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Student’s plan for vibrant inner city New Plymouth

May 6, 2014

Student’s plan for vibrant inner city New Plymouth

New Plymouth locals could see their inner city flourish as a vibrant place to live if they can overcome a fear of the ‘d’ word – density. So says a Massey University planning student who has researched the issue for the New Plymouth District Council.

Ashleigh Pearce, a former Spotswood College student, spent 10 weeks on a summer internship researching and writing the Central Area Housing Report for the council’s New Plymouth Central Area Urban Design Framework, which will inform the 2015 District Review Plan.

Ms Pearce, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Resource and Environmental Planning at Massey’s Manawatü campus next week, says she is passionate about her hometown and its potential for downtown revitalisation, and hopes her report will generate constructive conservations in the community.

She says inner city New Plymouth is poised for innovative medium density housing developments to complement existing buildings or to transform unused buildings into residences. The result would be a enlivened downtown area where residents could enjoy the cost-saving convenience of walking to work, access to numerous green and coastal spaces, cultural facilities and retail offerings, as well as benefiting from more social connections.

Other advantages of inner city living include a low-maintenance lifestyle, increased safety and security on the streets with more people around, as well as strong economic imperatives with opportunities for food, cultural and entertainment businesses to thrive.

Presenting the findings of her 100-page report last week to council and community members, including local architects and urban planners, she said the emphasis should be on medium – or “gentle” and “hidden” – density to make the most of the town’s existing buildings and layout.

Until now, the focus for medium density housing has been in Auckland and Wellington, “while the provincial cities have quietly assumed inner city living is not for them,” she says in the report.

A lack of knowledge by the public and civic leaders about what medium density means was among the barriers she identified in her research. “The word ‘density’ provokes polarising, emotive responses,” Ms Pearce says. “People tend to think of sky rise, leaky buildings, people living too close together in shoe boxed-size spaces. There’s a lack of conceptual understanding.”

Medium density loosely refers to: “housing developments with four or more dwellings per lot, including stand-alone, semi-detached, terraced housing or apartments with four storeys or less.”

Other barriers to inner city living in New Plymouth (population approximately 75,000) include “the unfounded perception that Greenfield development is cheaper and more straightforward to develop.”

The reality is that “the low hanging fruit for development is actually found in the inner city and residential fringe,” Ms Pearce says. Because infrastructure and services such as water and waste, telecom cables and fibre networks, and storm water systems are already in place, most of the building costs in the inner city can be spent on desirable development.

Her recommendations on how to foster medium density inner city housing developments include education, advocacy and advice in the form or presentations, workshops and expos.

She says leadership from an “urban visionary” working collaboratively with an Urban Design Panel with representation from the council, community and developers is the needed, along with the creation of a series of guidelines for developing medium density housing, she suggests.

New Plymouth District Council’s Manager Environmental Strategy and Policy Colin Comber said the research and reports by Ms Pearce, and another on building heights by Auckland University architecture student Kyle Ramsay were a “win-win” for the council and students, whose academic skills added value to the current planning process.

Read the reports here.


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