Thank you, local government candidates. The sacrifice of your time, energy and privacy is deeply appreciated, whether or not you achieved the position you sought. Your standing provided us with choice. I believe the election has delivered a good team of representatives to help keep this city ticking along and improving. And I appreciate that Auckland Council’s general manager of Democracy Services, Marguerite Delbet, has responded to the low turnout with a clear indication that we can expect change:
I think the whole question of interest in local elections and how we make them relevant for people will definitely be a subject of discussion after the elections close. I think this election has shown it’s the end of postal voting and what we do next will be a subject of discussion next week.
Some people who didn’t vote may simply have felt that voting doesn’t make much difference to action on the ground. I’d like to challenge that. There’s a lot that even local board members can achieve. Some of the biggest challenges we face are best tackled at the local level.
In Friday’s post about Japan, Malcolm asked the question, “What are some small steps that could be taken toward this model?” That was a great question, and I’d extend it to a more general one: What are some small steps that our representatives can take to help fix the problems of our city? Problems described by the government in its discussion document, Planning for Successful Cities:
a startling array of indicators in housing and urban development tells us we have a problem: severe housing unaffordability, falling home ownership, increased hardship and homelessness, increased household debt, intergenerational inequality, congestion, poor transport choice and urban pollution.
Council land, Council facilities, Council money, Council authority… Council certainly has the asset base and power to be taking many small steps towards a better city. Some great progress is being made that will have good, long term consequences: local boards have been establishing (active mode) greenways in Puketāpapa, Mangere, Henderson, Waitakere and elsewhere. In Henderson, council carparks are being replaced with mixed-use development including housing.
But good decisions are certainly not happening city-wide. How discussions with the public are framed, the nature of projects proposed, which projects receive funding and what conditions are imposed seems to depend somewhat on the understanding or commitment of the elected representatives involved.
The Business – Neighbourhood Centre Zone at Upland Road allows for 3-storey development.
As examples, the public heard recently at a meeting in Mt Eden that members of the Orakei Local Board and the Albert Eden Local Board were considering “scheduling” the entire Upland Rd and Mt Eden villages, respectively. Scheduling a property means listing it in the Auckland Unitary Plan to manage any alterations to it and to protect it from being damaged or demolished, and is done to protect heritage buildings. Several buildings are already scheduled in each of these local centres.
Upland Rd Shops: appropriate for 3-storey development as currently allowed, or in need of “scheduled” heritage status?
Of course, with the election, these proposals may easily now be shelved – several members on each of these local boards are new. But if the idea is being pursued further, we need to hear more. Scheduling an entire ‘village’ or shopping centre – beyond a few character buildings to retain a sense of history – is misappropriating a heritage mechanism to prevent development, and is in clear defiance of the compact city strategy, transit-oriented design principles, taking action on the housing crisis and the Auckland Unitary Plan’s zoning objectives.
Mt Eden Village: Appropriate for 4-storey development as allowed in the “Business – local centre” zone, or in need of “scheduled” heritage status?
Elsewhere, some elected representatives still haven’t joined the dots yet about too much traffic and parking supply. Instead of realising that the transition to a multi-modal transport network requires a steady reduction in parking supply, they respond to the public’s “demand” for parking by adding new parking lots on council land.
North Shore United AFC’s home ground of Dacre Park, receiving 43 new carparks.
Council should ensure these criteria from the AT Parking Strategy are met – for example, the existing parking should already be dynamically-priced, and local planned public transport alternatives would need to be insufficient – before entertaining the idea of investing in off-street parking or allowing it on Council land:
Long-standing problems of poor pedestrian or cycling amenity at some facilities on Council land often remains unresolved unless a project involving extra parking is proposed.
The zoo carpark has long been a barrier to families trying to cycle or walk to Western Springs Park
I’m particularly interested in what will happen if the recent consultation on urban development results in steps towards a compact city finally being taken seriously, with development that isn’t based around the needs of the car, and doesn’t create sprawl through inefficient use of land for parking.
Will local board members respond with real leadership, fulfilling their legal roles to help the Council plan for future generations? Or will they cave to calls for mitigating the loss of on-street and private parking by supplying more Council off-street parking?
Will they continue to ‘solve’ the problems of contested expensive road space by establishing residential parking permit schemes? Or will they retain the council’s ability to keep that public space for public uses like wider footpaths, pocket parks, safe cycling, or outdoor seating.
Of course, these problems are not unique to Auckland:
a common scenario in Australia and internationally is the political challenge of replacing [on-street parking] with [active and sustainable transport] mode priority infrastructure due to local resident and commercial trader resistance, particularly in activity centres where competing needs are high…
there is fundamentally an existing entrenchment bias towards status quo understandings, assumptions, mechanisms and imaginations, coupled with a generally poor understanding of car parking dynamics…
To help elected representatives take opportunities to solve our problems, Council’s existing plans are here, ready for service. They already prioritise a liveable, safe, compact city that contributes to climate action, by:
- Creating a compact city to improve transport, environment and social outcomes,
- Reducing our reliance on cars,
- Putting urban land to more efficient use,
- Reducing parking supply for modeshift, safety and land use objectives,
- Establishing a cycling network to meet safety and access objectives.
That more marked change hasn’t resulted from these plans flags a need for reflection. Where we’re seeing poor outcomes, it’s from business-as-usual mindsets, not the plans themselves. Sadly, even progressive representatives have had to ‘compromise’ with regressive colleagues. This shouldn’t be necessary. Following the declaration of a climate emergency, no council with any integrity – or awareness of possible future legal risk – would continue making decisions that exacerbate car dependency and high emissions if they can, legally, make better decisions.
In this document, I’ve listed a few general scenarios where better outcomes are needed, along with clauses that clearly show the direction required. I hope this will be useful to elected representatives finding themselves facing a decision, or to residents facing a project that should be improved. It ends with some questions, and I will return to some of these in future posts.