Andrew Washington is a respected Wellington senior valuer and as such we should listen to what he has to say on property matters.

In a letter in the Dom-Post commenting on the rating system Andrew caused widespread alarm with his final sentence when he referred to “this increasingly scarce resource (land).”

Good Lord, I had no idea the world’s land surface was, like its human population outside of Africa, actually shrinking. Hitherto I had laboured under the belief it was growing thanks to wide-spread reclamations.

Indeed as archaeologists world-wide dig down to reveal past human habitations I’d always assumed the land surface, far from shrinking, was constantly rising. This is indeed worrying news.

Perhaps Andrew could elaborate and tell us where the disappearing land is actually going and how long we’ve got before we all start building rafts.


Land reclamation is one form of expanding land area, that of water to land. The skyscraper is another form, that of air to land, and a more prevalent form.

I see little reason why building heights cannot continue to increase as long as rents do in geographically constrained areas. Building costs increase with height, so the last economic floor is that where the cost of construction is equal to that of the market rent payable, divided by the prevailing yield.

Increasing rents in certain markets, expertise in building and innovation will drive building heights higher, while increasing labour and material costs with counteract this force.

Given this, the Middle East with their labour camps, populated by cheap sub-continent labour, and their access to international firms with significant engineering experience, will soon have the tallest average cities in the world, with the entire region looking like Dubai in short order (and Dubai looking even more Dubai-esque). The fact these cities are in the desert, and living more than a few kilometres from the coast is interminable without the cooling sea breezes the coast provides, will also drive these cities upwards and outwards along the coast. (These facts also highlight the immense insanity of Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project, where instead of building in a line along the coast, they want to build a city in a line directly into the desert from the coast for 170km, at a height of 500m to boot. The hilarity provided by narcissistic dictators with endless cash is almost worth their existence).

Frankly I personally don’t find these Middle Eastern cities particularly appealing, as they’ve combined the best of early 20th century US cities, the excitement of Chicago and New York’s races to the sky, with the worst of post World War 2 western car based sprawl. Give me European mid rise, walkable cities any day, or the stucco terrace suburbs of the great London estates. Thankfully planners in the West seem to be learning from the excesses of their parking rules and housing restrictions that led to much of this sprawl. The Middle East seems to want to learn the lesson themselves, the hard way.

Land isn’t scarce if enterprising men are allowed to build up without restraint, despite the fact, as you’ve so eloquently pointed out in the past, that this will eventually lead to their bankruptcy if they double down and roll the dice enough times.

Property rights are the increasingly scarce resource.

its being swallowed up in cycle lanes and rusty bikes

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