Unpacking the meaning of 'Intensification'
A similar version of this article was originally published in a zine made by the Save Our Homes collective for Zinefest Auckland in August 2015.
The headlines surrounding us in Auckland are very clear. We need to intensify. We need to use land more efficiently. We need higher density. Up, not out! What about the environment! No more traffic jams!
It's hysterical, it's terrifying, our generation will never own our own homes, we need a thousand more houses now, we need ten thousand more houses now, NOW!
People from other places, especially the foreign ones, are moving here in the tens of thousands, they speak different languages that we might be forced to learn too, they are BUYING ALL THE HOUSES! They have so much money they are going to buy the entire country up.
These are some of the buzzwords and slogans of crisis that are circling around our collective consciousness in Auckland. Intensification is one of those buzzwords, one of the so-called solutions to Auckland’s Housing Crisis.
Intensification refers to the idea that cities should be compact as opposed to sprawling, that people should live close together in medium or high density housing. Some of the positives claimed by proponents of intensified city planning are that public transport is more affordable, that people can move around easier ideally without motor vehicles, that council resources can be concentrated on smaller areas thus improving them, that farmland is not impinged on by extending city limits.
What we discuss here is the way that 'intensification', as a buzzword, is used. Buzzwords, like 'intensification', lose their meaning as they are used repeatedly to explain and justify the direction that Auckland is currently going in. Unsurprisingly this direction is furthered by those who hold power: Auckland City Council, the government, and capital, namely property developers. These are the individuals and groups who make and execute policies and plans. On the other hand, the media is the heterogeneous body that, in this case, almost homogeneously repeats the buzzwords that justify those policies and plans.
But the direction Auckland is going in is largely of increasing inequalities.The buzzwords that are circling around the media, politicians, capitalist players or in our own kitchens and at our BBQs collude with that direction.
When we talk about the problem of land values increasing, the narrative is framed around the problem being a result of a lack of land supplyin the city limits. Thus we do not address 'mum and dad investors' that own five houses without paying any tax on their profits from the phenomenally inflating value of land. Nor do we talk about property developers who also do not pay taxes on profits they are gaining from the increasing land values. We certainly do not discuss the failure and crisis cycle of the economic system that the housing market works within. Instead we talk about foreign speculators, a figure perhaps comprising the insignificant 2-3% of speculators although who really knows?
But let's put all the masses of foreign speculators to the side for now. Our understanding is that to decrease land prices, we must increase land supply; to increase land supply, we must make more efficient use of land. Once it is well established that a lack of land supply is the problem our conversations turn to the next buzzword being used by council, government and property developers: redevelopment. Redevelopment is land already being occupied in some way getting changed to some other form. Land that is earmarked for redevelopment is generally land that has housing on it that people are living in. That means people who live in homes that sit on land that is to be redeveloped must be evicted. There is a uncomfortable dissonance to the word being used as a positive buzzword. Eviction is certainly not a buzzword.
The Auckland City Council and government has made and started executing several plans that are justified by the cited need for an increase in land supply, by the need to make more efficient use of land, and that they are calling redevelopment. Two of the major ones are the Glen Innes pilot project and the Unitary Plan.
In Glen Innes the community has been facing devastation and the tearing up of their community seen in:
- Eviction notices to 156 households in September 2011 many of whom had built the community from its beginnings in the 1950s and the decades following. These evictions, in an already struggling community, have led to the stress-related deaths of elderly tenants, have either forced people into new tenancy agreements that are limited to three-years tenure, or that have forced people out of Glen Innes.
- The forming of the Tamaki Regeneration Company (TRC) to carry out the Tamaki Transformation Programme. The reason for the forming of the TRC was to aid the process of privatisation of Housing New Zealand homes. In Glen Innes Housing New Zealand land has been sold to property development companies once tenants were evicted and houses physically removed or demolished from the land.
The narrative is framed around the necessity that we must build more densely within the existing city, that property development companies are the only ones to do that, and that the only way it can be done is to use public land. Hidden is that public land and state housing is being privatised: the new redevelopment housing units are selling to private owners for prices not many in Auckland would find affordable. See this new house, advertised at $825,000.