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Book shines spotlight on our cities

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Prof Philippa Howden-Chapman
Professor Philippa Howden Chapman

A new book sets out important ideas for helping New Zealand cities resolve the challenges of providing quality, affordable housing, designing healthy transport systems and dealing with climate change.

Cities in New Zealand: Preferences, patterns and possibilities has multiple authors and was edited by Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, Jenny Ombler and Dr Lisa Early, of the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, hosted at the University of Otago, Wellington.

“A lot of attention has been placed on the rural sector, so now it’s time for cities. This book focuses on improving the well-being of the 86 per cent of New Zealanders who live in towns and cities,” says lead author Professor Howden-Chapman, director of the Centre.

“Our cities are complex, and shaping sustainable urban policy at local and central government level requires far-sighted thinking about how land use, housing, planning and transport systems interact, as policies have subtle and long-lasting effects.”

A multi-disciplinary research team from five universities (Otago, Victoria, Massey, Canterbury and Auckland) as well as NIWA, Motu and private research institutions, has been researching these issues over the past decade, led by the Centre.

Researchers in the Resilient Urban Futures programme, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), focused on the linkages between people, housing, transport, energy and the natural environment, and on measuring outcomes.

Māori researchers have looked at the foundation role Māori have had in shaping urban spaces and giving us a sense of history and place – especially where iwi have received major Treaty settlements.

The new book considers how our cities have grown and how they could grow in the future. This affects housing prices and transport costs. Ten case studies point to ways in which cities can grow more sustainably. The case studies cover issues from how communities form in new neighbourhoods, to the effect of housing and active travel on health, through to the effect of infrastructure on city growth.

City dwellers emit less carbon than people in rural areas, and the closer people live to city centres, the less they use their cars and the less carbon they emit.

“But to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, the pattern of our cities still needs to change,” contends Professor Howden-Chapman.

“Urban systems evolve together and are interconnected: a change in one area has flow-on effects to other areas. For example, investing in new roads tends to be at the expense of investment in public transport such as light rail, or cycle ways.

“New roads generate more traffic, air pollution and runoff to waterways, and encourage people to be in cars more and to do less exercise, which increases rates of diabetes.”

Another example of interconnection is investment in storm water systems: when pipes have sufficient capacity, there is less surface flooding and run-off, so the quality of nearby streams and estuaries improves.

The book also takes lessons from the Christchurch earthquakes to consider what we have learnt about governance and how to address environmental risks in future.

Historically, population growth has been towards sunshine and Auckland. However, New Zealanders’ preferences are gradually moving away from sprawling cities towards more compact housing patterns, where people are able to walk, cycle and take public transport to local parks, shops and schools.

For larger households it is still cheaper to live further away from the central city but, as households get smaller, they can make savings by re-locating closer to the central city.

Cities in New Zealand: Preferences, patterns and possibilities will be launched by Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, and Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson at Unity Books at 5pm on Thursday, 21 September.

For further information contact:

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman
Director of the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Email: philippa.howden-chapman@otago.ac.nz

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