Indications are that new mayor Phil Goff wants a change to the current vision outlined in the Auckland Plan of becoming the “world’s most liveable city”.

Goff has also indicated that Brown’s slogan “the world’s most liveable city” will be phased out.

“People laugh when they are stuck in hours of traffic congestion about being the most liveable city. They laugh when they see that might be our slogan; but we are the fourth most unaffordable city to live in,” Goff said.

Goff, whose slogan is “a city where talent and enterprise can thrive, said like Brown and mayors who might follow him, he wants to stamp his own mark on the city.

This “slogan” was very strongly linked to previous mayor, Len Brown, so in some ways it’s not surprising that Goff wants to change it. But it’s a hard vision to move away from – do we no longer want Auckland to be the best place in the world to live? Or is it that we essentially want to continue down this path, just under a different name? To explore this question I’m going to take a look at the up-side and down-side of liveability – hopefully leading to a few suggestions for a vision for Auckland going forwards.

At its core, the concept of “liveability” is fairly self-explaining:


By wanting to be the “world’s most liveable city”, we are wanting to become the best place in the world to live, or the place with the best quality of life. Where it becomes tricky though, is that this concept of “liveability” has been captured by a variety of different organisations to try and compare how liveable different cities around the world are – usually with a fairly narrow target audience in mind. Wikipedia explains this pretty well:

The world‘s most liveable cities is an informal name given to any list of cities as they rank on an annual survey of living conditions. Regions with cities commonly ranked in the top 50 include Australasia, North America, North Asia, Northern Europe, and Western Europe.[1] Three examples of such surveys are Monocle‘s “Most Liveable Cities Index”, the Economist Intelligence Unit‘s “Global Liveability Ranking”, and “Mercer Quality of Living Survey”. Numbeo has the largest statistics and survey data based on cities and countries.[2] Liveability rankings are designed for use by employers assigning hardship allowances as part of job relocation, however the usefulness of using such a ranking to determine salary packaging remains unclear.

The final sentence from the paragraph above highlights the key issue – that these rankings are designed for internationally mobile high-wage employees. Not to give an indication of the quality of life for people doing the “daily grind”. Especially not for those struggling on lower incomes. For example, the methodology of the Mercer survey (which is the one most frequently referred to by politicians, perhaps because it’s the one that ranks Auckland highest?) is briefly outlined below:

Living conditions are analyzed according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories:

  1. Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc.).
  2. Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services).
  3. Socio-cultural environment (media availability and censorship, limitations on personal freedom).
  4. Medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.).
  5. Schools and education (standards and availability of international schools).
  6. Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.).
  7. Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc.).
  8. Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.).
  9. Housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services).
  10. Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters).

The scores attributed to each factor, which are weighted to reflect their importance to expatriates, permit objective city-to-city comparisons. The result is a quality of living index that compares relative differences between any two locations evaluated. For the indices to be used effectively, Mercer has created a grid that enables users to link the resulting index to a quality of living or hardship allowance amount by recommending a percentage value in relation to the index.

Auckland does pretty well, almost by default, on a lot of the factors that actually have relatively little to do with the Council – like climate, political stability, crime, education, personal freedom, healthcare facilities and availability of goods. Where we struggle, transport and housing being the obvious “big two”, seems to get a little bit swamped by these other factors in the overall scoring. Understandably, it’s difficult to fathom how we can be one of the most liveable cities in the world when people are living in cars.

Because the word “liveability” is potentially tarnished by both its association with the Len Brown and misleading rankings, but the concept of Auckland being a great place to live, work, play or visit seems pretty hard to argue against, I wonder whether Phil Goff’s stated vision (which is by law required to be articulated in the Auckland Plan) will pick up on these more generic words and perhaps highlight the need for Auckland to be a great place for everyone (not just those well off). At its core though the vision will probably be similar, just presented differently.

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  1. When we have headlines stating that various industries and now schools can not attract personnel as Auckland is so expensive to live in, add ridiculous commute times and Goff is probably right. The most livable city is a far off goal. For the majority every aspect of the daily grind is just hard slog. For those who leave for the provinces, see the weight of the daily drudge leave their shoulders. Very few ever aspire to come back. We need to fix the daily difficulties of the masses before we head into la-la land with the nice to haves. Also can we get rid of the ‘live in cars’ nonsense. For the majority they are currently the only way to get to work etc.

    1. “People living in cars” is not a hyperbole for commuting but a literal statement. Some of the most vulnerable people in out community sleep in cars and have no home to call their own.

    2. I agree, Ricardo, we urgently need to expand the rapid transit network to provide people with realistic options to avoid congestion.

    3. I agree too, Ricardo. Let’s fight to free the masses from the shackles of car dependency. Glad to see you’ve joined the cause. Hoorah!

    4. Um, Richard – I’m pretty sure he is talking about people who have no home and have to live in cars, seems an odd thing to try and sweep under the carpet.

  2. It was always a stupid goal. As dumb as thinking you need the worlds most accurate watch or the worlds widest footpath. If reaching the goal of having the worlds most liveable city ended up pricing half the population out then how could that possibly be a worthy goal? Most things in the criteria are better measured against a threshold, the utility of increasing beyond that probably has declining marginal returns. Getting rid of this nonsense is a sign the new leadership will give spend more time doing things right rather than trying to just bullshit us. It is a positive move however you look at it.

    1. It is the first time that I agree wholeheartedly with mfwic – yes indeed, the aim to be “world’s most liveable city” was always a derisory and stupid line, mainly given that it is so clearly not any such thing. It arguably has one of the world’s greatest harbours (close behind Sydney, Wellington, San Francisco etc) but until it has a decent public transport system that makes car use optional and not mandatory, Auckland is never going to get a tick in my voting form for “most liveable”.

      Coupled with the fact that it is now also one of the world’s least affordable cities, which means that virtually no-one except a seller of an existing investment property can actually afford to move there, Auckland city is arguably a contender for the “world’s most unliveable city” title instead. Good move by Goff to axe that slogan.

    2. No, “a city where talent and enterprise can thrive” is a stupid goal because, you know, cities involve living in them first, and doing stuff second. Indeed, the problems with “most liveable city” which I have seen in the post and the comments section broadly fall into three types. Firstly, there is misplaced criticism. Of course, Auckland isn’t the most liveable city but as this is an aspirational goal I don’t care and the critique is dismissed.

      Secondly, there is closed-minded criticism. Of course, I don’t need to have the world’s best watch but if I am trying to make a watch, shouldn’t I be working towards producing the best possible one? And if I am a marketing department quite unable to influence the actual characteristics of the watch, am I absolved of any role in achieving this? Pretty obviously. what I am able to control influences other parties, perhaps through setting a direction, perhaps through providing the parameters of their involvement. The version of this offered by mfwic then blended into the third category.

      Thirdly, there is practical critique. I would further split this into two parts. On one hand, there is the extension of “good enough” embodied above and the relative effort required to do better. This doesn’t mean you stop trying: it means you shift emphasis to doing something else and just keep the flame of these ambitions alive. The other hand suggests that how we measure/work with liveability in practice is geared towards an idea of liveability that isn’t the same as what “most liveable city” suggests in isolation (i.e. forget about Mercer, Len Brown, etc.). That’s an issue which I think is resolvable.

      1. …and fourthly, the reality that from the mayoral and administrative standpoint Auckland is a region as well as a city and as such encompasses rural areas and towns where people live. A vision involving just the city just reinforces the suspicion that the “supercity” renders these inhabitants irrelevant.

        1. That’s a good point but you were, as far as I can see, the first person to bring it up… I guess we’d describe this as the conceptual criticism. Although I would suggest Goff’s new view is more problematic than the old one in this respect. I mean, liveable city at least seems to leave open the idea of “best of town and country”.

    3. I like mission statements and waffly goals. I actually though the most liveable city target was good, it managed to sum up a lot of stuff in one phrase. Liveable requires a good economy, good quality of life, good transport and housing, interesting stuff going on. That’s what we should be aiming for. Clearly people stuck in traffic driving to a house they can’t afford aren’t in the most liveable city, but we aren’t the most liveable city, thats the point of having a goal.

      How about “Making Auckland more awsomer’?!

  3. Agree the slogan should change. Liveability means different things to different people abd therefore its hard to measure whether Council has made progress or not. What is needed are hard targets that can be measured:

    – 20% increase in PT usage
    – everyone within 5km of a library
    – bus lanes implemented on 3 arterials per year
    – 10,000 houses consented per year.

    Add yours.

    1. 20% increase in PT usage? We do that every 4 to 5 years already… Not sure if hard targets like that are especially useful, everyone within 5km of a library would be ruinous for the city finances, but 95% of population with 5km of a library we probably have already. And something like bus lanes on three arterials per year, well it would be very simple to put five metres of bus lane on bits of three arterials, even though doing all of one arterial might be a better idea.

      1. The very fact we have had such slow progress on bus lanes (for example) is the lack of concrete targets. It is quite pathetic how slow progress has been.

  4. I always assumed that the goal was to make Auckland the best place in the world to live. That should be the goal of every Mayor. Mayor Goff will ditch the slogan but the goal surely has to be the same.

      1. Brian I think that is called the ‘False dilemma’ or sometimes the false dichotomy. It is a type of fallacy or weak argument as it excludes the middle which in this case is quite a large middle.

        1. Do you really think the Mayor should aim for Auckland to be average? I assume every mayor everywhere wants their city to be the best.

        2. Adrian try reading the 10 criteria and think about which ones the Mayor has any control over. 1 to 3 are nothing to do with the Council, 5, 8, 9 and 10 are not Council issues leaving a minor part of 4, all of 6 and some of 7. How the hell can a Mayor even have a goal of making a place liveable when all they can do is dispose of waste, run public transport and provide parks? It was a stupid PR goal nothing more. It was to make people feel like Len was doing something.

        3. You are right that the Mayor cannot directly control some of those things listed. But part of the Mayor’s role is to lobby the central government which in partnership can get things done like the CRL. I also see the Mayor’s role as involving a vision for the city and the Council does more than “dispose of waste, run public transport and provide parks”. Under the vision is the type of things that you seem to like the most – run PT etc. But without a vision the question is why those targets and not others? Why do we want more parks, more people using PT, and clean water to drink? Because these contribute to the good life. Mayor Brown’s slogan got people to realise how good this city is and its potential – for me those are great things.

        4. But why on Gods earth would you want to pay to be the most liveable city in the world? Mercer already rank us as 3rd behind Vienna and Zurich. Is it worth spending any money at all trying to out spend them on those criteria just to get a higher ranking? Or would we be better off figuring out what doesn’t work for us and spending money on that instead. Len’s goal was facile and only ever intended as a way of diverting attention. His PR people understood that people love that bullshit and used it as a substitute for doing something meaningful.

  5. Yes. Lets just change the city vision every few years to a totally different target depending on what the flavour of the month is. That’s going to work really well.

    As I understand it, the slogan is the end goal, the vision, the inspiration. I liked Len’s slogan because it was fairly clear to me. The aim to develop a city based on improving the quality of life of the people who live there. Yes, it should be the aim of every mayor, but what is wrong with that? This is fairly simple to measure. Cost of housing, daily commute, access to amenities etc.

    Goff’s potential slogan sounds boring and devoid of vision. It doesn’t inspire me at all. Talent and enterprise can thrive in any number of environments. Talent and enterprise can thrive in an expensive,concrete jungle like Singapore. Talent and enterprise can thrive in rural NZ. Which should we be aiming for? Should this even be what we are aiming for?

    It gives no strategic direction whatsoever to the city, organisations or citizens.You could employ any number of conflicting strategies to achieve any number of ends to get this, and that is what is likely to happen. Nothing, but a series of expensive ideas with conflicting goals with a murky outcome and very difficult to measure.

    1. ‘Talent and enterprise’ is way too focused on what this region’s business cheerleaders would say. Only a short distance from ‘open for business’.

        1. ??? Maybe I’ve missed something here but I think most people would read the comment ‘Only a short distance from ‘Open for Business” and infer the commentor was not a fan of Auckland being a friendly place for companies to do business.

        2. You’ve definitely missed something: the supressed premise that being open for business is often at the expense of being better for residents.

        3. That was exactly the premise that I thought was being referred to. Auckland has been open for business for years, it’s the reason the vast majority of us who live here have gainful employment. I’m not sure suppressing a vision of encouraging talent and enterprise because it might imply Auckland is open for business is very useful for the city at all.

  6. I’d expect a new Mayor to want to stamp their mark on the city’s Vision, etc, but that stuff is also set in the Auckland Plan so it may need to wait for the next review of that to become official.

    Is anyone planning on writing about the implications of Goff’s change to the governing relatiionship with Auckland Transport?

  7. I liked the idea of trying to be “the most liveable city”. It meant being an international city not just a small hick town. It meant being a city tourists aren’t bored in. A place with a great nightlife, a variety of entertainment options, great lifestyle options, great public transport, etc etc. A place where there is always something to do. A place when you graduate from university you don’t need to leave to experience a real city. A place that breeds entrepreneurship and can keep its smartest people.

    This is why I didn’t vote Crone. She seemed to want a city for the old. A dull lifeless city. I hope Goff doesn’t create this.

  8. ‘A city where talent and enterprise can thrive’ doesn’t have quite the same ring as ‘the most liveable city’.

    Zoolander’s ‘school for kids who can’t read good and want to do other things good too’.

    This could attract some scorn but are we settling back down from Len’s vision to our usual level of politics in Auckland?

  9. I think the last line of the post contains what I’d like to see as the slogan “A great place for everyone”

    To me it means that we’re looking to include as many people as possible not exclude any at all by design, whether that be in terms of housing, public transport or any of the other services that the council delivers.

    I’m not saying that it will be great for everyone immediately, but that we should be working towards it being great, in whatever we do.

    1. Yes agree, “A great place for everyone”, but I also liked the old slogan for a perhaps more forward future goal feel to it. Both have the same meaning behind them I’m sure. We have to move on I guess with a new phrase. Harder to word that phrase into a sentence without a certain “negative” connotation of attack against NIMBY’s though? “We want to make this city a great place for everyone” [not just those with it all].

  10. I don’t have any problem with a high-level aspirational goal, even if it speaks to things that are beyond the scope of what council can control. And I have a bit of trouble imagining how you’d have a strategic vision for a city that didn’t involve it being a nice place to live and work.

    A more subtle issue, I would argue, is the distinction between liveability for the *average* resident versus the *marginal* resident. The average homeowner in a city doesn’t particularly care about whether bad policies drive up housing prices – they’re more interested in whether their neighbourhood is a nice place to be. But the marginal resident cares quite a lot about housing prices – if they can’t afford to live in the city in the first place, everything else is kinda irrelevant.

    Personally, I would argue that we need to pay more attention to liveability for the marginal resident, because our long-run economic success depends upon attracting and retaining them.

  11. The city (and the nation) should have an explicit vision. And the usefully imprecise-but-well-understood phrase of ‘liveability’ is as good as any, but I can see why the new Mayor wants to move on.

    Still here is a very good and practical unpacking of how to get to increased liveability in a city by giving those charged with city building and running the streets this simple two word instruction:

    One for Auckland Transport to try to understand, as currently it seems a long way from their thinking.

    1. But Jeff, that’s a silly argument. It’s like someone who is 4 foot tall saying they want to be the world’s tallest person – it’s just clearly not going to happen. Auckland is not the world’s most liveable city, and nor is it going to be any time soon, without a decent rapid transit system at the very least. So why have it as a target? Why not just be the greatest 4 foot tall person, and be happy with that? Why strive for something that is clearly unachievable? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have Auckland as good as possible, but it is honestly just not in the same league as Vienna or Copenhagen. Auckland is not a European supermodel, all leggy and sophisticated. Its a country bumpkin with acne and the wrong trousers.

  12. Having read large parts of the Auckland Plan I thought it was pretty comprehensive and exhaustive where this blog criticised it for this listing all possible transport projects ever thought up. The Plan has a consistent and easy to read top down flow. I believe the reason “The most liveable City” was used is because it encompasses affordability where the other used phrase “World Class City” didn’t.
    Changing the “slogan” potentially means you want the Auckland Plan to be less Broad and you want to reduce performance measures.

  13. Good piece. Most if not all liveability rankings are flawed, because as you allude to they often pay limited attention to the needs of middle, lower-middle and lower income earners ie. they are ‘yuppie ratings’. Surely, liveability measures should consider the needs of all citizens not just high income earners. In this respect, I imagine Auckland would be quite poor for lower income earners. Along with high housing costs (and not to mention some woeful and unhealthy housing quality) and traffic, Auckland/NZ already has a high cost of living and low wages, that must make it really trying for low income households.
    I’d be happy for Auckland to continue with a liveable city goal, provided it is made clear that it is for much broader and universal liveability than the way it is usually measured.
    That seemed to be one of Goff’s main gripes and I agree (although I ‘m sure as you say there is a strong measure of him wanting to stamp his own mark on the mayoralty)

  14. I imagine education should be an important part of liveability, and as teachers’ salaries are not high enough and house prices are crazy we are seeing fewer young people going into teaching, and more moving out of teaching or Auckland.
    This is the next crisis.

  15. Goff’s a city where talent and enterprise can thrive is just straight neoliberal sloganeering. It is NOT inclusive or caring.

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