Guest Discussion Post – On Alternative Auckland Planning

A Look at the OTHER side of the Planning Debate Gripping New Zealand


This is guest post using extracts from a discussion between people on the current Resource Management Act reforms, housing affordability, and planning situation currently gripping the New Zealand. We have seen plenty of going backwards and forwards on the debate since National secured its Third Term and Minister of Finance Bill English making his remarks about Councils contributing to the housing affordability and poverty situation.

Below is extracts of a written discussion between Dushko Bogunovich from Unitech Auckland and Phil Hayward from Lower Hutt who most in the planning debates will know one way or the other.

Now this post is looking at putting forward a view on the planning debate and a legitimate view at that. As a Bachelor of Arts student from the University of Auckland I was always taught that there is no technical right or wrong in such debates. There is only the debate and using research, information, and your view points (often backed up from research and information) which is being put in this post.

Of course being a discussion you are entitled to your own constructive critiques, rebuttal, and personal thoughts and thus can post them either in the comment box below or send me a guest post of your own at view[dot]of[dot]Auckland[at]Gmail[dot]com for consider. Standard Blog Rules apply which you can see by clicking the Rules box at the top below the title bar.

I also note that I have edited the discussion extracts for brevity and clarity but not to push the debate on my own personal tangent.

Talking Auckland offers thanks to Dushko and Phil for granting permission to use those discussion extracts for the guest post. If both of you feel I had put something in context wrong do let me know and I shall address it ASAP.

Finally the views of the fellow debates are of their viewpoints and may or may not convey my own thoughts on the matter. For that you can read my own commentary on the matter J

The following discussion post follows a set order to which it was written so that readers can follow it in a logical manner.

That Look at the other side of the Planning Debate


First point written by Dushko Bogunovich

Thank you, Phil (and one other), for pointing out the proper role of planning:

“…to designate well in advance of growth, what spaces are going to be public and what are going to be private ….. As an opportunity to “get it right this time”, on GREENFIELDS.”


But that’s not the philosophy that would capture the imagination a large modern bureaucracy such as a super-city council; too boring. The Council in my own opinion prefers:

  • complexity over simplicity;
  • ideology over evidence;
  • the aspiration to be the ‘world’s most liveable city’ over simple land use planning; and
  • Exemplifying unnecessary risks in the biggest urban planning exercise in the history of NZ.


For me: part of the solution is a new vision for the spatial form of future Auckland: a polycentric, linear metropolitan, almost 150 km long, with all types of density, but mostly low. Powered almost entirely by electricity from clean, partly centralised, partly distributed sources, and generally relying on a new concept of urban infrastructure (decentralised, modular, nature-integrated…).


A free-hand sketch (see below) which illustrates the difference between the Auckland Plan’s ‘compact city’ concept and my proposal for the ‘long, flat city’. The ‘compact city’ shape is on the left. As called for in the Plan, it assumes 75/25 % ratio between the inside-MUL and outside-MUL development. My ‘linear city’ shape is on the right and assumes the reverse ratio – 25/75 % between the inside-MUL and outside-MUL development. Both shapes represent an Auckland of 3 million people around 2040. The key point about the ‘linear model’ is that most of the needed ‘intensification’ would take place in the corridor of the ‘central spine’, thus lessening the pressure on other town and suburban centres to go denser.

And the biggest damage of all will be, paradoxically, more sprawl. I mean more of the ‘bad sprawl’ – the low-density development that is visually disorganised, wasteful of land and infrastructure, dependent on most resources coming from somewhere else and on most waste being taken away and dumped somewhere else. The familiar, old, dumb, urban sprawl invented in the 50s and 60s…. which, truly, is very suspicious from the environmental point of view.


So – absurdly – Auckland’s ‘compact city’ fantasy will produce exactly its opposite – more sprawl. More and more ad hoc SHA’s will be designated, and since no overall vision will guide this process, we will get a ‘accidental metropolis’ by 2030 or 2040.

What can be done to prevent this disaster? The only solution is to throw out the window the ‘compact city’ nonsense completely, and instead plan for a Long, Flat City-Region – a 150 km-long metropolitan area from Huntly to Welsford, with a single major infrastructure corridor as its spine and with some of the best suburbs, periurbs and satellite towns and villages in the world to the east and the west of that spine. Super-efficient and self-sufficient as much as the current – and soon-to-come – technology allows.

This is what the given geography of Auckland is clearly ‘telling’ us to do, and this is what the future of technology (information, environmental, transport, building…. technology) is making both possible and desirable. This is also the way to transform the economy to a higher-added value economy.

BUT – most importantly – this is the SAFE city of the future. This is the ‘resilient metropolis’, able to withstand the challenges that global warming and associated upheavals will bring about sometime after 2020….


The polycentric, low-rise, low-density city, where most buildings are supported at least to some degree by the local resources (distributed energy generation, local water and food… from your roof, from your section, from your neighbourhood….) will be able to function whatever crisis, shortage or disaster may affect the old, 20th century, centralised infrastructure.

As I have explained in many public lectures… for example, in Oxford last year:

And in Sydney last month:


While such an Auckland has a good chance to thrive through the vagaries of the 21st century, the ‘compact cities’ all over the world will be in a big, big trouble….

So this whole debate is about FAR MORE than just affordability.

It is about SURVIVAL.

Thanks, Fraser, for mentioning ‘monocentric vs polycentric’ Auckland, and the dangers of ‘cramming’ people inside UGB (MUL)….. Bad idea indeed – to concentrate population while the dark clouds are gathering on the horizon….




Reply to the above by Phil Hayward


Re the “size of urban footprint” question.

Cheshire and colleagues at the LSE have calculated that effective reforms in the UK would lead to an explosion of urban footprints of 70%. That is, the UK would move from around 12% urbanised, to around 19% – still less than Germany and the Netherlands. (The Netherlands manages to be the world’s second-highest exporter of agricultural products by value in spite of being smaller than Canterbury with 18 million people and more than 20% urbanised. They do this by not worrying about their own “food security” at all; they feed their workforces with cheap subsidised food from the rest of the EU, and export Tulips).

The reason that the UK could have 70% increase in urban footprint while average section sizes would probably double and there would be thousands more of them produced for people quitting apartment blocks, is that actual housing is only a small part of the overall urban footprint anyway. Ironically, there are so much amenities and public spaces that need increasing as people are added to local “housing”, that there is a loss of “space saved” in housing, in the form of public space and so on, that increases and erodes much of the space savings. There is a paper by a Professor Ian Gordon in the 1990’s that suggests that cramming people in twice as densely in their actual housing, reduces the urban footprint by 7% – seven percent.

This is why conversely, even the UK could unleash its people to consume as much land as they want at an affordable cost, which would involve an order of magnitude increase in the space required for housing, but would only increase the overall urban footprint by 70%. Now in NZ, we are around 0.7% urbanised and our housing is nowhere near as crammed as the UK’s is, seeing they have been explicitly cramming for several decades longer. So our explosion in urban footprint would be nowhere near as much as 70%.

I am prepared to accept the “planners” assertions that “people don’t really want as much space any more”, but they need to accept that leaving it to the market is the perfectly rational course of action. It is a myth that very much of our cities were ever in ¼ acre sections, and 20 years of infill has made them nigh on non-existent. But I doubt that a high proportion of New Zealanders will go nuts buying McMansions on quarter acre sections even if they are an affordable option. Who wants to mow all that lawn every week?  Most of the people who might like ¼ acre and possibly larger, are currently on lifestyle blocks very much larger because regulations prevent any sensible middle options between $300,000 1/10 of an acre inside the UGB, versus a lifestyle block outside it for not a lot more dollars.

Super large sections in the USA’s cities are a perverse outcome of legal precedents regarding “exclusionary” tactics – other tactics are illegal but super large section mandates are not – so they end up getting used by default.


Final reply (in order) from Dushko Bogunovich


‘Why is almost everything upside-down’ in this mad society?

The key political decision makers have lost any sense of Economics 101 and Geography 101! Nobody understands the basics anymore!

This obsession among planners to ‘contain urban sprawl’ stems from some deep anxiety about all development as ‘bad’. They cannot imagine buildings and infrastructure which might be ‘good’. Which would look nice; treat any remaining green space with care; generate clean electricity; harvest their own water; treat their own waste…. and so on. New, green, clean, smart and largely decentralised technologies allow a completely different notion of development.

Having concluded development is incorrigible’, they have cast eternal damnation on all (sub) urban development, and are now trying to corral ‘the damn thing’ inside MULs/RUBs/UGBs.
Instead of thinking how they could mandate green development so that actually new growth is ecologically generative, economically prosperous, and socially and aesthetically desirable.
Indeed, what would be so wrong to allow another, say, 0.3% of rural land to be developed, so that NZ then has 1% of all land urbanised/suburbanised?
This is why I have been arguing for TWO DECADES now that NZ should accept the general north-ward drift of its population and most industries, and plan strategically into deep future that one day 2/3 or 3/4 of New Zealanders will live in the ‘Big Banana’ – the long arch of coastal and peri-coastal land between Whangarei, Whakatane and Hamilton.

See the original illustration, first publicised in 1995 (above).

The Long Flat Auckland, 150 km long, with 3 million people, should be a perfectly functioning linear metropolitan area within a larger Northern North Island ‘urbanising region’ of some 4 or 5 million people, itself part of a NZ nation of some 6 or 7 or 8 million people in total, by 2040 or 2050.




That concludes the discussion. If you wish to comment you can do so below subject to The Rules of the blog. Guest posts are welcome and you can send them to the email address in the Contact button above.

Talking Auckland again thanks Dushko and Phil for their permission to use the extracts as well as writing the discussion points themselves.


Remember folks we are a democracy thus we contest ideas. There is no perfect solution…