Category Archives: Economics

HK Lamma Island build height

In Thomas More’s Utopia, ‘their houses are three storeys high’. The town of Yung Shue Wan, on Lamma Island, Hong Kong, allows ‘a maximum building height of 3 storeys (9m)’. The town has a population of approximately 6,000 people, living in an area of something like 8 ha (0.08 km2), which gives it a population density of around 7,500 people per km2.

The Hamilton district plan allows a 10m build height throughout the city, and our population density is about 1,500 people per km2. So based on no change to the build height, the Hamilton population could increase 2 to 3 times without needing to open up more land on its edges for housing. Hamilton could have a population of close to half a million, without change to existing height limits. The fact that Hong Kong has the world’s seventh highest life expectancy (New Zealand is 17th) suggests that living in higher density places maybe good for us.

Height limits are important in keeping a city to a human scale. Hong Kong’s cities are big, but Lamma Island allows trees to have an equal place in the landscape. Also, the protection of the green belt plays a major role in keeping the city liveable. On Lamma Island over 330 hectares are zoned as Green Belt. I’ll let notes from their zoning plan (no. s/i-li/9 page 54) explain.

‘The planning intention of this [green belt] zone is primarily for defining the limits of development areas, to preserve existing well-wooded hill slopes and other natural features, as well as to provide passive recreational outlets for the local population and visitors. There is a general presumption against development within this zone. Development within this zone will be strictly controlled and development proposals will be considered on individual merits taking into account the relevant Town Planning Board Guidelines.’

What also keeps the island peaceful is that the main method of getting around is on foot or by bicycle (there are no cars). This makes visiting here very pleasant, especially coming from the busy streets of Hong Kong Island and the drive to Auckland.

Reference: Benchmarking of medium size cities population density


Introduction to ‘City of Industry’

The ‘City of Industry’ is an industry utopia, best explained in this blog post by Eric Brightwell [my emphasis]

“The City of Industry was incorporated in 1957 in a move in part designed to prevent surrounding cities from annexing the land for tax revenue and as a shelter for those wishing to operate without the strict zoning laws of a typical city. It also allows a very small group of people — in many cases related to one another — to operate a municipality more like a corporation than a typical city”.

I first come across this industry-led city in William A. Fischel’s book ‘Zoning Rules! The economics of land use regulation’ (Page 169-170). He comments:

“Zoning in the 1910’s represented an important break with the selective regulations of the past. The new features were the comprehensiveness of the zoning map and the law’s presumption that single-family residences were to get the most protection … The occasional exceptions that put business purposes at the top, such as the City of Industry in Los Angeles County, California, are sufficiently unusual as to seem bizarre. (I [Fischel] visited Industry several years ago, and its scrubbed-street lifelessness gave me the queasy feeling of having stepped onto the set of a fiction movie”


The City of Industry’s vision in their general plan is to “be an employment base and commercial and business hub” (p19). The primary goal of the city is in “creating and maintaining an ideal setting for manufacturing” (p13). The purpose is to have “a job and employment base for the region” (p19 1.5.1). Policies “encourage the consolidation of smaller lots and large industrial lots to be occupied by a single tenant as opposed to multiple tenants” (p20 LU2-3), and “continually discouraged the development of new housing due to the inherent traffic, noise, and odours associated with business and employment users, which can be incompatible with a quality and safe living environment, and limits housing to existing residences” (p21).

Now it is up to the reader to measure the employment value of an Industry only city versus mixed (living & working) in Los Angeles from the two images above, population density alongside concentrations of employment (from streets-blog post). As a further measure of the value to employment (measured per km2) in a city, we can look at areas in Hamilton versus Los Angeles.

Hamilton’s CBD: 2,375 business, 19,440 employees, 1.3 km2 (130ha) = 14,950 employees per km2

Ruakura project: expected to be home to over 10,000 employees, 5.62 km2 (562ha) = 1,780 employees per km2

City of Industry: 67,000 employees, 30 km2 = 2,230 employees per km2

Vernon (also an industry-only city in the LA area): 46,000 employees, 13 km2 = 3,538 employees per km2

Los Angeles Celebrity Industry: 110,000 to 200,000 celebrity-related jobs (*see Knox, page 128)

The key thing to note about the City of Industry (the same general observations apply to the industry-only ‘city’ of Vernon, described in the list above) is that it is an industrial centre with only 219 residents according to the 2010 census, down from 777 residents in 2000. It does try to be social by having a golf club and a good resort, but consider the image above of the ‘geography of buzz’ (*see Knox, page 138), and its focus on celebrity-driven events. In reality, no amount of hard work in an industrial zone can replace the ad-hoc, unforeseen social interactions that open doors to new jobs, access to thinkers and investors, and expose people to new trends, ideas, and creative activity. Generally, establishing the right networks and meeting different types of people trumps endless nights working in quiet lifeless places. A city needs balance to be sustainable and liveable.

*Knox, P (Ed.) (2014).  Atlas of Cities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Category: Economics, News, Planning