Every now and then I receive external confirmation of just how rapidly Auckland is transforming itself into a much better city. The latest and perhaps greatest – at least in terms of its global reach – reminder has come courtesy of the New York Times, which recently published this article titled “36 hours in Auckland“.
The introduction to the article is worth quoting in full:
Admittedly, few fly all the way to New Zealand just to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. Most aim to explore the otherworldly landscapes with which, thanks to the silver screen, this remote nation has become associated. But before delving into the cinematic beauty of the North Island countryside, discover the San Francisco-steep streets and regenerated neighborhoods of newly vibrant Auckland. This multicultural city, home to a third of all Kiwis, has recently welcomed a raft of bars, boutiques and restaurants that highlight locally made products, from excellent craft beer and wine to fashion and art. And none of it has anything to do with orcs or rings.
I think there are several interesting aspects to the introduction. The first is the reference to San Francisco, after which the article goes on to mention Seattle. Indeed, on my last trip to Seattle I was struck but how it felt like a bigger, bolder American version of Auckland. I think Seattle is a city Auckland should compare itself too, and try to emulate in some respects (perhaps not weather wise).
Another interesting aspect of the introduction is the mention of Auckland’s multi-cultural society. Speaking as an employer, I can say that Auckland’s cultural plurality is quite an important attribute when trying to attract skilled staff from overseas, which is something that I’ve recently had to do. In Auckland you can be comfortably “different”.
But the more interesting aspect of the introduction, I think, is the length to which it goes to challenge what it believes is the common understanding of New Zealand as a destination that does not normally include Auckland. I think this common definition of “destination NZ, but not Auckland” is real, understandable, and yet rapidly changing.
Its “real” because our tourism marketing has often emphasised our natural areas. It’s also “understandable” because NZ does have outstanding natural features and landscapes. While I’m an ardent advocate for more liveable urban areas, I am equally passionate about NZ’s wild side. There are few things I enjoy more than travelling around NZ, and I suspect many other NZers feel similarly.
The focus on NZ’s natural qualities is also understandable, however, because NZ’s generally not done very well at creating pleasant cities and towns. Auckland has, historically at least, sat proudly on top of NZ’s dung heap of urban shame. But it seems that Auckland’s reputation is (finally) rapidly changing, and deservedly so.
A variety of decisions made by a variety of councils has resulted in urban places that are both good for people and fun for visitors. Streets are cleaner and many have been upgraded; public transport is much better; and we invested in civic facilities, such as Britomart, the Museum, and the Art Gallery (pictured below). This has not only created places to go and things to do, but in turn helped to stimulate private sector development in the surrounding areas.
And I suspect Auckland is only going to get better.
Right now we’re staring down the barrel of 5 years of transformative PT improvements, spearheaded by integrated ticketing, electrification, and the New Network. Meanwhile, Wynyard Quarter should gradually become a waterfront precinct of international quality. And in the background a steady programme of streetscape improvements should create more places where people want to stop, pause, and take a photo (thanks Auckland Council!).
Anyway, for now let’s just enjoy some external confirmation that the Auckland we know, and generally love, is headed in the right direction. Who knows – if we keep working hard and focus on being decent Aucklanders, then perhaps in a few years time the New York times will feel compelled to spend more than 36 hours in Auckland? Let’s hope so.