The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

2 Jul 2016

Cottage for sale

This is the coolest auction of the year.

As seen on TradeMe

During my walk around Hobson Street I encountered those two little cottages between all those towers, as silent witnesses of a time when St. Matthew’s church was still dominating the skyline of Auckland. One of them is going under the hammer. They’re unique in Auckland, and not just because the somewhat surreal setting.

The apartments

(*1) 

See the proposed unitary plan: residential zones / land use controls. Also due to the 25 metre minimum width for sections, the Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings zone doesn’t actually allow what we Europeans call terraced housing.

Let’s make a cottage subdivision

What happens if you subdivide a block with these little houses? It may sound theoretical, but making entire subdivisions filled with exactly the same houses is still quite fashionable. Not that it’s a good idea, but let’s keep this simple for now.

A rough sketch of our subdivision.

In total our block is 50 × 100 m, and we can fit 30 houses on our block. Assuming an average occupancy of 2.5 people in each dwelling *2, our block will have a population density of 15,000 per km². And that’s with 120 m² lots—that cottage for sale sits on only 73. You didn’t really think you need high-rise to achieve that kind of density, did you?

Is it a good idea? Maybe, maybe not. I’d argue for building at least 3 storeys so we can have less land covered by our houses. High-rises would occupy even less land, but they’re more expensive to build than houses, so that’s a solution for the really valuable land in the town centres. In any case I think we need to think more creatively about building houses. Our current strategy of only having high-rises, huge detached houses, and the odd townhouse complex is just not cutting it anymore.

(*2) 

Don’t laugh, According to Statistics New Zealand, the average household size is 2.7. For these small households, smaller houses will come in quite handy.

But…

100 m² is too small!

Build a third storey. Or a fourth. Europeans have been doing that for centuries with their little townhouses. They’re still living in those houses. Of course you’d have to convince the zoning weenies that a third storey won’t ruin the neighbourhood.

But I’m wasting so much space with stairs!

Fair point. Let’s merge 2 or 3 sections and build a three-storey apartment building. After—again—you convince the zoning weenies that “apartment” is not a swear word and that a few extra doorbells won’t ruin a neighbourhood.

But traffic will be terrible!

Then stop using cars. With such high densities a lot more people will have their shops, caf├ęs, etc. within walking distance, and a lot more people will have easy access to public transport. Think of it as shopping without the hassle of finding a parking spot. The idea of congestion-free car traffic for everyone is a failed dream anyway.

And hey, if you can get around without a car, you may even use that space up front for something more useful than storing that car. If you can get the zoning weenies (yes, again) to agree.

But I don’t like small houses!

And you know what, nobody cares. Auckland already has a large offering of larger houses, I’m sure you’ll find one you like.

But nobody likes small houses!

Maybe, but who can afford those big sections these days? What good is the Kiwi Dream if nobody can afford it? We will see if there’s any interest in that auction.

Crisis

Meanwhile Auckland is in a full-on housing crisis, with the median price rapidly approaching 10 years worth of income for an average family.

If land is expensive, how do you make houses cheaper? One obvious way is to use less land, but nobody has figured that out yet over here. Those little “affordable houses” on Hobsonville Point are still sitting on a 260 m² section, which in Belgium would be considered quite large in a city.

Or if a big house is too expensive, plus we can’t find enough tradies to build them, what about building smaller houses? It doesn’t sound like rocket science to me.

But unfortunately the zoning weenies have thoroughly won the debate, and we’ll be stuck with silly things like a six-hundred square metres minimum section size in some central areas. And only a single house allowed on that huge section, no duplexes or apartments or granny flats or whatever.

And then we’re surprised there’s a housing crisis. Honestly, I don’t understand this at all.

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