RMLA Salmon Lecture 2016: Auckland’s growth – Tight squeeze; or breath of fresh air?

Over 150 people gathered at the Northern Club on July 21 to hear Boffa Miskell’s Rachel de Lambert deliver the 2016 Salmon Lecture on Quality Compact Growth in Auckland

Mention Auckland’s growth challenges and its ‘growing pains’, and chances are you’ll be met with furrowed brows and faces clouding over as images of Hong Kong’s Kowloon tenements flash before the eyes.

In reality, the sky need not be the limit when it comes to housing Auckland’s burgeoning population, says Boffa Miskell’s Rachel de Lambert. During a presentation for RMLA’s annual Salmon Lecture to its members at the Northern Club on July 21, Rachel noted “Auckland’s future population could be housed quite nicely” in low-rise developments evocative of Sydney’s stunning waterfront developments; its progressive, sustainable apartment blocks; and its dynamic urban centres.

The challenge Auckland faces is that its population is growing by 819 per week; roughly 40,000 per year (approximately the size of Nelson); and by 2030, will need to have developed sufficiently to comfortably house a population of 2 million. “And we can’t just turn off the tap”, stated Rachel.

She hastened to add that this is not necessarily a problem. Growth is a global issue that is being dealt with deftly elsewhere. If you consider London’s population density of 56 dwellings per hectare, compared with Auckland’s 12 dwellings per hectare, it is evident that more can be done with less, she noted.

Compare Auckland’s projected population growth with Sydney’s current population, and it becomes clear that compact, quality growth is well within our grasp. Using a GIS mapping tool called City Engine, Rachel demonstrated how Auckland can be visually mapped to identify ‘development gaps’ where urban density can be achieved without adding to the the urban sprawl, and importantly, without compromising ‘the protected volcanic view shafts’ (sightlines to important landscape features).

Current housing developments in Auckland tend to comprise houses, whose footprints sprawl over a comparatively larger land space than apartment developments. If we simply built higher – not skyscraper high, but 3-5 storeys high – Auckland could remain “nice and compact, with 100 dwellings per hectare, as opposed to 15 dwellings per hectare”, noted Rachel.

Back gardens are nice, but so are parks, she remarked. So what makes a city liveable – and more so than a suburb?  “A city needs to accommodate all forms of transport, and it needs areas where communities can meet and socialise. It needs wild nature spaces, parks in which to play, less garden at home, more garden in the city, places for passive recreation –  picnics and barbeques, markets, cafes, waterfront access. These all add the quality aspect to the compact city”.  What’s more much of the newer higher density development in Auckland is providing this amenity, think of Hobsonville and the Wynyard Quarter.

She also drew delegates’ attention to iconic structures throughout Auckland that, in today’s planning framework, would never have been consented. “Are we missing bold opportunities through being over-cautious?”, she mused, emphasising that if Auckland is to achieve liveable city status, bold, visionary decisions will need to be made. Quoting Gil Penalosa, Founder of 880 Cities, she stressed: “The general interest must prevail over the particular”.

As Rachel noted, the key things needed to achieve this include: leveraging the amenity of Auckland for quality, compact growth; making use of our spatial planning tools; being bold and making the most of our opportunities; and prioritising the future city and future residents.

To view the presentation, click here.

This year’s Salmon Lecture was proudly sponsored by Berry Simons law firm.