OPINION: Our cities in New Zealand were built to low densities – very low by urban standards overseas. For 100 years we have hung on to our tradition of privately-owned quarter-acre sections; at about 10 to 12 dwellings per hectare (dph) their density is the best housing model we can imagine.
Now, to increase housing supply, contain sprawl, reduce pollution, and to respond to social change – smaller households and multi-cultural urban communities – the government has passed a contentious amendment to the Resource Management Act that essentially allows, without formal process, widespread urban intensification.
Current planning standards are not “permissive” enough: crudely put, cities need to cram more housing in. The eight cities, and six district councils included in the bill’s tier one list should brace themselves: their suburbs are in for a shock.
Housing design for sustainable cities is a process of matching house-types to density, and density to social and environmental context. We have seen higher-density housing developments before, but mostly in small numbers.
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There was “cluster” housing in Christchurch in the 1960s, and in Wellington developments such as Thorndon Mews saw density rising as high as 90 dph. In the 1980s Auckland had similar small-scale developments.
High densities with good sustainable environments for urban living are not achieved by simply closing down the spaces between buildings – reducing outlook and sunlight, and boundary setbacks – and not recognising the limits house-types place on layout density.
David Turner: “High densities with good sustainable environments for urban living are not achieved by simply closing down the spaces between buildings.”
More recent developments in Auckland – Stonefields and Hobsonville particularly – recognise that density is the first variable in housing design. They use types of houses that suit the density the site plan aims for – a mix of detached, terraced, courtyards, townhouses, and apartments.
They demonstrate the basic rules about density and house-type, combining two-storey terraced and detached house-types skilfully designed to preserve privacy, and maintaining great public spaces that benefit everyone.
These developments yield between 30 and 35 dwellings per hectare – still a lot by suburban standards but not high compared to urban housing in, say Sydney or Melbourne.
And it goes without saying that Hobsonville’s developers would increase densities if they could, …….