Sprawl While Inevitable Sprawl Does Cost a City

Smart growth


And no when I say smart growth I do not mean a water tight Metropolitan Urban Limit that forbids development outside it and does not move without expensive court action . By smart growth I mean that both intensification, regeneration and sprawl are all inevitable. But how we handle each of the three in urban growth will become the determining factor on a City’s finances and overall health.

Smart growth is looking at getting the best development for the City in a given area. Just as you can create sprawl by going out you can also create sprawl by going up with tall single use monoliths. It all comes down to the commute for work, education, amenities, recreation and retail/hospitality. The tweet below looks at costs in the United States of sprawl. That said if you take a deeper look the difference between a single use facility and a mixed use facility stands out.



Auckland will continue to sprawl and that is a given. The Auckland and Unitary Plans allow for 40% of all of Auckland’s urban development to be in Greenfield areas. Nowhere is this more pronounced than Southern Auckland as pressure goes into Auckland Council to release as much of the Future Urban Zone in the South in the least amount of time possible. Also despite what some might think you can not simply cut off Greenfield development either as there is more to a City than just houses.


Unitary Plan New Dwellings
Source: Auckland Council


Southern Auckland’s sprawl will not be just 55,000 homes but also commercial and industry (light and heavy) with capacity for 35,000 new jobs. The geography of industry is that it will seek out cheap unimproved land with good transport (road and rail) links most often on the fringe of the urban limits allowing efficient access in and out of the region. The location of industrial complexes can serve as geographical markers of where the City fringe use to be before residential and commercial sprawl over took it. So while Greenfield sprawl is inevitable the question is how to best make it work for the City without sending the City broke.


The Auckland Development Donut



Drury Future Urban Zone



So Auckland is facing growth pressures and those pressures are leading for calls for the Future Urban Zone in the South to be opened up as fast as possible. The question is should we?

As I have answered before we should and we can but it needs to be done right. 


Going back to the Tweet at the top and look where the best bang for buck comes from. It comes from mixed use development rather than single use or monolithic developments. Botany and Manukau City Centre in its current form are examples of monolithic sprawl that do not give best bang for buck. Manukau City Centre becoming a fully fledged mixed use Centre is an example of getting best bang for buck.

Now lets come down to Drury where the next round of intense Greenfield urban development is going to occur. Notice how three to four storey residential developments, three story office and six storey mixed use deliver best bang for buck compared to single detached residential dwellings and even a mall? We in effect come back to this: Auckland to Receive its 11th Metropolitan Centre? Is the Super Metro Back?

The Unitary Plan allows for six storey mixed use and three storey office developments in the Town Centre and Metropolitan Centre Zones while three storey residential developments are allowed in the Mixed Housing Urban Zone. So can you see where I am going with this?


Unitary Plan Mixed Housing Urban Zone update


Sprawl is going to happen in the South. There is large tracts of Future Urban Zone between Papakura and Pukekohe, the South will have large scale industry development through the next thirty years (Industry: It Doesnt Cut Ribbons But It is Crucial to the Economy) and these developments will need to be serviced by infrastructure. The pressure then becomes getting the best urban development in that Future Urban Zone right first time around to avoid often crippling costs of sprawl to the wider City.

Timing also becomes important as well. So using Sim City 4 and Cities Skylines methodology (and to avoid a Westgate saga) remember to develop in the following order:

  1. Industry
  2. Residential
  3. Commercial

Meaning your six storey mixed use development in a new Drury Metropolitan Centre is not going to happen right off the bat. This is especially as Transform Manukau is under way and larger scale mixed use developments will seek out an existing Centre first before going to a new Centre owing to agglomeration bonus effects from that existing Centre. But while your six storey mixed use developments are not happening right away that does not mean we resort to single use malls and single family residential dwellings either. Rather that the focus goes onto the three storey residential and office (or mixed low-rise (commercial + residential or mixed commercial + office)) with the six storey mixed development coming in about a decade later when there is critical mass of residential and industry in the area. Effectively what we are looking to develop is the ‘Missing Middle.’


The Missing middle
Source: Brent Toderian


In conclusion

Sprawl is inevitable. No matter how much you try to contain urban growth industry will leap-frog it and establish itself on the urban fringe. Consequently where industry goes residential and commercial to service that industry will so follow. Unless you decide to cut industry off entirely thus harm the health of your City then the City will need to work out how to handle the Greenfield sprawl that has been created by industry. Smart money would be towards medium density mixed use developments clustered around a new Centre rather than single use low-rise sprawl.


What do you think?


Spatial Development ideas – Papakura and Drury


2 thoughts on “Sprawl While Inevitable Sprawl Does Cost a City

  1. Maybe do it in the order of Transport Oriented Development.

    Build the transport interchange first, and make sure it is good. Ie fast and useful.
    Then release the adjacent land for higher density mixed used development.

    Once the initial momentum are done, the rest will follow naturally.

    Do not release all land at the same time, just do it from centre, then out bit by bit.

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