This is part 6 of a 6-part series covering “Cities in the Year 2000”, a kids’ book on cities published in 1985. Here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. I suggest reading on a desktop, as the screenshots of the pages should be large enough to read (hopefully).

“A problem in the [21st] century could be look-alike cities, places without a clear character of their own”. Perhaps – and this is an ongoing challenge. To me, all of NZ’s cities seem to have their own character and attributes. Maybe that has more to do with the different lifestyles and natural landscapes nearby – whether it’s beaches, rivers or mountains – than our built environment. But they seem distinctive nonetheless.

Outside the central cities and the tourist hotspots, stepping out to the suburbs, then most of the cities probably do look the same – but that’s OK provided they cater for a wide range of needs and wants. Suburbia doesn’t always fit the bill by itself.

Not super applicable to NZ, but the main point here is that people can choose to influence how cities grow and change; we don’t have to be resigned to “cold, unfriendly [cities] where people feel dwarfed by concrete and stone”.

There’s a bit of both here; a solid attempt to raise big issues in a way that’s still accessible and appealing for young people.

“We already have the ability to feed many of the world’s starving people by farming cereals. But because the rich world wants to eat beef steak and hamburgers, cattle is farmed instead. In other words, we may have solutions to world problems but choose not to use them”. Still a problem today, of course!

“The real choices for the future are whether we want faceless cities or more human ones. Do we want to spend money on social problems? Do we want armies and weapons, or hospitals and aid for the poor? Does the rich world want to stay rich at the expense of the poor world, even though in the long-run it will not be able to survive unless the balance of wealth across the globe is made more fair? Remember that if these problems were easy to solve they wouldn’t be there at all.”

Those problems are still all here, and new ones have emerged too. But looking back on the last 30 years, and with an eye to the future, we can also say that there has been much progress.

And that’s the end of the book, everyone – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along. But we’ve actually got one last surprise in store – I’ve been in touch with David Satterthwaite, the consultant to this book and an expert on cities (especially developing cities and climate change, as detailed in chapter 1). He’s kindly agreed to do an email interview, so we’ll publish that as a post next week. If you have any questions for David, add them as comments below and hopefully he’ll be able to answer some of them.

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33 comments

  1. “A population of 50,000 to 100,000 people is just right for the urban village. If they are smaller than this, they might not be able to fight builders or planners who want to change the area.”

    Herne Bay, Grey Lynn, and the other inner suburbs seem to buck this trend.

  2. That shot of the Chicago river is very telling, the two towers in the foreground were seen as the Genesis of the post war inner city living movement in the US,

    There construction in the late 50s/60s is totally exemplified by the fact that the first 19 floors of each tower are for residents car parking, with 2 parks per apartment

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_City

    1. It’s the logical extension of what people in our suburbs try to demand is provided as part of new development here, too, ‘because where will they all park? You’re just creating a parking problem!’ (Literal quote from a local about a 62 apartment development in Pt Chevalier.)

  3. There’s a big risk of some parts of Auckland becoming “antisocial” as intensification fills the centre of communities with high-rise, unattractive apartment blocks and office blocks at the expense of the open spaces which should be left to provide the benefits of sunlight, open air and green areas for the expanding population of Auckland to gather and socialise. Once these open areas which have been saved by previous generations are gone, we will never get them back and the health and social problems will skyrocket as a result.

    1. I agree with you regarding the importance of public green spaces. However, I can’t see any evidence of these green spaces being replaced by housing intensification, most intensification appears to be happening on either private land or public land that is off limits to the general public anyway.

      Which examples are you thinking of with intensification replacing green space?

        1. Unitec is private land where the landowner has given up on enforcing trespass. That is very different to public access. The green space is just that, undeveloped unplanned space between buildings.

          Building over most of the site, while actually creating some green spaces would vastly improve public access.

          1. At Unitec, the public have access for the Mahi Whenua Sanctuary Garden including for educational visits and workshops, the Auckland Beekeepers’ Club, dog training classes, the Waterview Shared Path, public talks and lectures, Eco House visits in the past, sales of their relocatable houses, and much more that I don’t know about.

            Educational campuses have long sought interaction with the public; it’s part of what they do.

            I welcome development at Unitec if the design is a radical departure from car dependent design, but I think we need to be realistic about the amount of open space that’s currently available – whether owned privately, by govt, local govt, or by clubs or trusts – and how much will be lost by this generation turning it into housing. What needs to be intensified are the true brownfields sites, not the easy undeveloped open spaces, which we need to keep for future generations.

          1. She did mention things becoming more anti-social in the future, which implies that land that people can access at the moment will become inaccessible, this doesn’t apply to a bowling club as it is already restricted access.

            You could argue the public can become members if they want, but clubs can veto that and also the main reason they are selling up is a lack of membership, so it is hard to argue a key part of the social fabric is being.

            If these bowling clubs are in areas where intensification is planned then I think it is worth the council buying them as they are good sized green spaces, but not if they are in areas with no intensification planned.

          2. Of course open spaces where people gather to socialise include sports clubs, whether publicly owned or privately owned. I spent much of my childhood in privately owned bowling clubs and playing in the ditches at the side of publicly and privately owned cricket grounds. Who owned them made no difference to me. Community gardeners now know to look for land that is privately owned because Council land is the least secure to put your time and effort into. We’re lucky in Pt Chev because our small garden is owned by a church and our huge garden is owned by the Bowling Club/ Tennis Club / Croquet Club complex. And it’s entirely open to the public, providing an oasis on the pedestrian paths connecting Walford Rd, Pt Chev Rd and Dignan St.

            Council assets are being sold, and that needs urgent attention. But what’s happening to the privately owned open spaces is also of concern.

  4. Question for David Satterthwaite:

    This looks like a quality book that doesn’t shy away from discussing questions of equity and of the choices we as societies have. Do you know if books like this still get printed? My impression is that there is more gloss, more description without civic commentary, in books for children today – any comment?

  5. “We already have the ability to feed many of the world’s starving people by farming cereals. But because the rich world wants to eat beef steak and hamburgers, cattle is farmed instead.”
    Or… the developing world could stop being overpopulated with their 4/5/6/7/8/9/10 children per couple and then they too could enjoy a better lifestyle. Fact is there was a good population level until mid last century. At that stage the developed countries effectively stopped growing in population (except for immigration) while the developing countries went on to double/triple/quadruple/5x/10x their populations. Very soon countries like Nigeria will have as many people as the much larger USA. They should be offering birth control or sterilisation options to people rather than air that just encourages more children to be born.

    1. Europeans overpopulated Europe in past centuries (and then went out to exploit the rest of the world). These European fertility rates prior to 1790 are from https://ourworldindata.org/fertility-rate:
      https://i.imgur.com/QXstEmo.png

      With education, people lower the number of children they have, but recently, with more asistance, they’ve been able to do so much more quickly than in the past:
      https://i.imgur.com/ebzIN0b.png

      Solutions involve improving standards of living, real opportunities, empowerment for women, and education.

      Meanwhile, New Zealand is continuing to erode its soils, pollute its waterways and destroy its biodiversity at an alarming rate, as if losing the fertility of this land is something that won’t contribute to world hunger and misery. We’re being selfish and arrogant in our treatment of our ecological base, yet we have the means to do otherwise.

      1. “Europeans overpopulated Europe in past centuries (and then went out to exploit the rest of the world)” Fascinating… you know that birth control etc didn’t exist until more recently right? Even then the population of Europe was then and is still now less dense than many countries in the developing world. India is on target to hit 2 billion people compared to 350 million in Europe in a country smaller than Europe (if you really want to draw a long bow and add in the European population of US/Canada/NZ/Australia then you get to about 600 million total). Even China had a bigger population than India but has put a stop to their growth. Much of Africa and the Middle East is heading in the same direction as India.

        1. I don’t think a comparison with 200 years ago is that relevant. Lifespans were much shorter than they are now, Europeans had big families back then as well, it’s just the population was kept in check by people dying frequently.

          1. So why are they still having big families now with the improved life expectancy rates? Africa is already over populated now and is set to double in population again within a few decades.

        2. Lol. Are you not counting the women? Europe’s population is approx. 740 million. The ‘neo-Europes’ are ~390 million. Total: ~1.1 billion.

      1. and that wouldn’t matter one bit if the developing world had taken steps to not overpopulate themselves. Everyone wants a better life – you’re suggesting everyone should have a shitty life because half the world can’t keep their pants on.

        1. Why would someone from the developing world give a toss about people from the developed world, we’ve done nothing for them?

          That’s a pretty decent insight into your true views if you think the poor should just stop breeding so we can enjoy consuming as much as we want.

          1. Or they could improve their standard of living by having less kids.
            The developed world on the other hand is generally reducing its population and reducing its consumption of resources/reducing pollution (except for the increases from immigrants from developing countries).
            If you like those places so much feel free to move there.

          2. How has the reality of the west stripping wealth from developing countries slipped you by, AKLDUDE? Try:

            https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/05/africa-poor-stealing-wealth-170524063731884.html

            https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/jan/14/aid-in-reverse-how-poor-countries-develop-rich-countries

            https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/may/24/world-is-plundering-africa-wealth-billions-of-dollars-a-year

            https://www.wearesalt.org/developing-countries-have-been-propping-up-the-west-and-not-the-other-way-around/

            If you want to understand why their birthrate isn’t dropping as fast as is ideal, you’ll have to start reading about the cultural practices (including plenty of Christian religious practices brought from Europe) that keep women from being educated and from holding power over their own futures.

            The destructive farming practices used by multinational corporations to make money in Africa have destroyed local ecologies and economies. The destructive mining practices that allow us to buy electronic goods are directly injuring men and leaving women and children at the mercy of violence.

  6. There’s a post script to this story. In the 1980’s some very committed and far sighted climate scientists warned the world’s governments that global warming through burning fossil fuels/ greenhouse gases was a clear and present danger to the planet and the effects were already observable. Fast forward 35 years and we still are doing little, and certainly not enough, to limit fossil use. The models and effects predicted in the 1980’s have been shown to be valid and we can observe them now with higher global temperatures, extreme weather, eco system die off etc.
    The long and short of it is the planet now has a very limited time to change our fossil fuel dependence and avoid catastrophic warming of 2 degrees and above. Certain climactic effects are already baked in like drought, areas of the world become unlivable deserts/too hot, weather extremes, multi meter sea level rise. So if you want a future for yourselves your children and their children then act now or the future will be very bleak and all our city building will count for very little. Perhaps Transport blog could have a series on actions we can take now?

    1. What actions can the individual take other than supporting political candidates who appear most likely to pursue environmentally beneficial policies?

      Sure, the environmentally-zealous can do their bit to reduce their own personal carbon footprint, but without decisive leadership in the provision of societal systems conducive to everyone doing this, the environmentally-apathetic majority will swamp the minority’s efforts.

      I wish there was a way for the motivated minority to make a more meaningful difference.

  7. The look alike shopping vs independent shops worth some thoughts.
    It is like the Cathedral vs Bazaar metaphor

    We could have centrally managed shopping malls that has proven franchise shops in a nicely managed environment and good shopping experience for most people.

    Or we could have many families shops in a chaos market, which some of them are awesome stuff, but some other shops could be rundown, poorly managed and sell junk and drugs. The experience is going to be mixed.

  8. Here’s another question for David Satterthwaite:

    The work that’s been done about how Auckland is to adapt to climate change and to become a more responsible city is largely ignored – our budget for transport is still biased towards road expansion; our urban planning is still biased towards sprawl; corporations, businesses and individuals still impose the costs of their activities on others.

    For a readership like Greater Auckland’s, is the best way forward to study what the C40 cities have done? Or does “Cities on a Finite Planet” provide some insights (especially around engaging with the people most at risk) that mean we’d be better studying that first?

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