Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dannemora - why live there at all?

A recent opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald by one Damien Grant (I have no idea who Damien Grant is and am too lazy too google him, but he seems to be one of those opinionators the Herald keeps on because you can't have too many right-wing commentators) takes up a familiar theme of the propertied classes and argues that the Auckland Council's plan for high-density developments in Auckland will Be A Bad Thing for Auckland and Aucklanders. Evidence for this is taken from the Productivity Commission's draft report on housing affordability.
For Grant, the Productivity Commission, and those with a vested interest in development, high-density brownfield housing develpment is anathema because there's a whole lot more money to be made in greenfields development, ie suburban sprawl. The preferred narrative seems to be that if the Council opens up lots of land for development outside the existing metropolitan urban limit then house prices will fall. Bollocks. As the Salvation Army points out, to date the developments that have been outside the existing MUL all feature expensive McMansions. When the former Waitemata City Council tried to include affordable housing in its Hobsonville development, the government stepped in and promised no such thing would happen. But what caught our eye was this:

The Strand in Parnell [has] soulless uniform constructions of slums-in-waiting...Most people do not want to live in high-density housing. The first thing migrants from nations like Taiwan do is rush to Dannemora and buy the largest block of land and build the most ostentatious house their capital will allow...The desire to live in a house with a garden and room to bury the kids' pet goldfish is universal. 
 In other words, the preferences of a particular group of immigrants is put forward as reflecting a universal human desire. Note this is not actually an argument about the possible quality or otherwise of high-density housing, it just pretends to be. However, given the remark about the soulless Strand, we assumed that this must mean that, by way of contrast, Dannemora's got soul, which presumably is one reason Taiwanese migrants want to live there. So we packed up Spider's water and bikkies, and went and had a look.

Dannemora is a Mcmansion development of the type that sprang up around the developed world in the 1990s-2000s (Transport blog has some maps and comments about Dannemora and its style of development here). It is on what used to be dairy farms on the fringe of Manukau City (a fact that that on its own suggests that developing sheep farms will not result in affordable housing for the great unwashed). In keeping with Auckland's abysmal urban planning, it is totally car-centred, there's almost no public transport, it's difficult to walk around and almost lethal to cycle around. This might explain why (see if you can guess how many lanes this suburban road has):

But mostly we were looking for soul. There had to be some, right? 
Er, no.

This doesn't look like somewhere Richard Florida would approve of. It looks like somewhere you go to be fearful before you die (and given the support for hardline law and order policies in this neck of the woods, this is exactly what happens).
Humans have lived in high-density housing for decades, sometimes even with goldfish. Just because council planners have allowed crappy developments in the past, there's no reason they can't grow some cojones and demand better quality developments that cater for real people in the future. The question is whether the free-marketeers will let them.