NZ Herald business columnist Brian Gaynor has a good extensive article yesterday about the need to accept that Auckland will continue to grow in size and to ensure that its growth is adequately planned for.
Auckland is at a major crossroads. We can either accept that the city will grow dramatically over the next few decades and plan accordingly or we can do nothing and allow Auckland to become more and more congested and less attractive to live in.
The early signs are that we will take the do-nothing approach as community groups oppose developments that will have a positive impact on the city as a whole. This is unfortunate because international trends clearly indicate that Auckland will experience strong growth even if we don’t develop the facilities to cope with this growth.
We’ve often noted that Auckland does sit at the crossroads at the moment – perhaps more obviously than at any point since the 1950s. We need to decide whether we’re going to be a “real city” or just an overgrown provincial town.
Gaynor touches upon some reasons for why improved technology over the past couple of decades hasn’t (as had been expected in some areas) undermined the benefits of urban living – instead perhaps even adding to the allure of inner-city living and working:
Cities continue to expand even though the general consensus 20 to 30 years ago was that they would stop growing because technology would allow people to work from the beach, skifields or a remote office.
These predictions were totally wrong for a number of reasons.
The first is that our work and social lives have become intertwined.
In the past we went straight home after work, particularly if it was a manual or blue-collar job.
We rarely worked from home or at weekends. Now we go to work and have coffee with friends at 10am, go to the gym at lunchtime and stay in the city for a drink or meal after work. We shop, either real or online, at lunchtime and email and text our friends and families.
The demarcation between work and non-work has become blurred, particularly as we can work from home if we have access to the office through cloud computing.
Cities offer a mix of coffee shops, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, sports stadiums, medical facilities, parks and shops that encourages us to work in the city rather than in isolation at home.
In the modern world we are able to mix and match our work and social life and our dress style, which is increasingly similar for both work and social occasions, reflects this.
Twenty years ago the Auckland CBD was dying. The 1987 sharemarket crash had left huge swathes of empty sites when new plans for office buildings didn’t eventuate. Barely anyone lived in the CBD. These days – while still not without its flaws – my general feeling is that the centre of Auckland is in better health than its been for decades. Not just as a place for people to work and shop, but increasingly as a place to live, to visit for events and as the real hub of growing tourist activity.
Gaynor then turns his attention to transport:
Transport is a major issue in Auckland and we spend most of our time arguing whether the city should provide more public transport or more roads and who should pay for these.
There is a clear need for more public transport and better roads and we all have to contribute, even those living in the inner city who don’t use transport.
It is vitally important that there is full connectivity between trains, buses, taxis, roads, and cycling and walking facilities. There is no point in having a train, road, cycling or bus system that ends in a part of the city with no connectivity with other transport facilities.
The observation that Auckland needs a properly connected transport system that works for all different modes is consistent with what we’ve been advocating on this site for years. Once a few key roading projects underway at the moment are complete – like the Western Ring Route and upgrades to key bottlenecks like around AMETI – then we’ll have the roading side of the equation pretty well sorted out. Time to focus on the other stuff.
Helpfully, he also picks up on the need to focus on improving walkability:
The next and most important feature is the ability to walk from one facility to another. Walkability is one of the most important features of modern urban planning.
Hong Kong has a network of elevated walkways that connect one city block with another and Singapore has a network of underground connections allowing pedestrians to walk between hotels, residential facilities, social meeting places, work and important urban landscapes.
One survey ranks Zurich, Amsterdam, Singapore, Munich and Hong Kong as the best cities in terms of walkability. Melbourne also has excellent walkability in addition to its trams and urban rail system.
Many of the benefits that arise from cities relate to the ability to be in quick face-to-face contact with other people and the ability to ‘bump’ into others frequently. In an inner city area where this is most likely, walkability is a crucial factor to enabling easy connections and maximising the ease of chance encounters and pleasant locations for discussions. Walkability is still something that Auckland does terribly – even/especially in the CBD.
Gaynor finishes by looking to the future – and noting how it’s really in our best interests for Auckland to grow – because it’s such a good wealth generator:
Auckland now accounts for 33.4 per cent of New Zealand’s population compared with just 16.7 per cent in 1950. In the past 60 years Auckland has contributed 46 per cent of the country’s population growth.
The city is projected to have a population of 1,844,000 by 2025 when it will contain 36.8 per cent of the country’s total population. The 2025 projection for Auckland may be on the light side as Statistics NZ believes that Auckland’s population could exceed 1,950,000 by the mid-2020s and 2,100,000 by 2031.
A population of 2,100,000 by 2031 would represent growth of over 50 per cent since 2010. We shouldn’t be surprised by this as Auckland’s population surged by 68 per cent between 1990 and 2010 while New Zealand’s overall population increased by 31 per cent over the same period.
One of the main road blocks towards planning for the future is the unwillingness of a large percentage of Aucklanders to accept that their city will continue to grow and the need for more and more infrastructure to cater for this growth.
Submissions to the city council, and letters to the editor, continue to promote policies that would stop people from moving to Auckland or encourage Aucklanders to move to Otago or Southland.
This is naive because Auckland is a very liveable city and the earnings gap between the country’s largest city and the South Island continues to increase.
For example, Auckland’s median income is now $126 a week higher than Otago and $163 a week greater than Southland compared with $76 and $115 respectively in 2005.
We have to accept that Auckland will continue to experience strong population growth, as will most major urban centres, and the city will be less liveable unless we plan carefully for this growth.
I certainly think Auckland will be a much more exciting, prosperous and fantastic place to live in with a population of 2.5 million than it is now. Just like Auckland’s a much more exciting, prosperous and fantastic place than it was at 500,000 people or 1 million people.
Overall a really good article.