Building Community Through Urban Design. Run Up to Next #TransformManukau Chapters

Good urban design = good community


Urban Design can do one of two things: it can either build a great community or it can create desolate spaces and NO community.

Auckland is not immune to the latter but in fairness has some great urban design that do promote community. Remember with urban design you are trying to promote the following:

  • Accessibility
  • Mobility
  • Social interaction and cohesion
  • Physical and human environments


The Congress for the New Urbanism gave their top ten tips for urban design building communities:

Ten reasons to build community through urban design

There are two models for development of cities and towns. One, the neighborhood model, founded on thousands of years of trial and error, brings people together.

We build cities that bring us together or push us apart. “Gated communities” are an obvious example of building to isolate, but other methods are also common. Streets that are too wide, with fast moving traffic, divide us. So do zoning codes that separate uses and housing types. Berms, buffers, setbacks, limited-access highways, and massive parking lots, when used routinely, put barriers and distance between people.

Mixed-use neighborhoods and great public spaces, on the other hand, bring citizens together in real communities. Here are the ten best reasons to design and build places that support community:

1) For freedom and choice in mobility

When you live in a place designed to keep people apart, you have to get around by motor vehicle. When you live in a walkable neighborhood, you can still drive if you want to. But you can also walk, ride a bike, hop on a bus or train, and often take car-share or bike-share.


2) To support social interaction

Humans are social, yet this primary fact of life is oddly absent as a core consideration in modern urban development regulations that separate uses and housing, notes Steve Price, principal in the firm Urban Advantage. Price has gathered impressive research on how land-use policies that bring us together can reduce loneliness and social deprivation.


3)  For great public places

You know when you are in a great public place, and the pure joy that it brings is palpable. People flock to these places. There is nothing like great public places to bring people together, but activating such spaces requires people living and working in proximity—it requires the neighborhood model.

Photo courtesy of the Project for Public Spaces Source: Congress for the New Urbanism
Photo courtesy of the Project for Public Spaces


4) For healthy lifestyle opportunities

Places where people walk 10,000 steps per day as part of their daily activities have been proven to be healthier than those where people walk less, all other things being equal, notes architect Steve Mouzon. Living in a walkable place myself, I walk and ride a bike nearly every day for transportation. But I also run regularly, and the convenience of simply stepping out my door and jogging a few miles in pleasant surroundings contributes to my health. If I had to go to the gym, or drive someplace to run on a trail, I’d do it less and maybe not at all.


5) To reduce cost of living

The average car costs more than $9,000 a year. When you live in a walkable city, you drive significantly less or may even live without a car. Transportation costs are significantly reduced, which cuts combined housing and transportation (H+T) expenses. My analysis of the 25 largest US traditional cities shows combined  H+T costs of 40.4 percent of median income—that’s 19 percent lower than the 25 largest sprawling cities (49.9 percent of median income). Living in a traditional city generates a lot of discretionary income to save or spend.

Source: Congress for the New Urbanism


6) To protect the environment

Places that bring us together benefit the environment in several ways: Every trip on foot or on a bike burns fat instead of gas, keeping us healthier and the air cleaner, observes Mouzon. Also, when we spend time outdoors, he says, we get acclimated to the local environment so that when we return indoors we may be able to throw the windows open and leave the air conditioner off. Heres a graph that quantifies how transit-oriented neighborhoods reduce carbon emissions.

Source: Congress for the New Urbanism


7) For long-lasting value and to build the tax base

Joe Minicozzi of Urban 3 has documented the productivity of American development patterns—and the most productive parts are mixed-use downtowns and neighborhoods. He has modeled scores of US cities and the data is clear: Single-use development has lower financial productivity. See below for the relative performance of Walmart compared to a downtown building in Asheville, North Carolina.

Source: Congress for the New Urbanism


8) To reduce infrastructure expenses

Our cities are drowning in unproductive liabilities, says Charles Marohn of Strong Towns. One reason is that we built infrastructure inefficiently during the Age of Sprawl that is now requiring maintenance. See the graph below for the amount of fire hydrants and water piping in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1949—when the city was compact and walkable—and today.


9) To reduce traffic deaths

When cities and towns are designed for separation, inevitably the thoroughfares are built for faster moving traffic. People have to drive farther, at higher speeds—multiplying risk for everybody on the roads, including those who must walk in difficult conditions. This costs lives. University of Connecticut researchers examined 24 cities in California, half built mostly before 1950—where people can drive less, walk, and use transit more—and the other half mostly after 1950. The 12 pre-1950 cities had traffic death rates of less than one-third those of the post-1950 cities.

Source: Congress for the New Urbanism


10) To make your community unique

The more we build to separate, the more every place looks like every place else. It’s hard to distinguish between shopping centers, strip commercial corridors, subdivisions, and office parks in Virginia, Oregon, Colorado, or Connecticut. But when you build and revitalize mixed-use main streets and focus on placemaking, the unique qualities of community are enhanced. That gives people a reason to go to a community, experience something different, and invest.

Source: Congress for the New Urbanism


Source, full article and all pictures:


As I began with urban design can either build or desolate communities.

Manukau City Centre, and Papakura Metropolitan Centre are two areas where urban design are not the best to build communities. Both miss the human elements (see below) and as I observed when I was doing a Public Life Survey yesterday in Manukau, people will treat both Centres as places to walk through rather than places of destination.

Manukau is fortunate with the Transform Manukau urban regeneration program under way and its next chapter to be made public on Friday (I will be running full commentary from Friday onwards). Papakura however, for the moment continues to languish in getting a comprehensive plan up to kick-start its urban regeneration journey. That said and with a bit of community willing Papakura does have a lot going for it and does sit right smack bang in the middle of prime opportunity to become a place of destination as the surrounds continue to develop. The question is are businesses and politicians willing to grasp that opportunity with both hands?


#TransformManukau – Missing the Human Element. Part 8 of the Manukau City Centre – The Transform Series

The human element is missing from Manukau


In the previous post of this series (#TransformManukau – The Context. Part 7 of the Manukau City Centre – The Transform Series) I looked at the context leading up to where we are today with Manukau, and Transform Manukau led by Panuku Development Auckland.

As we know Manukau has economic clout in Auckland and a lot of potential to be The Thriving Heart and Soul of the South (the vision from the High Level Project Plan):

Manukau economic output as of 2015 Source: HLPP - Panuku
Manukau economic output as of 2015 Source: HLPP – Panuku


But as we also know with Manukau it sits in a value trough compared to the surrounding residential areas acting like a monolith. The monlith is big structures but lacking the local and people element. To make things a bit more complex in Transform we also have the case where: Human Geography Element Still Lacking in Council and Auckland in which I concluded there: In short? We are great with the Physical Geography stuff (the tangible stuff we can use our five senses on) but like Transform Manukau (and as that series is fleshing out) Council and its CCO’s lack the capabilities in clearly articulating the Human Geography side – the people side. Without the Human Geography side and Human Geographers assisting Council articulating that Human Geography side (and story) then all we get is Auckland being one big monolith!”


Now Panuku realises that yes they are great with the Physical Geography side but it will certainly be interesting dealing with the Human Geography side. That said the person who I had met up with at Panuku for the story on Manukau articulated the Human Geography side extremely well. What it can come down to now is people and bloggers like myself to help articulate that human side of the Manukau story and generate feedback to help better Manukau (and the South).

Speaking at Council
Speaking at Council Source: Cr Cathy Casey


Improving the Quality of Life of the People

Panuku have created eight goals for Transform Manukau. Those eight goals being:

Goals of Transform Manukau Source: Panuku Development Auckland
Goals of Transform Manukau Source: Panuku Development Auckland

Notice how all eight goals look at improving the quality of life for the people whether directly (green spaces, and connectivity between Manukau and the South) or indirectly through economic and social initiatives, and increasing economic participation in Manukau City Centre.

So how do we improve the quality of life for the people of the South through Transform Manukau? We do this in a two prong fashion:

  1. Having the communities in the front seat driving the implementation of Transform Manukau (rather than being led by the Council)
  2. Bringing the Local to Manukau

1) Having the communities in the front seat driving the implementation of Transform Manukau (rather than being led by the Council)

This is Goal 8 of Panuku and one of my main advocacy points to Council and Panuku (for the last five years) in having the community in the front seat driving the implementation of Transform Manukau. Note I have said implementation rather than “planning.” This is because Manukau has been planned to death and the community is getting consultation fatigue from it (simply put they switch off). What the community wants, what I would like to see and what Panuku wants to do is to get cracking – to implement these plans and get the ball finally rolling on Transform Manukau.

With communities (and that includes the business community) in the front seat of the Transform Manukau program the program itself would be adaptive to the needs of the Southern Auckland area (including Manukau) through a collaborative and empowerment regime rather than back seat passengers that has been a regular occurrence with another particular Council Controlled Organisation.

Public Participation SourceL International Association for Public Participation
Public Participation Source: International Association for Public Participation

With the community in the front seat driving Transform Manukau part two becomes easier to realise.


2) Bringing the Local to Manukau

One thing Panuku made very clear in their sit down is that Manukau is great with the regional stuff like the mall, large format retail, Rainbows End, the police HQ and the courts. But what is missing in Manukau is the local stuff that would make people want to stay, linger, socialise or even live in Manukau rather than this 9-5 transactional economy Manukau currently has.

As I quoted above we are great at the physical stuff (and often that is where the regional stuff is often placed) but we are lagging in the human stuff (where the local would sit) that humanises a centre especially a Metropolitan Centre.

So what is the local stuff needed to humanise the Metropolitan Centre that is Manukau City Centre (and its surrounds)? Well a critical mass of a permanent population base (whether it be apartments in Manukau City Centre itself or terraced housing in the residential estates south of Manukau City Centre) would be a good start as that critical mass attracts commercial development (viability) and further investment from the public sector (Council and Government). The commercial development especially if things like bars, cafes, and small format retail would give people a reason to stay, linger, socialise, and attract more people to live and work in Manukau.

A risk though in driving for that critical mass of a permanent residential population in Manukau is that the new residential population decide to go elsewhere to socialise and even work resulting in Manukau still losing out as a 9-5 transactional economy.

From Hayman Park to Manukau City Centre Could this be a cafe/bar/hospitality corridor for Manukau City Centre?
From Hayman Park to Manukau City Centre Could this be a cafe/bar/hospitality corridor for Manukau City Centre?


The question is though what goes first to attract people to Manukau in order to build that critical mass and bring that Local (the people) to Manukau? Do we go with the physical stuff first like big apartment blocks or even more offices followed by open spaces or do we go open spaces first THEN the apartment blocks and offices? If I put my Cities Skylines hat on we go open spaces first then the apartments and offices.

Roads and tram lines down, now for the lane ways, zones and parks
Roads and tram lines down, now for the lane ways, zones and parks


The reason for going for the open spaces first is two-fold:

  1. Increase the quality of the area already to existing users
  2. Make the area more attractive to new residents and workers

There is also a third reason being cheaper to lay down first rather than retrofit later on when the developments are completed.

Good open spaces right off the bat before the development for new residents and workers also gives reason for existing users of Manukau to socialise, linger and even purchase more services and goods. This in turn through Economics 101 acts as the catalyst to more wanting to come to the area in both living, shopping, working, and selling those goods and services. But remember the aim is to bring the local (the people) to Manukau.

Hayman Park - under utilised potential in the heart of Manukau City Centre
Hayman Park – under utilised potential in the heart of Manukau City Centre


Large format retail form good regional anchors and have a place in Manukau given Manukau is the regional hub for half a million people. But the encouragement is also needed on small format retail including hospitality to give the people inclusionary feel of a and in a large Centre (Manukau can be rather isolating to a person or a group of people). And to do this we need to understand both the people already coming to Manukau like myself and those already in Manukau like the businesses in order so that we can be good active front seat drivers to Transform Manukau (rather than a passenger steering out the window bored silly).

Intensification must be done well. The two apartment towers in Manukau City Centre
Intensification must be done well. The two apartment towers in Manukau City Centre


How to get the Local going and having the communities in the front seat driving the implementation of Transform Manukau

I will go project specific with the Davies Avenue axis in the next post. In the meantime and I raised the idea for Panuku to actively consider (and they are) of placing an easy to access community office in Manukau where the public and businesses can walk in, check out what Transform Manukau is, get information on Transform Manukau and give ideas on Transform Manukau. This community office would be the front-of-house interaction point between Panuku and the South.

The community office would also be the ‘vessel’ or catalysis allowing the people to be in that front seat helping to drive Transform Manukau. The catch is to get it a budget line from Council to make it happen (if Council is serious about being people first).

There is certainly more that can be done in articulating the Human Geography side of the Transform Manukau story. This post is not designed to be the be-all end-all exhaustive list of what to do. But rather a chapter in the ongoing articulation of Transform Manukau and how Transform Manukau can improve the quality of life for the people of the South.

Why Transform Manukau
Why Transform Manukau