Steb in the Dark? Step into the Light!
Wellington City Council is developing a brand new suburb in Upper Stebbings Valley. Let’s shine a light on how to do it well! So it’s not yet another stab at big cookie-cutter houses in a dormitory suburb. It’s about building a community, while building homes.
“If we create a new community in Upper Stebbings Valley and Glenside West, we want to do it right.”
So says Wellington City Council on the Upper Stebbings Valley and Glenside West proposed project page. On ya, WCC! It’s about building a community; a place to live, not just a place to sleep.
Our coolest little capital is expected to gain more than 80,000 people over the next 25 years. Where should they go?
Cities can densify existing residential areas (brownfields development), get industrial or non-residential areas converted (greyfields development), and turn rural-zoned land into residential areas (greenfields). The balance is an important thing to get right.
Stebbings Valley and Glenside West, located between Churton Park and Tawa, is one of the newly rezoned green-fields areas that can now be turned into suburbs.
Won’t the developers just get it right? Why should I bother telling them?
Obviously, developers bankroll the creation of new places to live: they pay for (some) of the infrastructure (pipes, wires, drains, usually installed by council) and they pay for and build the stuff on it – the buildings that you and I would buy or rent and live/work/play in.
The vast majority of developers are commercial enterprises: so they need to make a profit from what they do. Like any business, developers have different appetites to do stuff that’s “new” or “different”, and for taking commercial risks like incurring more costs to create what they sell.
As a rule of thumb, in Wellington right now it’s easiest to make profit from now very familiar suburban layouts: detached houses on their own section (usually fenced), with not too many of these per hectare, and drive-on access to all of them. It usually looks like this:
This sort of thing gets developers in the order of 20% profit from investment (give or take a bit). Take the “quarter acre paradise”, halve the section size, and put a much bigger house on it. Lay out the neighbourhood to maximise the number of these you can do (“leaf pattern” street layout), and Bob’s your uncle, money in the bank.
All well and good, except that this only works if…
Actually it doesn’t really work.
Here’s a great summary of why – despite our instinctive fondness for it – this kind of layout is not what we want lots more of.
But that’s what sensible, 2018-focused, profit-minded developers will build, because that’s what they can make the best profit off – and that’s fair enough!
So, a bit of a dilemma.
Sadly, we can’t just go “Council know about this stuff, they’ve got staff who research this stuff, they’ll sort it out”. Councils are a constant dynamic tension between what the noisiest ratepayers say they want, what councillors think, and what officers think. What’s typically come out of that combination is a lowest-common-denominator: “Well, it’s not terrible”. And it certainly isn’t working in terms of transport vs landuse (the comments under this post are an interesting traverse of the issues.)
However, with a good steer from us the public, the council could help navigate urban development in a better direction – getting the settings right, so the market can operate well and deliver us the socially optimal mix of places to live.
What could “doing it right” look like?
WCC are thinking about types of housing, facilities, and green spaces for all – not just people. Ka rawe!
They want to know about “what you value as part of your community, how that can work for a new community”.
This is our chance to tell them more about density done well.
And maybe just saying “affordable please”! We know local government can’t fix the housing market, but it’d really help if they could get developers providing a variety of dwelling sizes. There should be options for cohousing, tiny homes, eco-homes, and all the other (affordable) options that aren’t exactly like everything we already have. Not everyone needs an expensive 3-bedroom townhouse with a garden – let’s make sure they know that! Shared veggie patches could be a thing:
A community needs spaces and activities that brings them together as a community. People need access to third spaces; connections with community for health and wellbeing.
Let’s talk to them about doing density well. And not just with money making in mind! We need more than the standard 12 houses per hectare.
Or this Haverstock development in Auckland which will offer 46 terraced houses and 41 apartments spread over four storeys:
Share your views on how we can best accommodate people here: https://wellington.govt.nz/your-council/projects/proposed-upper-stebbings-valley-community
When people move in to this brand new ‘burb they shouldn’t need to rely on a car for every daily trip. How will the peeps living there get into town? Connect with Tawa and Porirua?
The council have also done some research into transport for the Upper Stebbings Valley/Glenside area (62 pages, you have been warned) for this development. But they could still do with gentle encouragement to think about what good public transport looks like (ahem). Is it so crazy to think of living in a suburb close-ish to the capital city of NZ, without a car of one’s own?
Orthodox ways of building suburbs are pretty terrible for the environment. And we – the wider community – pay, hand over fist, for that mediocrity. Are we happy with this being the way Stebbings is done?
What about the current residents of ? Flora and fauna? The area between Tawa and Churton Park has been a mix of farmed pasture and scrub for how many years? Let’s not forget that waterways from this area flow out to Porirua harbour. Will the runoff from the development and stormwater runoff take too much poo to P-town?
People of all ages enjoy caring for their surrounds and come together to restore and regenerate their local green spaces (like in Paekawakawa) and streams (like Upstream Brooklyn). Could the new Upper Stebbings community come together to be kaitiaki of the local ecosystem. They are the current residents!
The council have checked in with mana whenua of the Stebbings Valley land, confirming there is no specific cultural importance with this area but they do want wider impacts of water issues to be considered as development goes ahead. Porirua Harbour, Te Awarua-o-Porirua, will receive all the runoff from Stebbings – and Porirua City will receive all the sewage. And that is an extremely valuable and beloved harbour for the iwi there, Ngāti Toa, and for all the locals and outsiders who enjoy it and live near it.
And what about that name? It rather lends itself to being called Stabbings Valley. Could we have a Māori name for it?
What do you reckon? What things shape a great liveable community?
Have your say! Consultation closes on September 3rd, so you’ve got time to prepare and get your submissions in. https://capitalviews.uq.nz/surveys/htAotjgSzkyM-QjV6-twNg
You can even talk to the man in charge:
David Mitchell, Senior Spatial Planning Advisor
Phone: 04 499 4444
Research into quality medium density housing
Let’s Get Wellington Moving with good transport solutions for new communities
Cover image CC by Jonathan Usher
Upper Stebbings Valley CC by WCC
Churton Park subdivision CC by Sections Wellington
Cohousing allotment CC by besthomezone
Zavos Corner CC by Urban Group
Haverstock development CC by waterfordpress
Kids transport ideas CC by NZTA Future Transport Competition
J’ville bus CC by Metlink
Forest School CC by Newtown Playcentre