By the late 20th century the effects of a less regulated planning regime were evident. Liberalisation of liquor licensing laws and zoning regulations had encouraged the growth of a vibrant urban café culture and a return to inner-city living – a trend apartment developers encouraged.
But other reforms were more detrimental. Economic deregulation in the mid-1980s had created a commercial building boom in city centres. Ornate and much-loved historic buildings were razed and replaced with austere skyscrapers that won few friends. In Christchurch the old green belt had been breached by a stampede of 4-hectare lifestyle blocks which formed a new belt around the city. The city core was ringed by large malls and business parks, starving the centre of people and workers. In Auckland continued suburban sprawl and low investment in public transport had created even more congestion on streets and motorways. The need for a more coordinated approach to city planning and growth was apparent.
One response was the emergence of urban design. It looked past land-use zoning and the erection of single buildings to consider the physical arrangement, appearance and functioning of cities: how a place worked, looked and felt. This meant building public places that people used, valued and felt good in. Urban designers wanted to create cities that were:
- environmentally sustainable
- economically and culturally innovative
- accessible and inclusive
- sensitive to their heritage and sense of place.
Underpinning the approach was the environmentalist assumption that good urban design could improve the experience and quality of city life.
Urban Design Protocol
The Urban Design Protocol was launched in 2005 by the Ministry for the Environment. Signatories included central and local government as well as private-sector organisations involved in city building. Its objective was to make towns and cities more economically and culturally successful through quality urban design.
Wellington led the way in urban design. In 1993 the city council established an urban design unit to oversee and manage city development. Successes like the revitalisation of the waterfront and the remaking of Courtenay Place as an entertainment district proved the value of the new approach. Other cities followed Wellington’s lead.
Urban growth strategies
The more coordinated approach also saw the creation of new regional or master plans. Auckland’s Regional Growth Strategy was adopted by all its councils in 1999 and set out a 50-year vision for managing growth. The population was projected to reach 2 million by 2036. The strategy adopted ideas the city’s planners had rejected half a century before. These included a stronger suburban train network and a more compact settlement pattern (urban consolidation) to inhibit sprawl. Corridors of medium- and high-density housing and apartments were proposed beside major transport routes.
Christchurch’s Urban Development Strategy released in 2007 also argued for more urban consolidation, especially in the central city and inner suburbs.
Greater community consultation
Disquiet about the lack public input into city planning led councils to introduce more open consultation processes where citizens could express their views – usually through submissions and committee meetings. Greater consultation with local Māori was also encouraged, although some iwi complained their voices were not sought early enough to be effectively heard. In 2009 there were signs that this was beginning to change as councils increasingly recognised city planning needed to reflect the growing cultural diversity of city life.
The renaissance of planning was also evident in new town developments. In 2009 this included a new town for 40,000 people at Flat Bush, South Auckland. While its plan showcased urban design principles, the legacy of garden-city planning was also evident. The town was set in a 45-square-kilometre network of parkland, bush and waterways, providing recreational space, encouraging wildlife and aiding storm-water management. Neighbourhood shops and facilities were to be built within walking distance of homes to reduce car reliance. A central aim was to create a healthy community where ‘people feel a sense of place and well-being’.1
Similar ideas informed another new town development, Pegasus, near Christchurch.