The shape of the City is the shape of your future: Planning for Growth LAST DAY TODAY

Whack in your submission on Wellington City Council’s growth strategy, TODAY. Don’t worry you can knock this off in 5 min!

Blimmin’ heck there’s been a lot going on lately! We’re feeling a bit fatigued and you probably are too.
But Planning For Growth matters: WCC and councillors will look to this feedback to either confirm or bust potent, pernicious myths like “Kiwis want to live in suburban houses with a garage and lawn. It’s the Kiwi way”.

So a good progressive submission will make a real difference.

Just focus on telling council: “give us a good quality of life please, we care about carbon and knowing our neighbours and kids being able to play outside safely and shopping locally. Oh and yes, we’re open to places to live that look a bit different from the bastardised version of the quarter-acre paradise that the 1990s and 2000s have given us in such quantities.”

Our handy “TL;DR” guide for submissions is here.

But if you like, our hot take on Planning for Growth:

Scenario 1 – inner city focus.

Fine, and necessary but not sufficient. It doesn’t really help our suburbs get any better. (see below). We’ll have to have taller buildings and better stormwater in the City Centre anyway. Let’s Get Wellington Moving is now going to do the good stuff that makes the central city a cracking good place to live, and the land value uplift will be delicious.

As for “character areas” of the inner city e.g. Mt Vic – be very careful. The villas and so on will be protected – fiercely defended – by many vocal, competent and influential people. They don’t need your voice adding to their protection. Your voice is needed for density done well so we don’t have to listen to binary silliness like “it’s the beautiful villas, preserved in amber OR ugly 200-storey tenement buildings!!!!!!”

Auckland’s had this debacle over whether to enable intensification in their leafy, villa’d inner suburbs and it’s been horrible for their society. Ultimately one of the biggest weaknesses of the Auckland Unitary Plan is that it’s still far too hard to do good quality medium- and high-density development close to the centres where people need to be.

And finally, importantly, an inner-city focus for our growth would be sticking all our growth eggs in one very vulnerable basket – see below. Few points for resilience.

Scenario 2 suburban centres map

Scenario 2 – Suburban centres focus

This is our pick. (And the Wellington City Youth Council, some of Wellington’s most thoughtful, future-focussed and smartest young minds, supports this one too) [PDF 417KB].

Scenario 2 does do plenty of development in the central city but it also puts a bunch of growth into the suburbs. This is ace for two reasons.

Firstly, density done well is NOTHING BUT GOOD for suburbs. Let’s repeat that:

density done well is nothing but good for suburbs. 

Read more below. Emphasis is on the done well, so don’t let that slip out of your mind.

DDW is good for suburbs – and it’s suburbs where most of us live. Suburbs, like Berhampore, Johnsonville, Newlands, Karori need to have stronger hearts: centres which are better places to be, hang out, their streets freed from the tyrannical grasp of “must have car parking by all the things” – which all comes from having more people living closer.

Accessibility, rather than mobility; in other words, don’t force people to travel to do stuff if they don’t need to. Make it easy to do stuff you need nearby to where you live, on foot / wheelchair / scooter / slow bike etc. Build better dwellings that don’t rely on getting their own sun to be warm and dry (as most of our houses do right now!). Design for better shared outdoor spaces so people can be warm and dry in their own homes and still have good nature connection. All these things can come when you have more value – from more people – more concentrated. Density done well.

Secondly, Wellington’s city centre is objectively really vulnerable to the perpetual threat – earthquakes – and the new threat – climate change effects. It really really is. The more Stuff For Living we can have in our suburbs, and the stronger our relationships there, the better we’ll weather the guaranteed natural disasters, and the quicker we’ll recover. Don’t put all our new eggs in that basket. Resilience FTW!

Scenarios 3 and 4 – new greenfield suburb, and greenfield extensions

Honestly, when we read these we felt like when you’re doing a multi-choice test in science class, and there’s a question like “Which of these liquids would dissolve a shell in the quickest time?” and two options are “hydrochloric acid” and “acetic acid” and then “chocolate milk” and “pureed woodchips”.

The best thing they can say about them (in the special summary text to introduce them) is: “These scenarios would have a minimal impact on pre-1930s character areas.”

Bit of a smoking gun there. Does it smell to you a lot like pushing new people out into the hinterlands to assuage potential NIMBYs?

Looking into the detail, these two options are both …well, sorry, WCC planners who’ve worked on them, but they’re terrible.

They’re lemons, dogs, guaranteed to give us buyers’ remorse. (Except it’ll be our kids and grandkids paying hardest for our bad decisions. Extra good. They’ll really thank us.)

So what’s bad about them?

  • For water runoff – i.e. flooding down-catchment – and also for stream and harbour health.
  • For neighbourhood cohesion. (Sad, but true)
  • For transport – both at origins (won’t be no bikeable streets here, kids) and as all the residents try to get out and in, driving because that’s the only choice that’s feasible.
  • For infrastructure spending and maintenance (good piece by the Smart Prosperity folks here).
  • For greenhouse gas emissions (see the research).

(And for the record, we’re a bit too cynical to think an “eco city” would actually end up very eco at all in Wellington, mostly because transport).

And the “advantages” of these two scenarios are things like “Creating new communities can inspire modern and innovative design, for diversity and affordability. ” Hmmm. Nah. We should get good design and affordable diverse places to live focussed in the places we live already thankyou very much! Improve life for the 95% of us, don’t focus council’s and developers’ “better places to live” energy on the new builds!

Remember, picking option 2 and dissing options 3 and 4 doesn’t ban new lifestyle blocks or standard suburban layouts. These are still pulling in the highest profit per section for developers, so you can rest easy these folk will still be keen to pump out as many as possible and they have a lot of influence on councils. The question we’re being asked is where the emphasis of growth goes. And we should answer with a clear eye and a firm focus on our future.

So, Scenario 2 for the win! Whack your submission in by 5pm today,

Then reward yourself with that lovely civic glow (and maybe a big piece of cake. Because cake).

More on density done well:

Image credits:

  • NIMBY/YIMBY: Cole Burston, Toronto Star
  • Missing Middle: all over the internet, source unknown

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