Wednesday, May 22, 2013

in praise of public transport - an alternative to the housing crisis

I've been doing quite a bit of reading about the Auckland housing crisis this week.  The blogs and opinion pieces from those on both sides of the story have made for interesting reading, and yet despite all I have trawled through, I am yet to find anything that concretely tells me what ''affordable'' actually means.

Seems the government (both local and central) have their minds and hearts set on opening up new development - supposedly cheaper housing, and close enough (they say) to minimise urban sprawl.  

Call me naive, but it seems patently obvious to me that this is a completely flawed approach.  The reality is that it will be very difficult to create desirable places to live in outside of the already favoured areas.  Also it surely must be obvious to the planners that these satellite suburbs are not going to be desirable to a very wide group if they are still going to involve lengthy work commutes and gridlock traffic.  There's a good risk that cheap housing will always be cheap housing and (as was evidenced in Hamilton 20 years ago) very quickly become the Kiwi version of slums.

Add to that the notion of affordability. We still don't know what that is but I guarantee it won't mean a decent quality house for under $350k - which means that probably 90% of the people who are wanting this housing wont be able to afford it anyway.  These homeowners - assuming they can own these houses - or renters of same houses, will be on low wages, then commuting to jobs elsewhere - I doubt that entire suburbs of retail  and industry are going to be popping up around the housing any time soon, especially with the proliferation of business parks already in Auckland - and the birth of the super mall.

Apartment living is an option I suppose, but certainly not attractive to many with young children (the very people needing affordable housing).  Moving to less attractive suburbs - well that's a possibility but again, those with kids are going to be looking at schooling first, and accessibility to their own workplaces second. 

I simply cannot understand the reluctance to create better commuter towns as happens abroad.  Allowing  Auckland to be the hub, and the smaller towns to spoke, with high quality, high speed commuter transport seems to me to be a far better answer.  Keeping people in their own communities is better for society as a whole, keeps money in small places, allows families to live in areas they may not have previously considered viable, and makes us an attractive nation to settle in for people coming from like minded countries.  In many places in the world a one or two hour commute to work is not unusual, but this is done by efficient, comfortable train, not slow bus or gridlocked traffic routes.  

Imagine if you could jump on a train in Pukekohe and be in the city in less than 30 minutes.  Or get on in Hamilton and take under 90.  I believe this would be good for everyone - less pressure on the Auckland housing market, continuing demand for quality (and far more affordable housing) in corridor towns, less pressure on the other infrastructure costs of growing a city and allowing people the choice of living somewhere that allows lifestyle other than city living.  I'd even go so far as to say there might be less pressure to maintain a double income family (due to not having to spend a million bucks on a house in a decent area of the city).

My generation, and those that follows are technologically savvy, and open to change - I think they'll embrace public transport if it's made easy and ''affordable''.  Younger people already use trains and buses as viable, constant alternatives to cars.  Tourists continue to be astounded at the poor transport options to move them around NZ. 

How do we make this happen?!?!

Your thoughts?