We’ve been pre-occupied of late with some rather serious topics: Funding for the CRL, state highway traffic volumes, urban limits, and inefficient tendering processes, to name but a few.

These topics have aroused huge interest – Auckland Transport Blog is now one of the top 5-6 blogs in New Zealand and getting close to cracking 100,000 views per month. I know I speak for all of the administrators here when I say that we’re rather humbled by all the interest and also that we also feel a growing “duty of care” to our readers.

And while debates have certainly raged, tempers have occasionally frayed, and certain political flags have been pinned to certain political masts (before occasionally being chopped down), we usually emerge from the e-brawl having found not inconsiderable amounts of common ground. In fact, if I was to jump on my relatively biased high-horse I’d go as far to say that the level of “blogplomacy” found in the threads on the Auckland Transport Blog put other blogs to shame (possibly because other administrators seem strangely unwilling to call out unnecessarily negative comments).

Anyway, all this got me wondering why Auckland Transport Blog was able to find such common ground when other forums cannot? Are we simply preaching to the converted, i.e. have we collectively beaten down or driven out all dissenters, which in turn allows us to scratch each others’ ideological tummies like happy little otters? Maybe, but I hope not and I don’t think so. Instead I suspect that the level of consensus we find is more likely to be the result of unstated but common values.

More specifically, I think we all tend to feel something along the lines of “Auckland is a wonderful city but it could be soooooo much better if it got its transport, land use, and urban design sorted”. Perhaps nowhere is this sentiment embodied more than on Auckland’s waterfront, which has become spectacularly popular even before much has happened.

My growing awareness of this seeming common ground prompted me to re-examine my own approach to blogging: When I write do I want to divide or unite? The former is easy but tends to be counter-productive; the latter is difficult but usually more fulfilling. To be honest I think that in the past I’ve too often taken the easy, divisive route and in the process missed opportunities to find agreement. Mea culpa; it’s something I will work harder on.

In this post I’d like to pose a simple but positive question that might help shed more light on possible common ground/values: Aside of course from the Auckland Transport Blog, what is it exactly that you love/like about Auckland?

From where I’m sitting the following attributes seem to jump out:

  1. Ethnic diversity – Auckland seems to have a quaint but delightful blend of NZ and international culture. The international influence brings ideas, energy, and interesting food/products/services, which is in turn underpinned by some of the best attributes from NZ culture, i.e. friendliness that is forthcoming (even to strangers) and a willingness to trust people unless proven otherwise.
  2. Environmental accessibility – Auckland’s unusually favourable combination of geography and climate creates an environment that is, I think, extremely accessible all-year round. In the summer you can jump on the bus to Takapuna or the ferry to Waiheke and drink some wine or have a swim. In the winter I can catch a train out to Waitakere, cycle to Bethell’s beach and watch massive waves smash into the rocks. If you don’t mind chancing the occasional shower then there’s usually something to you can do outside, even if it’s just relaxing in hot pools or climbing to the top of a volcano.
  3. Tasty, good-value food – I recently returned from the West Coast, where the closest restaurant (the only one in town) was 20 minutes drive from where we were staying. Meals cost $25 for what was (as my Norwegian visitors noted) essentially trucker food. Now I’m not doubting that the restaurant on the West Coast was trying hard, but they simply lack economies of scale. Upon returning to Parnell I am now 2 minutes walk from many fantastic restaurants where mains (and weight) can be gained for $15-$20. The Chocolate Boutique, meanwhile, has desserts starting from $5 (compared to $12 on the West Coast). I think that Auckland’s scale leads to some tasty, good-value food.
  4. Funky town centres – This is, I think, one of the most understated delights of Auckland. I live in Parnell, but I could almost as happily live in Mt Eden, Kingsland, Newmarket, Ponsonby, Pt Chevalier, Mt Albert, Morningside, Balmoral, Sandringham. Actually I could also live in some of the nicer neighbourhoods downtown (Emily Place, for example). Auckland has pockets of urban funkiness separated by quite a lot of suburban wasteland; all we need to do is connect up the town centres with better public transport and improved walking/cycling and I think Auckland will really start to hum.

Those are just a few of the things that I love about Auckland.

Nonetheless, even I have to admit that Auckland is not yet good enough for me to want to stay here permanently, and I will soon flee for fairer urban shores in Europe. But I do feel that Auckland is now “good enough” for me to refer to it as “home”, no matter where in the world I am. And that, I have to say, is a very great leap forward compared to the early 2000’s when, quite frankly, I was so embarrassed by Auckland that I encouraged my international friends to spend as little time here as they could.

Positive progress, it seems, is another good thing about Auckland’s recent past and one that makes me appreciate the hard work of a lot of “unsung” Auckland heroes. More on these people in upcoming posts, but for now let me leave you with the view of the City Centre from my balcony.

Thanks Auckland, you’re a very frustrating city at times but deep down “I love you”, as Marcelle the Shell would say.

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  1. 5. Water. I think cities with lots of water look much better than those that are inland. It provides breathing open space that can’t be built on; enables wind-powered sport; is often fringed with beaches that are great places to sit reading a book; and moderates temperature both in summer and winter. Our water even comes with cool looking islands, including one completely awesome cone volcano.

      1. Next time it erupts we’ll be able to sit on the cliff tops around East Coast Bays, enjoy a glass of cold wine, and watch the lava shooting in to the air. How cool would that be?

        1. Sorry to burst your bubble but Rangitoto is extinct. The next volcanic eruption will be in a different location. That’s the way it works with this type of volcano. They go off once or maybe a couple of times in the space of a few years then the solidified magma blocks future eruptions from occurring. So we have a damn good idea where the next volcano won’t erupt, but not where. Although the smart money is on the Shore or off the East Coast Bays as the overall trend of the field is north and east.

          1. You sure? It erupted last only 600 years ago… From what I can read it is a little bit less certain than that!

        2. OK, but Obi’s idea still stands? Let’s watch it with a few bottles of Main Divide Riesling (which has a few bubbles of CO2 in itself).

    1. Me too – and what makes the balcony even cooler is that my delightful flat mate Laura has turned the balcony into an urban garden full of herbs etc. That’s another thing I like about Auckland: The climate is great for growing green things. And the weather is always perfect like this too … 😉

  2. Yes having spent time overseas living in alot of places and I did come back. Why? Mainly family but I do appreciate the natural beauty here. 3 harbours, 2 ranges, 50 volcanoes, 50 islands, many beaches. It could almost be called the City of Views. I do like the lifestyle to some extent but…………it is too car dominated and my lifestyle suffers slightly from earning less.

    What can be fixed and why I follow the blog? I’ve seen overseas the importance of public transport and walkable neighbourhoods. I would like the city even more walkable, better neighbourhoods, more alive in the city centre, better urban and architectural design in the city centre, higher paying job and more job opportunities. I also feel the CRL and a compact city can bring some of this and may keep me here.

  3. I think my views on Auckland are similar to other posters here. I’ve lived in three cities in my life, Melbourne, Buenos Aires and Auckland. Auckland is home, and chose to live in the other two because they are great cities of culture. Both have beautiful buildings, walkable environments and good public transport that make getting about very easy , plus the lively bars, cafes, theaters etc. They are real urban places where the residents inhabit the city itself. Auckland lacks a little in comparison on the culture stakes (but not massively, to be fair we do quite well in comparison), and on the urbanism stakes. I think many Aucklanders really only inhabit their homes, and see the urban environment as something to pass through on their way between home, school, work, shopping etc.

    But as others have noted Auckland really shines because of it’s spectacular natural wealth, straddling two harbours dotted with beaches and inlets, sitting on a volcanic field popping cones and calderas up into the land, an amazing gulf of islands on the doorstep and a hinterland of mountains and ocean beaches minutes from the city limits. It’s a downright bloody spectacular place to have a city!

    Go back to the likes of Melbourne or Buenos Aires (or London or Paris or Berlin for that matter) and they are cities on boring flat floodplains with only a dirty river or two to break things up. The appeal of those world cities is purely the built form and culture. It’s the buildings, the urban design, the transport; the urban spaces and in particular the activities that occur within them that make them great.

    That’s something that makes me optimistic for Auckland’s future. While Melbourne can’t give itself a island studded harbour and a brace of volcanic cones, we can improve our urban spaces, our buildings and our transport the way they have. The built form of the city and the activities that occur inside it are something we can change and develop, leveraging off our spectacular setting to make a good city truly great. And once we do that the urban culture will improve. With inhabitable urban spaces, easy public transport and good walking and cycling Aucklanders will start to inhabit their city again. We can add a great urban lifestyle component to our backyard barbecues and weekends at the beach.

  4. Completely agree with Nick R. I find since I’ve come back to Auckland I stay at home more than I did overseas. I think it’s partly due to the local urban environment and partly having less money. I want to walk to the local shops but it has alot of traffic and at the shops aren’t really geared for you too hang around. There’s carparks, no outdoor dining and fast food. I think the new Art gallery is a big plus in the cultural stakes. Great to wander through there. Gives another weekend option instead of just sports.

    The city is getting more urban, creative and interesting. I have no real political allegiences but I do think Len Brown is giving me some optimism. A great vision.

  5. BTW does anyone else have trouble replying to existing posts? It always goes to a new post. Not sure what the bug is.

  6. Well Stu, I love Auckland too, and intend to stay despite my rates getting close to $5k this year (they might be capped a little lower – I’m not quite clear on that point yet). I do laugh though at some of the comments on road congestion when it’s apparent that many posters have lived and worked in bigger cities so are well aware of true road congestion; Auckland’s a doddle by comparison. Every time I return from a trip, say to London, I wonder where all the cars (and buses) went while I was away.

    On your comment about preaching to the converted, I’m a newby to this blog and it’s pretty obvious to me that there’s a PT bias, so I think “unstated but common values” is gilding the lily a bit. There also seems to be a strong left-wing political bias; that’s OK but it would be more honest to openly acknowledge it. It would be even better if there was more balance, but I guess that’s ultimately up to those who choose to comment.

    Regarding content, I read this blog to learn new stuff and I do, also some of the links provided are very interesting. The posts are well researched and clearly written; that’s a real positive. And I appreciate that you don’t moderate dissenters, and that most commenters are polite and reasoned (with one notable exception). So keep up the good work.

    1. I don’t think the blog has “left-wing political bias”. I think it is more that freeing the market of unintended subsidies/taxes to let the market do the work would take far too long and be very difficult to get right. That’s why overseas transport is not hugely political, as a left-wing view is kind of required.

      Personally I would consider myself more right-winged but agree almost always with this blog.

      1. I agree with Hamish here. It’s not really about which wing you are on, it’s more about what you think the priorities should be around transport and how those choices can transform this city.

        The ‘right wing’ government in Britain has just announced a huge spend on railways. For them it’s about the best value for money, which is what it should be about here but, politically at least, seems to be more about name calling, sloganism and blind ideology that there is only one choice.

        I’d consider myself right wing too but cannot support a party that has such misguided beliefs- not just in transport but in things like super and a capital gains tax. Not that this is really the forum for that.

    2. Gentlemen, my comment on left-wing bias was based on two observations: (1) the abuse by some on this blog towards the present government (BTW I didn’t vote for them either), and (2) the unbridled enthusiasm for spending other people’s money, including canvassing all sorts of ways to do it in small doses, which is a classic socialist position. Of course some wealth transfer has to take place in an ordered society to assist those less fortunate, but it’s not a bottomless pit.

      BTW I don’t think the current British government is exactly “right wing”, although I see you used quote marks too so I guess you agree.

      1. In terms of point 1, any abuse towards the current government is nothing to do with it being left or right, but to do with it’s crap transport policy and complete ignorance of anything but the status quo of more roads and bigger roads.

        For point 2, transport has always been subsidised, no one is arguing against this, we a simply trying to even the “subsidy” (in both capital and operational terms) out between Public Transport and Personal Transport so the “subsidy” is used most effectively. Initially this requires spending as the PT system is very poor, as I’m sure you are aware.

    3. Hi Jono, don’t you think that $5k per year is value-for-money given that it covers for all the roads, waste-water, parks, museums, local cultural activities, local democracy, and public transport for an Auckland household for an entire year. You’re getting most of your essential services for “not very much” in my opinion, especially when you compare it to other regions in NZ and overseas (where I think you will find local taxes are far higher).

      In terms of politics, I’m would describe my own views as fiscally conservative with a strong libertarian streak and a dash of good old fashioned social democracy :). I would also support the previous comments: The last two National Governments have had a hugely negative impact on the transport sector. What was previously a reasonably de-politicised sector has been upended by the RONs. The latter have soaked up too much of our scarce resources and I think that’s a valid reason for this blog to criticise the National Government, given that we are a transport blog afterall.

      In terms of bias, I would just point out that popular sentiment in Auckland fairly clearly favours greater investment in public transport. Even a survey of AA members found that more people supported the CRL than say Puhoi to Wellsford. So I think the “bias” is actually just popular sentiment. We may not be “right”, but we are fairly representative I think.

      But I’m very glad that you have learned stuff from the posts and that you comment when you disagree. I learn things from people like you, so it’s great to have you here. BTW I’ve got a post coming up on how much I like Auckland’s emerging motorway system; keep an eye out for that! Now if only it were accurately priced at peak times … :).

      1. Thanks Stu, I feel better already – perhaps I’ll make an additional voluntary contribution! And if I may segue into another topic, I’m now off on my PT (that’s “personal transporter”) to a 9 o’clock in the city. Quicker and cheaper than either bus, train or car… 🙂

          1. You’re probably right Stu as I’ll have a Gold Card by then (if they still exist). 🙂 BTW, did you see what I did above (segue/Segway)? 15 mins each way plus park literally at the door.

            Oh, one more thing: water and waste-water add another $800pa approx, not included in rates.

  7. 5. Water – Absolutely. Even though I am 52kms away from Queen Street, I have a wonderful view of the Gulf and Auckland harbour from home. Couldn’t live without it now, but it intrigues me why Auckland doesn’t make better use of the harbour for ferry services etc. However, Since I discovered ATB I have developed an interest in transport that I never knew existed in me. I’m a huge fan now. Don’t always agree with contribuotor’s point of view, but that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

    1. Water water everywhere! Bob, I think you will find that most of the ferry “cherries” have been picked and it’s now a case of getting the most out of the existing services. Interestingly patronage on ferries has grown rapidly this year after some off-peak/weekend frequency improvements which is great.

      And you will find that there is a new ferry associated with the Hobsonville Point development, which will link in with the existing Beachhaven ferry. So there is some stuff happening, even though it’s not front page news (mainly because the numbers of people moved are relatively small).

  8. Ok I do not have a flash view, but this is my view of Auckland from the front deck http://voakl.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/101_1127.jpg

    Caption: I live in Papakura which would be the southern fringe of the current urban area that is metropolitan Auckland. Beyond those trees is a large park, beyond that park is the SAS Base, and beyond that is rural Auckland – to which if I kept going in that direction and with a slight bend to the right I would be in Clevedon via Ardmore (in around 25mins at a good speed). What I am getting at is that despite the fact I live in urban Auckland, rural-ness is only 3-minutes away. Paradise in my own front yard.
    The second picture is of a Bottlebrush Tree, ordinary maybe but its special. When I sit on the front deck during a quiet day (wet or shine) I can hear our resident Tui’s making one heck of a racket – and the cat spying on them from the base of the tree, scheming. The noise of our resident Tuis reinforces the paradise and choice we made to live out on the fringe. Yep the rail line is 1-minute away, with the Great South just beyond it and State Highway One a little further for a transport options. But to Rebekka and I, this is our slice of paradise – living on the fringe and its affordable!

    What I am getting at is: Everyone to their own in where they live 😀 . Stu loves Parnell, I love Papakura but I can say we both love Auckland to bits despite her giving us some frustrations some days (while making us smile in the other)

    1. Absolutely, each to their own.

      I suspect one legacy of the demographic bulge known as the “baby boom” is an oversupply of a particular type of housing and an undersupply of smaller, more affordable units/townhouses (the missing “middle density”). No doubt housing costs have been exacerbated by the leaky buildings crisis and a number of ill-considered land use regulations (minimum parking requirements for example).

      My parents (and I), for example, used to live in Glenbrook (just out from where you live). They have recently moved into town and so have I, for various reasons I think demand for the rural “lifestyle” is wearing thin.

      1. You’ve raised another very good point Stu. I’m a baby boomer with two of us living in a multi-level central townhouse, although we do have lots of guests so it gets plenty of use. However, within a decade we will probably move either to an apartment or a single level house further out. We love being central so the former is more likely. Three other couples (close friends) in similar circumstances are planning to do the same, so there appears to be a trend emerging that you’ve clearly spotted.

  9. Agree with your post. Particularly 3 and 4. I’ll unashamedly add Birkenhead to your list of town centres. It has cars but also people, food, diversity, and a “relatively” good pt culture. You will find a good cross section of society on a B’head bus

    1. Yes, I do like Birkenhead. But there’s no pedestrian/cycle link to town so for me it’s in the same category as “here be dragons” territory.

  10. My Auckland!


    A nice little village, but the big roadified junction is way too car dominated!! Bike Lanes and Bus Priority plaese. Actually just bring trams back please…… 🙂 (definitely gona happen soon I can feel it)

    By contrast this is my current neighbourhood




    I had a conversation with a European a while ago who was going to NZ.

    Me : Where are you going?
    Tourist: Spending 3 days in Auckland, then moving on to drive down to Wellington and then exploring the South Island!
    Me : Cool that sounds great!
    Tourist : Where are you from?
    Me : Auckland.
    Tourist : I’ve heard its not very nice. My partners an Aucklander and he hates it.
    Me : Yeah its not great for tourists really, if you want an exciting city, Auckland is not it. Wellington is better. In Auckland you kind of need to rent a car just to get around the city quickly enough.
    Tourist : Yeah thats what he said!
    Me: Yeah hes right.

    Last year I was home though and I was really impressed with some of the new Link buses, the Wynyard Quarter and Britomart. Things finally start to be looking up.
    Totally agree with everything regarding the natural environment, Aucklands natural beauty is second to none. Queen St though, man does that need more work……..

    1. is that somewhere out west/central isthmus? Looks like the Manukau Heads in the background but I may be wrong.

        1. Lovely spot; you’r every lucky. Hopefully we can improve the bus connections to the train for you people out that way which should make it an even nicer place to live.

  11. Really nice post Stu, and a timely reminder that we are pretty lucky to live in Auckland, even with its flaws.

    A number of people posting have pointed out that Auckland has such great potential and many of the ways in which we can improve it are completely within our hands. Plus the things that weren’t so great a few years back are exactly the things that we have been improving the most in more recent times.

    It is perhaps for this reason that I find myself so inspired by the vision for Auckland to be the world’s most liveable city. Because I really think that it is possible. If you look at our main contenders for the “title” we have so many natural advantages over them – whether it be in terms of the climate, the natural setting and so forth. Everything really is stacked in our favour more than just about anywhere else in the world and our weaknesses are things that we can fix, if we put our minds to it.

    1. And we can win over the opposition just by being happier than they are. Nothing motivates other people more than enthusiasm.

    1. Good call! Yes, it’s interesting that when I think of “Auckland” it includes not only the restaurants in Parnell but also the islands, the Waitakeres, the Tawharanui etc that is available in the wider region.

  12. I’ve lived here for 6 years (from Bristol, UK) and I’ve enjoyed it hugely. However, my wife and I are getting cultural withdrawl. The natural environment here is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. But when you’re a young couple with disposable income, there’s just not enough going on. That’s why we’ll probably go to Melbourne and come back when we’ve got kids. Auckland has the potential to be one of the most inspiring cities in the world, but we’ve got to look at every building and road and say ‘is it going to make this a better city’?

  13. I’ve only lived in Auckland for year, and before that I had a healthy mainlanders skepticism of the city. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far.

    There are probably some readers on the blog who groan every time Vancouver is brought up. But having lived there for five years, there are a lot of parallels between the two cities. The populations and climate are broadly similar (Vancouver being a little larger, and the climate is more alpine-temperate than the tropical-temperate of Auckland). They both have amazing natural beauty, dense downtown areas, and striking water settings. Where Vancouver has excelled (and Auckland has not), is in its transport system and urban design. Auckland is definitely improving (eg the shared spaces), but Vancouver still strikes me as the city Auckland should aspire to be. Not that its all beer-and-skittles there of course – the licensing laws are constrictive, the city has some significant drug issues, and the Downtown East Side is one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in North America.

    1. Vanks it is then! Personally I prefer the edginess of Seattle, but Vancouver is not too bad and definitely something Auckland should aspire for.

  14. I’ve been impressed with how much Auckland has come along in just the last two years since I’ve been in Canberra – I love spending time there, wandering the the streets and soaking up some of the growing optimism around the place. The Wynyard Quarter/Viaduct have certainly improved greatly, the new art gallery is a delight and the new link buses are great

  15. You’re all making me homesick. The Manukau Harbour is where I call home, and that view of Huia sinks in heavily. I look at Mangere Bridge, and feel like in a few years it will be entirely sought after – the 1990-2000s work to transform the sewerage ponds and rehabilitate the harbour has had an incredible effect, and the poor sibling is being recognised for its beauty and character.

    The view from my front gate: http://twitpic.com/9qw5fh (It certainly isn’t ‘beautiful’) Having lived in a number of cities in NZ, Australia, and now Asia, I really do feel like Auckland could be one of the best cities in the world. Transport is certainly part of that mix, and having a relatively low-fare, simple, regular, frequent, fast, and low stress (clean, safe, attractive) network is a huge part of that. While we celebrate transport here, it’s simply a form of friction between actual activity and relations (and a place to read a book/iPad, in the case of trains). Reducing that friction, in whatever form that takes, is important. I’d argue that a big part of New York’s revival since the early 1990s was the intense policing that occured – which had the effect of making transport culturally safe again, thus opening up the city and reviving activity.

    Biggest disappointment with how things have changed recently? That the pools in former Manukau are now charged for. The public amenity value of these was huge, and with New Zealand’s very high drowning rate (it kills around half as many as car accidents), more than paid for itself in a number of ways. I’m not an absolute socialist, but I do want an inclusive society, and think that for many things opening access by reducing user costs or removing them entirely has an outsize effect, often at lower cost than expected (as transaction costs are removed).

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