The ease with which we can cycle around York has surpassed all of my expectations. Perhaps this is because we have come from car-dependent Auckland where bicycles are not catered for very well, so I really didn’t expect much. In York, however, there are many completely off-road cycle paths like this one above which offers views of river, trees and parks. On the occasions when we do cycle on the streets, and I have a couple of times now, it feels relatively safe (compared to Auckland) because York is mostly speed-limited to 20 miles per hour (32km/h). This limit will eventually be city-wide. The streets are also narrow so it’s not possible for cars to overtake and they don’t even try.
I listened to an interview on RadioNZ with Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, this morning, and in it he discussed the archaic focus by New Zealand on roads and motorways. He says the “era of car dominance is over” and that New Zealand is “one of the last places in the world to continue with that tradition”. The tradition he is referring to is the building of new motorways as a means of easing congestion. New Zealand is out of date. I wrote about why building new motorways does not ease congestion a little while ago in a post called Parking for Five Cars.
Something else I really love about it here is how well the high-density housing works. I know high-density living is not for everyone, and in York anyway, there are plenty of affordable stand-alone homes with backyards if that’s what people want. But what they do have, which is fairly absent in the Antipodes, is terraced housing. This is housing that offers multiple levels of living, small private courtyards and street-level entry. If you want high-density living in Auckland, the only option is an apartment in a huge block of apartments with no yard, no street-level entrance and poor sound-proofing between walls. And you can forget about this option if you have a dog as dogs are never allowed. I am yet to hear any of my neighbours here and we share walls on both sides. I suspect the wall is at least a double thickness of bricks with a cavity in between. It also maintains a constant and comfortable temperature all day and night and the double glazing blocks out street noise of which there isn’t really much anyway.
New Zealanders might consider the townhouse their equivalent of the English terrace home, but I disagree. In my experience, townhouses are of poor quality (most of them anyway, I know there are a couple of exceptional examples), they are hot in summer, cold in winter and you can hear all of the happenings next door through the wafer-thin walls. One of the biggest advantages of high-density living like this is the ability to walk and cycle everywhere. With lots of people living in a small space, there are more shops and facilities nearby so it’s very easy to dispense with the car altogether, as we’ve done.
Have I got anything bad to say about York? Nope. I love it here. I don’t usually struggle to find things to complain about but I really can’t think of anything.