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Performance Urban Planning

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to the memory of
WILLIAM & ALFRED LEVITT
“The fathers of affordable housing”

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March 2017

Over the late 2012 / 2013 period here in New Zealand, we moved from the 'winning hearts and minds' advocacy phase after 8 long years, to the implementation phase, following the late October 2012 Government announcement and the appointment of Dr Nick Smith to the then Housing portfolio.

We have had the (where this writer lives) Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes events too, with the unexpected impacts on Wellington.

Following the Kaikoura events and the follow-up-research, the concerns are even greater now . as these recent media reports illustrate … Major earthquake could split Wellington region into 'seven islands'andKaikoura earthquake moved the South Island, new research shows.

There should have been important urban public policy lessons learnt.

At the very least, these events should have reinforced the importance of improving affordability and mobility . dramatically.

After all… New Zealand has the worst housing affordability and urban mobility in the developed world.

This is a truly remarkable feat of political and bureaucratic incompetence, for a country with just some 4.7 million people and a land area much the same as the United Kingdom, with a population of some 64 million people.

New Zealand's public service is clearly degenerate.

While the Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey measures housing affordability, it should also be seen as a measure of the degree of functionality of local urban governance.

While putting together the GONE… GONE… GOING section for this March 2017 update and researching earlier articles, I was struck by a few earlier ones in particular.

Firstly, one I wrote for the NZ National Business Review at the time (now Sir) Bob Parker, then Mayor of Christchurch, decided to quit mid - 02013… Christchurch: The political shambles.

I had long been 'at war' with Parker, since the time soon after the Magazine Bay Marina destruction in 2000, when he became Mayor of Banks Peninsula and I was the then President for the Magazine Bay Marina Berth-holders Association.

The Magazine Bay Marina and the Christchurch Central Area today are in large measure 'monuments' to Parkers political and commercial development skills.

Embarrassing costly wrecks.

With the google search that threw up the above article, another two popped up… Fran on Christchurch … Kiwiblog from back August 2012 and too, this from Interest Co NZ a month or so earlier … Govt wants all Christchurch CBD land acquisition negotiations over by March 2013; Doesn't have timeframe for how long it will wait before forcibly buying land.

In short… these media people, being Fran Sullivan, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar… and others too… such as Bernard Hickey, were very supportive of what can only be most charitably described as the 'top-down idiocy' of both Mayor Parker and then Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee… along with the political puppet, then Prime Minister John Key.

The incompetence of Key, Brownlee and Parker mean the Christchurch earthquake events will likely cost about $NZ50 billion… when the cost should have been about $NZ20 billion… for some of the reasons I outlined within an article back June 2011, soon after the most destructive Christchurch earthquake event 22 February 2011 … Hugh Pavletich accuses Christchurch City Council of blindness, blunders and chain dragging; calls for effective leadership, 'open land' policy and bendy zoning. Your view? | interest.co.nz.

That's just the 'back of the envelope' financial cost estimate of incompetence.

In human terms, the larger costs have been the politically induced 'bureaucratic brutalization' inflicted on people.

The horror stories just never seem to stop.

It would be fair to say Christchurch people experienced earthquake events and a political / bureaucratic disaster.

Former Christchurch Labour MP Brendon Burns expressed it particularly well within a The Press Op Ed February 2012… Better communication can shine a light in the darkness …

" …For this city to best recover from its seismic nightmare, the process of decision- making needs to be inverted to truly empower communities. Such a radical change is very difficult to accept for anyone - of any political persuasion - who happens to be in power.

To date, the required response is tokenistic. A top-down command and control system may be appropriate in the days after a disaster but not in a recovery which will take years. Among the ultimate victims will be those who talk the talk but don't walk the walk when it comes to true community engagement. Just look at the Christchurch City Council… . "

Late 2013 I asked Alain Bertaud, former Chief Urban Planner with the World Bank, if he could kindly contribute the Introduction to the 2014 10th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. He graciously accepted… and with other very important messages… had this to say…

"… It is time for planners to abandon abstract objectives and to focus their efforts on two measurable outcomes that have always mattered since the growth of large cities during the 19th century's industrial revolution: workers' spatial mobility and housing affordability.

As a city develops, nothing is more important than maintaining mobility and housing affordability.

Mobility takes two forms: first, the ability to travel in less than an hour from one part of a city to another; and second, the ability to trade dwellings easily with low transactions costs.

Housing mobility allows households to move to the location that best maximize their welfare. Affordability is the ability for any urban household to be able to rent a dwelling for less than a 25% of its monthly income, or to buy one for less than about three time its yearly income.

The mobility and affordability objectives are tightly related. A residential location that only allows access to a small segment of the job market in less than an hour commuting time has not much value to households, even if it is theoretically affordable. . "

This was followed by a highly successful 3 City Speaking Tour of New Zealand mid 2014, by Alain Bertaud and his delightful wife Marie-Agnes, a fellow researcher at the Stern School at New York University.

As I have made clear often elsewhere over recent years, New Zealand is the global leader in politically progressing these issues… thanks in very large measure to caring and professional people in the wider media, providing the public with quality information.