Big choices for the city: Sir Peter Gluckmans 9 options for Auckland

Talking with schoolchildren recently, Sir Peter Gluckman asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. “All the boys said, ‘A Warrior,’ and all the girls said, ‘An influencer’.”

He was a bit shocked. He asked them, “What are your talents?” He told them not to think about now, but to imagine themselves in 20 years’ time.

But it’s a big ask. Hard enough for adults, often impossible for politicians.

Gluckman himself has been doing some of that thinking, on behalf of the whole of Auckland. He’s the former chief science adviser to Prime Minister John Key and now runs the think tank Koi Tū, attached to the University of Auckland.

Last year, Koi Tū was commissioned by the Auckland Council agency Auckland Unlimited to produce a document that would “provoke a well-informed, deep and wide discussion about Auckland’s future”. Their report is released today.

One idea: instead of light rail in tunnels under the city and endlessly bigger motorways, why don’t we have a network of hyperloops? That’s low-pressure tubes that use magnetic levitation and electric propulsion to carry pods at high speeds.

If this sounds absurdly fanciful, why? Is it because it actually is, or because we’re just not used to thinking like that?

The technology exists. It’s relatively cheap and fast to build. The idea is championed by a professor of urban transport at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’s a New Zealander called Ian Hunter and he’s quite keen on giving back.

Too scary? Speaking to the Herald last week, Gluckman suggested we trial it with containers, carried in an elevated tube above the railway line from the port to the inland storage depot at Wiri. Just taking container freight off the Southern Motorway would be immensely valuable for relieving congestion. And it would make a dent in carbon emissions.

The Koi Tū report, called Reimagining Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland: Harnessing the Region’s Potential, contains nine options for how the city might progress, in the immediate future and over the next 50 years. Those hyperloops are part of it.

Another idea: How about we make Auckland a “national park city”, where the principles of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, enrich the land and sea and lead to a proliferation of urban community farms, rooftop gardens, birdlife and forested corridors linking the city’s maunga, parks and beaches?

Maybe it’s time not to expect so much of politicians, and establish avenues for people to engage more directly in the democratic process. Or maybe we should focus on schools, and up the funding so all children have free access to a high-quality education, regardless of where they live.

Gluckman, along with co-authors Anne Bardsley and Dawnelle Clyne, talked to a lot of people. They generated support from other council agencies, including Eke Panuku, Auckland Transport, Watercare, the Auckland Policy Office and the council’s central administration.

The nine options complement each other but they also stand alone. We could adopt them all, or just some. Or ignore the report altogether: that’s happened before.

The report calls the options “provocations”. Each challenges the city to transform into a much better version of itself, and suggests some ways this could happen.

They challenge the Government too, and the rest of the country. Auckland won’t progress if we’re just Jafas to everyone else. And for better or worse, in the economy, social relations and more, where Auckland goes, New Zealand goes to.

Gluckman scoffs at the idea that some of the proposals might be fanciful. The report, he said, is “an appeal to pragmatism”.

“If we continue as we are,” he says, “we risk the city being hollowed out.”

Auckland, he says, has 36 per cent of the New Zealand population and 38 per cent of GDP. It’s not nearly enough: in a modern economy, “primate cities” are meant to outperform the rest of the country by a considerable margin. In London the comparable figures are 13 and 24; in Paris, they’re 18 and 31.

And now our borders are opening and Australia beckons: better wages and conditions, an economy full of opportunity and, what could be the crunch issue for many, lower housing costs.

The task, says Gluckman, is now urgent.

The news isn’t all bad. Auckland is full of people who want the city to succeed. Auckland Unlimited (AU) chief executive Nick Hill says that at the recent Auckland’s Future, Now summit, “There was a lot of rolling-up-the-sleeves energy.”

AU is focusing on two of Koi Tū’s nine options: A “city of creativity and culture” and an “innovation city”.

“We chose those two because we wanted to be practical about what we can do,” he says. “But they’re all appealing. I think the ‘national park city’ and ‘social cohesive city’ are also especially valuable.”

Gluckman points out that despite the problems we face, “The opportunities are now much greater. When sh** happens, a resilient city can be positive about the chances that creates. We’re small, we’re not a geo-strategic threat to anyone, we have a robust legal system and relatively little corruption.”

And, he says, looking for the right words, “we claim an environmental belief”.

Does he mean we may not be great at it but we know it matters? “Exactly.”

Perhaps we’re not so good at dealing with the big stuff. As the report notes, “Outstanding issues such as port location, a second harbour crossing, and the question of a world-class stadium remain unresolved despite being on the table for a long time.”

Why does Gluckman think there is so much inertia?

“Politicians want to get elected. And we’re not a very imaginative society.”

Hill’s theory is that we suffer from the camel problem. The result of a committee trying to design a horse. “Take the example of the stadiums. We’ve spent a lot of money on several stadiums around the city and none of them is properly designed for the needs it serves.”

Some of the proposals are bigger than others. The report says Auckland should become a “testbed for advanced transport and related innovations”. That’s a complete change from present thinking: the light rail working group, for example, explicitly rejected the idea of leading the way with new technologies.

Ten years after the Super City was created, the report says it’s not working well enough and calls for an overhaul of the structures and the relationship with central government. And it says “participatory democracy”, which allows ordinary people to take part in informed decision-making, should be normalised.

Also: we need a single centre for regional planning and research, and a Commission for Future Generations. That would allow the voices of the young to be heard.

9 options for Auckland's future

A socially cohesive region: Social cohesion, says Sir Peter Gluckman, means “you and I might disagree on all sorts of policies but we can still collaborate on common goals”.

He’s been here before. In 2014, Gluckman took part in a high-level Strategic Risk and Resilience panel. “The biggest risk was identified as the lack of social cohesion in Auckland. That risk hasn’t gone away.”

In a socially cohesive region, “The spiritual, ancestral, cultural, customary and historical significance of Māori in Tāmaki is prominent in the city’s identity … The city has also embraced the concept of kotahitanga, meaning togetherness, solidarity and collective action.”

The report discusses “superdiversity”: Auckland has 100 ethnicities speaking 150 languages. It’s “a huge challenge we need to turn into an asset”, says Gluckman. “How can we use this superdiversity to become an international city?”

A region of creativity and culture: Did you know Auckland is a Unesco City of Music? Has been for the last five years. This means, supposedly, that it’s part of a network of cities that put “culture and creative industries at the heart of their development plans”.

Despite the designation, says the report, “This has not consistently been the case.”

The report says “creative reach” can extend “far beyond the arts and culture” and be integrated into “social, technological, environmental, political and economic activities”. Also, why not put a prominent mana whenua cultural centre in the Midtown precinct?

Nick Hill says creativity is “not a nice-to-have”. He’s keen on “elevating policymakers’ understanding of the outcomes”. And the city needs to match the “huge investment in the creative sector” already under way in Victoria and New South Wales.

Creativity: it’s good for the economy and for quality of life. And sport, in this report, is part of it.

A region of quality education: “A place where … the education system has creativity at its heart, producing innovative thinkers who can adapt and thrive in the face of continuous change.” All schools should be high-quality schools, focused on the future needs of their students.

Also, says Gluckman, “The biggest weakness is the universities. They’re arrogant, too slow to respond to need and too expensive.” He blames a hands-off approach by successive governments and the internal culture of the universities themselves.

An innovative region: In this option, Auckland would become “the engine of New Zealand’s weightless economy”, enticing innovative people here and making the place “sticky” so they stay.

Gluckman likes the Israeli approach, which offers tax credits that have to be repaid with 600 per cent interest if you leave.

A sustainable and resilient region: This includes support for a “circular economy”, which is defined largely in relation to reuse and recycling.

But a circular economy also requires the money to stay. But that’s a major challenge when banks and other corporations send their profits offshore and the business model for many start-ups relies on selling the venture to Silicon Valley.

A region of human-focused infrastructure, transport and housing: “Thinking outside the box”, the report calls it: using technologies and a focus on people’s needs to transform the way we live, work and get around.

A region of integrated precincts: This means creating a series of “places with purpose” all over greater Auckland. Albany, Botany, Henderson: how do they evolve their own special character? Where’s the city’s IT centre going to be? Should there be an arts precinct? Should there be five?

A connected region: This is about making the most of Auckland’s “wider regional assets”, from the elite soils of Pukekohe to the marine sanctuaries of the gulf, and valuing rural life as part of the city as a whole.

An indigenously inspired “national park city”: It’s an internationally recognised designation and, the report says, Auckland could achieve it in a uniquely local way, led by mana whenua. That is, using nature-based solutions to address the whole wide range of economic and social challenges, in accordance with the principles of kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga.

There’s more talking, and maybe some action, to come.

To read the report, click here.

Source: Read Full Article