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Resource material › Building Sustainable Urban Communities › 1. Introduction

(Building Sustainable Urban Communities - discussion document)

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Sustainable Urban Development
Community outcomes
General questions
What are we aiming for?
What is the problem?
Who contributes to urban development?

By world standards, New Zealand is a highly urbanised nation, with 72 percent of the population living in the 16 main urban areas — around 33 percent of the population live in the Auckland urban region alone. We are overwhelmingly ‘townies’ — nearly 87 percent of us live in urban areas with populations ranging from around 1000 to more than one million.

The way New Zealand’s towns and cities have developed is the result of both deliberate planning and the choices and decisions made by investors, property developers and home buyers.

The resulting shape of our town centres and suburbs and the location and type of housing available has a huge influence on economic performance, social cohesion, and the ability of a large number of New Zealanders to lead sustainable, productive and enjoyable lives.

The quality and location of our housing, retail and commercial buildings matter. The quality and location of our community services and amenities, such as schools and recreational facilities, matter. How easy it is to get between home, work, shops, offices, schools, parks and playgrounds matters.

We are increasingly witnessing significant economic, social, environmental and cultural changes in New Zealand’s urban areas. We are also dealing with issues such as affordable housing, increased fuel prices, congestion, pollution, social disadvantage, climate change, population growth, rapid technological change and changing demographics.

Because of these issues, governments around the world are reassessing what is needed to enhance cities and meet major social, environmental, economic and cultural challenges.

Sustainable urban development is about improving the quality of life in a city, including social, economic, environmental and cultural components, without leaving a burden on future generations. According to the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol, sustainable towns and cities are liveable, environmentally responsible and competitive, thriving, creative and innovative. These towns and cities also offer opportunities for all, and have a distinctive identity, a shared vision and good governance.

Community outcomes — sustainable urban development

A number of communities have identified outcomes that relate to their aspirations for the urban environment, economy, and governance. Common themes in these outcomes include:
  • infrastructure with the capacity to meet present and future needs
  • attracting and retaining new and existing businesses
  • having access to employment and, more specifically, local employment
  • aspirations for prosperity, innovation or economic growth in general
  • having a strong identity and/or positive community image
  • valuing and/or recognising cultural diversity
  • managing the growth of the region/community
  • ensuring accessibility to, from and within the community
  • being able to access quality housing
  • having a sustainable transport system
  • having access to public transport
  • ensuring the viability/utility/popularity of town centres
  • collaborative leadership, for example, working across government and with other sectors.

This discussion document sets out ideas for new ways to help deliver sustainable urban development in New Zealand — to deal comprehensively with the increasing challenges and opportunities of urban development at a sufficient scale and rate of change to ensure our towns and cities thrive, prosper, and continue to provide a high quality of life.

We want to hear what you think about the ideas, options and approach described in this document. We also welcome further ideas and suggestions for encouraging sustainable urban development in New Zealand and dealing with the barriers and implementation difficulties we have been told about. The material outlined in this discussion document and in the background documents and web links on the website provide supporting information.

We will use the feedback received to advise the government on the best mix of ideas and options.

General questions to think about as you read this document
  • Which options or ideas do you think would be effective in encouraging sustainable urban development?
  • What are the impacts of the options? What changes or additions would make these options or ideas work more effectively?
  • Are there any other options or ideas you have seen or thought of?

What are we aiming for?

International experience shows that creating successful places through sustainable urban development means:
  • developing and working to a single vision of a distinctive, attractive community with a strong sense of place that is agreed by the people living in and building that place (a master development plan)
  • working to a master development plan to get what you want. This could mean finding ways to leverage and influence the provision of more affordable housing, or consolidate and integrate development around public transport nodes. Planning for these needs should also explicitly take into account people’s employment patterns and transport needs as well as social support systems such as access to schools and childcare.
  • assembling or re-packaging land or development rights into appropriate parcels that can be developed or released to the market
  • making best use of public sector assets, and guiding investment by public and private sectors towards agreed objectives and outcomes
  • delivering any other programmes required to achieve wider public outcomes, e.g. community or economic development
  • encouraging private sector investment and speeding up the building process by:
  • ensuring infrastructure is provided to support the development patterns wanted (including integrating infrastructure planning, and aligning funding and timetables to coordinate delivery)
  • raising investor confidence (by ensuring development decisions are predictable, timely, fair, and cost- effective)
  • demonstrating innovative ways of developing land and buildings (for instance, new forms of quality, cost-effective buildings with sustainability features).

    What is the problem?

    Many different parties contribute to the development of urban areas in New Zealand. A number of them have said barriers and implementation difficulties can slow down, affect the quality of, or prevent the kind of sustainable urban development that will make a difference in New Zealand.

    To improve the sustainability of our cities, both new urban developments and redevelopments of existing suburbs and town centres need to focus on using land, infrastructure and public assets more effectively to create sustainable communities.

    Existing legislative frameworks have been able to deal with most land use and development scenarios in New Zealand. However, population growth and wider social, economic, environmental and cultural changes are increasing the need to develop, redevelop and intensify land use in our cities.

    New Zealanders need access to a diverse range of housing choices. Future population growth will increase the demand for housing, while the projected long-term decline in the size of households means the housing needs of many households are changing. Future needs are likely to include a mix of housing styles in areas with easy access to work, services and community facilities, to minimise environmental impacts. Developments do not seem to be delivering the required density or quality in strategic locations to achieve this. Nor is the current level of development providing a range of housing choices in the required quantities and locations. More intensive and affordable development may be needed, particularly in strategic locations.

    Local and central government organisations trying to undertake sustainable urban development projects face a number of problems and are looking for ways to solve them. These problems may also be why private development of this kind is not occurring to the extent needed. A new approach could give private developers a chance to get involved with these organisations and benefit from efforts to redevelop existing urban areas.

    Who contributes to urban development?
    • individuals, families and communities create the social fabric of an urban area
    • firms, organisations and individuals buy, sell, lease and develop land to create residential, commercial and industrial buildings, shaping the land use within an urban area and providing retail services, amenities and employment
    • a range of funders and providers in central government, local government, or the private sector, make decisions on major urban public infrastructure investments
    • local government provides leadership on urban issues, regulates and manages the pattern of urban development through the Local Government Act 2002 and the Resource Management Act 1991, works with its communities to promote community wellbeing, and delivers a wide range of local community services
    • central government sets the statutory framework under which everyone operates. But, more importantly, it also owns land and develops it for public purposes, providing important community services such as hospitals, schools, and policing in urban areas.

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