$9m to probe city planning

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 20:06 24/08/2012

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The Government is spending $9 million on a research project that will try to work out the best way for cities to develop.

The Otago University-led project received one of the largest grants in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s $133 million funding round announced this week.

 Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, director of the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities which is leading the project, said the research "basically pulls together everyone working on the issue in New Zealand".

"Very, very" little work had been done in this country on urban issues such as whether urban limits should be imposed or whether infill housing should be built, she said.

"This research will make a big difference to the way our cities will look in future, we hope."

Otago University said the project - called Resilient Urban Futures and awarded $9.2 million over four years - linked the universities of Otago, Victoria, Auckland, Massey and Canterbury, Niwa and the Motu Public Policy Research Group, with councils, government, iwi groups, developers and community groups.

Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Kapiti, Wellington and Christchurch cities would be involved, with the research comparing  the broad costs and benefits and qualities of two possible urban development paths.

The first path emphasised more compact development within existing urban areas, while the other focused on further greenfield development on the outskirts of cities.

The research would enable government, developers and iwi to have a clear idea of the broad future consequences of different urban investment decisions, Prof Howden-Chapman said.

"We're very excited about the impact this can have on the lives we all live in cities."

While the project would provide much better information for making decisions about regulations, its aim was not to look at what laws should be changed, rather it was about understanding how cities worked.

The agenda for the research came from four years of consultation with councils and central government, Prof Howden-Chapman said.

The researchers would be looking at many different models for cities.

For example, a polycentric model being followed by many new cities in China had clusters of housing linked by public transport routes, rather than having a central core.

"We're interested in the advantages and disadvantages of doing things in different ways," she said.

Development was usually driven by what had worked in the past, but that had led to some pretty spectacular failures.

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While the Government was concerned about the costs or regulation, costs could also be incurred without regulation, as happened with leaky buildings.

"It's obviously a balance."

Part of the research also involves analysing the impact of ultra-fast broadband, and possible transport link efficiencies between the ports in Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei, and the proposed inland port at Hamilton.

Prof Howden-Chapman said people could be a bit parochial about the ports, but there was a need to think about them together and look for efficiencies.

- Fairfax Media

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