It’s getting a bit intense…

People seem surprised that homes in a medium-density housing development in Newtown have sold like hot cakes – almost all sold off the plans. There seems lots of confusion about residential intensification, so just as a starter, here are some fun facts! 

Kiwis’ habit of living in versions of the half-gallon quarter-acre paradise was fine in the 1950s when we didn’t drive as much (and there were fewer of us).  Now, we need other ways to live as well.  Diversification of places to live – i.e. densification, or intensification – is just starting in the Wellington region, and a new Newtown development is reported as having the great majority of its dwellings sold well before anything’s been built.

Stuff picked the most “outrageous” element of this for the tagline – good call, as it brings the most eyes and clicks. Their choice:

A housing development in Wellington offers no parking yet the majority of the 56 “affordable” two-bed apartments have been sold off the plans.

No parking?! What madness is this?

Stuff commenters were mostly losing their their minds and being outraged or dismissive or both, in various ways – check out the comments.  It’s not clear if anyone has actually asked any of the people who’ve bought one…

But what do normal people think about medium-density housing?

BRANZ has been quietly researching this stuff for a few years. They looked at Kiwis’ attitudes – it’s interesting reading. 

What is this medium-density thing anyway?

It’s not a huge high-rise apartment block, but do townhouses count? And is medium-density the answer to all our problems, or is it “good when it’s good”?   Here’s a fact sheet.

Why are we having to Make It A Thing?

There was a Summit earlier this year, it’s a part (although a surprisingly quiet one) of the Wellington City Council’s moves to address housing affordability, and there’s now a funky looking section on the WCC’s website called “” – here’s the MDH page. 

Isn’t the market providing what we need? Well, no. Check out p21 of this paper for the SuperU (government) Centre for Housing Research.  And here’s another BRANZ fact sheet – shorter!

These alone won’t make housing more affordable, but they’re a good start. The WHAM (Wellington Housing Affordability Model) is being worked on and presumably the effect of these sorts of things will be accounted for – and turned into a projection about how many more we need.

What’s the deal?

It’s complex, but essentially we need to get more of the good medium-density stuff being built. Aaaand maybe, just maybe, more good high-density stuff too?!

There are a lot of interesting (and some downright wrongheaded) attitudes playing out in the conversation space. This piece and its comments highlight the conflicting views (and variable performance) of councils’ work as planners and regulators, and the roles of the market, private preferences vs public good (and exciting things between like neighbourhood collectives with reciprocity).

Watch this space, Wellington!



3 comments on “It’s getting a bit intense…”

  • Roland Sapsford says:

    One thing that may surprise is that medium density housing was a feature of Wellington in the past. In the early 1980s, southern Te Aro was the most densely populated urban area in New Zealand. This was because of the very small lot size and the occupancy rate for dwellings.

    If we look at Aro Valley, Mt Victoria and probably Mt Cook, though I haven’t done the numbers there, these are medium density areas based on people per hectare once you remove public greenspace from the calculation. This again reflects lot size and occupancy.

    The model in Newtown achieves essentially the same thing, and it would be great to see some cohousing options start to emerge.

    • Isabella Cawthorn says:

      Wow that is surprising… but it was “medium density” relative to today’s nz sprawl, yes?
      Good public green space, accessible at multiple scales, also enables greater density cos the park / common / allotments are one’s backyard 🙂

      • Roland Sapsford says:

        I agree re the potential for public greenspace to enable higher density. You can also have shared private spaces for example – eg the inner courtyards found in some European cities. Generally access to green space and the ability to engage with natural spaces is important for people’s wellbeing. The town belt and Botanic Gardens, and the large amount of greenspace interwoven between suburbs, are an enormous asset for Wellington in that sense.

        As you say the definition of medium density in New Zealand isn’t always very dense, It also often attempts to generate the single garage single dwelling model on a smaller footprint 🙂 The result is asphalt and cheap construction with no permeable surfaces let alone greenspace.

        Aro Valley and Mt Vic are medium density in the person per hectare sense used in the Auckland Plan (or possibly the draft – I forget).

        Southern Te Aro was probably denser in this sense even though the dwellings were 1-2 storey single dwellings. This just arises because 2 people living in a 100m2 dwelling is less dense than 6 people living in a 225m2 dwelling, or three people living in a 60m2 dwelling. There were no off street car parks and while people had gardens, they were smaller than the front areas of the Newtown development. This is the Te Aro of my teens and early 20s. There are almost no photos and the people are long long gone. It was a place of working class people, punks and hippies that gave rise to the Upper Cuba St festival which became the Cuba St Carnival which was the forerunner of Cuba Dupa.

        The destruction of this culture began with the creation of Victoria St – which didn’t exist before 1987, and was eroded by gentrification, deliberate removal of dwellings by the WCC and laid to rest by the creation of the inner-city “bypass”.

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