More Retro Than Metro



“STRANGLEHOLD”, it’s Nick Smith’s word for Auckland’s metropolitan limits.

According to the new Minister of Housing, the current legal obstacles to the unchecked urban sprawl of New Zealand’s largest city pose the greatest risk to housing affordability.

When it comes to this sort of emotive scaremongering, Dr Smith has form.

When this Government took office in 2008 it was Dr Smith who declared that ACC was facing a “crisis”. So bad had things got that levies would have to rise and thousands of clients would have to be shifted on to the Sickness Benefit.

There was no crisis – but the levies went up and the clients were shifted anyway.

Now Dr Smith is at it again – whipping up yet another faux crisis for the purposes of advancing an agenda that has little or nothing to do with the cause he claims to be championing.

The pieces of the puzzle are all there on table – we have only to look.

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Changes to laws relating to the purposes and responsibilities of local government. Changes to the rules relating to the protection of the natural environment and the management of public resources. The arrogation of decision-making powers from public bodies to ministerial offices.

And, if all these new weapons fail to fire, the dissolution of elected authorities and the indefinite deferment of democratic remedies.

The legislation setting up the new “super-city” of Auckland requires its council to come up with a comprehensive Unitary Plan for the city’s future development. This is what Mayor Len Brown and his team have been doing. Drawing on the best professional advice available, they are giving shape to the modern, spatially compact and architecturally diverse “international city” which Aucklanders overwhelmingly favour.

This is not, however, the Auckland that Dr Smith and his National Party colleagues favour.

The only model of urban development this Government is willing to countenance is the model that guarantees a profitable future to land bankers, realtors, financiers, property developers, construction companies, builders, importers and retailers.

It’s the model that was first presented to the world in the form of Levittown, New York, USA. The suburban tract housing that provided the built environment for Dr Smith’s Baby Boom generation.

It came to Auckland first in the form of Keith Hay’s factory-built homes. Basic working-class dwellings carted to the raw, new, red-clay subdivisions on the backs of trucks. The Beazley home, complete with ranch-slider doors and concrete deck, soon followed.

It was a model that foreclosed every other planning possibility for New Zealand’s urban growth and development.

In addition to the feverish construction of thousands of cheap new detached bungalows for the post-war nuclear family, the urban sprawl model also necessitated the construction of a vast network of connecting streets, roads and motorways – along with the utilities that went above and below them. Inevitably, by the late 1950s the automobile had supplanted trams and trains as the prime means of getting to and from work.

And the car wasn’t the only big consumer purchase mandated by suburban living. Filling all those new homes (purchased with cheap State Advances loans) were the ranges, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, carpets, lounge suites, radiograms and television sets that betokened one’s arrival in National’s “property-owning democracy”.

This is the model Dr Smith’s alarmist rhetoric is seeking to resurrect.

Breaking the “stranglehold” of the current metropolitan limit will not only guarantee maximum freedom of action for National’s property developing friends (a freedom backed up by all those new “development” powers with which this government is equipping its Local Government and Environment Ministers) but it will also shred the alternative models being worked on by Auckland’s planners and politicians.

Breaking the metropolitan limit is simply code for a return to the days of urban sprawl. It condemns Aucklanders to another fifty years of sitting in their cars for hours at the beginning and end of each working day.

The socially and environmentally unsustainable culture of consumerism will be given a new lease of life.

In short, Dr Smith is offering up Auckland’s past as Auckland’s future.

A Unitary Plan straight off the set of Mad Men.


  1. Well put, Chris. Surely there is a formula for the optimum city size i.e. what is the optimum land area in which, say, 1.5 million people can be accommodated in a socially enriching environment? Dr Smith’s thesis seems to be based on the notion that the quarter acre section still rules. There are other ways of providing a healthy environment for our kids without a large (and often under-utilized) backyard. Creative town planning and architecture are the answer.

  2. Last century’s solutions for a soon-to-be petroleum starved world. Why am I not surprised.

  3. I concur completely. Listening to his rhetoric is like taking a trip back to the 50s. Earth to Nick Smith. WE DO NOT WANT TO LIVE IN OUR STINKING CARS!

  4. So the Nats vision of Auckland is suburbia from coast to coast, including the Waitakeres and from Pukekohe to Wellsford. Wow. Where do the market gardens, farms, stock, tourists go then?

  5. Chris Trotter demonstrates how utterly clueless he is when he writes: ….condemns Aucklanders to another fifty years of sitting in their cars for hours….’ Chris Trotter is not alone, of course. Most commentators are utterly clueless. it’s a wonder they can still keep their jobs, but for the culture of denial and absurdity that western nations are immersed in.

    Global oil extraction peaked between 2005 and 2008 and is in terminal decline. Current economic arrangements are being propped up by ‘unconventional oil’ which has a low EROEI, and oil extracted from bitumen, which has an extraordinarily low EROEI, plus an increase in the use of the highly environmentally destructive coal (which is also well past peak in terms of QUALITY).

    I is only massive demand destruction in the US, Europe and Japan that is allowing NZ to buy oil at all. By 2030, in the unlikely eventuality of industrial civilisation still existing, oil extraction will be less than half the present amount, and it will be used by the nations that extract it (f they haven’t been ‘burned off the planet’ by abrupt climate change).

    Since the industrial economic system is already on its last legs, we should anticipate collapse of the industrialised globalised food system some time over the next decade (perhaps as early as 2015 if the US drought worsens …. which it is predicted to do.

    So just what Aucklanders are going to eat a decade from now remains a bit of a mystery, bearing in mind that every mayor and every councillor on the regional authority has strongly resisted adoption of permaculuture -the only known strategy for preventing mass starvation- for over a decade. Not that I’m saying Aucklanders are necessarily going to starve to death before 2030: they might prefer to abandon the place.

  6. Nick Smith is an oxymoron
    I saw him in his colourful shirt and tie on TV tonight and I really did
    He is so earnest but so stupid at the same time
    I am really concerned nobody asks him the hard questions

  7. I agree Chris and I have no confidence that road construction will keep up anyway, even if we wanted it to. I travel the southern motorway every day and I reckon its close to breaking point. A relatively minor crach yesterday added 2 hours to my commute, because there are no alternative routes. We see almost permanent roadworks as piecemeal upgrades shift the logjams around, but it won’t keep up with volume as we subdivide and concrete over all the best productive land in NZ around Pukekohe. Its fucking madness.

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