Density done well, not just downtown

Forget the binary of apartment tower or single house. This won’t deliver choice or affordability for Auckland. Embrace instead what has been missing: medium density options of low rise apartments, terraces and semi-detached housing interspersed with gardens and parks. A diversified housing stock across the city is crucial for a sustainable and successful Auckland. 

Current situation

In Auckland we are experiencing significant population growth, which is set to continue for the next 30 years. In 2015, the average cost of providing water services, transport and parks, to new high-density developments was $28,077 per unit – well below the $41,633 per unit cost to their low-density counterparts.2 Aucklanders are waking up to the social and environmental costs of ever increasing sprawl. The only way to start curbing these costs is through more intensive residential development, closer to where people work, socialise and other key services.

missing middle

In 2013, detached single unit housing accounted for 76 per cent of Auckland’s total housing stock.4 In Auckland, like many growing cities, there is a ‘missing middle’ in residential development, where housing choices that lie somewhere between the high-rise apartment tower, 3 and the detached single house, are grossly under-represented.1 Building a sustainable Auckland for the future, means we need to accommodate an increased population throughout the city, not just in the CBD.

Greater choice, diversified densities        

Currently 23 per cent of people can’t afford to rent or buy anywhere in Auckland.5 Successful cities need to provide a range of housing choices, in terms of scale, price and location for current and new residents that cater to their diverse living needs. Ensuring that Aucklanders have secure, healthy homes they can afford means supplying more medium-density housing in established areas with good connectivity to employment and other opportunities.1 This would go a long way supporting a higher-quality of life for a wider range of residents.

Medium Density Done Well

Medium density is sometimes referred to as the ‘Goldilocks Density’, being not too high and not too low. Neither an expansive subdivision, nor a high-rise tower, medium density developments usually fall into one of three categories: low rise apartments, terraces and semi-detached housing.3

Low Rise Apartments

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Trinity Apartments in Parnell, a well-designed, low rise apartment complex (6)

Well-designed low rise apartments provide for living at higher densities without dominating the surrounding environment. Apartments, such as the Trinity Apartments, shown above, use a variety of building materials and landscaping to minimise blank walls and enhance street appeal. Done well, low rise apartments provide interest, a visual break from the conventional and also add a sense of place to existing neighbourhoods.8

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Ockham Building, Mt Eden (6)

The Ockham building provides a good example of what could be achieved when designing a low-rise apartment. In this example, increased density has been provided at a human scale while adding interest to the streetscape.

Terraces (Townhouses)

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Manukau (10)

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Squadron Lane Terraces, Hobsonville (5)

Terrace housing allows for higher densities to be achieved, while maintaining the separate access to – and identity of – each dwelling.

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Domain Terraces, Parnell (6)

Built in 1999, these terraces show that medium density living can become an iconic and valued part of an established neighbourhood’s character. As these examples show, terrace housing can be delivered in many different designs, and can reflect the character of a given residential area.

Semi-Detached Housing (Duplexes)

Some urban and suburban locations can’t support apartments or terraces due to site and infrastructure constraints. In these instances, semi-detached housing can provide for medium density development.

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1907 Semi-Detached Houses in Portland, USA (7)

Semi-detached housing refers to two side-by-side dwellings contained within one building. One dwelling is usually the mirror image of its partner. They typically range between two and three stories in height, they provide density without dominance, and as this example shows, they can be designed to reflect existing suburban character.

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Talbot Park, Glenn Innes (6)

Closer to home, this development near Talbot Park in Glenn Innes has incorporated semi-detached housing in a new development.10  Visually, Talbot Park is similar to new detached housing being built in Auckland.

Delivering Densities

Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan

When the Unitary Plan becomes operative, new residential zones will allow for increased density to varying degrees. Where future residential development occurs at high densities, it’s important that this new development feels compatible with the surrounding neighbourhood.

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Development Envisioned for MHU (9)

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Terraces that could be built in THAB (4)

Within the Unitary Plan, Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings (THAB), Mixed Housing Urban (MHU) and are two zones that have been applied within current suburban areas. There’s also opportunity for smaller-scale intensification in the Mixed Housing Suburban Zone (MHS), and in town and local centres.

To find out more check out: Zones and Policies

Master Planning Opportunities

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Addison Development, Takanini (6)

The master-planned Addison Development also has semi-detached and stand-alone dwellings that allows for higher densities and better community outcomes than conventional developments in the area.10 These examples illustrate how show that density can be achieved in areas outside downtown Auckland.


Article by Tara Hurley


1     Auckland Plan (2012)

2     The Centre for International Economics. (2015). Final Report: Cost of Residential Servicing. Prepared for Auckland Council.

3     Hurley, A. K. (2016). Will US Cities Design their way out of the Affordable Housing Crisis?

4     2013 Census, Stats NZ

5     Yeoman, R and Akehurst, G (2015). The housing we’d choose: a study of housing preferences, choices and trade-offs in Auckland. Auckland Council technical report, TR2015/016.

6     Google Image Search

7     City of Portland (2008). The Infill Design Toolkit: Medium-Density Residential Development

8     Auckland Design Manual

9     Auckland Council. (2013) Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan: Mixed Housing Urban Factsheet

10  Ministry for the Environment. (2012). Medium Density Housing: Case Study Assessment Methodology

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One Response to “Density done well, not just downtown”

  1. Matt Ensor Says:

    This is a good article – quality medium density development is a valuable part of a growing modern city.


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