Labour’s 100,000 homes in 10 years housing policy is certainly ambitious, and awesome, and downright scary. What could this mean for Wellington? Well, assuming Labour is elected in two years time and the policy hasn’t been thrown in the dustbin, it may mean something on the order of $2-3 billion of investment in Wellington. Christ on a cracker that’s a lot of money.

Of course, the scary part is that once you get the bureaucrats in, we could end up with terrible outcomes. More Canons Creeks and Newtown Park Flats spattered around haplessly by unhappy, demotivated people who have had all the creativity and sense of purpose beaten out of them by their incompetent masters. I believe it is possible to set up a new agency to invest this money that had the right structure and motivations, god forbid staffed with architects and urban planners, but boy am I skeptical. Anyway, Labour is likely to shoot itself in the head several times before the next election so this policy is still in the realm of fantasy.

What really interests me is thinking about what could be achieved with that much capital, spent over such a short time, and all by one agency. We know the Government will need to get creative in order to keep its land costs down. To some sprawl-enthusiasts this means opening up more land on the periphery of the city, but we know this won’t work, the land is still too expensive, and the cost of building out the services to these new exurbs is too high. But where else could they go? Well, up of course. And in Wellington I’d argue this means really going up. Unless you’re going to plow over and rebuild Naenae, the land costs in Wellington are realistically too great not to be building more than five stories.

With that said, the next aspect of this I find interesting is thinking about what kind of other benefits you can generate from a consolidated, well planned, $2 billion investment. Why should the outcome be limited to just building homes? This should also be the opportunity to set benchmarks by which other buildings in New Zealand will be judged. But could it also an opportunity to drive down the cost and drive up the quality of building materials used in New Zealand? And an opportunity to develop a better prefabrication and modular building industry?

But as for Wellington, and all cities who would be on the receiving end, the Sim City mayor in me can’t help but think that when such a large scale of development is on the table, such an agency could work with the city to identify urban design problem areas, purchase and agglomerate multiple sections, build missing connections through city blocks, add to our public space, and so on, all for the same cost of ad-hoc, scattershot development. But will we see this?