23 Compact housing for demographic change in Auckland, New Zealand

Mohammad Shadab Khan, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Urban authorities in many developed, as well as new world cities are making urban limits as mandates to deal with the negative outcomes of sprawl, such as loss of natural land, unplanned growth, car dependency, inefficient public services and expensive infrastructure. The growth of low density housing is a prime factor linked to this sprawl in cities such as Auckland (New Zealand), which is one of the best cities to live in according to the Mercer’s Annual Survey of World Class Cities. This is evident by the fact that, low density housing dominates and characterises the housing available in Auckland, reflecting a long held aspiration that contradicts compact housing strategies. “New Zealand was once famously described as the “quarter-acre pavlova paradise”, a country where owning a home in the suburbs with a garden was a common aspiration” (Preval, Chapman & Howden-Chapman 2010, p.34). However, emerging urbanisation trends and increasing living costs are some of the key factors leading to changes in the living environments and settlement patterns, which signal low density housing as unsustainable and unsuitable to meet future housing needs. It is important to consider that urban lifestyles are undergoing demographic changes and these changes play a vital role in the transition of housing patterns due to wider household formations occurring at different life cycle stages. The dynamics of demographics are resulting in changes to housing needs and preferences and therefore there is a growing demand for housing alternatives. Households such as couples, singles, students, single parents, and city workers prefer to dwell in compact or medium-high density housing types (apartments, town houses, units etc) close to urban amenities. The forecasted changes in population and household formation will significantly impact upon the existing low density housing stock and require the construction of more compact and attached housing typologies to meet the future demands. This paper aims to examine the relationships between compact housing and changing demographic trends as necessary aspects of the urban growth strategy of Auckland, which in turn contributes towards a more sustainable future.


The Auckland region is the most urbanised and diverse city of New Zealand (NZ) with a current population of almost 1.5 million. Like other new world cities that are undergoing rapid urbanization, Auckland is growing due to population projections and also due to factors such as employment, trade, migration, and educational opportunities. Similarly, Auckland is an ’emerging’ city and likely to continue its growth at an even faster rate in the future, and will therefore need to accommodate future housing demands more efficiently. Moreover, the city is currently facing critical housing challenges such as housing shortages, unaffordable housing, increasing rental demands and lack of housing options. Research by The Centre for Housing Research, Aotearoa NZ (CHRANZ) emphasises the value of housing for society. Access to appropriate housing is a significant part of life, which influences the wellbeing of an individual‘s personal and social needs and contributes to the making of healthy communities (Quality of life 2007).

Cities such as Melbourne, Sydney, Vancouver, and Portland have Urban Growth Management Strategies (UGMS) to manage their future growth and housing issues through Compact Developments. Compact Development is an approach to urban intensification which results in more efficient mixed land use zones. The process involves integration of amenities and suitable land uses at higher densities to facilitate accessibility and public transit that, in some cases, reflect the needs of changing demographic structures. UGMS is a planning policy that aims to ensure adequate distributions of growth along the strategic areas, principally within the urban limits to discourage low density urban sprawl. Urban growth limits are evolving as one of the most prevalent growth management tools to curb suburbanization. More than 100 cities and counties have accepted this strategy (Staley & Mildner 1999). This idea has been supported with positive outcomes, as “more recent iterations of growth management policies have sought to ensure that the resulting intensified developments also deliver ‘high quality-of-life’ outcomes with enhanced ‘liveability’ within more ‘sustainable’ communities and regenerated neighbourhoods” (Haarhoff et al., cited in Gallent & Wang 2009). In addressing similar issues concerned with urban sprawl, Auckland City Council published its UGMS on 29th March 2012 entitled ‘The Auckland Plan’. This strategy calls for the majority (60 – 70 percent) of the anticipated housing growth to be contained within the city‘s urban limits in the form of Compact Developments. These developments will take place around strategic urban centres and transit corridors. The key aspect of this strategy is to facilitate housing intensification to deal with the housing challenges and projected demands. Moreover, it emphasises the following issues that could affect the delivery of the anticipated housing growth:

  • Within next 30 years the population will rise between 2.2 – 2.5 million, this will require around 400,000 additional dwellings in the Auckland region.
  • Approximately a demand of 13000 dwellings is required each year. The city is already short of 10000 dwellings, and current levels of dwelling units are less than half of the volume required.
  • Three bedrooms or more form two-third of the existing housing stock and nearly 50 percent of total households comprise of only one or two people (Auckland Council 2012).

The forecasted changing demographic structures of the urban population may contribute towards the realisation of this outcome, a crucial aspect that needs to be considered. Family structures will continue to change in the coming decades, leading to smaller household profiles in Auckland. There will be a greater proportion of couples without children, and a smaller proportion of couples with children (See Figure1).

Figure 1

Figure 1 – Auckland Households projections – family types 2012. Statistics NZ, The Auckland Plan. Available from: www.theaucklandplan.govt.nz. [30 October 2013]

These households may prefer different housing types or living environments based on their relationships, age profiles and incomes. This signals a mismatch between the major low density housing and housing needs of the key anticipated households, which reinforces to increase the supply of housing range to meet the future housing demands.

The aim of this paper is to develop the relationship between the changing future demand and compact housing typologies in Auckland. The outcome of this research will help people better understand, what type of housing forms and environment they may dwell in the future. This will also help urban authorities and policy makers in framing better housing policies, for the coming generations.

Authors note

The full paper can be found at: Khan, M.S. (2014) Compact housing for demographic change, International Journal of Sustainable Human Development, 2(2), 52-63  available at: http://ijshd.eduservgroup.com/wp/?page_id=719











Author Biography

M S KhanMohammad Shadab Khan graduated with a Bachelor in Architecture from Aligarh Muslim University (India) in 2002, and later completed Masters in Architecture from The University of Auckland (New Zealand) in 2013. Published research work aims to promote design of higher density housing in Auckland, a necessary outcome to achieve city’s urban growth strategy (The Auckland Plan) and contribute towards more sustainable development. A professional Architect registered with Council of Architecture, India, with more than 11 years of industry experience, with 1 1/2 yrs in New Zealand as an Architectural Designer. Currently working as an Sr. Architect with a real estate group in Delhi, India.


Contact emails:  ms.khan2002@gmail.com or mkha234@aucklanduni.ac.nz

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