Smart growth endorsed for Smart Capital: Todd Litman

Wellington’s planning must respond to changing demographics and community expectations, was the message delivered today by visiting transport expert Todd Litman.

Mr Litman, founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Canada, addressed Councillors, officers, academics, and interested parties at a seminar at the Wellington City Council, and a later presentation at the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

His work focuses on developing innovative tools for transportation decision making, incorporating economic, social and environmental impacts that tend to be overlooked into transportation planning. His visit is supported by Wellington City Council and the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to research the resilience of New Zealand cities.

“Transport planning must evolve from concentrating on the amount of travel people do, to the quality and cost of travel,” says Todd Litman.

“Many people prefer to rely more on walking, cycling and public transit, provided that those options are convenient, comfortable and affordable. Our transport policies must change to respond to those changing consumer demands.”

“Transport is a significant issue for Wellington and the region, and it’s critical that our investment decisions are inclusive of all modes of transport,” said Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

“Planning needs to balance the need for people getting around the city with the need for walkable neighbourhoods, affordable transport and the price of travel, and the economic advantages to people and communities of lifestyles not dependant on cars.”

Prof. Philippa Howden-Chapman, director of the Centre for Sustainable Cities, said there was a strong connection between housing affordability, transport and city design. “When households take into account rising transport costs, cheap housing on the edge of the city may not be such good value after all,” she said.

“Affordability, which is vital for many households, needs to build in both housing and transport costs – both public and private – and access to amenities.”

The changes in consumer preferences Todd Litman has studied means that policy makers generally are planning for the past when they invest in new roads, which require parking spaces at the end of each trip. His research has shown the benefits of reducing the number of cars in each household.

Furthermore, he said, most demand in cities is now for smaller apartments in the city. Economic productivity is greater in more compact cities than in sprawling suburbs.

The Mayor said Wellington had experienced a shift in housing development, citing statistics that showed housing growth was increasingly concentrated in the central city (41 percent growth) and infill housing (37 percent, instead of greenfield development (22 percent).

“Wellington’s growth pattern is aligned with smart growth planning. Todd’s message makes it clear that there are significant economic benefits to a smart-growth direction for transport and land use.

“With the changing demographics and public expectations, there will be growing demand for housing within walking distance between shops and amenities.

“Many of Wellington’s older citizens want to live close to their families but in easier to manage housing. Young professionals are increasingly demanding a closer proximity to entertainment, facilities and hubs of activity,” she said.

Todd Litman is in New Zealand until Wednesday speaking to councils and the public in Wellington and Auckland. He is an economic expert on the positive benefits of walking and cycling, public transport, and housing built alongside good transit and mixed land use.

Lisa Early, NZ Centre for Sustainable Cities:
Phil Reed, Office of the Mayor Wellington City: 021 247 9720