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

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Cities vs sprawl

In today's DomPost, Vaughan Maybury of Otaki responds to my previous rant and sings the praises of sprawl under the heading Urban Sprawl Gully spinoff:
Tom Beard (letters, July 28) expresses the view that all rural land development, other than for the purpose of productive farmland or wind harvesting, leads to undesirable forms of human land pollution. If living, working and dying in a 100-storeyed building machine is the alternative, most people would opt for "urban sprawl" and "toy farms" every time.

The population of greater Wellington will keep growing as will the demand for land and efficient means of transport. Water recycling and sustainable energy technologies already exist. With imagination and careful planning, land development, as part of the Transmission Gully route, would help meet the region's future needs.

Potential revenue derived from the sale of Crown Land made accessible by the Transmission Gully route should be included in the cost analysis.
I've just sent off this reply:
Vaughan Maybury (Letters, August 2) states that most people would prefer urban sprawl to "100-storeyed building machines". Personally, I wouldn't mind, if I could walk to work and enjoy all the vitality that such density could bring. But sustainable densities don't require high-rises: frequent public transport becomes viable at densities about two or three times that of quarter-acre suburbia. Much of Mt Victoria, for example, achieves that sort of density while rarely extending above three storeys, and as one of Wellington's most desirable neighbourhoods, it's hardly most people's idea of an alienating concrete jungle.

Research shows that moderate residential densities save much more energy than can be achieved by applying sustainable technologies to suburbia. The best sustainable technology is a very old one: compact, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use cities.

Unfortunately, New Zealand lacks a mature urban culture. Unlike older societies, we have gone from shanty towns to suburbia without an intervening period of urbanity. Our cities grew in an era of cheap land and oil, but we must learn to celebrate urban life if we're to survive the end of that era. Of course Wellington will continue to grow, but it should grow up (in both senses) rather than out.


At 1:28 pm, September 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Tom, thanks for the debate. I'm not opposed to inner city living, medium rise has many benefits (ref letter below to NZIAchat), but it is clearly naive not to consider potential land development when researching a 25 km road through undeveloped land.

A few years ago I attended an NZIA practice evening in Palmerston North where the guest speaker was the entertaining and admirable Canadian city planner and architect Jack Diamond (2001? RAIC Gold Medal recipient). Jack made some excellent points about the savings in infrastructure costs that accompany medium rise housing (such as that in Amsterdam). It seems reasonable that where land has a higher density population, services, transport etc.are more compact and therefore more efficient.

The '87 market crash that led to developers converting un-rentable office buildings into apartments increasing inner city living, demonstrated the appeal of higher density living in some parts of NZ, although many of those that can afford it, also have a rural property to enjoy on the weekends.

Vaughan Maybury
Registered Architect

Extract from Jack Diamond's 2001 Gold Metal presentation speech.

"I want to reinforce, what you already know: that our profession has a special responsibility and an inspiring opportunity to contribute to the well-being of everyone... But the voice of the architect is not heard in our land. If it were, both our communities and our profession would benefit. It is we who can set the standards and help craft the solutions. To do so we must lead by example, both in our work and as citizens of our communities, taking every opportunity to affect legislation and influence social policy."


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