Legislation RMA Reform

‘Amenity’ that word

‘Amenity’ that word

A discussion of the word amenity is called for  in the context of the RMA reform. It could end up being lost from our understanding of the values that are needed in the built environment.

Amenity conveys  the value that feeds the human spirit when we look out of our windows and  walk our streets. Amenity is to be able to walk, play and socialise in a shared space while feeling safe.

Often people think about assets such as toilet blocks or carparks as amenityin a utilitarian or tangible  sense but we need to  understand the less tangible value it protects in the built environment.

Amenity is a value that we stand to loose if we do not name and recognise it.

Amenity in an urban context should include the tangible and the less tangible aspects of comfort and convenience in everyday life.

In 2017, The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in the State of Victoria, defined amenity as:

.. the features of an area, street or building, that provide facilities and services that contribute to physical or material comfort and benefit, and are valued by users. An amenity can be either tangible, such as open space, seating, a swimming pool or gym; or intangible, such as pleasant views, air quality, or proximity to a local school or supermarket.

Urban Design Guidelines

Today, in Aotearoa New Zealand “amenity values” are reffered to as:

.. those natural or physical qualities and characteristics of an area that contribute to people’s appreciation of its pleasantness, aesthetic coherence, and cultural and recreational attributes.

(s 2 RMA) Resource Management Act 1991

Who are the beneficiaries of amenity?

Everyone benefits from these values, from people taking weekend walks to workers commuting to their workplaces or eating their lunches outdoors, people at home looking out of their windows or having a barbecue, teenagers listening to music or skateboarding, children playing and exploring.

The London Plan, defines amenity as:

an element of a location or neighbourhood that helps to make it attractive or enjoyable for residents and visitors.

Published by the Mayor of London in March 2016

Why is not amenity being promoted in the Natural and Built Environment (NBE) bill if it benefits everyone?

Furthermore, could amenity be a citizen’s right?

e.g.: The right to access an open space within a 10-minute walk from home.

I personally consider public amenity and public space as the ultimate expression of democracy. I am really interested in its mobility component or the right for movement particularly for active transportation.

I must admit that I am fascinated by the social component of public space or the right to mingle for the not so active modes. I personally see amenity as the facilitator for social interaction in public spaces.

I understand public amenity as that comforting sensation when looking out the window and seeing hills and street trees with their green tops, but also as having access to spaces for social interaction and personal enjoyment at a walking distance from my residence.

Could access to reliable and affordable public transport be considered as amenity?

I will use my personal experience to explain why it should.

I was born and raised in Gijón, a 400,000 people compact village in northern Spain. I grew up living in an apartment and I walked, cycled and took PT everywhere because it was cheap and convenient. For trips outside the urban areas, I had to take a bus and collect my car that was parked in a (paid and monitored) covered carpark in the outer suburbs. I never thought of it as annoying or as a personal effort. It was just convenient and cheap, I started appreciating PT as public amenity when I moved overseas.

When I migrated to Ōtautahi, New Zealand I was left with no choice but to drive a car. I was not feeling safe cycling or walking and PT was expensive and not very efficient. It was a post-earthquake environment in a city prevented from their collective memory with a strong reason to invest in public amenity (PT)?

I am not sure if differentiating between public or private amenity adds an extra layer of complexity but it may be worth looking into it as the word public space has been neglected in the NBE bill and it is a very important part of the built environment.

Amenity in a medium density development could be understood in a different way though, the different shades of public and private realms (semi-private, semi-public) and the benefits of communal open spaces, accessible areas and gates.

The HS2 London-West Midlands Environmental Statement, defines amenity as:

.. the benefits of enjoyment and well-being which are gained from a resource in line with its intended function. Amenity may be affected by a combination of factors such as: sound, noise and vibration; dust/air quality; traffic/congestion; and visual impacts.

London Department for Transport in November 2013

Going back to the basics of the bill, the Te Oranga o Te Taiao concept is to be extended to the built environment (the well-being of people and communities).

I question how Part 3 of the Act (which deals with the National Planning Framework or NPF) will set out provisions to direct outcomes in ecological integrity, greenhouse emissions, urban areas, housing supply, infrastructure services and natural hazards and climate change. I am so excited to see there will be provisions driving these outcomes however I wonder how prescribing qualitative environmental limits will provide the outcomes we have understood as amenity when becoming regulations.

(a) environmental limits may be prescribed qualitatively or quantitatively

Item 12 (2) Environmental limits of the Contents of NPF in the NBE bill.

To summarise the above as a question,

what would be the provisions in the NPF for a qualitative environmental limit that directs outcomes in urban areas related to well-being of people and their communities?

Ecosystemic Urbanism (EU) is built on sustainable outcomes based on functional, efficient, complex and socially cohesive principles built around the idea of citizen’s well-being.

EU Functional built environment outcomes

  • More diverse urban environments around the centres of neighbourhoods, towns, and cities.
  • Habitable public spaces.
  • Accessible transport hubs, links, and associated services delivered more quickly.

EU Efficient built environment outcomes

  • Diverse activities in close proximity.
  • Te Oranga o te Taiao and the wellbeing of people and their built and natural environments.

EU Complex built environment outcomes

  • Built environments that encompass renewable energy, fewer emissions, less waste, water sensitivity, green spaces and the sustainable production of food.

EU Socially cohesive built environment outcomes

  • Diverse, inclusive, connected and healthy communities.
  • Te Ao Māori.

After all isn’t amenity supposed to have a positive effect on our well-being?

Or to say it differently could our well-being be a substitute for the word amenity?

Ivan Eiroa Santamarina

Urbanhub Aotearoa can help with the conversations leading to meaningful decisions. Contact us.

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