It is increasingly clear that there is a common theme to almost all of the major differences of opinion around the issues we cover on this site. The same theme that I think sums up the contrasting world views of the Auckland Council and the current government. And that is basically around questions of the idea of the city. Is a city a good and valuable thing? Do we really want to encourage it?
It is likely that our background as a small agrarian society makes these questions and the fears they express understandable. These suspicions are probably experienced in all the urban places in New Zealand, but it is particularly evident now in the case of Auckland because of its unusual size and rate of growth in the NZ context. It certainly seems to be behind the idea that I have experienced many times travelling around the country that there is something deeply wrong with Auckland; that it isn’t really part of ‘real’ New Zealand at all. Sometimes expressed as polite bafflement; sometimes as angry rejection.
And often the angriest commenters on this site essentially don’t want more city, they talk up anti-urban solutions to urban issues like ‘decentralisation’ or expanding the Urban Limit to keep growth at a low density.
So it is reasonable to ask; is Auckland a good thing? Is its size and growth desirable or even inevitable?
But then by comparison to most of the world Auckland is a small city and its growth rate pretty slow. And that these other places are getting even bigger faster. So why is urbanisation accelerating? Is bigger always better?
We have looked at the value of cities before through the work of economists for example here. I am pretty much persuaded by the simplest answer of all: Many [perhaps most] people see value [in the broadest sense] in being near other people, ergo; cities. Too simple? Cities can be pretty isolating too and many people only face very tough choices in their lives so:
Well it turns out this is a question that a big team of researchers in the US set out to test and came to the conclusion that the value [and cost] of cities is even quantifiable, their attraction [and burden] reducible to one number.
This is pretty interesting and I think it’s best if you watch Theoretical Physicist Dr Geoffrey West talk you through it. He and his team analysed vast amounts of data across the world to come up with a scientific theory of cities.
Additional introduction from the NYT:
West set out to solve the City. As he points out, this is an intellectual problem with immense practical implications. Urban population growth is the great theme of modern life, one that’s unfolding all across the world, from the factory boomtowns of Southern China to the sprawling favelas of Rio de Janeiro. As a result, for the first time in history, the majority of human beings live in urban areas. (The numbers of city dwellers are far higher in developed countries — the United States, for instance, is 82 percent urbanized.) Furthermore, the pace of urbanization is accelerating as people all over the world flee the countryside and flock to the crowded street.
For West, this first meant trying to gather as much urban data as possible. Along with Luis Bettencourt, another theoretical physicist who had abandoned conventional physics, and a team of disparate researchers, West began scouring libraries and government Web sites for relevant statistics. The scientists downloaded huge files from the Census Bureau, learned about the intricacies of German infrastructure and bought a thick and expensive almanac featuring the provincial cities of China. (Unfortunately, the book was in Mandarin.) They looked at a dizzying array of variables, from the total amount of electrical wire in Frankfurt to the number of college graduates in Boise. They amassed stats on gas stations and personal income, flu outbreaks and homicides, coffee shops and the walking speed of pedestrians.
If the embeded video doesn’t work then go here.
[PS the answer is 15% or x 1.15]