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Intensive housing and social problems - study

10 May 2005

No link between intensive housing and social problems according to study

A study into the links between high density housing and possible social issues has shown that while there are a lot of misconceptions, there is no conclusive evidence that intensive development leads to increased social problems such as poverty and crime.

The research, commissioned by the Auckland Regional Council, Auckland and Waitakere city councils and Housing New Zealand, involved a comprehensive analysis of media coverage, national and international literature and surveys of residents and non-residents of intensive housing.

The key findings of the study were linked to the perceived impacts of intensive developments on surrounding neighbourhoods. There is general concern about intensive housing developments becoming slums and ghettos, which can be linked to images of state-led developments overseas, particularly the United States, in the 1950s and 60s.

Fears that intensive housing will have a negative affect on the values of surrounding properties are also a concern. The differences of opinion are clear in surveys of residents and non-residents. Those who live in multi-unit developments tend to be happy with their living arrangements, and, according to the study, see high-density housing as safe and secure. On the other hand, non-residents see high-density housing as having a negative impact on the amount of crime in the area.

Chair of the ARC's Regional Strategy and Planning Committee, Paul Walbran, says that the study reinforces some general perceptions, such as that intensive housing per se is fine in other cities around the world, but that it's not for the Auckland region.

"The quarter-acre, free-standing house is still very much a part of the New Zealand property dream. From a regional perspective, providing a range of housing options, including intensive development, is all part of having a quality urban environment and implementing the Regional Growth Strategy, developing distinctive and unique neighbourhoods connected by a reliable and efficient transport system.

"Intensive housing development doesn't need to be cheap and nasty. Well-designed, well-constructed, and well-maintained housing development will not lead to the deterioration of communities and the development of 'slums'. What it will do is provide viable alternative housing options for those who want it."

Cr Walbran says that the recent research will be a valuable tool in assisting the agencies involved develop a clearer understanding of the issues surrounding intensive housing. The research can also be used in the monitoring of council plans and policies.

"The ARC is already involved in a number of initiatives that aim to improve and enhance Auckland's built environment, and this research will assist us in many of these.

"We are providing input into the Building Code review to ensure intensive housing is better designed and constructed, we lobbied Government for a review of the out-dated Unit Titles Act, which is now underway, and earlier this year we reinforced our commitment to urban design by becoming a signatory to the NZ Urban Design Protocol."

The ARC has also recently publicly notified changes to parts of the Regional Policy Statement, which more clearly defines what and where different types of growth and development should happen, and the need to have an urban environment with high quality development and good design.

The recent study also backs up findings of earlier research undertaken by the ARC in 2000, which found that, generally, people fit into one of three areas when in comes to perceptions of intensive housing: one third don't like, are philosophically opposed to high-density housing and would never contemplate living there; one third accept it as a viable option for some people; and one third accept it and consider themselves to be potential future residents/buyers.


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