D-Day for J-Ville
If you want to have your say on the Johnsonville Town Centre Plan, you'll have to do so by 5pm today. It's mostly a conceptual framework rather than a detailed urban plan, but the sentiments and the broad practical suggestions all seem to be just what's needed for sustainable transit-oriented development.
In fact, some of the goals are quite ambitious. The plan (1.85MB PDF) states that:
Johnsonville will become the 'capital' of the northern suburbs and Wellington City’s second largest centre. It will provide a wide range of employment opportunities, quality shopping and leisure experiences and be a great place to live ... Future growth will be unlocked to provide much greater housing choice with apartment living in the town centre and different housing styles in the surrounding area – making Johnsonville an attractive home for young professionals, families and the older generation. The local economy will also be boosted by the growth of small dynamic companies.I hope it doesn't sound too rude to Johnsonvillians to say that there's a long way to go! The plan goes beyond the narrow definitions of urban design to look at economics and employment balance, and they certainly have a point. It says that "employment in Johnsonville is dominated by the retail, construction and service sectors with much lower representation in other sectors," and that the council should "promote opportunities to grow under-represented employment sectors, including: small-scale offices, start-up business premises, 'new economy' businesses, creative industries and tourism-related businesses".
That all makes sense, but it's difficult for at least two reasons. First, economic trends are very hard to "engineer", and it's not just a matter of adjusting the District Plan. Secondly, it's a bit of a "chicken & egg" situation: the vitality and variety of a neighbourhood can definitely be improved by the presence of lots of energetic small businesses, but it takes more than cheap rent to encourage hip start-ups to move to a place. I know I'm probably being a bit of a snob, and I do actually know people who've started tech companies there, but I'd think twice about taking a job there, and I can't envisage a horde of "creative industries and tourism-related businesses" clamouring to establish themselves in edgy, happening Johnsonville.
The plan also includes some fairly detailed suggestions of how and where increased density should be achieved. The map in the PDF has been JPEGed to death, so here's a reconstructed version, showing where townhouse and apartment development should be encouraged. All of the intensification is less than ten minutes' walk from the town centre, and the apartment zone is concentrated in the existing under-utilised mall-centric commercial district. In other words, this looks to be everything that infill should be.
Note the marker showing the location of a proposed development at 62 Woodland Rd. Thanks to Michael D for drawing my attention to this, which is a notified consent that breaks all the rules. I'm all for greater density, but 42 units on what looks to be greenfield land, near a stream, and more than ten minutes' walk from the transport hub, is not the right way to do it. Even in the right locations, there will be a struggle to ensure that new developments actually put any effort into good design, especially if recent proposals for Te Aro are anything to go by.
An integrated plan like this, which takes transport, economic and social factors into account, is a vital starting point. But it requires residents, businesses and developers to get behind it if Johnsonville really is to become the "capital of the northern suburbs" rather than a dormitory suburb with a mall, or a random mix of bad apartments and quarter-acre sections. If you've got an opinion, go online now and let the council know.