All last week the NZ Herald produced another of its blockbuster page-after-page coverage of a key topic. This time the target was Primary Education.
This made a welcome relief for those of us suffering from AHSFS (Auckland House Shortage Fatigue Syndrome) which is a regular both for full-blast coverage and for other – it seems daily – shots fired through single articles. The full rotation is completed by the ongoing saga of that complaint called Auckland Traffic Congestion, a nasty complaint that strikes citizens usually twice a day and for which no cure has been found and an epidemic seems inevitable.
I wonder if it has occurred to the NZ Herald and to others that these three stories – schooling, housing and traffic are perhaps one and the same issue?
Take schooling for instance. When you see Auckland smiling for no obvious reason it is because it is school holidays and the transport system runs quite smoothly without congestion at the level it is during term time. Why does schooling create this increase in traffic?
I suggest that there are three reasons. First, following the disappearance of a young girl walking to school back in the 1980s it became quickly and seriously thought that it was now unsafe for children to walk to school. So driving the children to school has become something of a norm. Valiant volunteer parents manage a number of “Walking School Buses” but the majority descend on the schools in SUVs of military proportion.
Being outside many schools at the start and end of the day is not a pretty experience.
The second reason is that in desperation parents seek out the “best schools” regardless of where they live. Of course this requires a logic that ignores the fact that if they went to the local school, that school would be better! It also requires that our roads become clogged right when everyone is getting to work. This quest for Nirvana Primary is something created by real estate agents and to quite some degree the schools themselves.
Thirdly, despite the heavy emphasis on cycle lanes and the need to get out of cars, young people cycle less than at any time in the past one hundred years. Up until the 1970s nearly everyone cycled to school in the towns, the rest walked. I saw a report yesterday that claimed that only 4% now cycled to school and that is certainly not where I live!
The housing shortage is in part the result of the quest to be housed in an area where there is a “good” school” (see above) and the premium of $1,000,000 and up from there to get into a Decile 10 area is a key driver in the scramble.
It is ironic that a house in Otara is attracting no buyers even though there is an excellent Decile 10 school nearby – the MIT Tertiary High School which produces NCEA results indistinguishable from Decile 10 schools. That aside, there are also clear indications that schooling is not the only factor – nostalgia is fairly prominent, nostalgia for the times when the quarter acre section was the God-given right of all. Related to this is the fact that antagonism towards the notion of intensive housing and high rise apartments despite the fact that every large city I have ever visited anywhere has found it necessary to head in these directions. Sprawl and fight to get back into the city centre on choked roads wins the day.
Of course our shape as a city is unhelpful for planning transport systems. The narrow waist line as the Tamaki river heads towards the Manukau Harbour provides challenges and it is a certainty that one day we shall simply have to build bridges over it and bore tunnels under it.
Intensive housing areas built on the fringes are hopeless unless they are accompanied by responses in schooling and transport. We need only look to Christchurch to see what happens when significant housing is supplied without an increase in arterial routes, both the number and the size.
So perhaps the NZ Herald could start to promote thinking about the spaces between the big issues of housing, schooling and transport that have been well and truly thrashed in a somewhat mistaken belief that each has a life of its own.
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