Barnaby Bennett, co-founder of Freerange Press speaks with Duncan Ecob, Director, Isthmus Group. Both Barnaby and Duncan are presenting at the 2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference 14-15 May in Wellington. To register www.urbanismnz.co.nz
Suburban Regeneration Opportunities
The problem of how to increase the density of existing suburbs is not new, but it is increasingly important issue for cities such as Auckland as they undertake major urban renovations. Duncan Ecob, a director of Isthmus, has been working on urban regeneration projects in the UK and NZ since the mid-80s and bring this depth of experience to the challenges facing Auckland.
Ecob’s original foray into suburban regeneration was the consequence of Thatcher era cuts to social housing. These cuts, inadvertently, shifted responsibility from the housing authorities to landscape and urban planners through local councils. It’s notable that almost thirty years later we are witnessing somewhat similar shifts in responsibility but from an almost opposite political ideology.
One example is on the North Shore of Auckland the suburb of Northcote which is undergoing significant planning and regeneration. This project is being led as a partnership between Auckland Council and Housing New Zealand. One of the core projects is the replacement of 360 odd HNZ houses with 1200 modern homes, including around 400 new statehouses.
The opportunity created by this intensification is, in many ways, is simply being able to implement age old good quality urban design principles: better access to public transport, encouraging of healthy movements through cycling and walking, increasing access to public amenities such as parks and school, providing new age care facilities, and the crucial goal of improving density and thus improving housing affordability. Ecob argues that while these principles are old, each projects has its own geographical, cultural and political variations that demand careful attention. He argues that similar regeneration projects in Mt Roskill and Mangere are very different and require different spatial and organisational responses. Context rules.
One of the main differences Ecob sees between NZ and UK is that the NZ doesn’t have strong traditions of dense housing with good urban design and so, unlike people in Europe, we New Zealanders tend to inherently fear this change. So presumably it’ll get easier the more we do.
Is this too good to be true, where’s the tension or problems with this approach? Ecob identifies two major areas of danger. Firstly, he argues that working with existing communities and change management is critical. Local residents and communities need to be informed, and they also need to understand the benefits and opportunities for their communities and families. HNZ has been working closely with the families in existing housing in Northcote and provide options to stay in new housing or move to other locations. Secondly, Ecob suggests that all the political goodwill in the world can be undone by reluctant or disinterested bureaucracies.
Perhaps the main threat for the different city-making professions and the new government in taking the opportunities generated by suburban regeneration projects is the powerful force of the status-quo.
Both are presenting on Tuesday 15 May – Duncan is speaking in the Case Studies Session and is chairing a panel; Barnaby is speaking in the LIVE Session.