My last post discussed the inherent tension between through and to movement. I argued that where there is increased pedestrian angst there is a place dividend that naturally seeks to be realised. This post takes a related theoretical understanding of streets and urbanism and applies it to Auckland’s city centre.
I have used Steve Mouzon’s work as inspiration. In this excellent blog post, The Speed Burden, he describes how designing cities for the purpose of moving cars quickly devours valuable real estate and is anti-antithetical to the functions of cities in the first place.
Busy streets, for almost all of human history, created the greatest real estate value because they delivered customers and clients to the businesses operating there. This in turn cultivated the highest tax revenues in town, both from higher property taxes and from elevated sales taxes. But you can’t set up shop on the side of an expressway. How can cities afford to spend so much to create thoroughfares with no adjoining property value?
Steve begins by diagramming an area in Florida to demonstrate how much land is wasted in road space.
His mapping exercise becomes more nuanced by considering whether streets provide “frontage” value. This is similar to the Link and Place framework. Real estate value is generated at the street frontage where the place of human interaction and transaction takes place. He maps them accordingly: Full Value, Compromised Value, and Worthless.
Taking the exercise one step further and using Auckland as a case study, I sampled current land values for properties and applied a relative score to each street segment to depict “street frontage value”. I removed the dollar values from the scores, but there is a real monetary value difference between the colours. For example, RED is 6 times as valuable as GREEN.
Most interesting to me is the location premium that still exists for property in the lower Queen Street valley. Who could have predicted that 100+ years from the heyday of downtown Auckland that the highest land values would still be centred on Queen St and its associated network of quirky lanes, arcades and back streets. What will it be like in the next 100 years? What ever happened to “place doesn’t matter”?
Clearly motorways defeat both spatial integration and thus urbanism. Everything adjacent to the motorway exists under an “edge” or barrier environment. This would also be revealed if I ran the Urban Network Analysis process since it is a simple geometric reality.
I like this analysis framework for two reasons- first, it helps to graphically represent how the streets and lanes are the actual conduit for exchange/transaction that provide (real estate) value in cities. When streets are compromised by conditions such as excessive traffic, real estate value declines and building forms start to take defensive positions (such as turning away from the street edge) further degrading the actual potential of place and leading to a condition of entropy.
Second, it depicts the importance of urban structure which is why some things (such as micro retail) exist in places but would be untenable in others. For example, the high value streets are all nested in a highly connected and highly central location. Patrick Kennedy from Walkable DFW further describes this phenomenon:
The greater the accessibility to a variety of people, places, and things, creates value, which instills demand, and thus density. Network integration is the release valve of demand, instilling opportunity and access to markets.
I originally started this post as mapping exercise to investigate whether turning slip lanes were erosive to city life. I got sidetracked and this analysis is probably jumping to the conclusion.
In the future I will overlay sliplanes, kerb cuts, multiple-lane one-way streets, surface parking lots and streets with excessive vehicle speeds to see if there are relationships. Also, if I can locate Jan Gehl’s street life data I will add it. I wonder if there will be any correlation?
Designer David Irwin (left) and Brady Nixon of Progressive Enterprises at the site of Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ponsonby project Vinegar Lane has been in the news and hailed by the Herald as a “shift in urban design“. Progressive Enterprises property development manager Brady Nixon described the project as, “a diverse neighbourhood of town houses, terrace houses, small boutique apartment buildings and boutique office buildings where no two buildings look alike.”
The design uses the local eclectic urban fabric as inspiration.
“The design aspiration for the project has been to make it look and feel like it’s part of the existing street and characteristics of Ponsonby. We believe we’ve been able to achieve a design that connects to what you can see in any small Ponsonby street.”
Isthmus directors Gavin Lister and David Irwin were recently in Vancouver where they shared this vision of ‘Kiwi Urbanism’ with local urbanists. Their talk was coordinated by our friend Gordon Price of Pricetags.
Little ol’ New Zealand made global news a few days back with a story about our extreme house prices. The article included the oft repeated “lack of supply” as one of the primary culprits. Without getting into the greenfields issue there’s an interesting conversation emerging from North America in regards to providing supply (and satisfying demand) and this is achieved by reducing apartment size restrictions and encouraging design innovation.
I don’t know much about New York City specifically, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t suggesting more greenfield development as a solution to their affordability problem. Instead, the City of New York is experimenting with its minimum size restrictions for apartments. A design competion called “adAPT NYC” will test the current zoning limit of 400 Sq feet (37m2) with 250 sq ft (23m2) units using city-owned property.
The design competition involves a Request for Proposals for a rental building composed primarily, or completely, of micro-units – apartments smaller than what is allowed under current regulations. New York City’s housing codes have not kept up with its changing population, and currently do not allow an entire building of micro-units. Under this pilot program, Mayor Bloomberg will waive certain zoning regulations at a City-owned site at 335 East 27th Street in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan to test the market for this new housing model.
Here is what Mayor Bloomberg has said about the needs to address housing affordability through design:
Developing housing that matches how New Yorkers live today is critical to the City’s continued growth, future competitiveness and long-term economic success,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “People from all over the world want to live in New York City, and we must develop a new, scalable housing model that is safe, affordable and innovative to meet their needs.
According to this NY Times article, the market is naturally moving towards smaller units as well.
“…the sweet spot for studios in new rental buildings is now “close to 400 square feet,” said Yuval Greenblatt, an executive vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman, who has managed residential rentals for the past 15 years. “Ten years ago,” he added, “they would build closer to 500 square feet wherever that could be achieved.”
Interestingly, these new apartment designs recognise the value of shared resources as a way to cut down on space- such as shared lounges, rooftop gardens, and car share services. This is the the powerful intersection of the “small-living” trend, the urban renaissance, and the “life-edited” concept promoted by Treehugger founder Graham Hill.
Meanwhile other globally relevant cities are following suit. San Francisco is currently considering a proposal that will allow apartments of 150 square feet (14m2) and Seattle is experimenting with “aPODments”, where:
Each “unit” takes up an entire floor of the five-story building, and consists of seven or eight separate living areas (each with a bedroom, ranging from 100 to 200 square feet) that connect to a central kitchen and living area.
Here is a video of an architect experimenting with small sizes in San Francisco.
I could see these types of solutions being very popular to a small but significant slice of the population in Auckland. Currently the minimum sizes for apartment studios in Auckland is 35m2 and 45m2 for 1-bedroom units.
Isthmus have been selected as Finalists for this year’s Best Awards. Two of our projects have been awarded: Wynyard Play Space and Barry Curtis Skatepark. We look forward the awards night on the 5th of October where we can meet other designers who have contributed fantastic design work throughout New Zealand.
Bike boxes are appearing all over the city centre in Auckland. They are a widely debated technique to provide more awareness to cyclists at intersections and in cases to provide maneuvering room for turns.
While bike boxes may be good in theory, if they are not carefully considered they can do more harm than good. The particular problem with these boxes is that by design they invite cyclists to use the space, implying that this is the best place to wait. This is mostly fine until vehicle movements entirely compromise their function. The most blatant problem is when they are used in conjunction with a left turn on green arrow such as on Franklin Road when it cross Victoria St West or on Karangahape Rd where it intersects with Ponsonby Rd.
In this case the paint and markings are telling cyclists to wait in front of the cars, meanwhile the turning signal is giving cars exclusive movement priority through that same space with a left turn arrow. “Required” guidance from the mostly excellent NACTO guide says the following about bike advance boxes:
In cities that permit right (read left in NZ) turns on red signal indications, a “No Turn on Red” sign shall be installed overhead to prevent vehicles from entering the Bike Box.
Clearly this guidance doesn’t reflect our local roads rules, but it is highlighting the inherent danger of using the bike boxes without careful signalisation controls and/or timing.
I hesitate to even mention guidelines or standards. To me these things can be figured out on an intuitive level. As a regular, confident cyclist, I have learned to avoid the these troublesome applications. But what about novice cyclists or the so-called “interested but concerned” types that are using this infrastructure? If we are hoping to provide either comfort and/or safety to interested cyclists the last thing we should be doing is building confusing infrastructure at busy intersections.
As part of Isthmus’ ongoing research and development we have been looking to overseas locales for a range of inspiration and direction. Increasingly we see Vancouver as a benchmark in many areas related to urban design and transportation. Isthmus directors David Irwin and Gavin Lister are currently in Vancouver meeting with built environment professionals. Much of their study trip is focused on exploring urban intensification typologies and strategies that Vancouverites call “gentle density”.
Isthmus is pleased to sponsor and support the Auckland screening of Urbanized. The film night event is a fundraiser for the Auckland Transport Blog a widely read source of information and discussion on transportation and urban planning topics. There are still a handful of tickets left, so if you are keen on seeing this excellent documentary amongst fellow Auckland urbanists pick up a ticket here or drop by the Isthmus Auckland studio.