Ever since Labour’s housing spokesman came out yesterday in favour of removing the planners’ ring-fence around Auckland, otherwise known as the Metropolitan Urban Limit, there has been any amount of ill-informed commentary in response – most of it opposed to “sprawl.” [UPDATE: One of the ill-informed is the present housing minister who in his two-faced way says ‘It would be counter-productive to ditch [his present] work at this time with a simplistic approach of just abolishing city limits.”]
There is a great deal of ignorance over urban sprawl, much of it on display in an interview this morning with Gary Taylor of the Environmental Defence Society (the luvvies’ favourite NIMBY group).
Taylor purported to recognise the need for more housing, but reluctant to allow it on his watch. He eventually conceded he could be happy with “shifting the currrent limit” rather than removing it, but insisted he remained unhappy with “untrammelled urban sprawl.”
Is he not aware that the very best way to encourage speculative land-banking and encourage untrammelled “carpet” sprawl –two things to which Taylor is adamantly opposed -- is precisely to keep shifting the current limit bit by bit by bit, each time rewarding those who had landbanked just beyond the boundary, and filling up the newly-“opened” land with the very carpet sprawl he claims to despise.
This has been precisely the policy followed by enthusiasts for the misnamed Smart Growth school of planning, and precisely the result.
Owen McShane explained the process in a presentation delivered a few years before he died (pdf), of which this the briefest of excerpts:
WHY SMART GROWTH DELIVERS CARPET SPRAWL.
Smart Growth delivers Carpet-Sprawl because even the most rigorous Smart Growth city eventually has to extend its Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) to provide more land for residential, commercial and industrial use.
In  the Mayors of both Waitakere City and Manukau City have pleaded for extensions to their MULs. Even Smart Growth planners acknowledge these “adjustments” will be necessary from time to time.
The sequence of events is as follows:
• The MUL is initially set to allow for the next period of growth to take place within the existing “urban form”.
• Eventually this enclosed area fills to the point where there is essentially no zoned land left for further growth or it has become so expensive that no one can afford to use it.
• In the meantime many activities have simply leap-frogged into territory outside the Smart Growth planners’ jurisdiction, which is why Northland Region is now growing so rapidly.
• Open space inside the MUL is sacrificed to high density carpet development to “save” open space outside the MUL.
• At some point the situation becomes intolerable and the people and their representatives demand an extension of the MUL to enclose some piece of surrounding rural land.
• Once this “bulge” is made legal then development and intensification begins again until the new “bulge” is also full of high density carpet development and some relief is allowed in some other part of the city.
Obviously, as this process is repeated the city expands into the rural area as medium or high density “carpet sprawl.” The only difference from the post-war sprawl is that there will be a greater variety of housing types because the market demand is more varied and regulations covering section sizes and housing types have been relaxed since the sixties, and the overall density will be higher.
I'd be interested in hearing from supporters of planning, zoning and so-called 'Smart Growth' how they feel about producing the very thing they say they oppose.
In the meantime, perhaps they might contemplate that the effect of removing the ring-fence altogether (as Twyford proposes) rather than just to shift it (as Taylor reluctantly allows) is not to deliver sprawl at all, but to open up the possibility of a network of small satellite “rural hamlets” or “managed parks” appearing around the outside of the present city limits in areas of most value to those who might live there, with low-impact land engineering and onsite water treatment reducing the impact and encouraging plant growth, and the reduced infrastructure needed paid for by the Municipal Infrastructure Bonds Twyford proposes, and that have worked so well overseas.
Couldn’t that be exciting!
Much more than a combination of carpet sprawl, ten-acre blocks, and land-bankers being handed risk-free profits.