats” in the newly established Cultural Affairs Bureau (CAB), the squatter settlements in Treasure Hill would have been demolished to make way for a park. Similarly in Hong Kong, were it not for the educated social activists and “artivists” in the community and “enlightened” individuals within the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), the 150-year old market streets in Graham and Peel Street would have disappeared with the redevelopment of the surrounding buildings. This paper aims to examine the roles of these “intellectuals” in the production of space in these two cases.

The author presents this straight-forward tabulation:



Here is an extract from the conclusion:
The two stories accentuate the importance of the system-transforming intellectuals in exercising their conscience and capacity to utilize and synthesize personified knowledge. In both cases, the local communities did not really object to the government-led abstract plans. Hence, the intellectuals could easily side with those in power, rationalizing their decisions to erase the two communities. However, the system-transforming “critical experts” in both cities, following the time-honoured tradition of Chinese intellectuals, chose to speak truth to their counterparts in the established system to conserve something that they believed to be important for the future of the two cities. These “critical experts” are of crucial importance in highlighting the essence and meaning of the two settlements, allowing their lived spaces to be appreciated by the wider community and hence succeeding in “re-problematizing” and “re-writing” the storylines. Coupled with “smugglers” within the bureaucracy, different cityscapes were produced. 
However, there is no place for complacency in the two cases. Whether the Graham and Peel Street Market in Hong Kong will survive the phased redevelopment is still unknown and, in the face of competition with global cities, especially those on the China mainland, neo-liberalism has overtaken idealism as one of the main policy concerns in Taipei (Huang and Hsu, 2011). Nevertheless, the two stories appeal to “intellectuals” especially those in Asia, emphasizing the importance of their continuous vigilance in counteracting renewal plans made in the thick of neoliberal rhetoric to promote economic growth and city competitiveness. This can be done through thorough understanding, analysing and documenting the use values of people’s lived spaces and reviewing the inadequacies of top-down plans made by “social engineers” – so that, given the opportunities and the inside activism of “smugglers”, alternative renewal plans and processes can be formulated, experimented with and revised continuously, to speak to the daily needs of local communities – creating soul-nourishing spaces and urban forms.
Because it has won the AESOP award the paper has been made publicly available.
You can download it here. What sort of intellectual are you in the work that you do?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

QE Square Taking Shape

Good things are happening in downtown Auckland. Great things.
Council has moved the buses off Lower Queen Street into Lower Albert Street.
So now Lower Queen Street is back to the Pedestrian Mall it was declared to be in 1973.
Now contractors are getting rid of the shelter that has divided the whole of Queen Elizabeth Square down the middle since the early 2000's. It's looking very promising....
In these rough panoramas you'll see half the shelter gone.
Pity they seem to have turned the gas flame off the spiritual sculpture.
I think it should be left to burn. A light in the darkness.




Sunday, April 17, 2016

PCE: Sea level rise in NZ & Devonport

Jan Wright gave a great presentation to the NZPI conference on Wednesday. A highlight. Sea level rise and its consequences so well and simply explained.

"We're used to the sea going up and down, but basically staying put..."

"It's all about the high tide. There's a natural variation in level. When there's a storm surge, when isobars show low pressure, the low pressure sucks the sea up to it. When the Wahine sunk the storm surge was measured by Ports of Tauranga as 88 centimetres...". (Research: Atmospheric air pressure at the time of the storm in 9 April 1968 (due to Ex-tropical Cyclone Giselle) dropped to 970 millibars (97.0 hPa) - a record low for New Zealand.) 

Picture from PCE's website promoting its 15 November 2015 report:
Preparing NZ for rising seas: Certainty and Uncertainty
Jan Wright built up the picture of what can cause flooding. River flooding will also be an issue. Every 1 degree warmer the sea becomes, there is 7% more moisture held in the atmosphere. Basic physics. So when it rains, more water comes down, and rivers will carry more water.

The PCE report about coastal flooding combines sea level rise, storm surge risk and river flooding to produce maps of low lying urban New Zealand that should prepare to be flooded in the next 20 to 30 years.

The most recent projections of global mean sea level rise by the IPCC relative to 1986–2005. The green band represents the range for the RCP2.6 scenario, and the overlapping purple band represents the range for the RCP8.5 scenario. The PCE has picked a conservative figure of 30cms for sea level rise for the present work.

Jan Wright says that PCE are being conservative choosing a sea level rise figure of 30 cms, combined with a storm surge figure of 20 cms, giving a total rise in coastal water level of 50 cms as a basis to produce maps. (30 cm background sealevel rise is conservative because all of the scenarios indicate that level of sea level rise is certain to occur - even with stringent mitigation.). PCE has produced maps showing the risks of flooding to urban areas throughout New Zealand. These very accurate maps - showing modelled inundation of land lying lower than 50 cms above sea level - have been enabled by the lidar accurate maps now being prepared by territorial authorities. Here is an example:

Here is the PCE map for a part of North Shore including Devonport. The purple areas are less than 50 cms above present natural sea level. These are the urban areas that will be prone to inundation under the conservative scenario described in the PCE report combining 30cm of climate change induced sea level rise + a 20cm storm surge.

This blog posting shows what happened around Devonport when there was a high tide and storm surge combined in January 2011. (Research: According to historic weather data, on that day in Auckland the atmospheric pressure dropped to 995 millibars. This was the main cause of the flooding that day).You just need to add 30cm in water height to the photos in this posting to get an idea of what PCE's forecasts suggest is certain to happen in the not too distant future. And that's without the sort of storm surge low pressure weather system that led to the sinking of the Wahine.




Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why Are House Prices Rising?

I've just returned from the New Zealand Planning Institute conference which was held in Dunedin. One of the best I've attended. I was there as NZPI's Policy Analyst and there were some interesting sessions about NZ's planning system - with Productivity Commission, MfE, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, the Hon Nick Smith and Labour MP Phil Twyford.

The debate and discussion about house prices is alive and well and most commentators argue that the main influence driving house prices is supply - that more houses need to be built - in fact Phil Twyford went so far as to be reported in the Otago Daily Times that Labour would "flood the market" with houses.

Coming home today, I read this letter in the ODT:


A graph that was shared with an NZPI conference workshop by Productivity Commission staff is drawn from a study carried out last year by the Productivity Commission on the supply of land for housing:


Much of the popular discussion in Auckland has suggested that the problem of increasing house prices is only in Auckland. This graphic clearly shows that the problem is right across New Zealand. All of the lines indicate the same upward trend in land price (for the cities reported). The "rest of New Zealand" line shows the same trend. This tracks along at about 0.3 before 2005, then increases to about 1.2 after 2010, an increase of 4x. Auckland, between 2002 and 2004 is about 1.5, this increases to around 5.0, an increase around 3.5x. Thus you could say that the increase in land price (expressed as a multiple) is about the same in Auckland as it is in the "rest of New Zealand".

Yet nobody is suggesting that there is a lack of supply of housing in many parts of New Zealand (Dunedin and Balclutha for example).

So. If land prices are increasing at about the same rate right across New Zealand, apparently unaffected by variations in supply (supply is generally considered to be tight where growth is high such as in Auckland, but supply is not considered an issue where growth is low such as in Dunedin - or the rest of NZ excluding the high growth cities), then you have to look elsewhere for the reason for that increase in land price that is shown in the Productivity Commission data.

In today's NZ Herald, in the editorial which is headlined: "House rises fuelling gap in society", tucked quite a way down we find this line:

Money has seldom been cheaper.

Drilling into this a little deeper, look at this RBNZ graphic:


Following the crash of 2008 Governments around the world reacted in various ways. It's easier to find out what happened in the USA than what happened in New Zealand. The US Dept of the Treasury provides an account of what happened in the USA which I have put here:
In the span of a few weeks, many of our nation's largest financial institutions failed or were forced to merge to avoid insolvency. Capital markets — essential for helping families and businesses meet their everyday financing needs — were freezing up, dramatically reducing the availability of credit, such as student, auto, and small business loans. Market participants, consumers, and investors were rapidly losing trust in the stability of America’s financial system. Faced with this reality, the federal government moved with overwhelming speed and force to stem the panic. 
The first series of actions, including broad-based guarantees of bank accounts, money market funds and liquidity by the Federal Reserve, were not enough. Realizing that additional tools were needed to address a rapidly deteriorating situation, the Bush Administration proposed the law creating the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). That measure, which was passed by Congress with bipartisan support, was signed into law by President Bush on October 3, 2008. Some of the programs under TARP were implemented by the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration continued these and added others, utilizing its authority under TARP to keep credit flowing to consumers and businesses, help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure, and prevent the collapse of the American automotive industry, which alone is estimated to have saved one million jobs.
Reading between the lines, as a layperson, you can see that in New Zealand, one of the major Government responses was to reduce the cash rate, in order to make money cheaper. As this graphic shows:


The red line records the Government decision, and the other lines record the consequences for various mortgage rates, and shows how money became cheaper.

In effect an individual (or a couple or a property speculator or investor) could buy twice the house for the same interest payments, after 2008, anywhere in New Zealand. Most commentators state that an important reason for increasing house prices is low interest rates. For example the web advisory "global property guide", describes New Zealand's property market like this:
One reason for strong house price rises from 2012 to 2014 was the rapid expansion of New Zealand’s economy, which grew by an annual average of 2.9%.
A second reason was low interest rates.
A third reason was high immigration.
Non-residents are generally allowed to buy houses in New Zealand.
Nowhere in this text is "supply" given as a reason for "strong house price rises"....

Finally, check out what happened across the Tasman, in Australia:


The source for this information is the Reserve Bank of Australia. What is particularly interesting is the policy responses immediately after the crash of 2008. The target cash rate was dropped to just above 2%, like in New Zealand's case, but then it was lifted slowly up to 4% by 2011, and gently reduced again. This mid-course correction appears to have had a significant effect in damping down the real estate gold rush effect that cheap loans can have, and is why Australia is having less of a problem than New Zealand with housing affordability.

Anyway. I'm a physicist and planner. Not an economist. But seems to me that it's about time for New Zealand's government, and the opposition Labour Party, to stop arguing that increased housing supply is the answer to our problem with housing affordability.






Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Picture Postcard Queen Elizabeth Square

A good example of how a civic square can be used in Auckland. Was walking past Queen Elizabeth Square yesterday about mid-day when I spotted this cultural event. These pictures convey what it is about this Auckland civic space that will enable it to become the "picture postcard" space described in the Auckland City Centre Master Plan at pages 58 and 61.

It's got a lot of potential. For a start it's a civic square. It's a good sized public square whose shape and character are partly due to it nestling between buildings.

It's a good size - ie not too big, not too small. Goldilocks. Look here for a posting I did about the public space assessment methodology used by New York's Project for Public Spaces. They describe what it is that makes a good civic space, and what differentiates it from a poorly performing public space.

Their assessment provides some explanation as to why Aotea Square performs poorly. It is partly to do with its large undifferentiated size, and partly to do with the absence of activation around its edges.

You can see in these pictures of Queen Elizabeth Square (taken mid day on the 15th March 2016) its potential to be much more successful than it is now. The redeveloped Westfields shopping centre needs to have activated edges - like we see even the modest Zurich Tower has provided. Zurich Tower's activation is also at level 1 - enabling people to overlook QE Square. Giving an amphitheatre feel to QE Square.

This is very special and worth developing as a premier picture postcard civic space for downtown Auckland. Message to Auckland Council: Implement your plan.






Monday, January 18, 2016

Blogging Holiday and Review

Trying not to be distracted from serious business of fishing and other activities just now.

So am taking a blogging holiday. Am reviewing content. Apologies if a post you are looking for isn't available. The most popular posts are still accessible.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Heritage Restoration's Hollow Ring

Devonport's Masonic Lodge. The site of much heritage angst and district scheme heritage protection controversy over plans to redevelop the historic site into luxury apartments.


Here's the development site today. Shrouded in plastic - if not in secrecy.


But wait, there's a hole in the plastic Dear Liza, Dear Liza, a hole. So I sent my little camera up for a look-see...


A void. Avoid. You can't help wondering about a heritage and historic conservation policy that allows, and does not abhor, such a vacuum. Devonport residents calmly walk past. The community runs its tongue over the teeth in its street and finds it all good. No gaps. A convenient plastic cap popped over the cavity so it all somehow feels normal. Can pretend nothing has really changed. And when the shroud is removed, the building revealed will be better than what was there, in the bone of the street, a crown no less. A gleaming shiny crown. To confirm that feeling, reinforce it. Life is good. Continues as before. All change, but no change. Not a scrap of what was there exists inside the hollow. Like a funeral without the pyre.    


There's talk of the fad of facadism in heritage - keep the facade - but remove everything behind it. But there's not even a facade here. A comment on society and what keeps us all sane and in a straight line.

A metaphor of urban neoliberalism maybe. All form and no content. All GDP and no civilisation. All economic activity for today and no long term memories of yesterday. Maybe that's what they really mean when thy speak of the post-political. But then, if that was true, no-one would've spoken out about what would be lost and what the effect would be on community with the changes to the Masonic. It's not just a building. It was a way of life. Public pubs and clubs are as much at the heart of community and civic life as are public parks and squares. And while their very existence is under threat because they are regarded as private development opportunities and because many institutions now prioritise that activity, it won't always be that way. Because people are naturally communal and have adapted over millenia to function best for the common good together. You might take the public out of the urban, but you can't take the public out of the people.


Mangawhai loses in Court of Appeal

Well I guess it's Christmas and not everything that comes in the stocking is the present we were expecting. On the 17th December 2015 Harrison, Miller and Cooper JJ delivered their decision on the various matters that had been put in front of them by the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents Association (MRRA) relating to the PPP EcoCare wastewater scheme.

The decision is lengthy - 69 pages - and very detailed. Much of it concentrates on Bill of Rights Act matters. Justice Miller prepared the main decision. In their follow up decisions, Cooper and Harrison generally agree with Miller's findings and decision, though their reasons are not all the same.

My summary here of the decision should not be taken as gospel, but the guts, as I see it from a couple of readings are essentially these:

  • when Parliament enacted the Local Government Act with the late addition of Protected Transactions provisions, it was to deliver the option of lower cost loans to Councils. The interest rates charged would be lower essentially in exchange for ratepayers having limited powers to challenge loans taken by their council, and therefore banks would be subject to fewer risks and costs.
  • while residents had rights to challenge these loans through judicial review, Parliament always had the power to validate loans and loan processes later, and it had the power to do that despite Bill of Rights Act provisions which grant the right of judicial review - but those rights extend to process only (council compliance with the local government act duties to consult for example), and not substantive matters (ie the loan still has to be paid).
  • Mangawhai ratepayers and residents got all the vindication they were ever going to get from the findings in the High Court judicial review that Kaipara District Council had acted against the law in whole variety of ways. There is the hint of a suggestion that MRRA might have gone further in getting its pound of flesh from the perpetrators. And there is an impression that perhaps MRRA should have pursued the Office of the Auditor General for its failings - but then the Auditor General got a prize this year didn't she - for a job well done.
  • while there were process illegalities associated with the loan, which were validated by Parliament, Parliament always intended that ratepayers should still pay for those debts, and not the taxpayer.

There were some complexities in the decision relating to the fact that MRRA' membership did not include all Mangawhai ratepayers - which raised questions about precisely which persons would materially benefit from a favourable CoA finding - and an order for costs against MRRA, I believe the above pretty much sums up the decision of Miller, and likely concludes an unfortunate example of poor local governance compounded by failures in the Audit Office and the Office of the Auditor General.

Miller has cited speeches from Hansard given by Phil Twyford (for Labour) and Eugenie Sage (for the Greens) in respect to an effort by Andrew Williams (for NZ First), to explicitly exclude from the Validation Bill, provisions in respect to the outstanding debt. William's efforts did not attract the support needed in Parliament, suggesting - without really nailing it - that Parliament always intended that ratepayers would have to carry the can for their council's decisions - and that nobody else would. That is one interpretation of what Parliament did. I don't think Parliament - in respect of individual MPs - explicitly accepted that what they were doing with the validation bill was washing their hands of every aspect of this institutional failure.

I wrote some time ago about the law being an ass in respect of what happened at Mangawhai. Unsure now.

Expert, Social engineer, Critical Expert or Smuggler?

AESOP's BEST PUBLISHED PAPER AWARD 2015 goes to Mee Kam Ng for the paper: Intellectuals and the Production of Space in the Urban Renewal Process in Hong Kong and Taipei published in Planning Theory and Practice, 2014, 15(1) 77-92.

I came across it last week while I was doing a bit of research.

The abstract grabbed my attention:

Through two concrete urban renewal cases in Asia, this paper develops a schema of “social engineers-smugglers-experts-critical experts” to differentiate the roles of system-maintaining and system-transforming intellectuals in the production of space. While pro-establishment “social engineers” and “experts” use their “epistemic authority” to produce top-down renewal plans to promote exchange values, “critical experts” outside the government and “smugglers” within the bureaucracy play significant roles in “de-coding” the use values of people’s lived spaces. The cases highlight the important roles of system-transforming intellectuals in reproblematizing urban renewal issues and experimenting with alternative policies and plans to restructure space that sustains community building.

A bit of a mouthful - but it's Christmas, it's tasty, chew well. You can always spit it out. But you might just swallow it. Another extract:

The two case studies to be discussed in this paper highlight the roles of “intellectuals” in the course of spatial restructuring in the two cities. In Taipei, if it were not for the advocacy of students and professors from the National Taiwan University (NTU), the Organization of Urban Res (OURs) (a civil society organization), and the “progressive bureaucrats” in the newly established Cultural Affairs Bureau (CAB), the squatter settlements in Treasure Hill would have been demolished to make way for a park. Similarly in Hong Kong, were it not for the educated social activists and “artivists” in the community and “enlightened” individuals within the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), the 150-year old market streets in Graham and Peel Street would have disappeared with the redevelopment of the surrounding buildings. This paper aims to examine the roles of these “intellectuals” in the production of space in these two cases.

The author presents this straight-forward tabulation:



Here is an extract from the conclusion:
The two stories accentuate the importance of the system-transforming intellectuals in exercising their conscience and capacity to utilize and synthesize personified knowledge. In both cases, the local communities did not really object to the government-led abstract plans. Hence, the intellectuals could easily side with those in power, rationalizing their decisions to erase the two communities. However, the system-transforming “critical experts” in both cities, following the time-honoured tradition of Chinese intellectuals, chose to speak truth to their counterparts in the established system to conserve something that they believed to be important for the future of the two cities. These “critical experts” are of crucial importance in highlighting the essence and meaning of the two settlements, allowing their lived spaces to be appreciated by the wider community and hence succeeding in “re-problematizing” and “re-writing” the storylines. Coupled with “smugglers” within the bureaucracy, different cityscapes were produced. 
However, there is no place for complacency in the two cases. Whether the Graham and Peel Street Market in Hong Kong will survive the phased redevelopment is still unknown and, in the face of competition with global cities, especially those on the China mainland, neo-liberalism has overtaken idealism as one of the main policy concerns in Taipei (Huang and Hsu, 2011). Nevertheless, the two stories appeal to “intellectuals” especially those in Asia, emphasizing the importance of their continuous vigilance in counteracting renewal plans made in the thick of neoliberal rhetoric to promote economic growth and city competitiveness. This can be done through thorough understanding, analysing and documenting the use values of people’s lived spaces and reviewing the inadequacies of top-down plans made by “social engineers” – so that, given the opportunities and the inside activism of “smugglers”, alternative renewal plans and processes can be formulated, experimented with and revised continuously, to speak to the daily needs of local communities – creating soul-nourishing spaces and urban forms.
Because it has won the AESOP award the paper has been made publicly available.
You can download it here. What sort of intellectual are you in the work that you do?