WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Call for sprawl


The papers and radio stations today are full of a story about a report that blames councils for unaffordable housing in New Zealand. Apparently, "loony" councils are locking up land, thus reducing the supply and driving up prices beyond what the average New Zealander can afford.

So who is it that cares so much about the affordability of housing? A poverty action group? A grass-roots movement of disenfranchised would-be homeowners? Not exactly: the study was carried out by Christchurch property developer Hugh Pavletich, in association with right-wing American think tank Demographia. Demographia's Wendell Cox and his various organisations are well known for wrapping themselves "in a mantle of libertarianism to advance the interests of large corporations" (from Architecture Chicago Plus). They have always claimed that attempts to control urban sprawl drive up house prices as well as restricting the rights of "individuals" (read: developers and corporations) when in fact there is "plenty of land" available. See Sprawl Watch for information on these pro-sprawl advocates and a rebuttal of some of their common claims.

One policy that they object to is the "developers' contribution". Essentially they object to councils that refuse to subsidise private property developers, instead insisting that developers actually pay for the infrastructure (roads, water, sewerage) that greenfield development requires. If uncontrolled sprawl produces housing that is cheaper in the short term, it makes up for it in the long run, even for the homeowners themselves. The Sierra Club has published a report showing how sprawl drives up rates, and their transport costs will soar with increased commuting distances. And everyone else shares the cost of the extra infrastructure, not to mention putting up with increased pollution, road deaths and having motorways driven through their neighbourhoods.

Sprawl, sprawl, sprawl
Pavletich says that there is plenty of land, and says that he can look out onto the Canterbury Plains and wonder why the councils aren't zoning it for residential use quickly enough. He can't wait to convert this into a debased landscape of McMansions, megamalls and motorways, pocketing a quick profit while the rest of the city is left to pay for the physical and civic infrastructure required to turn it into some semblance of a city.

7 Comments:

At 3:38 pm, January 24, 2006, Anonymous Todd said...

Perhaps Mr Pavletich needs to read James Howard Kunstler's 'Geography of Nowhere' as well as 'The long Emergency'. Surely we don't want our cities to become like the American's, if they haven't in many ways already?

 
At 5:10 pm, January 24, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Mr Pavletich's friend Wendell Cox has certainly read Mr Kunstler et al, and spends a lot of energy attacking them. It looks like Mr Pavletich would love our cities to be like sprawling American "cities", because he and his industry can make a lot of money out of it. Cox defends sprawl as being "The American Dream" and "what the market wants": never mind that "the market" is not given much in the way of options and the developers get a lot of what amounts to corporate welfare.

 
At 9:23 pm, January 24, 2006, Blogger bush whacker said...

Mr Pavletich is, fortunately, not in charge of anything in NZ, and is spouting off a load of nonsense. Councils holding back spare land is not the reason we have high house prices at all. Los Angeles, which he says has high house prices, has been sprawling unfettered for years - surely housing would have been at rock-bottom prices all that time? And somewhere like San Gimignano http://www.sangimignano.com/sghomei.htm would have been at sky high prices by comparison? But no.

 
At 9:24 pm, January 24, 2006, Anonymous Rodger Donaldson said...

Socialising risk and privatising profit. It's the American way.

Perhaps he can advance his theory of housing unfettered by government oversight to victims of leaky building syndrome.

 
At 9:33 pm, January 24, 2006, Blogger bush whacker said...

Well put Mr Donaldson.... by his reckoning then, Syracuse, Fort Wayne, and Buffalo must have the friendliest and most amenable Councils in the USA, as property is so affordable there. Or could it just be that no-one wants to live in Buffalo, it being a Hole? And that people do want to live in NZ, especially Auckland (not sure why there, but, you know..). Surely it comes down to supply and demand - and an influx of money from expats returning home, more one-person families buying up former homes, favourable tax policies, crap sharemarket returns worldwide, and people buying rental properties as part of their retirement portfolios?

 
At 8:55 am, January 25, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

And I wonder how cheap that housing becomes in total living costs when you're driving across miles of suburbia at 147.9c a litre?

One of the NatRad announcers commented this morning that "maybe it's time to think about taking the hatchback rather than the SUV on that little trip to the dairy". Or perhaps even walking, perish the thought! On the other hand, if you live in the sort of sprawlburbs on the outskirts of Christchurch that Pavletich wants to build more of, then you could walk for half an hour and not see a dairy.

 
At 7:31 pm, January 26, 2006, Anonymous Rodger Donaldson said...

If we wanted more affordable housing for the under-40s, we'd actually tax people who make a profit from the business of buying houses with a view to capital gain; imagine how popular car dealing would be if being a car dealer was tax free!

In a captial gains free tax regime we've created a massive market distortion in favour of investing in houses to get untaxed profits. Levelling that playing field would sort the market out quite quickly; alas this will not happen, since the over-40 crowd are quite happy hoovering up properties for that very reason.

 

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