Tuesday 9 July 2024

"However much it offended the sensibilities of design snobs and planners, we were there because our shoebox apartment was better than the alternative."

"[I]n 2005, Auckland city was ... dotted with cranes, many standing up so-called 'shoebox apartments.'
   "The phrase was not meant as a compliment. They were derided as 'future slums' ... [which] ultimately led to a rule change ... making the minimum size of a two-bedroom apartment 70 square metres. ... [T]he change had a profound and lasting impact on apartment construction. ...

Chart by Apracitis Economics, from The Spinoff

"In 2005, I was only dimly aware of the furore, of the disgust shoebox apartments aroused. In 2005, I was living in one. ... In retrospect that apartment was where I started to get my shit together, started to have a sense that I could be something more than a fuckup....
    "The apartments were objectively ugly, though not so bad as they were made out at the time.
    "But the upside overwhelmed all that. I was right there in the city. ... It was what I needed at that time, however much it offended the sensibilities of design snobs and planners. I feel confident in saying many other residents, transient as we often were, felt the same way. We were there because it was better than the alternative. ...
    "Another characteristic of the inner city when I lived there was that homelessness barely existed. I remember vividly an extraordinary double-page feature in the 'NZ Herald' which looked at life among the unhoused then. It mapped specific characters, and if you spent a lot of time in the inner city, it seemed a near-complete survey.
    "The idea that you could now map the scale of human misery that a lack of housing has brought to Auckland is unimaginable. As the ’00s wore on, the GFC hit and the next decade began, the city acquired its current reality, with hundreds of people making lives on the streets of downtown and its fringes. It’s now a countrywide phenomenon.
    "That’s the backdrop of the reforms announced last week by housing minister Chris Bishop. I travelled into the city to see him deliver a speech about housing last week ... He spent long periods wading through the thickets of regulation, through the acronym soup of the MDRS and the NPS-UD, and paid compliments to Auckland’s groundbreaking 2016 unitary plan, which started the process of unshackling land for development and finally saw us surpass the heady mid-00s for construction of multi-units.
    "But the part which leapt out for me was not technical, it was moral. He announced an override of the minimum dwelling size standards – a return to plausibility for the kind of place I lived in 20 years ago. In front of a room full of people involved in construction and leasing, with tables for Colliers and CBRE and Crockers, he made a simple case. 'You know what is smaller than a shoebox apartment? A car or an emergency housing motel room.' That’s our current plan for dealing with people who don’t have a house, and it’s indefensible.
    "The rest of the reforms he announced are big. They are a continuation of an enormous body of work which started with Auckland’s unitary plan, was driven forward by Phil Twyford’s revolutionary NPS-UD which created a huge potential for urban density, and now reaches a powerful climax with Bishop’s 'Going for Housing Growth' package.
    "It’s not beyond criticism ... But to me those issues are less material, and likely to be less impactful, due to the return of the maligned shoebox."

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