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Research encourages design focus

6 May 2005

Research encourages design focus to combat social issues

There is no clear link between intensive housing and any positive or negative social outcomes.

According to research received today at Auckland City Council's Urban Strategy and Governance Committee, design may be the major issue to focus on as more local authorities take a "compact city" approach to managing growth.

The research, commissioned by Auckland and Waitakere cities, the Auckland Regional Council and Housing New Zealand Corporation, is part of the sustainable cities programme. Undertaken by consultants from Synchro Consulting and Hill Young Cooper Ltd, it will be used to improve the understanding of, and responses to, these concerns and to better monitor council's policies and plans.

The research analysed public perception of intensive housing, as outlined in recent community surveys and local media coverage, and compared the views expressed in these with national and international research.

"The results show no clear link exists between an increase in housing density and any positive or negative social outcome," says Councillor Dr Bruce Hucker, chairperson of the Urban Strategy and Governance Committee.

"The report also indicates that many media articles tend to focus on negative perceptions of intensive developments and possible social problems.

"However, most research literature acknowledges that the built environment is just one factor in a wide range of economic and social forces influencing social problems.

The report does highlight that intensive developments should: place high importance on design, construction quality and maintenance reflect the local area and meet people's needs be located near (or accessible to) a range of services and activities accommodate a diverse range of households in terms of income and demographics.

Extensive consultation by the Auckland Regional Council and Auckland City during the preparation of the Regional Growth Strategy, released in 1999, confirmed that people in the Auckland region support limiting suburban sprawl that spoils the bush, beaches and farmland surrounding the city.

Consequently, every council in the Auckland region is taking a "compact city" approach to urban growth. This means reducing suburban sprawl (and the traffic congestion that sprawl creates) by limiting growth outwards and accommodating people and jobs within urban limits.

The councils are working together to manage growth and co-ordinate work on transport and economic infrastructure, so that the region can effectively manage its growing population.

One aspect of this approach is to increase housing density around areas identified as being able to accommodate population growth. These areas have good public transport access and storm water infrastructure, the capacity to grow, good public facilities and open space, and an environment not threatened by growth.

A key principle is to improve quality of life, sense of community and lifestyle choices by creating vibrant town centres that are easy to get around by foot and passenger transport.

The initial focus of planning for housing intensification in the Auckland region has been on location, accessibility as well as access to community facilities such as public transport, shops, jobs and schools.

The research into the social impacts of intensive housing indicates that the quality and diversity of development design, which to date has not received much attention, may be the biggest challenge facing the push to accommodate population growth in intensive housing developments.

The Urban Strategy and Governance Committee further recommended that additional research be scoped to investigate links between housing and the nine key socio cultural factors identified in the research – heath, crime, poverty, social exclusion, community, perceived well-being, anomie, education and labour force participation. This research will map the "deprivation index" alongside areas of intensification in Auckland to assess how they are related.


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