Aucklander Verney Ryan, who specialises in urban design and the transition to a low carbon economy, recently hosted a study tour to North America with Beacon Pathway, exploring cities that have faced similar issues to New Zealand and have come out on top.
Verney contracts to Beacon Pathway, an incorporated society committed to 'creating homes and neighbourhoods that work well into the future and don’t cost the earth'.
It's his job to 'catalyse change in the built environment'.
'And doing something about preventing the sprawl and a culture that’s dependent on fossil fuels,' he adds.
The group visited cities in the Pacific North West - Vancouver, British Colombia, Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.
'We visited some of the denser neighbourhoods, to look at how they operate,' says Verney.
'The place would be buzzing with people everywhere, on foot, on bikes, jumping off buses... meeting up on the street and stopping for a drink on their way home from work. Then they're off, up stairwells or just a few doors down and they're home,' Verney says.
'There's no reason why we can't replicate the best aspects of that here in New Zealand and higher density living can facilitate it.'
Verney describes a standout building the group visited in Portland, which functions as a brew bar/bike workshop downstairs with apartments above. While it sounds like a modern hipster’s playground, when Verney breaks it down, the concept is centuries old and founded in walkable villages, the way successful communities were organised, pre-industrial revolution and car-based suburban development.
'It's important to understand that when we talk about densification we're not referring to the "compact suburbia" approach that rapidly encroaches on useful land at the periphery of the city - a sea of roofs with thousands of large footprint (and often expensive) houses on tiny sections side by side. What we need to focus on is greater levels of density in the right places, at the right scale and done well. Providing walkable, liveable villages of the future'.
‘Already when you look at Auckland it's a city of villages - Mt Eden, Mt Albert, Ponsonby, Parnell, Devonport, Takapuna, New Lynn - they're reasonably well connected to the city and yet still have their own finer grain, social connectedness. They're vibrant and largely walkable and, provided it’s done properly, this is where density works well.’
'We can't simply import the solutions to our problems into New Zealand communities - but we can learn from them, adapt them to suit and make them work well here - it's about getting the mechanics right.'
Verney Ryan is a guest speaker at ADNZ's Medium Density Housing Summit on Designing for your Community - sustainability, efficiency and environmental factors, April 5th-6th, 2017. Visit http://www.adnz.org.nz/mdhs for more information.