Gentrification: What Has Geographers Banging Their Heads Against the Walls and Has Planners in Knots While Auckland is Not Immune!

Airport Line could trigger unwanted consequences





In the weekend I was on an Urban Geography field exercise checking out the Transform Onehunga area and how both East West Link and the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail (or Northern Airport Line) would have social consequences (positive and negative) to the 600 hectare area.

For more on Transform Onehunga and the area it covers (it is the same size as Transform Manukau or Our Manukau area) see Panuku’s project page.


Transform Onehunga and Gentrification

The field exercise inside the Transform Onehunga area was done along side other Geographers (see: Urban Geography, Urban Planning, Urban Design and Engineering: We are in a Mess Folks)



None-the-less as East West Link and City Centre to Mangere Light Rail were brought up two questions were asked immediately:

  1. What are you building these transport lines for
  2. What are the social impacts of doing so


For East West Link that expressway linking State Highways 20 and 1 its purpose is that it is being built for what it will be servicing in 30 years time. That is residential and commercial having long replaced what is currently industry in Onehunga.


Option B
This Should Be the East West Connections


For City Centre to Mangere Light Rail its purpose is to improve accessibility of existing and new residential and employment areas for those who do not have access to rapid transit already (that is those not close to the existing heavy rail network or the Northern Busway).

Just to throw an extra spanner in there, it is because of City Centre to Mangere LRT passing through Onehunga that the area will flip from Industry to Residential to Commercial much sooner than Planners and Politicians like to think. Therefore such an investment like East West Link needs to be factored around this – NOT what the existing land use is in 2018 (although such investment will help the transition period).


The Manukau – Airport Bus Line. It is the longest bus route but also a busy one.


All the above happens for naturally occurring reasons in a constantly evolving City and is studied by Geographers like myself quite A LOT!

Heavy Industry does not like high land values that occur from competition pressures being placed upon them by encroaching residential and commercial uses. That is why on a regular cycle heavy industry will decamp from an area and seek out a new area with less land use competition pressures (thus lower land values) while residential and commercial will take its place. This is how Cities evolve and manage their land use in a more natural or organic fashion. Auckland has had this with the Waterfront being full of heavy industry before it moved to Onehunga and now Onehunga will decamp and move to Wiri, Drury South and the northern Waikato.

When a transit line is put through an area the urban area within a set range (often 800 metres with further limited intensification of up to 1.6km from the station if there is cycleways or feeder busses) that area will undergo renewal and intensification. Like Heavy Industry, the residential and commercial areas face increasing land-use competition (thus land values go up) and to make best use of land (given people flock to areas that have better accessibility to transit services than those who do not) intensification will occur around said transit line or station. When a Centre like a Town Centre (Onehunga) or the Metropolitan Centres (Manukau) then the dynamics change again as you have; destination, origin and transition interactions in play compared to the Transit Line passing through a single use area like a residential zone.

With Onehunga Heavy Industry is already decamping out of the area as increasing land-use pressures from encroaching residential and commercial from a growing City make industry non-viable in the Onehunga area. Transform Onehunga will only increase those pressures while adding a Light Rail line will really ratchet those pressures up as accessibility between residential, employments and Centres is increased.

But with increased accessibility from transit comes a negative consequence to existing residents: GENTRIFICATION!


Industry and the main road servicing it.


What is Gentrification and how can it harm communities?

Again I will let my favourite communication medium Cities Skylines outline in high level detail about how Gentrification hurts – especially if a transit line comes through an area:


As it was said, that was only high-level stuff. The more intricate details of Gentrification that has Geographers like myself banging our heads against the walls (just about did on Saturday) and has Planners tied up in complete knots will be coming in later posts from the author of the video.


Has Gentrification happened in Auckland?

Yes it has:

  1. City Centre
  2. Grey Lynn
  3. Western Springs
  4. Orakei

Is it happening now?

Again yes:

  1. Mangere
  2. Mangere Bridge
  3. Otahuhu
  4. Papakura (western side)
  5. Otara (limited extent but it is under pressure)
  6. Manukau (residential area south of the Manukau City Centre as Transform Manukau continues)
  7. Onehunga

Those two lists are not exhaustive either.


As City Centre to Mangere Light Rail is built (no matter if it is from the City Centre or Mangere first) the area within the future corridor is going to face intense land use pressures thus intensification issues. Again this is natural as a City evolves and its residents will see out areas with better accessibility to homes, jobs and third places (leisure) but this will have unintended consequences if not handled right.

Increased land pressures means rents or prices of homes go up often meaning housing costs become out of reach for existing residents. This in turn forces existing residents out often to the fringes, ripping out the heart of existing communities, scattering said communities across the City while they also face increased costs from increased travel times most often by the inefficient car. So the very thing that Transit is meant to provide – better access can often lead to poorer accessibility outcomes for existing residents especially if they are forced to move to areas that are served poorly by transit.

When this happens we get social equity issues and I guarantee Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, NZTA and Government have done little if any social equity work for those that will be affected by the Light Rail corridor. The question is: How do we keep existing residents inside their own community when the Light Rail line comes through Mangere and Onehunga as increasing land use pressures put pressures upon their living situation (usually rent)?


The gentrification video goes into two methods of the same tactic in order to give existing residents security when gentrification does occur. The tactic is keeping supply ahead of the demand curve to avoid steeper value rises than would otherwise occur during gentrification. But to do this you need to:

  1. Mass supply of housing
  2. State builds public housing in the area with a guarantee that existing residents have first right to them

Note: With public housing the Neo Liberal tendency to extract a return on public housing is beyond useless for existing residents in an area undergoing gentrification as the housing might as well have been developed under full market conditions. With Public Housing it is a social good and subsidised (that is no commercial return) that pays its dividends in community cohesion and people actually having a roof over their heads!

Other tactics like Vacancy Taxes are also good tools as well to keep the negative consequences of gentrification at bay and are covered by the video.



So we know Onehunga will be residential and commercial in place of industry in the next thirty years. We also know Transform Onehunga will kick-start the first stage of gentrification while the Northern Airport Line will cement the second stage. As with the East West Link are we building it for land use of yester-century or for tomorrow. All questions needing answers, all questions that often has Geographers going why-oh-why are Planners and Politicians tying themselves into knots repeating the same mistakes when countless studies and being produced on how to get the best of the positive results from gentrification while curbing the worst of the any negative consequences from said gentrification.


More on this when the next video is released by the author.


Northern Airport Line Layout:
Source: Auckland Transport