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Volume 77, 1948-49
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A Background to Town planning.


If a single individual lived alone on an island of no concern to the rest of the world, he could make his own laws and govern his own conduct; if, however, he married and brought up a family it would be necessary to curb some of his impulses and direct his conduct towards a common pattern of living; if he did not do so he would probably become an “enemy to society,” and if his actions became too offensive to the other members of the community they would find it necessary to forcibly restrict his liberties.

In the ordinary course of development the larger the community becomes, the greater are the restrictions upon personal liberty of action and the more

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complex becomes the pattern of life, until at last a stage is reached when the very laws of conduct become so irksome that thinking men seriously question the pattern of natural growth and produce plans for reorganisation and future development aimed at producing a better pattern for life. Others, perhaps not so virile, seek personal peace in flight to a simpler way of life in rural surroundings.

The application of science to industry, some two centuries ago, commenced a mass migration of human beings from rural to urban living conditions and thus produced the very problems outlined in the foregoing simple thesis. Science in turn now attempts to solve the problem of its own creation. Science produced new forms of energy. Gas, steam, electricity, oil and now atomic energy which, because of their easy reticulation, made the location of industry independent of the source of power, consequently transportation became the key to the location. Good harbours, roads, railways, air-routes became more important as a site for industry than the source of primary material or of power; and because such sites are limited, and for other reasons too, major manufacturing centres tend to group themselves at those points, and because man must work to live he follows industry, thus creating the colossal urban communities of to-day.

These urban communities in themselves create even greater demands upon industry because, living as they must in a restricted way, they become dependent upon services and goods which are created by a group of secondary industries, and an ever-increasing army of specialist services tending in their turn to increase the urban area still further until a stage is reached when the very advantages created by science in the first place cease to have real significance because of the ever-growing confusion, congestion and general inconvenience. There can be but one solution—to replan the urban area as a whole—in simple language to regard the urban area as a single machine, each part of which contributes to the work of the whole—but to do this many grave problems must be solved, not the least of which are cost, time and an accurate knowledge not only of present needs, but of future requirements. Some of these seem insoluble at the moment and consequently Town Planning Science finds application and ready appreciation in piecemeal improvement schemes of local significance. It is not my purpose in this paper to consider these, but to direct attention to the wider and, to my mind, more significant facts of the modern life pattern, because I believe their contemplation can assist those whose task it is to apply existing knowledge to specific aspects and localities.

I am strengthened in this resolve because at the moment post-war expansion and development plans are under consideration. It is no exaggeration to state that the well being of our population will be profoundly influenced by the decisions now made. We have just passed through a period of strife during which the whole of our energy has been directed towards survival. We have emerged victorious, our immediate goal accomplished, but only now, two years later, are we beginning to realise the cost of our efforts. The loss of splendid lives, the weakening of our moral fibre, the creation of doubts and fears, of restlessness and discontent, reflected in changed values of life. These will no doubt adjust themselves into a common objective of good living, they must, or the world will resort to anarchy, but the pre-war world will not return. New Zealand can no longer remain as purely a producer of primary products depending upon other countries for its industrial needs. The war has taught us that industry must be decentralised, each country producing the products it needs for its own development for which it has the necessary primary material, just as certain manufacturing countries found it necessary to develop their neglected farming enterprises. This is not to say that export markets are to be neglected nor does it imply an isolationist policy, but rather that the initial impetus given to industry in New Zealand by war needs has hastened a change in our national life which will profoundly effect the development of urban communities. During the war Auckland's population increased by approximately 50,000 people, and has continued to grow since its conclusion at the rate of approximately 8,000 people per annum. The other urban areas reflect a similar tendency. As the population increases the actual number of new people likewise increases, although the percentage is constant. The larger cities feel the effects more

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profoundly. The point I wish to emphasise is with such a general trend of population movement, the town planning problem becomes more urgent.

The effect does not end there. Larger urban areas influence regional facilities. Transport and amenities become congested. The former automatically are improved because congestion in transport directly affects economy, but ruined amenities cannot be restored easily. In the vicinity of Auckland, many pleasant beaches are being spoiled by the indiscriminate construction of seaside baches and shanties without preconceived development plans for the area. I am told that similar conditions exist in the vicinity of other urban areas.

There is nothing new in all this. It is merely a similar pattern of development to urban communities in Europe and America. I do not think it is fully realised in New Zealand how universal is the plan pattern. There is a tendency to believe that, because our population is small and our rural areas wide and beautiful, we need not concern ourselves over-much with preconceived plans for urban areas. It is with this thought in mind that I write this paper; I desire to show that we are part of the common pattern of western civilisation, that we can see in other lands the consequences of inadequate pre-planning. I emphasise that the responsibility is ours to-day to decide whether the existing haphazard methods will continue or whether we shall undertake the study and research necessary to evolve a planned development programme worthy of this country.


The European history of New Zealand is very short. Undertake a short trip through both islands, note the green fields, sturdy trees, busy towns and bustling cities, and it is hard to believe that a short one hundred years ago all this land was forest, fern and titrees, with the exception of isolated patches of cultivation made by the Native race. When I was first appointed to a post in this country I remember reading a history book and exclaiming “only 80 years of development, truly there will hardly be a well-developed imported tree,” yet I found apparently ancient oaks and sycamores. To contemplate the short history of this country is to marvel at the progress in so short a time, to be amazed at the prodigious energy of the pioneers, to conclude that in New Zealand some unusual force or power activated the early settlers which placed them beyond, or above, those of other countries; yet a moment's reflection and investigation shows that other countries too, notably Australia and the United States, show parallel achievements. Chicago, for example, has grown from a small village to a city containing four million people within that same century. During the same period California and indeed the greater part of the Pacific coast of America has emerged from an almost unknown land to a dominating position in world economy. Australia, our nearest neighbour, has within the same period progressed from a few penal settlements to a continent whose voice is heard in the United Nations Assembly. Even Great Britain, whose antiquity is one of its greatest charms, can show evidences of prodigious growth. The population of London, one hundred years ago, totalled two and a-half million against its ten millions to-day. The truth is that the last century of progress has produced astounding changes in the pattern of life, and this progress is largely due to the industrial revolution which in turn was caused by the application of science to industry. This statement is not meant to detract from the splendid achievements of our pioneers, whose energy undoubtedly laid the foundations of civilised life in this fair land. It merely emphasises that this development progressed in harmony with a world-wide movement of profound importance to the human race. A movement which was directly responsible for the intensified urban living which is the outstanding characteristic of the social pattern of the period.

Consider now the technical side of the matter. With a common social pattern it would not on the face of it seem difficult to provide the necessary technical planning; but this did not happen. The history of industrial development in Great Britain during the greater part of the twentieth century is a record of complete disregard for preconceived planning. Apparently land was subdivided and built upon without any consideration for community needs and very little thought for health and convenience, and thus industrial slums were created. Towards the end of the century, after a series of appalling

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epidemics, action was taken to control building construction—light and air, street widths, drains and other matter—but this was too late for thousands of acres of sub-standard dwellings, large areas of which remain to-day. The excuse is made sometimes that the consequences of inadequate planning could not be foreseen and that the need of housing was so urgent that no time or thought could be given to adequate pre-planning. Yet Town Planning was not unknown. A complete new town had been planned for Edinburgh and Sir Christopher Wren replanned London as early as the seventeenth century. Further, the evils of congested living had already been demonstrated on the continent of Europe during the middle ages; indeed, it was an English King, Edward I, who planned the free or Bastide towns of France with the object of creating order and contentment amongst its citizens. It would appear that science, having made urban life possible, was entirely disregarded in developing urban areas for living.

New Zealand and Australia fared much better. Most of the early settlements were pre-planned. The original plan for Adelaide by Colonel Light is an outstanding example of the application of scientific thought to urban living. A plan for New Zealand's projected capital city at Russell, Bay of Islands, was made by Mr. Felton Mathew, first Surveyor-general of the Colony.* Mr. Mathew also prepared the original plan for Auckland,** containing a square, a circus and a geometric arrangement of strocts. It shows considerable foresight for such an early date. Generally speaking, the prevailing street pattern of the age was the grid or Roman plan of right-angle streets. This gave a simple pattern and an economic layout, but it was not adaptable to irregular contours. The method was used extensively in the United States. In this country the form may be seen in Invercargill, Palmerston North and other places. The Auckland plan was a distinct advance upon this system, in as much as it attempted to fit the street system to the irregular contours by geometric means, creating patterns such as crescents, squares and circles of regular design. The plan was impracticable in many ways, particularly regarding the street grades and the size of the building plots, but the defects would have been immaterial if Mr. Mathew's successors had developed the plan in accordance with, and in advance of, the urban demand. This did not happen; New Zealand settlements, once commenced, generally forgot the original conception and proceeded to develop in a haphazard manner in accordance with the needs of the moment and with little regard to long-term objectives.

The conceptions of the early planners aimed principally at an orderly street plan, and in this they merely reflected current opinion. The passion for geometric order was, of course, a legacy of the Renaissance, which in turn was a reaction from mediaeval informality; but towards the end of the century a reaction developed in England towards greater informality. This was reflected in the plans for garden cities and suburbs which for the most part adopted an informal street pattern, yet strove to create order and spaciousness into the plan. Simultaneously the need of “amenity” in the urban area was recognised and large areas were given to open spaces and playing fields. Trees and grass were introduced into the streets with the object of off-setting the formality of the older terrace house system with contrasting elements of Nature. The method became popular. It was widely applied in England—Port Sunlight, Hampstead Garden Suburb and Letchworth Garden City; in the United States, at Forest Hills Garden Suburb and in many of the between-war projects of the Federal Housing Bureau. In New Zealand the system was applied to Orakei Garden Suburb and is freely used by the State Housing Department in many of its housing estates.

In most cases these were new developments. They represent pre-planned additions to existing cities. The opportunities of planning new cities were not frequent. When they did occur as in Delhi, Canberra and replanned Washington, the system was more rigidly geometrical, but including elements of Nature freely within the plan. The problem of replanning the neglected central areas was a costly and difficult task for which no easy solution could be found. Prodigious efforts were made in England between the wars

[Footnote] * See New Zealand's First Capital, by Ruth M. Ross (Dept. Internal Affairs).

[Footnote] ** Located in the Old Colonists' Museum, Auckland.

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to clear the worst of the slums and much interesting detail work, with which I cannot deal to-day, was done. So far I have briefly outlined the application of scientific town planning to the street system. Simultaneously revolutionary ideas concerning land utilisation have developed, commencing with a recognition that street systems cannot be adequately planned without the predetermined use of land. Systems of zoning were applied, primarily to maintain the land usage in accordance with the planned street pattern. But very early, advanced thinkers, such as Corbusier, Adams and Fry, realised that land utilisation was a prime consideration of urban development; that the first principle was to determine the amount of land required for all urban purposes, to locate it, to provide adequate function; and then, and only then, to determine the transport or circulation necessary for it. A realisation of this simple fact revolutionises the approach to planning. Instead of planning a street pattern for a garden suburb with emphasis upon the street, creating changing vistas and adequate contrasts by curving lines and irregular sites. the approach is to plan the area for building sites, allowing maximum consideration to such matters as aspect, prospect, economy of structure, and economy of service. It is a parallel development in town planning to con temporary architectural thought, which aims to plan buildings for use instead of appearance. This statement should not be construed as meaning that the appearance of the buildings or of the street system should have no consideration of beauty, but rather as implying the deeper significance that beauty of effect is the result of the objective and not the cause. Thus town planning to-day comes closer to its real purpose, the pre-planning and re-planning of urban areas so that the full value of convenience and amenity can be enjoyed by its several parts and by the whole. Consequently the basis of planning, as I understand it, must be painstaking research into the various phases of the social organisation which makes a modern urban community. In that work sociologists, economists, medical men, architects, engineers, surveyors, indeed all the specialists created by our way of living, have a part to play. Because these cannot cover the field individually, a control planning organisation is needed to collate the material, direct the research, and make it available to those few specialists engaged upon the creation of new development plans.

History teaches us that the planning of towns and communities is a study of social life and an understanding of its needs, otherwise town planning is superficial and the plans of to-day tend to be lost in the developments of to-morrow.

New Zealand's Planning Problem.

Theoretically, national and regional planning precedes urban planning; actually the problem is a single one with special emphasis upon certain sections depending upon whether it is national, regional or urban in application. This paper is primarily concerned with urban planning, but in placing the emphasis upon urban difficulties, I am fully conscious of regional and national implications; in fact, I urge their co-ordination.

Simply stated, the requirement of an urban area is to perform adequately, in a safe and logical manner, its functions as a centre of transport and industry, providing at the same time a full life to its inhabitants. To accomplish these objectives much detailed analysis and considerable research is necessary. A great deal of this work has already been done both overseas and locally, but the local research particularly needs wider dissemination, for example, a survey of the metropolitan area of Auckland carried out by the Ways and Means Committee contains valuable data upon shopping areas in relation to housing, percentages of population living in flats, areas occupied by industry, docks and so forth, which is invaluable to local planners. This might be described as “factual data.” Additional research is required into social, economic, medical and legal aspects of planning which would produce ideal objectives for the planners' use, and perhaps provide the basis for legislative action. At the moment the problem facing the planner of a metropolitan area appears insoluble. He realises that in many respects the form of urban areas, particularly in business districts, is quite unsuitable for its present-day function. There is traffic congestion, resulting in delay and increased costs, inadequate light and air in densely built-up areas, insufficient amenity and open space. A correction of these deficiences would result in staggering claims for compensation, quite beyond the capacity of the local

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authority concerned. Added to this is a realisation that under existing conditions the urban areas will continue to increase to an unknown degree, which must result in still greater congestion and loss in the future.

There is nothing new in all this; other countries, notably Great Britain, are facing a similar problem intensified by greater population. The only new fact is the realisation that, as the direct result of intensified post-war expansion plans, the problems will be intensified more rapidly in this country. Many solutions have been suggested. London established a green belt at an early date with the object of limiting lateral expansion. It did not achieve its major objective, as the urban area continued beyond it, although it did cause a secondary benefit of local amenity. Sir Ebenezer Howard advocated new satellite towns and then, just after the war commenced, the Barlow Committee reported on the Distribution of Industry and the Uthwatt Committee on Compensation and Betterment. The first recommended the establishment of a National Authority for the purpose of making research into advising upon and regulating the location of industry. The second gave a masterly analysis of the complicated problems underlying effective town and country planning, and presented a plan for the nationalisation of the development rights of land. The plan was not accepted by the Government, which instead produced a Bill aimed at giving local authorities “a simplified and expedited procedure” in the acquisition of land.

Underlying the many discussions upon this question is the realisation that if urban land belonged to the community itself reconstruction would be feasable. Protagonists of this theory insist that increased values to urban land are made by the community and should therefore belong to it. At the same time most of them admit the great difficulties involved in its realisation. In the meantime the difficulties of city congestion increase and positive re-planning is seldom realised. I am not aware of any investigations or reports upon this important matter having been made in New Zealand.

It seems to me that two matters need investigation in this country—the desirable size for the major cities and an examination of possible methods for replanning the built-up areas within the estimated maximum limit. This involves a consideration of causes of growth, and the creation of new towns by decentralising industry and services at the appropriate times. In other words, a study of the social factors behind city growth and an endeavour to regulate it in accordance with predetermined principles. It may be found, for example, that the major factor governing city growth is its location with regard to transport, and if, therefore, suitable alternative centres could be developed at the cost of roads, docks and railways, it might be cheaper than replanning the heart of existing cities.

Town planning cannot proceed very far without a legislative background. New Zealand has only one Town Planning Act passed in 1926 and an amending Act of 1929, although reference to town planning matters of a minor character have been included in other Bills from time to time. The 1926 Act was modelled in part upon legislation passed in England after the first world war. It aimed at producing a development plan for every urban community containing 1,000 people or more, in a period of three years extended by the Amending Act to five years and later extended to 1937. The Act made town planning compulsory for both developed and undeveloped areas. In this latter respect the Act broke new ground as the English precedent made the planning of undeveloped land alone compulsory. The object of the English Act was to ensure that the accelerated development after the first world war would proceed on sound lines, leaving reconstruction of built-up areas for later consideration. The New Zealand Act was more ambitious but, although it included compensation and betterment clauses, very little positive replanning has resulted. The Act gave very wide powers to local authorities, concerning buildings and land, pending the completion of the scheme and provided that before adoption the completed plan would be open to public inspection and hearing. Unfortunately no penal clause was included and in consequence after the extended completion date of 1937 it was only necessary for a local authority to be engaged upon the plan for it to enjoy the full value of the emergency clauses, without publication of its measures. It is only fair to add that I do not think any local authority deliberately sought this advantage, in fact I am sure that the slow progress of the work was due to certain

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weaknesses in the compensation and betterment clauses in particular; the fact that compensation is payable immediately an adverse effect upon property is noted, which might easily be upon publication of the plan, whereas “betterment” (restricted to half betterment value) could only be collected when the betterment accrued, and not at all after five years from the publication of the plan. This may be equitable law, but it restricts too severely the planners' programme of development. In the section covering restrictions upon land use, building height and density, these complications did not arise and consequently positive progress could be made.

The net result has been the introduction of zoning regulations of a wide and comprehensive nature and the modification of street planning to local improvement schemes, and, because the result was not a complete plan in terms of the Act, most of these proposals operate without the prior hearing of objections.

Another defect in the Act was the obligation to plan being placed upon individual local authorities rather than upon planning areas. In consequence, in the larger areas, notably Auckland (where many local authorities govern the metropolitan area), each local authority prepared its plan piecemeal, thus losing the comprehensive conception of the whole. It is true that a voluntary amalgamation clause was included, but this proved unworkable.

The 1929 Act aimed at ensuring the development of regional plans before the preparation of town plans, but apart from gazetting the various regions little was done, due, no doubt, to the economic depression of the early thirties. Recently, progressive regional plans have been prepared and published by the Government which seems to have taken the initiative as the only means of achieving co-ordinated action for post-war development.

In the meantime Britain has passed a series of Acts dealing with town and country planning, slum clearance and housing. It would appear that a new measure is required in New Zealand correcting the deficiencies of the old Act and introducing new material gleaned from a study of English procedure and research into local needs.

The Plan Pattern.

Logically the plan pattern should result from the foregoing background of social and economic needs, but it was not always so determined. I have already referred to the early plans for New Zealand towns and explained how these, following the custom of the time, used predetermined streets systems which governed the subdivision of land. As mentioned, the most common form was the grid plan of streets at right angles to one another seen in all parts of New Zealand. It has the merit of order but lacks variety or individuality. It is strange that a country possessing such a generous share of natural beauty should develop such unimaginative towns. The long dreary main street with a few residential streets adjacent.

No great social or economic study is necessary for the rectification of these smaller urban areas. All that is needed is a few simply obtained facts and an architect with some imagination, and a plan could be produced which would within a decade make the town worthy of its locality. The fault goes back to the fundamental defect in procedure which does not require positive preplanning by local authorities. The early plans were preconceived, but since then subdivisions have been made piece-meal. If a property owner decides to subdivide his land he has it surveyed into a maximum number of sections for sale. The local authority approves the subdivision within the framework of the law, which stipulates street widths, size of sections and requirements of open space. There is no suggestion of conforming to a predetermined positive plan for the area. The result is a series of piece-meal additions to the existing town which in time present an amazing pattern of poorly co-ordinated elements.

The only exception to this system is the holder of a large estate (usually a Government department) which might, in its own interest, develop a neighbourhood plan for its area. The fault could be corrected if the preparation of development plans for all new urban areas was a compulsory requirement before subdivisions were accepted, as was contemplated in the 1926 Act.

I have already made it clear that the plan pattern of the larger urban areas should be based upon painstaking research into social and economic needs. The assimilation, correlation and interpretation of this material is

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the town planner's work, assisted by specialist engineers, surveyors and architects. The architects' contribution is in the field of design. Trained to balance practical and aesthetic values and to create a unified conception, the architect can, if given the opportunity, give to town planning the individuality or personality so necessary for its complete success.

The engineer's intimate knowledge of the practical field of engineering and local body procedure makes his contribution no less important. The surveyor introduces a complete understanding of the intricacies of land subdivision which is of vital importance to the success of the plan.

The plan pattern is a co-ordination of specialised knowledge. I feel very strongly that if this co-ordination is not present the plan will be deficient in some part. I further believe that the weakness of much of New Zealand's town planning is due to the lack of this co-ordination—the assumption that you can dispense with one or more of the specialists concerned.


The generalised character of this paper was inevitable because it had to cover so much ground. Simply stated, I wished to show, first, that the problems of urban planning in New Zealand are not peculiar to this country. They simply reflect similar tendencies in older countries of the world and consequently a study of the work of those countries can assist us here. Secondly, that the basis or background to planning is an understanding of the social and economic requirements of the people. In this field much research by many specialists is necessary. I hope I might stimulate enthusiasm for that research, and I believe that stimulus would result if a suitable national body undertook to direct it. Thirdly, the plan pattern itself, which is the tangible expression of applied knowledge, should be evolved by the co-ordinated efforts of the major creative professions. This fact is, I believe, more readily accepted overseas than in this country. Finally, I desire to emphasise the urgent need of preconceived urban planning for the major expansion work now being undertaken as a part of post-war activities. In this regard I urge the creation of short- and long-term objectives. If all the research necessary is undertaken, too long a time will elapse for it to influence immediate needs. These works, particularly as regards housing, are so urgent and so large that they will utilise available material for some time to come. If low standards in design and construction are permitted they will cost a great deal to correct in the future, because it is the correction of built-up, not new, work which is so costly in town planning. If therefore a short-term programme demanded positive preplanning for all new work the future would be safeguarded. The long-term objective could aim at correlating existing data, and initiating new research with the object of re-planning the deficient zones of our urban areas.


Professor Knight has provided much food for thought in his paper and has shown the necessity for civic authorities to face up to this vital problem. It is interesting to note that Wellington had its own town plan in the early days providing a grid subdivision for Te Aro Flat, which was divided into Town Acres. A wide area from the Basin Reserve to the sea containing a canal and suggestion for adjoining park lands would have been a feature worth carrying out. For every town acre, a similar acre was dedicated to a green belt or the Town Belt as we know it.

Had the development of this plan been followed it would have provided a good and conventional layout for the city, which would have had its centre moved from where it is to-day. In the years which followed the preparation of the plan, indifferent civic authorities permitted land speculators to drive alleys and cul-de-sacs into the town-acre subdivisions, producing the warren we know as Te Aro Flat to-day and completely spoiling it as the centre of the city.

In Washington, to which Professor Knight refers, the same thing happened. The original plan, conceived by Charles Pierre L'Enfant, a French engineer, was laid out on similar lines to his native Paris, with circles and squares, the principal boulevards or avenues radiating therefrom. In the years which followed, the same civic, or in this case federal, apathy permitted

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the land speculators to superimpose the typical grid plan over the radial one, creating much confusion and a host of irregular sites where the radial avenue intersected with the grid. In later years, millions of dollars have been paid in compensation to property owners in an endeavour to return as nearly as possible to L'Enfant's plan.

In New Zealand, the Town Planning Act required cities and towns to produce within a period of years proposals for improvements; in brief, a long-term plan. The response has been poor and the results, with few exceptions, disappointing. There has been lack of co-ordination and the architectural profession has not had opportunities of participating and assisting. It would seem that if civic authorities had set out to produce a comprehensive contour plan of their areas as a sound basis, then surveyors, architects and engineers could have studied the problems and produced worth-while plans. It is up to us as a profession to take the keenest interest in all town-planning legislation and development if we are to assist in the improvement of our cities, their traffic problems and general amenities.