Why density though?

Answered by A City For People’s Luke Sommervell, to attendees of March 2024 gathering of Wellington Urbanerds.

Why density? Why now? 

It’s a conversation that has come up recently, a lot. 

Young people are flocking to places like Melbourne, Sydney, and London. And raving about trains, trams, apartment living with the same level of excitement you’d hear from someone who figured out how to go back in time to Woodstock 69’. 

And yet, if you ask anyone on the street what a Spatial Plan, District Plan, IHP reports says, they’ll probably say: what about HP Sauce? 

These reports, deadened by layers of turgid, technical prose are really about the living, breathing experience of housing in this city. It’s one of the most fundamental experiences of being human. It’s a part of every aspect of our life in this city. 

That’s what City for People is about. It’s about making sure our cities are designed for people, and that those people should have a say in what our city looks like. 

When I first joined City for People the words “density”, “tactical urbanism”, and “walkable catchments” made about as much sense to me as creating a Ministry for Cutting Red Tape in 2024. 

But what I did know about, was an experience of consistently poor housing stock, skyrocketing rents, and lining up outside a flat like I was trying to get into movieworld. 

And yet, during the campaigns with City for People, I consistently came up against an absolutely baffling lack of understanding about the housing crisis. 

A crisis that has seen the median house price in Wellington City rose to $990,430 in October, and the average rent hit $640 a week in September 2023

Who laughed off the projected population growth as “imaginary people”. 

The obsession with “character” as a talisman, when I had personally seen the real character of Wellington wash away. 

Wellington has a future as a consultant capital: I can’t imagine the “character” of the city being very interesting when it’s populated by legions of quarter zips wearing rm williams. 

So when I see the IHP recommendations come out, I see a document that is saying: these issues aren’t important. Your experiences are irrelevant. We’re just going to say our hands are tied and accept this fate. 

And it’s not good enough. 

Call to action: What can I do? 

But we don’t have to play violins while the titanic sinks. 

The old power brokers. Residents associations / home-owner associations are effective because they don’t stop. They have institutional knowledge that has been passed down. They can afford to sit through an excruciating 5 days of hearings (akin to water torture). 

Politics is boring. It’s sitting through meetings at council. It’s about dreaming about the egg sandwich you’ll have in recess… 

But we can’t leave the future of our city to the old power brokers who have dictated decision making for decades. 

Our city is a tapestry of people, tens of thousands.

Their quality of life, sense of community, and positive experiences stem from stable, secure, and affordable housing. 

Collectively, these lives tell the story of our city. Let’s make sure this story is one we can be proud of. 

Let’s make sure we can look back on the big decisions we make as a collective, how we want to live together, and say we did good. 

Nga mihi nui ki a koe!

See the rest of the March Urbanerds roundup here

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