Park system strangling Auckland
Last night an Auckland Conversation’s talk was covering on the need for our open spaces to cater for the 8 and 80-year-old (otherwise known as the 8-80 City). The idea behind 8-80 is that if your eight and eight year old citizens can not manoeuvre nor enjoy the city in a safe manner then your city is failing all your citizens. Auckland is certainly not an 8-80 City with our park network very inefficient and under utilised while Auckland Transport thinks wide roads with slip lanes and flush medians are the best things since slice bread (good luck getting an 8 and 80-year-old across one of those roads without being hit by a speeding car or truck).
So as the presentation gave examples (I will link the video when it becomes available) on what to do (prompting nods from the audience) it never told us HOW to execute the steps towards becoming an 8-80 city. Probably because Auckland Transport and the Council Parks division needs to be reformatted entirely if Auckland is to realise the 8-80 City vision.
The 8-80 City Video Stream
In this post I am going to look at parks as I have already covered roads and streets earlier. See: How to Use OUR Street Space Efficiently While Being Pro-People? and Streets versed Roads: Why Engineers Should Not Design Them But People Should for more.
Parks are inefficient in Auckland
Auckland is a green city with our parks, regional parks, forests and long lengths of coast line. But for such a green city our parks are designed and run very inefficiently placing a drain on the Council’s OPEX budget lines. Parks should be utilised daily (even in the rain) and not suffer from the Fear of Crime scenario by residents and visitors alike. The problem is most of our parks are not utilised daily if at all on a regular basis and to compound it they suffer from the Fear of Crime situation by the residents (no playgrounds are not the trigger for Fear of Crime).
The main problem comes down to design with the apparent default for new parks being 4,000m2 (one acre or 4x 1/4 acre sections). 4,000m2 is considered huge and as a comparison it would fit twelve two storey houses under the Unitary Plan Mixed Housing Suburban Zone or fifteen three storey terraced houses in the Mixed Housing Urban Zone. The next problem comes down to maintenance of that 4,000m2 of park which would not come cheap either. If the park is not heavily utilised then the social good element of the park misses and the park is a dud that sits on the budget books.
So the question asked is why are we defaulting for 4,000m2 parks that will not be fully utilised instead of defaulting at 500-1500m2 smaller parks instead? The old adage goes bigger is not always better and parks are a demonstration of this. A wide network of smaller parks will have better amenity and utilisation value to a community than a single or couple of large parks plonked in the same community. While large parks (like Sport fields) do have their place they should not be the default.
Again Cities Skylines provides an insight to how place a park network effectively in your city while not blowing the budget out of the drink. Like Sim City before it Cities Skylines allows you to place: parks, playgrounds, plazas and flower gardens (mod might be needed) in either large or small size. The dynamics of the parks in both Sim City and Cities Skylines allows you to place multiple parks and park types together to form a diverse park which is great for say like a Central Park or rather expensive botanical gardens. Parks in both Sim City and Cities Skylines place attributes to placement cost, maintenance and amenity value to the respective park types and sizes.
But there is a catch and one Auckland needs to learn to which I ask you this question: which park size (irrespective of type) gives best bang for buck to the city? That is which park gives best amenity output to the citizens (so most happiness) for placement and ongoing maintenance cost?
The answer is: Not the big parks nor the sport fields, it is in fact the small parks, playgrounds and plazas that give best bang for your city buck.
The game basically calculates the park system on a standard cost to benefit ratio (a system we use for transport investment). Big parks operate on a BCR of $0.8 of benefits (amenity) for every $1.0 of ongoing costs while a small park have a BCR of around $2.0 of amenity benefits to every $1.0 of cost. A similar BCR situation would present itself for Auckland when choosing between a large 4,000m2 park and a small 500-1,500m2 park. So on that alone the small park, playground and plaza give best bang for buck.
Your next question however, is why not place several small parks together to get better effects than a single big park? Well you can to a point before Dis-economies of scale (or Diminishing returns) kick in and put you into a similar position of a single big park. Dis-economies of scale (opposite of economies of scale) is where you have hit peak saturation of the utility value for an economic or public good thus placing any more of that good means you get a diminished return for that same investment.
Regardless if it is a low or high density residential or commercial area the rules around economies of scale and diminishing returns are the same with small parks. The peak utility is around three small parks inside a two block area. If you want to extend that utility you use connectors like: pedestrian/cycling malls, shared streets and connector parks (something I drew up in Cities Skyline) to connect the three parks up to form a basic network within the local community. The ped/cycling malls and shared streets do allow zoning around them so you can place down residential and commercial while the connector park has the pedestrian and dedicated cycle paths to allow your local network to connect to a city-wide network.
If you are wanting a Central Park type park in the middle of your city it can be easily drawn up using small parks connected with connector parks, malls, shared streets and boulevards all networked together over a say 10 block area. Remember the malls, shared streets and boulevards allow for zones so you can scatter some commercial or even residential through the network. To make a central park more effective I use the Tree paint brush to create an urban forest and have an anchor tenant like a stadium or Grand Library landmark to boost amenity and pull in more people.
What I have described above needs to be applied to Auckland if the parks side of the 8-80 City vision is to work.
That is Auckland needs to forget about these 4,000m2 default sized parks and go for the 500m2 – 1,500m2 parks and connector parks that I use effectively in Cities Skylines. As Cities Skylines have shown smaller is better and a network of small parks provides a better Benefit to Cost ratio than our large parks ever could. Given we are trying for intensification in urban Auckland with limited OPEX funds on the Council side we need to best utilise our land for the amount of money we have while getting best amenity bang for buck for citizens with our parks.
Again smaller is better and smaller connected to a network is the best. 500m2 (still big enough for a small playground) to 1,500m2 (a central park with playground for say a Town Centre or even Metropolitan Centre) should be the default.
So what will it take for Council to realise that our parks are inefficient and a drain on the budget.