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Making the right choice in Stebbings Valley

hobsonville-point

by Kate Spencer for Talk Wellington
The Wellington City Council is developing a brand new suburb in Upper Stebbings Valley. But it shouldn’t be another stab at big cookie-cutter houses in a dormitory suburb. It should be about building a community, not just a place to sleep.

The Council have given three options for what the development could look like, and they want us to tell them which one to go for. (Hint: it’s option three.) Have a look at the council’s housing typologies diagram to get a feel for what they mean. And then consider our hot takes on the three options.

Option 1 – Extend

“The number of houses is low – between 325 and 500 new homes based around the upper area of Stebbings Stream. The community is connected by a loop road that links with Churton Park. The homes are mainly large standalone properties with some terraced and duplex housing. See Housing typologies in the Stebbings structure plan for more information on these types of homes. The existing ridgeline, hilltop, natural habitat and streams are protected. Development on private property and reserves could help protect and enhance the natural systems. Community facilities would be limited to natural parks and reserves. These could include community gardens and a play area.”

They have some decent looking pictures in the accompanying “typologies” document.

stebbings-option-1

What do we say?

We say NO! Not good enough, thankyouverymuch.

Firstly, that housing density sucks. Housing crisis? What housing crisis? Wellington’s population is growing rapidly (18% to 2043) and up to 500 homes won’t cut it. And mostly large standalone properties? Yeah, nah. Wellington Region is awash with this stuff – we’ve almost nothing else.

And what we need isn’t more of it. Modern households are diversifying in size and structure: far more single-person and many-person households than even 20 years ago – despite our housing stock failing miserably to cater for smaller-than-average and larger-than-average households. This option does nothing to address the Missing Middle (actually we’d say Missing Almost Everything) that caters for these kinds of households.

And we need them to be affordable please… Improving supply won’t fix this but it will help.

Secondly, “limited community facilities”? Um what? In this day and age?! These things don’t magically appear because new residents get together and decide to build them. They have to be designed in at the outset unless you’ve 900 years of good habits to build on.

Everyone knows dormitory suburbs are a recipe for creepily deserted streets, car dependency and not knowing your neighbours. What about all those third places that are so important for community and wellbeing? You have to grab the car keys to do anything in these kinds of suburbs.

mcclintock-street-johnsonville-standalone-houses

Here’s a typical picture of the streetscape, deserted except at rush hour in and out (when it’s like the opening scenes of Edward Scissorhands). This kind of streetscape encourages this kind of unpleasant attitude and behaviour.

Thirdly, all these stand-alone houses make for some unbusable population density (i.e. you will never be able to provide a bus service here). And wouldn’t the loop road linking to Churton Park just encourage driving rather than public transport anyway? This is a landscape that would lock people into a lot of unsustainable habits –collectively called car-dependency. Crap for the climate, for our health, for our sense of community. Nope, not cool.

Verdict: Shun option one!

Option 2 – Connect

“The number of houses is medium – between 1100 and 1450 homes extending beyond Upper Stebbings towards Tawa and Glenside. A new road links the development to Tawa. There is a good balance of most housing types including standalone homes, stacked homes, townhouses, duplexes and terraced homes. Housing extends into the ridgeline and hilltops. The ridgeline itself is still protected and has a good network of tracks, with the new road providing improved access to the Outer Green Belt and Tawa tracks. The new road to Tawa will give residents access to shops, cafes, restaurants, primary schools, community halls and sports fields. It also helps connect the bus and rail networks, improving public transport for the area.”

stebbings-option-2

What do we say? Meh.

That density is an improvement on option one and has more options for roofs over heads, but the “new road to Tawa” just makes Tawa that much busier with cars – and it’s already struggling with a car-dominated centre. Also telling a whole community seeking a few services and a bit of connection to shove off into the next suburb over … that doesn’t make a lot of sense. (And we love Tawa, but if I have to jump in my car from Stebbings to go to the pub, to have brunch, to do my shopping… I’m off to Wellington sorry. (Where I’ll try to park somewhere, and start my trip grumpy.)

Bigger question for prospective residents’ quality of life: where are the healthy streets?

Honestly, why are we using public money to build not-healthy streets any more, when we know they deny people their basic right to get minimal exercise in daily life? How can we look our kids in the eye when we’ve chosen to bring them up in a place where the houses may be nice, but it’s too hard or dangerous to let them get around under their own steam? And do we honestly believe that public transport will improve? I suppose it depends on how much they invest but “it helps connect the … networks” isn’t all that convincing. All up, this feels like “we know we should make this more than just a place to sleep – a place to really live, but we’ll only present a half-cock version of that for Option 2”

Verdict: Poo poo option two!

Option 3 – Integrate

“There is denser housing – between 1980 and 2500 homes – with more development towards Tawa. A new road links the area to Glenside. There are more townhouses and fewer standalone houses. Apartments are included in the flatter parts of the area, close to public transport links… An extensive walking and cycling network links the developed areas with each other, Tawa and the Outer Green Belt. Significant natural habitats remain in Glenside and Upper Stebbings and help to connect the housing areas. With more people living in the area, there are community facilities such as a primary school and sports fields, as well as a small scale village centre with local shops.”

stebbings-option-3

What do we say? Yay!!

This looks way better. This actually looks like a community focused development designed to #getwellyliving rather than just slapping some houses in the middle of an area that can have houses slapped on it.

Medium and higher density offers opportunities for more affordable builds than standalone houses (although we still wish there were space for tiny houses and cohousing, so it’s not perfect) and that density is exciting. Exciting because more people means more shared good stuff: some decent neighbourhood shops, a place or two to worship, more than one cafe or pub, carshare, childcare, aged care, really cool parks, a little cinema, a community shed, co-working space, decent public transport options. All these things can only be had when there are enough people concentrated to have ‘em.

We’re pretty pleased about walking and cycling network links too. We’d quite like our kids to live longer, thank you very much, and for it not to be so hard for us to choose to walk and cycle in everyday life. Evidence: people in Auckland – initially skeptical about this kind of mixed-density layout – just love it.

Another reason for this is that higher density means you can have a smaller on-the-ground footprint. This matters because earthworks to flatten naturally hilly land are really bad for the environment. Porirua Harbour (the destination for all Stebbings Valley runoff) is already being trashed by subdivision sediment.
Verdict: Plea for option three!

Let’s not get the basics wrong in Stebbings Valley – we know the important things to get right about housing, we know how to do density well (and not).

So, head to the website and tell them you know what we should have. You have until 8pm on Sunday to get your views across.

This article was first published on the Talk Wellington website.

All images CC by Isthmus
(except Google street view)

3 comments:

  1. Citizen Joe, 15. December 2018, 9:06

    Why do we need all these extra people? Where are they coming from?

     
  2. Isabella C, 15. December 2018, 22:09

    Stats NZ is doing the projections. Many things cause people to move – and of course there’s the ol’ reproduction! Generally though, more people = better amenities and services cos of the bigger market. (if properly developed for)

     
  3. Kerry, 16. December 2018, 19:15

    I wonder if Meh might be better. For medium-density development it is a long way from public transport. Unless a bus route is added/adapted?