House prices and rents are rising quickly in Auckland. The reason is pretty simple: from 2008 to 2011, it added 70,000 people and only 10,000 houses. The shortfall will have been worsened by the exodus from Christchurch since then. While the population’s growing, more houses are needed. But is the Right’s answer – more sprawl – the way to provide them?
Emphatically, not. The international evidence shows that it costs the taxpayer/ratepayer about twice as much to add additional suburbs to the periphery of a city as it does to add housing within existing limits (there’s literally too many examples to cite, just google ‘cost of suburban sprawl’, but here’s a table from an Australian study).
You’ve got to build all that additional infrastructure – roads, sewers, power. And they still place additional strain on the existing system – sewer and power systems linked into the existing networks and adding load just as if the housing was built in the existing city.
More sprawl means more car-centric transport, low population densities make public transport uneconomic. So, the only option is the most expensive form of transport going – hurtling an average of 1.1 people per 1-2 tonne metal box along motorways that cost $400,000 a metre* running on muck that was pulled out of the ground half a world away and is poisoning the atmosphere. More commuters on the motorways (to become justification for more poor quality motorway spending down the track), because they have to drive further the system needs even more peak capacity than before, and the nation becomes even more dependent on increasingly costly imported oil.
In the case of Auckland, it’s already spread over some of the most fertile farmland in the country. Wasting more by plonking McMansions on it is a crime.
The false economy is that the houses seem cheaper to build because the land is relatively cheap. Great for the home buyer (if you ignore the 3 hour a day commute) but all the additional costs are footed by the ratepayer.
Done right, densification actually creates a better city. There’s more to see and do within a more practical radius of where you live when there’s the population to support it. You don’t have to spend do long commuting, leaving more time for living. Look at the cities that beat Auckland on the liveability scales: Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen – they have twice the population density. And they’re able to spend their rates and taxes on good things that make their cities more liveable because they’re not sinking it all on asphalt.
There’s one group, however, who do win from sprawl. The landbankers who have bought up the farmland at the edge of Auckland, and long the routes of National’s motorway projects – and it doesn’t take a genius to guess which party they support, and why National is so in favour of wasting more of our money on expensive sprawl.
*Waterview is to cost around $2b for 4.5km = around $400m per km or $400k per m