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Botany Downs - Manukau City

Fast facts

Location: Eastpark, Sacramento, Botany Town Centre, Manukau City

Construction: 1998-2004

Botany Town Centre

Architect: Altoon & Porter Architects, LA, USA

Local consultants: Hames Sharley Bentley and Co.

Owner: AMP Asset Management

Eastpark

Design team: Richard Priest Architects, Sinclair Knight Mertz, and Boffa Miskell

Developer: Hopper Developments and Southside Properties

Sacramento

Architect: Stan Powley Architects

Developer: Taradale Properties

Case study researchers: Michelle Thompson-Fawcett and Sophie Bond, Planning Programme, University of Otago

Key statistics

Botany Town Centre

Area: 17.6 ha

Retail area: 56,500 m²

Eastpark

Dwellings: 147

Gross density: 25 units/ha

Sacramento

Dwellings: 211

Gross density: 34 units/ha

Photo: Sacramento - Spanish adobe theme.

Photo: Eastpark - variation within a common theme.

Photo: Botany Town Centre - focus on open public space and street furniture.

Introduction

Botany Downs, in Manukau City in the southeast of the Auckland metropolitan region, was identified as an intensive node in the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy. The Manukau City Council has adopted an integrated approach to planning and growth management in the area, which forms part of the intensification of the East Tamaki Corridor. Botany Downs was part of the Te U Kaipo structure plan, which established the development pattern before land was released for urban development.

Botany Downs consists of a main street style town centre surrounded by a large area of commercially zoned land and low and medium-density housing. This case study focuses on Botany Town Centre and two of the older, more established medium-density developments in the area - Sacramento and Eastpark.

Together, the three developments demonstrate how varying degrees of collaboration and strong leadership from the local authority can ensure a high quality built environment that focuses on community needs and can offer design features that create a distinctive, safe, neighbourly environment.

Design process

The development of the Botany Town Centre and the intensification of the surrounding area complement other intensive nodes in the region. Botany Downs is strategically located at the intersection of two major arterial roads (Te Irirangi Drive and Ti Rakau Drive) that link central Auckland with Manukau City.

The three projects, Eastpark, Sacramento and the Botany Town Centre, were each designed under their own master plan within the ambit of the Te U Kaipo structure plan.

The Eastpark site was originally owned by Manukau City Council, who called for tenders to create an exemplar in medium-density housing. The successful tenderer worked in close collaboration with the Council, and treated the development as a long term project, meeting demand as the market dictated.

Sacramento was developed solely by the private sector. The site was bought from a previous developer by Taradale Properties and came complete with titles and cul-de-sacs. On their own initiative, the new developers doubled the density and worked out a system of lanes to enhance connections within the existing street pattern. The project was completed within three years, and was almost all sold off the plans.

Although both Eastpark and Sacramento consist of two-storey terraced dwellings, varying in size and layout, the two developments are visually quite distinct. Sacramento has a Spanish adobe theme, and has on-site managers, careful landscaping and provides its own recreation facilities. Eastpark has a contemporary New Zealand flavour, and is characterised by visual variety within a coherent overall design.

Both developments followed a fairly typical non-notified resource consent process. During that process there was a degree of ongoing interaction between parties especially with regard to Eastpark. Ultimately, however, the role of the Design Code for Intensive Housing within the Manukau District Plan and each developer's commitment to urban design principles ensured the overall design was consistent with the Council's emphasis on a particular set of urban design features.

The Botany Town Centre site was bought by AMP Asset Management from the parent company of a supermarket chain. AMP was seeking a long term investment that would meet the needs of local communities.

In collaboration with the Council they embarked on a six month consultation process, using focus groups with local residents and businesses to identify the needs of local communities. While the consultative process could have been more extensive, the process revealed that the needs included a community oriented town centre, with high amenity values and community facilities that would meet the future needs of local people and allow long term financial return for the property owner.

Urban design issues

All three projects demonstrate successful urban design elements. It is not possible to determine whether this is the result of developer initiative or Council involvement either directly or through the Design Code for Intensive Housing, but it is likely to be a combination of both. The urban design issues that have been addressed in both residential developments and the Town Centre are listed below.

Sacramento and Eastpark

  • Landscape design enhances amenity and provides opportunities for public social interaction.
  • Good pedestrian and cycle access.
  • Opportunities for a high degree of surveillance of public open space to increase security.
  • Small front yards and good visual communication between dwelling and street.
  • Backyards are well screened, private and secure.
  • Garages at rear or set back from front door.

Botany Town Centre

  • High quality long-term investment.
  • High quality public open space that is covered, open or partially covered to suit varying weather conditions.
  • Human-scale main street with appropriate traffic calming.
  • Vital, vibrant, safe public space.
  • Community amenities and convenient facilities.
  • Variety of cafés and speciality shops.
  • Variety in size and style of retail spaces.
  • Fine architectural detailing with overall coherence of built form.
  • Buildings oriented to maximise natural daylight.

There is clearly a strong emphasis on urban design in all three developments. Although there is little coherence between the three developments, within each development the emphasis on urban design has provided a sense of vibrancy, safety, and a strong and well utilised public realm.

Evaluation - urban design principles

Context

Botany Downs was identified as an intensification node within the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy and was subsequently the subject of a structure planning exercise. Botany Downs is strategically located at the intersection of two major arterial roads (Te Irirangi Drive and Ti Rakau Drive) that connect central Auckland with Manukau City. As an intensification node, it established commendable development patterns that integrate land use and transport and complement the regional layout of nodes and corridors.

Character

Botany Town Centre is visually distinct, centred on a main street style development that offers a variety of retail, office space, mixed use buildings and ample public space. Public spaces are carefully designed, diverse and flexible, displaying variations according to theme, scale and degree of openness, which contributes to a secure, comfortable and legible public realm.

Similarly, Sacramento and Eastpark both have a distinct character. Sacramento has a conspicuous 'identity' with its Southern Californian/Spanish theme, with careful landscaping, on-site facilities and management. Whether or not Sacramento's adobe theme is relevant to New Zealand's own history or the local context is open to question. Eastpark has a contemporary New Zealand feel, characterised by visual variety within a coherent overall design.

Choice

The Town Centre offers a variety of retail and business services. A public library is also part of the complex. In terms of future land use opportunities, the original design provides potential to extend the main street to provide further choices and flexibility in the future.

Eastpark and Sacramento provide choice in lot and house size, and offer medium-density housing as an alternative to the conventional single dwelling on a section typical of this area before intensification.

Choice in residential developments is limited by the district plan, which generally does not encourage mixed uses. However, home enterprises, small-scale facilities in childcare, aged care, and healthcare are permitted subject to conditions.

Connections

Connections are good at the regional and city wide level. The node provides good vehicle access, from two main roads, Te Irirangi Drive and Ti Rakau Drive. However, these are significant barriers to walking within the Botany Downs area, particularly between Eastpark and the Town Centre. The balance between pedestrian safety and comfort and traffic management has not been resolved.

Public transport from Botany Downs Town Centre is available but under-used and arguably inadequate in range and frequency of routes available. Overall there are insufficient choices for transport.

Connections are good between individual developments. Developers have created permeable, walkable, safe, well connected layouts in both residential areas. Streets within the developments provide opportunities for interaction and multiple uses. The developments would however benefit from better interconnections between pedestrian and cycle network.

Creativity

In both their structure planning process and the development of the Design Code for Intensive Housing, the Manukau City Council has offered creative solutions to the growth issues facing the region.

At the level of individual developments, creativity is expressed through the use of strong architectural design and flair. In particular, the Town Centre now presents an attractive vibrant space offering diverse services. Moreover, the way in which the developers of Sacramento successfully retro-fitted the existing cul-de-sac subdivision was a creative solution to enhance connectivity.

Custodianship

The three developments demonstrate careful landscaping and sympathetic public plantings which add to both the public realm and the quality of the environment. Each development is designed to enhance safety within the public realm by encouraging natural surveillance between dwellings and the street.

Public spaces in the Town Centre are environmentally responsive to varying weather conditions. Similarly, aspect has strongly influenced layout so that natural light and solar radiation are used. Aspect has also been considered in the layout of the two residential developments.

Collaboration

Manukau City Council took on a co-ordinating role in developing and promoting a broad vision for the Botany area with the development of the Te U Kaipo Structure Plan. In the design of the Botany Town Centre, local community groups and stakeholders took part in a six month consultation process. Extensive collaboration ensued between the developer and Manukau City Council. Similarly, the design of Eastpark involved direct input from Manukau City Council.

There was little community input in the design of both Eastpark and Sacramento, as both developments followed a typical non-notified resource consent process. However, in complying with the Council's Design Code for Intensive Housing, the developments support a vision for medium-density housing.

Lessons learnt

The primary lesson that can be drawn from this case study is that intensification and medium-density housing can work. There are, however, several issues that detract from the developments' successes and from which lessons can be drawn.

First, while the Council should be commended for its commitment to urban design principles and zoning for medium-densities, a less tentative approach may have resulted in the development of an intensive node at Botany Downs that was more integrated and comprehensive.

Rather than an intensive node where densities decrease towards the edges of the node, the area displays an incoherent mixture of conventional and medium-density housing. Arguably this is the result in part of the role of the market and perceived market demand for conventional housing.

A second issue lies with the location of Eastpark. Both Ti Rakau and Te Irirangi Drives form a significant barrier between Eastpark and the Town Centre, affecting the walkability of the whole area. A senior planner from Manukau City Council has retrospectively questioned the appropriateness of Eastpark's location as a medium-density development, given that the 'road-dominated environment to get to the nearby Botany Town Centre is not pedestrian friendly' (interview, 2004). Perhaps a more integrated approach between traffic planning and land use planning would have addressed this issue.

The third issue concerns the quality of building construction, particularly for Sacramento. Post-occupancy research [For more information on post-occupancy research contact Michelle Thompson-Fawcett, University of Otago.] undertaken in late 2002, showed that leaky building syndrome did affect some buildings in Sacramento, although at the time the research was being undertaken this was being addressed by the body corporate.

Arguably, leaky building syndrome has generally tarnished the image of medium-density housing. For example, some residents, commented 'leaky building syndrome affects house prices', and 'leaky building gives negative publicity even though they're not leaking' (residents surveyed, 2002).

Overall, a more integrated, holistic approach and emphasis on quality construction are factors that could be improved upon. That said, the values achieved in this case study show just how planning can be visionary through urban design principles, council commitment and innovative developers.

Value gained

The three developments show a significant improvement in urban form compared to conventional suburban development and earlier examples of medium-density housing. The elements contributing to this success are the focus on an enhanced public realm, creating safe, user-friendly areas and environments responsive to the needs of local people and communities.

The successful sales in the two residential developments and the level of vitality in the Town Centre indicate the value in economic terms. Around 70% of Sacramento was sold off the plans (interview with developer, 2000), following a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Eastpark was a little slower, but was planned as a longer term development where construction 'plugged away as demand dictated' (interview with developer, 2000). 'Initial stages were released during a market downturn, however later stages sold very well' (interview with senior planner, MCC, 2004).

Hames Sharley Consultants, who were involved with the market research for the development of the Town Centre, indicated that the feedback from other professionals, shop owners, tenants and shoppers has been good: 'they're absolutely rapt' (interview, 2002).

Post-occupancy research, undertaken in late 2002, reveals the social and environmental gains in the two residential developments. Residents were asked what they considered to be the positive aspects of living in the Botany Downs neighbourhood. Typical responses include its proximity to shopping centres, safety for children, design of houses, well thought out use of space, inclusion of on-site facilities, and the quiet, private, low maintenance nature of the neighbourhoods. In the same research respondents were asked to indicate how well they thought the Botany Downs neighbourhood had delivered certain features, including some related to urban design.

The table below shows the percentage of respondents who agreed or strongly agreed that Botany Downs had provided these features.

Quality provided Respondents that agreed or strongly agreed
High quality public space 80%
Safety and security 82%
High quality urban design and architecture 58%
Inviting environment in which to walk and cycle 82%
Good links with adjoining areas of Auckland 65%

Respondents were also asked to identify negative aspects of living in Botany Downs. Examples of comments most frequently stated include: crowded, lack of open space, traffic and traffic noise, lack of local parks, no privacy, and poor building quality. Poor building quality was often associated with leaky building syndrome. So while key strengths lie in quality public space, safety and security, and the inviting areas in which to walk and cycle; building construction and region-wide issues such as provision of parks and roading networks are weaknesses.

Further indications of the values gained are evident from comments made by those involved in project development and residents of Sacramento and Eastpark (see below).

  Comment
Resident - survey 2002 Initially I was apprehensive about moving to medium-density but it has been good - has worked out well. Small street, know everyone. Just enough companionship.
Resident - survey 2002 Concept is brilliant but shame about construction.
Resident - survey 2002 I like it, I'm happy here it's got a nice feel.
Hames Sharley - interview 2002 The community feedback has been great, and professional feedback in terms of what we've developed out there has been really positive as well.
Hopper Developments - interview 2000 It will be I think probably one of the best models of high-density housing in New Zealand . The quality of the housing is impeccable.
Taradale Properties - interview 2000 It's probably turned out as good, if not better than what we visualised. Pretty pleased with it.

Figure: Botany Downs intensification node in the context of the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy (adapted from RGF, 1999; and Thompson-Fawcett and Carter, 2003).

Figure: Case study location plan.