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Will the planets align for our new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development?

Government Minister Phil Twyford wasn’t kidding when he opened the Urbanism New Zealand conference held in Wellington in mid-May by saying it couldn’t be more timely – adding with a flourish that “the planets are aligned”. 
Barely a month later, Twyford announced last week that his two portfolios of Housing and Urban Development will be given a fresh home in a new Ministry of ‘Housing and Urban Development’. 
The new entity will be cobbled together from parts of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment along with some relevant policy and monitoring components of MSD and Treasury. It is expected to be functioning by October.
The Minister kept this ‘good news’ under his hat at the Urbanism NZ event, which was attended by about 250 people closely tied to the world of urban development. More than 75 of those people contributed directly to presentations on a wide spectrum of city-making topics and issues. 
Twyford’s agenda setting fixation on KiwiBuild was not without its critics, most especially the outgoing president of the NZ Institute of Architects Christina van Bohemen. She strongly cautioned that without sufficient openness to more urban design input, KiwiBuild might only deliver “lowest common denominator results”, and “waste a once in a lifetime opportunity”. 
Her point was that at all price points, high-quality design for housing is a “must include”. 
Although Twyford hadn’t stayed beyond the opening of the conference, he had signalled that one part of the shake up and disruption of the residential construction industry he has in mind points to more use of modern pre-fab, off-site manufacturing.
He was certainly upfront about there being gaps around the public service’s capability and expertise on urban development and the need to bridge through to more work with the private sector, design practitioners, local government, academia, campaigners and advocates. 

Alistair Ray, Jasmax head of urban design, speaks at Urbanism New Zealand’s evening function at Te Papa. Photo: Stephen Olsen


Given there were representatives from the NZ Transport Agency and Ministry for the Environment at Urbanism NZ, it is surprising that Twyford’s new Ministry of HUD won’t be bringing our limited pockets of urban development capability and expertise from those agencies under the same umbrella. Perhaps in time.
One of the international keynote speakers who offered to help accelerate New Zealand’s need to adopt more dynamic planning practices was leading US affordable housing developer Jonathan F. P. Rose – no stranger to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the vicissitudes of public policy. It might pay Twyford to give Rose a call. 

Jonathan Rose speaks at Urbanism New Zealand’s conference. Photo: Stephen Olsen


What clearly emerged at a local level from the Urbanism NZ event -– which provided strong case studies from Auckland and Christchurch – was that informal groups like the Urban Design Forum, Women in Urbanism, and the voices from catalytic sites like Greater Auckland and Talk Wellington have to be part of this conversation for it to continue growing. 
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