A charter for Glen Eden?

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I have had a law practice in Glen Eden now for over 30 years.

I chose to set up there because the place really appealed and I lived nearby.

It was relatively inexpensive, not too flash. And there was a real sense of community and the area was full of good natured down to earth people.

I am very conscious that it is changing.

It used to be a place where factory workers and trades people and nurses and teachers could afford to own their own home and raise their kids in relative comfort.

But it is changing.

The Local Board commissioned a report from David Kenkel and David Haigh at Unitec to help us understand how Glen Eden was changing and the implications of this change for the area.  The intent in commissioning the report was that it should make recommendations about how change should be managed.

I recommend that if you have not already done so you read it. The report can be downloaded here.

One recommendation that I am keen to progress is the proposal that there be a Glen Eden charter, which sets out various principles including quality urban design, and social, cultural, economic and environmental principles for decision makers.

I thought that discussion about what should be in the charter should help us understand the values that are important to Glen Eden and what we want Glen Eden to look like in the future.

Here is the draft charter.  I would be happy to receive your feedback.

Draft Charter for Glen Eden: Waitakere Ranges Local Board (WRLB)

Mission: A sustainable Glen Eden that moves confidently to the future.
Challenges: Glen Eden will face a number of challenges including managing greater levels of urban intensification and upgrading of the town centre.

Infrastructure

1. The WRLB will encourage public transport, walking and cycling.
2. Improvements to traffic safety will be ensured.
3. A review will be carried out of Glen Eden’s infrastructure requirements as a result of planned intensification (e.g. water, sewerage and storm water).

Urban Design

1. The impacts of greater intensification can be mitigated through good design that includes the use of noise reduction materials, energy-saving through having a northerly aspect, passive surveillance of common and public areas, and privacy.
2. Promote a variety of affordable housing including single dwellings, apartments and townhouses, that meets a required standard of construction.
3. Intensification will also require consideration of access to services, both public and private.
4. In the upgrade of the Glen Eden town centre, consideration will be given to greater levels of pedestrianisation, improved access for older people and people with disabilities, new parking arrangements, public spaces that can be used for community events, facilities for children and indoor facilities for public gatherings.
5. Protect the physical form of Glen Eden that has heritage or historic values.
6. Promote good design of all modern buildings.
7. Glen Eden town centre will be designed to ensure that it meets the needs of people with disabilities.

Social

1. The WRLB will encourage good relationships with government agencies, Auckland Council organisations, civil society organisations and the private sector.
2. WRLB will promote public consultation in Glen Eden on policies, plans and programmes.
3. The social sector will be promoted through a community development process of community engagement, social capital and through the provision of financial and other support.
4. Social facilities will be established to meet the needs of a growing and changing population due to intensification and in-migration.
5. The WRLB will support efforts by social agencies to deal with social issues such as homelessness and begging.
6. The WRLB supports the concept of child-friendly cities and age-friendly cities in relation to Glen Eden.
7. The WRLB supports use of the principles of “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” (CPTED) advocated in the Auckland Council Design Manual.
8. The WRLB will discourage forms of gentrification that displace existing residents. This might include advocacy to retain existing social housing in public and community ownership, and encouraging developers to incorporate social housing within their housing developments.

Cultural

1. The WRLB will liaise with tangata whenua concerning issues of relevance to them. This will include supporting capacity building of Maori organisations that provide housing, educational and social services; rangatahi development; support employment and enterprise development; and integrate Maori space and cultural expressions into place making.
2. The WRLB recognises the important work of the Hoani Waititi Marae and Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust.
3. The WRLB will protect the important cultural heritage within the district.
4. Recognising the multicultural population of Glen Eden, cultural events will be promoted and supported.
5. The WRLB will encourage greater public use of the Glen Eden Playhouse Theatre.

Economic

1. The WRLB recognises the important economic and employment contribution of small businesses in the district.
2. The WRLB will liaise with retailers in the upgrade of the town centre and support initiatives that reduce risks from petty crime and promote public safety.

Environmental

1. Green spaces will be provided within the upgrade of the town centre.
2. Recognise the contribution that green space/trees make towards mental health and wellbeing.
3. The WRLB will ensure there are adequate green spaces to cater for any population increases.
4. Existing natural areas will be enhanced and protected.

Comments to this post are open.  Or alternatively email me.

Auckland’s yellow jacket protest

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Reprinted from the Standard.

Yesterday on a bright and sunny day I popped down to Aotea Square to see what the extreme right was up to.  There had been a fair amount of social media promotion of the yellow jacket rally and I wondered what sort of turnout they would get.

I had thought that there might be some interplay between the left and the right.  Love Aotearoa had organised a migrant’s picnic nearby.  Most people there were obviously having a good time and apart from a few activists that I know most people stayed away.

The rally was underwhelming.  There were maybe 30 yellow jackets there with perhaps another 30 supporters.

They seemed to think that the media was a purveyor of fake news. The criticism may have some basis in fact but not in the way they thought.

And they seemed to have a thing about socialists and think the current Government was a socialist government.

I tried engaging with a few.  Their beef was the Government support of the UN Global Migration Pact.  I have covered the background in this post.  Basically the pact is a feel good exercise that creates no binding obligations but sets aspirational goals for states to work to.  But it has been converted in the minds of some into a World Government grab of our sovereignty.

One of the yellow jacket wearers, who from his accent was clearly a Dutch immigrant, said that he had read the Pact and the words stating that it created a “non-legally binding, cooperative framework” but still thought the courts would use the pact to change our law.

When I asked him to name one case where this has happened before he walked away.

The rally was kicked off with the singing of the National Anthem in english.  I was pleased that they then sung it in Te Reo.  I was even more pleased that some of them knew the words in Te Reo.

The movement has clearly engaged in some analysis of their messaging.

They were keen to point out that they supported biculturalism, Maori and Pakeha, but were opposed to the multicultural stuff.

They would be happy to have Maori rednecks join them in their struggle.  They were still almost exclusively white.

The speeches were an interesting collection.

The first speaker went on a bit of a historical monologue and even talked about the great depression but forgot to mention the role of the first Labour Government in solving it.

ACT’s Stephen Berry also spoke.  The tenor of what he said is recorded in this press release. He thought that there would be a chilling effect on the right to freedom of speech if Governments engaged in awareness raising campaigns to “inform public perceptions regarding the positive contributions of safe, orderly and regular migration”. He needs to get out more.

There was this continuous dichotomy about how they were exercising their rights to freedom of speech, which is a good thing, but wanted to keep the UN, which is a bad thing, out of our country because it will affect our rights to freedom of speech. They seemed genuinely surprised when I pointed out that freedom of speech was something that the UN declaration of Human Rights preserved.

Marc Daalder from Spinoff has written this interesting article on yesterday’s events where he delves into the background of the groups and also discusses how local media should handle them.

He has delved deeply into their social media and describes it in this way:

While the total numbers of those involved remain small, many of them have coalesced online in a number of inter-connected Facebook groups. Here, they share news articles from fringe sources and worry about the coming Muslim invasion, particularly after the UN migrant pact is signed. For example, in ‘Yellow Vest New Zealand’, a Facebook group run in part by NZ Sovereignty leader Jesse Anderson, a simple search reveals calls to “ban Islam in NZ”.

Another post in the group enters some bizarre territory. “Porirua where i live is immigrant city including Newtown In wellington”, a commenter writes. “Combine that with 9+ mosques in Auckland. Its partially here and 99% of our food are halal which by Islamic Shariah law is under their law”. It’s unclear what the user means by “under their law”. They finish by warning it’s only a “Matter of time untill NZ has no go zones”, referencing the popular conspiracy theory that Muslim immigration in Europe has turned some cities into “no-go zones”.

Islamophobia is not the only fashionable prejudice in these right-wing groups, however. One user shared a post they had written about the UN’s official agenda for 2030, in which they warned the United Nations sought to “Criminalize Christianity, marginalize heterosexuality, demonize males and promote the LGBT agenda everywhere. The real goal is never “equality” but rather the marginalization and shaming of anyone who expresses any male characteristics whatsoever”.

In another thread, users debated the extents to which they would allow anti-Semitism. One member threatened to leave the group “if I see anymore posting […] of this zionist programming”. A second retorted, “come out of the cave mate”. A third: “What is the difference between Zionists and deep state? Imo it’s same thing, very much current”.

He also notes the crossover between this group and other anti establishment groups like anti vaxxers and 1080 opponents:

There is, however, a section of New Zealand society that is vulnerable to the far-right but is not yet inherently left- or right-wing. This is the second potential constituency that Spoonley sees. He calls them adherents of “new wave conservative conspiracy politics. For example, the opposition to 1080, the opposition to fluoridation, the scepticism about vaccinations. These communities are not inevitably part of the constituency [of the far-right] but they offer up some activists who are capable of translating their opposition to the modern state into far-right politics.”

The dangers here are two-fold. First, as Spoonley indicates, these groups are already predisposed towards anti-state behaviour. Second, their mentality extends beyond that into a refusal to acknowledge almost any traditional authority. The media, health professionals, and academic scholars are all summarily ignored by anti-vaxxers and their brethren. The combination of these factors make them easy pickings for the far-right.

Indeed, there is considerable crossover between the two groups. Conspiracy theorist David Icke, who believes a race of lizard people secretly governs the world and that vaccines are dangerous, is a popular source in the anti-UN Facebook groups. A poll in ‘Yellow Vest New Zealand’ about whether vaccines should be mandatory prompted a number of outraged comments. “No vaccination fascism!” cried one. “No fluoride in the water where I live, I can still use my pineal gland”, promised another.

And he points out that in the United States after the media abandoned the traditional “he said she said” approach to reporting on Trump the media has recorded improved levels of trust.

After adopting new methods of covering Trump in the age of fake news, American outlets have enjoyed a veritable trust renaissance. In mid-2018, a poll found a majority of Americans had “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in media, for the first time since Trump burst onto the scene.

Whether the far-right comes about in New Zealand is not yet a foregone conclusion, but it is certainly possible. Vigilance is sorely needed to prevent that movement from prevailing – and today’s march will prove the first test for New Zealand’s media and the country at large.

His comment about the need for vigilance is prescient.

To repeat one question which I heard asked a number of times yesterday, where has multiculturalism ever worked?

We were in Aotea Square.  There were young Chinese and Indian, Pacifica, a mother and daughter wearing a hijab, all peacefully coexisting.  Across the road there is this wonderful Turkish kebab shop.  There are no less than two Sushi shops within 100 metres of where we were. Queen Street is littered with businesses owned and run by different nationalities showing the really good side of globalisation.

Within the city there are plans to celebrate Waitangi day, Chinese New Year and the Festival of colours all within the next month or so. People from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences all happily living together.

I am cautiously confident that New Zealand is showing that multiculturalism is working fine and that the Yellow Jackets will not gain traction. Time will tell if I am right.

Westpac becomes accredited living wage employer

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Hell must be freezing over.  This post is to congratulate Westpac on becoming an accredited living wage employer.

What is especially interesting is that it was willing to submit to the certification process of a voluntary organisation comprising of representatives of the trade union movement, community groups and faith based groups.

From the Living Wage press release:

Westpac is joining well over 120 New Zealand employers who know the Living Wage is good for their workers, good for the economy and also good for business and Westpac is actively encouraging other big businesses to step up as well.

This is an historic milestone for our Movement and, hot on the heels of Vector and AMP, we expect many more of our wealthy corporates to follow Westpac’s example.

“Extensive international research and a growing body of New Zealand research shows workers who are paid the Living Wage have better morale, less absenteeism and greater productivity. There is also a business advantage in being labelled a Living Wage employer. But, above all, it is simply the right thing to do, Westpac NZ General Manager Consumer Banking, Simon Power, says.

Mr Power says the organisation is committed to helping improve New Zealanders’ financial position. “We want to lead by example. We already pay our staff a living wage and we now we want to extend that to contractors and suppliers. 

“We think it will benefit them, their families and New Zealand as a whole. Ultimately, that will benefit the economy and our business.

“Above all else, we think this is the right thing to do. These workers play an important role in our day-to-day operations and we value their efforts.”

This is all the more reason for other entities including Auckland Council, District Health Boards and licensing trusts to do the same.  If an Australian corporate bank realises the benefit of paying its workers and contractors a living wage then local democratic public entities should do the same.



West Coast Regional Council wants to be persuaded about climate change

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Climate change is, in my personal view, the most important issue that the world is facing. If we do not drastically alter the way we live we will bake the planet.

The proof seems to be extraordinarily clear. And each day there are actual events which fit into the scenarios predicted by climate change scientists. Things like disappearing glaciers, mass extinctions of different species, record low amounts of Arctic and Antarctic ice, increasing sea levels and more powerful and destructive storm events.

Maybe these are random events unrelated to increasing CO2 levels. But surely the precautionary principle applies and elected representatives should prepare for the worst and do everything they can to at least mitigate the effects. Like slashing the amount of green house gasses that we are emitting.

But it seems that the West Coast Regional Council is taking an alternative view.

From Kate Gudsell at Radio New Zealand:

The West Coast Regional Council wants more scientific evidence to prove human-driven climate change is happening before it will commit to reducing emissions.

The council does not support the government’s Zero Carbon Bill and is the only regional council in the country to reject it.

In its submission, the council said if West Coasters were to commit to emissions targets, “the evidence proving anthropogenic climate change must be presented and proven beyond reasonable doubt”.

The council’s planning, science and innovation manager Hadley Mills said there was too much uncertainty about the economic and social impact from the bill.

He said a lot more work needed to be done so they could understand how jobs and communities would be affected.

He said the council was not denying climate change but it was a struggle to understand it.

“We must be objective and base our decisions on science and that’s why we want the science presented really simply; we don’t have climate change experts on our staff so we just want everyone to understand it.”

And one of the Councillors took a rather extreme view. Again from Radio New Zealand:

Councillor and miner Allan Birchfield said the bill and climate change was a fraud and said it would end up costing locals.

He said the government needed to pay attention to what had happened in France with the so-called yellow jackets, the protesters who wreaked havoc in Paris, demonstrations sparked by rising fuel prices.

If the test is do all elected representatives have to understand the science before we do anything elected bodies will never do anything. And refusing to accept what is a very strong scientific consensus is retrograde. It is like refusing to accept urgent heart surgery because you do not sufficiently understand the cause.

The Waitakere Ranges Local Board has always considered climate change to be one of our most important issues. Local events such as the failure of the Huia Sea Wall show what will happen to other areas over time. We have always been vocal opponents to off sea oil drilling off the west coast and supported the Government’s ending of block offers. Our limited transport capital fund has been spent on walkway and cycleway projects. We are strong supporters of tree protection in part because of their carbon sequestering ability.

This is the only responsible thing that in my view an elected representative can take.

Perhaps at the next meeting of the West Coast Regional Council they could play this video. So that they can get into perspective the relative states of the arguments for and against the existence of human made climate change.

Update: To be fair one of the West Coast Regional Councillors, Stuart Challenger, opposed the submission questioning the existence of climate change. He is a specialist stormwater engineer. Clearly he can understand the science.3

Housing affordability and urban form

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Hugh Pavletich of Demographia has released its annual review of housing affordability. The results are not surprising. New Zealand continues to perform poorly on any matrix associated with affordable housing.

From Radio New Zealand:

The annual Demographia International Housing Affordability shows New Zealand has continued to be one of the most unaffordable countries in the world to buy a house, with the median price more than six times the median annual household income.

Of the eight New Zealand markets looked at, none were considered affordable.

Palmerston North-Manawatu was the least expensive at 5.0, then Christchurch at 5.4, Dunedin at 6.1, Wellington at 6.3, Napier-Hastings at 6.7, Hamilton-Waikato at 6.8, then Auckland at 9.0, followed by Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty as the most unaffordable at 9.1.

Anything more than three times household salary is deemed unaffordable and homes more than five times a median annual household income is considered “severely unaffordable”.

Auckland was the seventh most unaffordable major city in the world, behind Hong Kong, Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, San Jose and Los Angeles.

The measurement seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary and I could not believe the statement that Tauranga was less affordable than Auckland unless wages there are really out of sync.

Report co-author Hugh Pavletich then blamed the current Government for the problem despite the long term nature of the issue. And expected that somehow it should have been solved in the last 12 months.

“Unfortunately, this has been created, in large measure, by the government just dithering through 2018 in dealing with these issues.

Mr Pavletich said housing unaffordability was “solvable”.

“They just [need to] allow affordable housing to be built. In other words, getting out of the road more than anything on this land supply issue and bringing in proper debt financing for infrastructure.”

He told Morning Report the Labour Party was in trouble at the next election if it didn’t tackle the issue and that Housing Minister Phil Twyford had been “dithering” on the issue.

“Mr Twyford and the Labour-led government know exactly what needs to be done and if they don’t do it this year, and we visibly don’t see more social housing I think they are going to be toast at the 2020 election,” he said.

He said the government’s flagship policy to tackle housing needs, KiwiBuild, needed immediate revision.

“KiwiBuild has been so badly-conceived that it’s just been a joke … and regrettably the government needs to really go right back and revamp that whole thing or continue to lose credibility promoting such rubbish,” he said.

“To be talking about affordable housing at $650,000 is just an insult to everybody’s intelligence.”

His comments about price completely misrepresent the affordability of KiwiBuild houses. $650,000 is the top price payablefor stand alone houses with three or more bedrooms. Terraced houses and apartments are anticipated to costbelow $500,000.

And his proposed solution, opening up land supply and letting urban sprawl happen, shows his philosophical beliefs very well.

Thankfully not all economists agree. Again from Radio New Zealand:

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the reality was there had been so many different failures around land use, infrastructure building and design.

He thinks councils need to have the power and the ability to build more houses if affordability is to be fixed.

Mr Eaqub said the government was heading in the right direction with regulations around infrastructure and local government.

“But the big fixers are very slow to move, and we won’t see the benefits of that for some time to come.”

I thought I would have a look at some of Demographia’s work. The website is, how shall I put this politely, visually challenging.

Some of the linked to sources are also fascinating.

There is this cluster fuck of text about climate change in this article:

There are at least two ways to comprehensively reduce GHG emissions — not surprisingly, a right way and a wrong way.

The wrong way is typified by the conventional wisdom among many puritanical urban planners, These social engineers have been frustrated for decades, failing to herd automobile drivers into transit and new residents into pre-War densities. All the while, their demons — the expansion of home ownership that could only have occurred by building on cheap land on the urban fringe and the greater mobility provided by the automobile — have been major contributors to the democratization of prosperity. Throughout the first world, from the United States to Western Europe and Japan, poverty levels have fallen markedly as more households take part in the quality of life mainstream. Women have been liberated to become near-equal economic players and low income households, including many that are African-American or Hispanic, have entered the middle class and beyond.

Yet, for years, much of the planning community has exhibited an inestimable contempt for the lifestyles that have been chosen by most households. The Puritan planners have identified this once-in-a-lifetime chance to force their confession of faith on everyone else.

This is evident, for example in a new Brookings Institution report (Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America purporting to demonstrate that GHG emissions are higher in the suburbs than in more dense cores. Using this debatable conclusion — directly at odds with the findings of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s far more extensive study (Australian Conservation Atlas) (Note 1) — they jump from rhetoric to their time honored litany of anti-mobility, anti-home ownership and pro-poverty commandments, skipping right over the economic analysis that any disciplined analysis of trades-off would require.

The article is painful in that it does not address what happens if we do not successfully address climate change, that is wreck the planet, and thinks that there is some mythical balance point where economic interests can “properly” be balanced with environmental interests.

There is also this paperwhich comments, back in 2008, on the cause of the global financial crisis. The causes were apparently profligate lending by banks and, get this, planning restrictions on land. 

Not fraud and the greed of Wall Street and the Merchant Banking sector but too much lending and not enough land.

This belief, that we only have to open up land supply and all will be fine, is not the sole preserve of Pavletich.

National leader Simon Bridges thinks the same. Again from the Radio New Zealand article:

National Party leader Simon Bridges said the main driver of house prices was the lack of land for new homes.

“We’ve artificially constrained land,” he said.

“Were the government today to come up with a comprehensive RMA [Resource Management Act] reform on both planning and the environment, we would be collaborative on that.

If the RMA is such a problem I do not understand why National did not solve this problem during its last term in Parliament.

Auckland Councillor Greg Sayers has also claimedthat limitations on urban spread are the problem and has written a book claiming that Auckland has to dump the ideology of a compact city and spread out and grow to make housing affordable.

Are they right? Is the restricting of land supply causing increasing house prices and worsening urban performance?

Greater Auckland has this very credible critiqueof an earlier report from Demographia. From its post:

This raises a quite obvious question: Why are people willing to pay so much more to live in some places? Why live in “unaffordable” San Francisco when “affordable” Houston is just down the road? Why live in Auckland when housing is relatively cheaper in Dunedin?

Urban economists have studied this phenomenon in detail, and observed that there is an omitted variable in Demographia’s equation: the differing amenities offered by different cities. If a city offers good natural amenities or consumer amenities, people will be willing to pay more to live there. Conversely, if a place isn’t particularly nice, people won’t be willing to pay much for houses there. (Common sense, really.)

And the failure to make any allowance for how unsustainable and how environmentally damaging sprawl is creates I believe a major weakness in Pavletich’s analysis.

As said by Greater Auckland:

If we wanted to accomplish that, we’d have to destroy most of the things that make great cities great. This might make housing cheaper, but it wouldn’t make us any better off in a broader sense. That’s because it would require us to:


Bulldoze the Waitakere Ranges and use the spoil to fill in the Hauraki Gulf – to ensure that Auckland didn’t have any natural advantages over a flat, inland city like Hamilton.
Dynamite the historic boulevards of Paris and replace them with American-style subdivisions and malls – to ensure that Paris didn’t offer anything that Houston doesn’t.
Ban any venture capital or startup activity in San Francisco, to ensure that it doesn’t offer any agglomeration economies that don’t exist in Detroit.
Build large screens over sunny cities like Tauranga and Brisbane – to ensure that they don’t have nicer weather than Moscow or Toronto.


But Demographia’s not aware of this. Their analysis is overly simplistic. The only thing it reveals is the authors’ grievous failure to understand the basics of urban economics. It’s no wonder that Demographia has never tried to have its studies peer reviewed or published in academic journals. Their claims aren’t supported by any valid conceptual model 

Well said.  If we want to save the Ranges and we want to improve the quality of urban centres then urban sprawl, with the attendant need for motorways and infrastructure, is the last thing that we should be doing.  We should aspire to be like Paris, not Houston.