A few years ago Auckland City was, to me and many others, a completely unliveable place. However over the last few years a critical mass of development, helped by a critical mass of people living downtown, has transformed the place. It’s now a fantastic place to live, and so I do so. I walk everywhere, my car gathers dust and the electricity bills are tiny versus the suburbs.
There are plenty of really cheap (and often nasty) apartments downtown, generally aimed at students, but what is missing are more places like the one I’m in: two- to four-bedroom medium or high density apartments with a reasonable amount of space and priced to sell.
For all the complaining about a housing crisis, there is plenty of downtown Auckland land nearby available to smart developers. But not if they think small, instead what’s needed are grand visions or large sized complexes that offer a range of options, from small and cheerful apartments for early careers, to large and comfortable family-sized apartments for older professionals. Let’s take advantage of the location and offer the best views in Auckland to some owners, and embed all owners in a walkable, liveable neighbourhood.
A few things happen when more people live in an area, as we’ve already seen. The shops and street life get a lot better, and so the city becomes even more attractive. The costs of transport go way down as people walk or ride to work rather than commute from the newest satellite suburb. This in turn frees up cars from the motorways, requiring less investment in roads. The average energy use per person falls, reducing costs and emissions. And the liveable area of the city extends to fill in the previous holes in the liveable map.
Think we don’t want this because we’re all hankering after our quarter acre? Think again – and come take a look, and listen, to the people who are living in Auckland today. We are a nation of immigrants, and of returned expats who embrace the city life. And I hate mowing lawns.
So where can we build?
In the map below I’ve highlighted a few potential areas.
Let’s raze existing car park buildings around Fanshawe Street and put new car parks (if we keep them) under a huge residential or multi-use development. There is room for a mega tower there.
Let’s kick the less essential parts of the Port of Auckland off to the East, or to Tauranga, as it currently seems to consist of car storage only. And let’s replace those parked cars with high-quality apartments, limiting them to six stories high to protect the views behind.
Let’s find more ambition for Wynyard Quarter and build up, a lot higher, from 30 to 50 stories high, as we get away from the water. Imagine the iconic buildings we could create.
Let’s develop with high density quality apartment towers the area just off Nelson street that’s currently a warehouse and carpark.
And so on.
These are all brownfields sites – sites which are harder to build on than new land converted from farms at the outskirts of the city. However they also represent the best opportunity we have to build more residences for people at the lowest cost and highest quality. And the cityscape of Auckland is pretty lousy – so where is our ambition?
Where is the real estate developer that will take on a huge challenge?
Where is the local and national government that will move aside the bureaucratic mountains to help make this happen?