Urban Intensification in Auckland

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Auckland City



Intensification of Urban Areas

Figure 1: Auckland City

As one of the most urbanised countries in the world New Zealand continues to face the twin pressures of increasing density and urban sprawl. Planners and councils both recognise that urban intensification is an enabler, a challenge and a solution requiring multi-disciplinary understanding (Kobus, 2013). It is only through smarter urban design decisions, policy management and community support that cities can be commercially, environmentally, and socially sustainable.

Urban intensification emphasizes the idea of urban planning that concentrates growth in compact walkable urban centers to avoid sprawl. Urban sprawl is defined with the low density developments that leads to tendencies of long commuting distances and time, this development of the city can produce a non sustainable and negative impact to the economy (Kobus, 2013). By concentrating urban development, it also advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighborhood schools, complete streets, and mixed-use development with a range of housing choices. It can also be defined as an increase of density (dwellings, activity units or population) over the existing density within a defined area (Regional Growth Forum. 1998). It is reflected by a number of statistics with population per area being the most signifying.

Figure 2: Graph showing past and future projections of the population in the Auckland Region (Source: Statistics New Zealand, 2013)
Figure 3: Map showing the location of the Papakura within the Auckland region, shown by the red line (source: Peter WInder, 2010)

Outlook on Auckland

Auckland city is one of New Zealand's most desirable cities to live in as it is surrounded by many stretches of coast and the Auckland harbour. Auckland is New Zealand's fastest growing region and it has been proven that it is the only district to never have had a decrease in population (Department of Statistics, 2006). Because the population is increasing so fast it needs to be understood where and why it is growing at such fast rate. Auckland is also one of the most diverse cities culturally in New Zealand, which is reflected by it containing the largest Polynesian population in the world (Statistics New Zealand, 2006). The population according to the 2006 Census is 1,303,068 (32.4% of New Zealand's total population)an increase of 144,177 people, or 12.4 percent, since the 2001 Census. Auckland is a multicultural, vibrant center for New Zealand's industry and economy as it offers employment opportunity, as there is more than 620,000 jobs and contributes to 35% of New Zealand's National GDP (Winder, 2010).

The main issue with Auckland is that its policies have always supported road construction and new motorways to relieve traffic congestion (Gunder, 2010). Policies are directed towards becoming more of a compact city. The main patterns emerging in Auckland are the changed in human settlement. These are characterized by two outcomes; concentration of an increasing population and dispersal of the population.In other words a larger populations of people are coming into the city and dispersing themselves through out the city.

Auckland now lives with the consequences of the 1955 Plan as the current settlement lives with the adverse effects of continued urban sprawl (Regional Growth Forum, 1998; mikeofnz, 2006). With Auckland’s ever increasing population the concept of sustainable development has become more popular than ever before. These changes are occurring due to an increase in awareness of the human impacts on the environment. Urban sprawl is a phenomena of particular concern based on its association with vehicle dependence and vehicle emissions. These factors are leading to the impacts of climate change. Cities today are beginning to adopt compact city processes as a way to reaching urban sustainability. An issue for Auckland lies within its never-ending motorway productions and policies that seek to better private transport over the creation of better public transport systems (Auckland Council, 2013). Motorways in cities are a huge focus when it comes to looking at urban sprawl and it is the main driver of greenhouse gas emissions. Settlements such as Avondale, then later Takapuna were once settlements in the rural countryside, but have now been consumed into the urban sprawl of the city (Gunder, 2002).

Papakura is one particular suburban development within Auckland that is undergoing changes and compact city processes. The town is low to medium density and has grown in size immensely since the 1950’s (Auckland Council, 2013). Crowding, housing densities and the release of new height restrictions on building construction are important factors to consider when looking at intensification (Papakura Local Board Fact Sheet, 2012).

Implications of Urban Intensification


Figure 4: Figure showing terrestrial biodiversity for the Auckland Region (source: Statistics New Zealand, 2013)


    • A number of implications arise from increasing population density in the Auckland region,a compact settlement plan is part of the goals of both Auckland’s Regional Growth Strategy and the Long Term Sustainability framework, as discussed in the evaluation of the Regional Growth Strategy (Regional Growth Forum, 2007). Higher population density, in the identified growth centres, will help maintain the green zones around the region. The Regional Growth Forum's growth concept aims to protect and enhance environmental values in areas that are already urbanized (Regional Growth Forum, 1999).
    • An increase in population density, especially over a short period of time, affects the character of an area. For example, detached dwellings may be replaced by apartments to accommodate the larger number of people living in an area.
    • Higher density living makes the expansion of services such as public transport more feasible. However, services such as waste management may be more difficult with a denser population.
    • Grimes and Liang (2007) find that there is a positive association between high population density and land value. Higher land values are good for property owners, but not for prospective buyers.

Pressures of urban intensification in the Auckland region

Figure 5: Figure showing Auckland's Net migration and natural increase of population between 1951 and 2012 (source: New Zealand Statistics, 2013)

Auckland population change

Figure 6: Figure showing Auckland's population density. (Source: New Zealand Statistics, 2013)

The regional population of Auckland has only ever been on the increase. Auckland's population average annual population growth rate was 2.2 per cent over the past 20 year (New Zealand Statistics 2013, Winder, 2010). This projected to continue to 2041, at a lower rate but higher than previously thought. The city is the largest Polynesian city in the world. This has resulted from migration between 1991 and 1996 where migrants accounted for 50% of Auckland’s population, but growth has also been due to natural increase through time (New Zealand Statistics, 2013). The graph illustrates this and indicates that net migration has increased, but has been at a steady rate for the past five years. So the main increase has come from natural increase within the region.

According to New Zealand statistics from 1991 Auckland’s population has continued to increase at a rate of 13.2 per cent from 1991 to 1996 accounting for 29.5 per cent of New Zealand’s resident population. During the period between 1991 to 2006 the inner Auckland city, particularly the central Auckland regions, show the highest increase in population density. In 1991 there were four area units with a population density of more than 4,000 people per square kilometre. By 2006 there were 26 area units with a population density this high. The Auckland CBD has seen the largest increase in population density, due to the population more than doubling every five years between 1991 and 2006. The increase is also seen from the 2001 census were population increased by 6.4 per cent from 1996.

Auckland Plans

The Auckland 1955 Plan was based around the transportation of the Metropolitan area of Auckland. It served a number of benefits in terms of decentralisation and using land further out to avoid congestion which at the time seemed necessary for future planning (Gunder, 2010).

“It is vain to be always looking towards the future and never acting towards it” – J F Boyes (as cited in Winder, 2010, p.5)

This bias towards motorway development seemed beneficial to the CBD’s accessibility as well as the positive influences they would have on economic land values. Sprawl was a matter that went unquestioned as the largest concern for Auckland at the time was congestion (Gunder, 2010; Winder, 2010). By introducing motorways, it seemed like the best solution to mitigating these effects. From 1951 new plans were set out to improve the effects of the prior plan:

    • 1951 Outline Development Plan: focussed on effective provision of infrastructure, roads, rail, water, power and sewage.
    • 1974 Auckland Regional Planning Scheme: focused on effective use of resources such as land, the natural environment and infrastructure. The basis of the plaas to improve travelling and consolidation.
    • 1988 Regional Development Strategy identified regional issues and recommended consolidation processes to accommodate for some of the growth. Decision making processes were integrated.
    • 1996 Regional Growth Forum: was set up because it seemed that growth of infrastructures and communities were beyond control. It was in the interests of the RMA 1991, local authorities and Auckland’s future that strategies and positive planning were in need of further development.
    • 1999 Auckland Regional Growth Strategy: had the vision to manage growth in Aucklands region and the population of roughly 2 million by the year 2050. This plan looked into strategies around intensification through the use of different transport nodes and ways to manage growth more sustainably. This strategy involved the collaboration of many organizations.
    • 2008 Regional Sustainable Development Forum: this was created to strengthen Auckland’s regional governance project which comprises of local, central and regional government.

Trends in Aucklands Intensification focusing on Papakura

Papakura through time

Papakura District is a former local council territory in New Zealand's Auckland Region that was governed by the Papakura District Council from 1964 until 2000. The area making up the southernmost part of the Auckland metropolitan area. The area was originally a small independent city, until it became Papakura District in the 1989 and has now been overtaken by Auckland’s urban sprawl (Auckland Council, 2013). But on the 1st November 2010, the Papakura District Council was merged into the new Auckland Council, and all new council facilities and services were handed over to the new council.The district is flanked by beaches on the Manukau Harbour to the west, Manukau City to the north and east, and the Franklin District to the south. Papakura District’s population is estimated to be growing at fifteen times the rate of New Zealand as a whole and is predominantly European. Over 60% of the residents living in Papakura District belong to the European ethnic group and 36% belong to Maori and Pacific Islander group. The city council is planning for Papakura's population to more than double by 2050 (Auckland Council, 2013).

The main transport in Papakura is Auckland's southern motorway and the North Island Main Trunk Railway, which runs through the Papakura District. Train and bus services provide the bulk of public transport, with frequent trains on the Southern Line between Papakura and the CBD (Britomart). Recent investment has focused on upgrading and refurbishing the region's trains and suburban railway stations, most recently with the opening of a modern station facility at the town centre (Auckland Regional Counicil 2013). Papakura is the final stop southbound of Auckland’s public transport, with Papakura being the third busiest station on the rail network.

Figure 7: Figure showing bar graph of the fastest growing Territorial Authority areas population percentage again New Zealand average. (Source: Statistics New Zealand, 2013)

As seen from New Zealand statistics, throughout New Zealand especially in Papakura there is a increasingly high population growth rate of 11.1%, and is the second fastest growing region in the Auckland district as of 30th June 2010.

Figure 8: Figure showing bar graph of the ten highest percentage of most crowded territorial authorities in 2007. (Source: Statistics New Zealand, 2013)

This increase in population has initiated crowding, which occurs when the dwellings that people live in are too small to accommodate the number of people in a household. There are a few different measures of crowding; The capacity of a dwelling can be measured by floor area, or the number of bedrooms or rooms (Statistics Canada, 2013). New Zealand has adopted the Canadian National Occupancy Standard as a measure. This measure is complex and calculates the number of bedrooms needed based on the members of a household. It presumes that there should be no more than two people to a bedroom but that couples and children of certain ages can share a bedroom (New Zealand Statistics, 2013).

The standards for crowding under the Canadian National Occupancy Standard, state that for a household is classified as crowded if the dwelling requires extra bedrooms in order to meet the following criteria (Statistics Canada, 2013):

    • There should be no more than two people per bedroom; parents or couples share a bedroom.
    • Children aged less than five years, either of same or opposite sex, may reasonably share a bedroom.
    • Children aged less than 18 years, of the same sex, may reasonably share a bedroom.
    • A child aged five to 17 years should not share a bedroom with one aged under five years of the opposite sex.
    • Single adults aged 18 years and over, and any unpaired children, require a separate bedroom.
Figure 9: Figure showing the number of bedrooms per owned and not owned households for Papakura. (Source: Statistics New Zealand, 2013)

There are a number of factors that influence crowding

Lack of large houses, particularly rental houses:

Figure 10: Figure showing the distribution of annual median personal income for crowded and non-crowded households from the 2003 Census. (Source: Statistics New Zealand, 2013)

Crowded households were much more likely to rent their homes. In 2006, only a third of crowded households owned their dwelling. Larger dwellings (measured here by number of bedrooms) attract higher rents, as shown above (New Zealand Statistics, 2013). The Auckland region, focusing on Papakura, has consistently experienced high rates of crowding as rents are higher in the Auckland region. Median rents for a 4 or 5 bedroom property were approximately $350 a week in 2006 which increased to just over $400 a week in 2011 (New Zealand Statistics, 2013).

Crowded households have lower incomes: Census data (from 1991 onwards) indicates that crowded households had lower incomes than households that were not crowded. However, household income is not the only important factor. Whether that income is sufficient to buy everything that the household needs is also a key determinant of crowding (new Zealand Statistics, 2013). Since housing is one of the major costs of a household, people on lower incomes may be forced to share housing to reduce their housing costs. Having enough income to cover basic needs is a key factor in the overall well-being of those living in the household. If a dwelling can’t adequately accommodate the number of people living in it, it becomes crowded (New Zealand Statistics, 2013)

Higher levels of crowding had lower incomes than the general population (based on median annual personal income statistics). How much people earn determines what type of accommodation they can afford.

Indicators of Urban Intensification

Through the Resource Management Act 1991, Section 35; every local authority has the duty to gather information, monitor and keep records for the whole or any part of the regions environment. This is achieved through a State of Environment Report (New Zealand. Ministry for the Environment, 2013).

Environmental reporting by the local authority focuses on the land and water of the area. This can also cover:

  • Air
  • Atmosphere
  • Freshwater
  • Land
  • Marine

National Policy Statement
Regional Policy Statements
Regional Plans
District plans
Auckland Plan
Auckland Utility Plan
Papakura Utility Plan

Figure 11: Figure showing hierarchy of plans. (Adapted from: Ministry for the Environment, 2013).

Regional Plans and District Plans are drafted to meet the National Environmental Standards set by the central government (Environmental Defense Society, 2013). State of environment reporting is taken under Section 5 of the Resource Management Act (1991) for resource management activities and decision making. The hierarchy of the plans provide a consistent standard throughout the resource management documents over the whole country. These standards must be meet or local authorities can enforce stricter standards in the plans and used as an integrated management. The State of the Environment reports help with policy development and successful plans.

National Environmental Standards under Sections 43 and 44 of Resource Management Act 1991 are technical standards, methods or other requirements set to protect environment matters for human today and future. Standards that are in effect are air quality standards, sources of human drinking water standards, Telecommunication standards, Electricity transmission, Assessing and managing contaminants in soil to protect human health (Ministry for the Environment, 2013). There are also standards developing which are plantation forestry; Ecological flows and water levels.

Looking at Urban Amenity indicators for the livability of our urban environments:

  • Noise and vibration
  • Nuisance effects
  • Open space
  • Urban density (including population and housing density)
  • Vegetation
  • Landscape
  • Urban design
  • Cultural and heritage features
  • Character of neighbourhoods
  • Visual amenity and views
  • Public and personal safety and accessibility
  • Sense of well being

Indicator to consider for key urban amenity attributes (source: Ministry for the Environment, 2013):


Figure 12: Figure showing aerial photo of the residential block of Nelson Street, Duke Street, South Street and Ray Small Drive in 1959(left) and 2013(right). (Extracted and adapted: Auckland Council, 2013)

The map indicates the Environmental indicator of property area for a single house by the area of aerial photographs in 1959 and 2013 from Auckland Council GIS mapping programme. The residential block including Nelson St, Duke St, South St and Ray Small Drive (Figure 12) has had a 493% increase in houses since 1959, averaging an increase of 9.1% per year. As the street block area has not changed, this brownfield development has produced a 78.9% decrease in property size (area) per house since 1959. This indicator data was conducted in the research of Papakura for this wiki page. This indicator was not readily accessible for use as population, economic and transport data. The extensive time needed to provide the valuable indicator would help towards the analysis of urban intensification for Papakura and New Zealand.

Future Planning

Figure 13: Figure showing the predictive map of the growth concept for the Auckland region in 2050. (Source: Winder, 2010)

The projected growth concept by Peter Winder (2010) for 2050, aims to:

    • Compact the urban growth from within main centers
    • Intensified growth node support via passenger transport
    • Provide housing choice and job opportunity

The Auckland Plan

In November 2010 Auckland's local bodies came together to create a single new local governance structure now referred to as the Auckland Super City (Auckland Council, 2013) which has been designed to strengthen regional leadership. On the 29th May 2012 the Auckland Plan was released which seeks to create an effective 20-30 year strategy for Auckland's growth through the use of the local government Amendment act 2010 (Auckland Council, 2013).

The vision of the plan: “to be the worlds most livable city”

Table 1: Table showing four broad strategies for the Auckland Plan. (Source: Winder, 2010)
Figure 14: Figure showing Map of Auckland City urban intensification focus of the Auckland Plan. (Source: Winder, 2010)

The 4 broad strategies:

    • Expansion within rural urban boundary (RUB)
    • Urban intensification
    • Better urban design
    • The southern initiative

In order for the these strategies to be successful the Amendment Act 2010 suggests that there must be co-ordinated decision making by the Auckland Council as well as the relevant parties

Projected Plans and Strategies

The Regional Growth Strategy (Auckland Regional Council, 2012; Winder, 2010) sets out a vision for the future and provides certainty as to the outcomes Aucklander's want to achieve as the region grows and develops. The vision and desired outcomes provide certainty that future regional growth, in whatever form, will promote:

    • More compact growth and integrated communities
    • Contain urban development
    • Avoid development in highly valued and sensitive areas
    • Intensify around transport nodes and town centers, mixed uses
    • Integrate land use and transport
    • Provide housing/lifestyle choice
    • Safe, healthy communities
    • Diversity of employment and business opportunities
    • Housing choices
    • High amenity of urban environments
    • The protection and maintenance of the character of the region’s natural environment
    • Sustainable use and protection of the region’s resources (including infrastructure) and
    • Efficient access to activities and appropriate social infrastructure for all.

The strategy assists key stakeholders in understanding the likely scale and form of future growth and the consequent infrastructure priorities. It provides for more detailed planning to ensure the best ways to accommodate growth and implement the Regional Growth Strategy at a local level are determined.

The region’s local authorities support the direction of the strategy. They are committed to aligning policy and funding in their areas to support and implement the strategy. Key areas will be:

    • Integrating rapid transit investment with transit-supportive
    • Higher density mixed land uses along the west
    • Southern and northern transit corridors
    • Upgrading the storm water and waste water infrastructure within the existing urban area to provide intensification opportunities
    • Providing or upgrading the social infrastructure to service new development areas

The strategy will need to respond to changing circumstances. It will therefore be monitored annually and fully reviewed every five years

The ‘Green City’ concept applied to the Auckland Isthmus (Johnson, 1980) suggested:

“Housing intensification is proposed for the whole area and especially near the nodes and fronting the open spaces where the latter is possible. Such intensification would make use of existing housing stocks. Land-pooling methods would be encouraged”

Papakura: Unitary Plan

Unitary plans set out the rules and regulations for the city. According to the Papakura Local Board Fact Sheet (Auckland Council, 2012) the area aims to have greater heights and densities in central Papakura

Mixed housing zones: :In a site larger than 1200m2 no density limit is specified

Terrace housing and apartment buildings:: The plans propose that there should be more of this form of housing surrounding Papakura Metropolitan Centre. No density is specified and multi-unit living is encouraged.The proposed height limit in the terrace housing and apartment zone is 14.5m (4 storey) which is a change from the current 9-12m limit.

Industrial zone: : The Industrial 1 zone is known as the light industry area which is going to be re-zoned as mixed use. The Industrial 3 zone (medium industrial) is going to be re-zoned as light industry.

Metropolitan area:: The plan proposes a max height of 72.5m (18 storeys) up from the existing 21m (5 storey limit).

Town Centre:: New height limits in the plan are 16.5m (4 storeys) which used to be a 12m limit.

Local Shops:: This area is zoned as neighbourhood centres with a max height of 12.5m (3 storeys) which used to be 9m.

The area of land currently zoned Rural Papakura known as Hingaia Structure Plan Area 1B which is within the Metropolitan Urban Limits has been zoned Future Urban. The Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) will define the maximum extent of urban development in greenfield land to help meet projected population growth. There are provisions for protecting the natural environment and special character of the area. These include notable trees and Significant Ecological Areas.

Figure 15: Figure showing areal photo of Papakura in 1959(left) and 2013(right). (Extracted and Adapted from: Auckland Council, 2013)

Brownfield vs. Greenfield: Mixed-use designs of compact city intensification have been used as an urban growth strategy management tool to reduce urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is associated with Greenfield development, where farmland in subdivided for residential or commercial development. Reversing urban sprawl, poses brownfield development. This development produces compact city characteristics, where development occurs on already existing developed property.

The Papakura Growth Strategy Plan aims for brownfield property development. Within Auckland over the next 50 years it is estimated that 70% of the developments will be on built-up land (Auckland City Council, 2008), which is brownfield development. However, issues have been seen with urban intensification of compact cities in Europe, where investigating the direct area of the city, compaction of mixed use was successful (Milder, 2012). Issues have occurred from observations of the region. It was found that many house owners in the city tended to have a second house that commuting in weekends would be obtained.

The Addison development is an example of how Papakura is incorporating brownfield property into the planning for urban intensification. This compact development uses two story housing to create affordable housing and open spaces, located North of the Papakura town centre on the urban boundary and walking distance to public transport. This development will provide 35,000 more residents to Papakura, with housing plots on average 250 square meters (Ministry for the Environment, 2013a). The intensification of the suburban area into an urban area does provide some difficulty toward the change in mentality around the area, which is a common theme in development of compact planning (Milder, 2012). By compacting the house sites, green spaces are produced to ensure urban amenity values while responding to increase of population and the urban intensification (Johnson, 1980).


The issues associated with motorways in Auckland are not yet resolved even though long term plans have been put into place. The Ministry for the Environment (2013) and Ministry of Transport (2008) are particularly associated managing urban issues. Integrated methods to achieving a compact city are through; behaviour changing programmes, better land use planning through zoning policies, inner city parking fees to manage congestion, taxes, encouraging the use of public transport and better investment in alternative forms of transport (recognition of effectiveness and unitary plans- is this effective to intensification.

By increasing the urban environmental indicators, the ability to identify recommendations are more effective for future design, enabling a strengthened vision for a sustainable city.

As seen by trends in the changing population it is important that district and regional plans are monitored and updated through state of environment reporting, so that urban intensification can be incorporated into the publics strategy and vision for urban sustainability.


Urban intensification seeks to counter the challenges of urban sprawl. Compact city processes through careful planning and confining city spaces have been put into place to manage the population increase. As the growth for Auckland increases, authorities have incorporated mixed-use design into the plans and policies which theoretically develops the city in a more sustainable way.

In looking at Papakura specifically, brownfield development has been useful in reducing the effects of an 11.1% increase in population. In observing the 1959 aerial images of Papakura with those of 2013 (figure 15) it is evident that subdivision sizes have decreased and housing density has increased.

From the literature implications of urban intensification through a compact city plan were found. Looking at the positive and negative associated with the economic, environment and social factors, many of the points were associated with the role of transport. Planners and councils have now recognized the impacts of sprawl and today look for smarter alternatives. Compact city processes concentrate on and emphasize the need for walkable urban centres and transit oriented development along with higher density buildings. Policies and the regional growth strategy now look to support these over those that support motorway development and vehicle dependence.


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