Yesterday we had the very sad news that business and climate journalist Rod Oram had died after having a heart attack while cycling through Ambury Park on Sunday.

Rod was one of the absolute best at being able to communicate the connections and paths between how we live and how we could live – most especially and urgently in recent years, on the need for climate action and the abundant opportunities to achieve it in realistic and rewarding ways.

He was also a kind and generous mentor to many, a witty and thoughtful interlocutor, and a builder of bridges – between different points of view, and towards a future that would be better for everyone. As he wrote only a few short weeks ago:

We, along with the rest of humankind, must figure out how to achieve an utterly unprecedent speed of change, scale of change and complexity of change. Everything, everywhere, all at once – to borrow from the multiverse film that scooped last year’s Oscars.

The first step is to own up to the crises we’re creating; the second is to admit the failure of our current ways of trying to fix them; and the third is to find ways to discuss, conceive, commit to and achieve rapid and deep systemic change that will give us a future.

But we can only do that if we transcend our short-termism and our social and political divides.

It’s terribly poignant to read the sentence that followed: “That’s the new focus of this column, which henceforth will be longer and monthly as I embark on a big overhaul of my knowledge.”

His contributions will be sorely missed.

Heartfelt obituaries and reactions poured forth yesterday, among them:

  • Newsroom, where he wrote a regular column, and where he had “just stepped back from writing weekly, to make time to research and write longer, on bigger issues.”
  • Radio NZ pulled together many reactions, summed up by Eloise Gibson as “a ‘true gentleman’, a top business journalist and a tireless advocate for climate action.”
  • An obituary in the Herald, where Oram was the paper’s inaugural business editor, notes that “in all [his] work, he had the remarkable gift of remaining polite and patient, while always seeking to push home his big message: climate action is urgent.”

One thing we at Greater Auckland will remember him for was his vision for what Auckland could look like in 2060, which formed part of his submission to the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance back in 2008.

The whole piece is worth reading, and covers a wide range of topics. I’ve highlighted some of the parts that cover transport and urban form:

Auckland Anniversary Day, Monday, 26 January 2060


After the vicious cyclone overnight, dawn breaks gently to the ebullient calls of the birds. The light spreads rapidly across the huge city and its beautiful hinterland of bush and beach. Any of the volcanic cones offers a good view of this sweeping panorama across our thriving Auckland region. Mount Hobson, though – close to the historic heart of the city where water and land, our two abundant sources of wealth, meet – has a special place in the region’s story.

Today is Auckland’s Anniversary Day. And Mount Hobson is named after the man who decreed it an annual holiday for the Auckland Province. That was 218 years ago. But if Hobson were standing up on this namesake cone this morning, he would still readily recognise this wide vista across the Waitemata Harbour and to the scattering of islands beyond.

If his eyes were sharp, he’d spot small boats drifting in the lee of Rangitoto. If he thought those people were fishing, he’d be right. Over the years, we’ve learnt lots about restoring the ecosystem of our Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

But he’d be puzzled if he looked down below Mount Hobson. When Ngāti Whātua, the first settlers here, offered him the pick of the harbour’s land to build a new city, he chose a graceful string of little hills and bays at the foot of this volcano.

Now, a flat, angular shoreline reaches out into the harbour. Landfill a century or more ago formed the extra land to accommodate a booming city. It remains today home to many people, businesses, and recreational activities. In recent decades, though, we’ve made it one of the most admired waterfronts in the world.

Last night’s storm, though, had the emergency services out. As expected, climate change has brought a 40-cm rise in sea level in the past 50 years. And weather events are more extreme and frequent. The good news is temperatures are only a couple of degrees higher.


These days Whangarei is only 50 minutes by train from Britomart. And that’s with a couple of stops on the North Shore. The network and its interconnecting motorway system have been a big help with urban development. They’ve quite changed how and where we live. In addition to the route down from the north, a second line runs east to Tauranga and Whakatane and a third runs south through Hamilton, Rotorua, and Taupo and on down to Wellington.

This road and rail system has allowed us to develop our towns, old ones and some new ones, into beautiful, compact, eco-urban areas, each close to bush and beach. All up, 3.4 million of us live in this “string of pearls” as we call them. About 2.2 million here in greater Auckland and 1.2 million from Whangarei around to Whakatane and down to Taupo.

Another 850,000 live elsewhere in the North Island and 1.35 million in the South Island making 5.6 million for the nation. That’s a big change from the start of the new millennium when the Auckland region was only just over 1 million and the country million.

The region’s urban area had grown very fast after the Second World War. But the density was very low, lower even than Los Angeles. Everybody wanted their quarter acre. Nobody was keen to pay for the infrastructure so we always ended up expensively retrofitting it piecemeal long after we needed it.

What changed things? A whole bunch of things, really. Frustration with delays and failures, a strong sense we weren’t on top of our economic and social problems. Those were two big ones. But it was the energy and economic shocks some 50 years ago that finally brought people together. We realised we had to rethink how we lived, worked, and governed ourselves. These were issues everybody the world over was wrestling with, and still are.

A growing population over the past 50 years gave plenty of scope for reshaping the urban landscape. We’ve doubled the number of homes in Auckland and we’ve replaced about a quarter of the old, badly built ones. New building materials have helped, particularly the timber laminates and composite bioplastics that have displaced much of the steel and concrete even in tall buildings.

Given all that new construction, we’ve been able to remake this into a very liveable, eco-city. Getting a high concentration of homes and workplaces around the rail and road networks has allowed us to keep the urban area relatively compact.35 This has helped us develop more diverse neighbourhoods with more amenities and more opportunities to work at home or in local businesses.

This vibrancy across the region ensures people still do plenty of travelling for work, entertainment, education, socialising, and recreation. And that in turn has helped develop a stronger sense of regional identity.

The remaking of much of the urban area has also given us the chance to create more open spaces and green corridors. Lots of regeneration of native plants in those places and in people’s gardens has attracted flocks of native birds from the island sanctuaries out in the Hauraki Gulf. Even kiwis nest on Mount Hobson and the other volcanic cones we turned into true nature reserves protected by predator-proof fences.

The city has evolved in many other ways too. For example, buildings and neighbourhoods do some of their own power generation, water capture, and waste treatment. These partially self-supporting local systems are linked through automated networks for the rest of their needs.

This has taken a lot of pressure off the highly centralised services, freeing them up in part for other uses. One showcase is the Mangere water treatment plant. From the algae it grows in its waste-processing stream, it makes enough biofuel for one-third of our vehicles. The other two-thirds, of course, are electric.


The Mayor is standing far above the boats on the bridge of one of the city’s fast ferries. These whisk people up the harbour, almost as quick as the train, to North City, the new centre for the north shore built three decades ago at Whenuapai.

And we’ve done well revitalising this old part of town where Hobson staked out Auckland more than 200 years ago. Beginning early this century, we started opening vistas through the city right up to the ridge at K Road. This helped re-reveal the topography of the city, it’s natural skeleton and form. Studded with art works and other delights, they help integrate the old city on a very human scale.

Viewed from the water, the city offers fine vistas. One is the diagonal from Viaduct Harbour past the spire of St Matthew-in-the-City to the top of Symonds Street. It took 30 years to create as buildings along its line were gradually redeveloped.

People are thronging the waterfront by the old ferry building, as they are all the way from the iconic entertainment complex in the Wynyard Wharf park right along to the new ocean passenger terminal in Mechanics Bay.

Rod will be greatly missed, and our thoughts go out to his family.

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  1. Pro-Winston/pro-ACT Twitter trolls have been laughing in celebration at his death. “The only thing that could be better is if it had happened on a protective cycleway”, one chortled.

    They actively hate cyclists and wish us dead. You can’t argue with such people, only defeat them.

    1. Its gross, the dehumanisation of people riding bikes seems to just keep growing. Politicians and the media should be staunchly opposing these views, but instead they seem to feed it.

      Nobody wins from less people cycling, least of all motorists. I just don’t get why anyone with any braincells left in their head has an opposed view to cycling.

      1. It is an interesting phenomena though and something very NZ and USA.
        Maybe they never rode bikes as kids? Among me and my friends everyone had a bike and we rode it to football practice and to each other. So while I wouldn’t personally bike any further than within my local suburb, traffic in Auckland isn’t made for it nor is the weather predictable enough for me to go on excursions, I do equate bike-riding with positive memories and I dont get this anti bike feeling that seems to be more and more common among the NZ right (and its a NZ phenomena),

        I don’t see this phenomena mirrored among politicians from the right politicians in Europe, North America (minus USA) and Australia. The most right-wing state in Canada, Alberta, is investing serious money in PT (Both Calgary and Edmonton has seen serious state funding for new metro systems and bus networks), in Australia, in conservative Queensland we see the deep dark-blue area of the Gold Coast build a new tram and a decent new PT network. The region is consistently pushing the state and the federal government for more PT funding. Boris as a mayor of London did more for bicycling than all lefties together etc etc.

        Why is PT and biking a Left v Right issue in NZ? and what makes PT so polarising here. It makes no sense, Auckland is a large city its a given that we need a really good PT network, the debate should really be about how we construct it, what modes, what financing solutions, not if.

        1. NZ seems to be the last developed country fighting this, and the right/right of center parties still fighting the ideological war. I wish a few people could get outside of NZ for a bit, to see this.

          I worked in Sydney 20yrs ago and the drivers v cyclists thing was massive – I would say it was even worse than here now. Barely a week would go by without an incident in the CBD where a driver had actually used the vehicle to intimidate the cyclist, and the GoPro footage was all over the news. Drivers were prosecuted. But it never seemed to end. Go there now and see the proliferation of cycle lanes.

          And not surprisingly, the same sort of vitriol was targeted at the CBD light rail up George St. You would now struggle to find a person who still thinks it was a bad idea. I spent a lot of time on George St back then and our office is now located right opposite a LRT stop. Its an infinitely better environment and is what Dom Rd etc should be aspiring to, if they had any aspirations at all other than a set of country town dairies.

          Auckland will get with the program eventually, we just need to see off the loud minority.

        2. They go overseas and claim to love the cycling and public transport but then come home and fight tooth and nail to oppose it being a reality here.

          PT and cycling need space in our linear corridors for it to work but instead there is an obsession with “flow” and parking, so it’s never going to grow to a point that it becomes a serious alternative.

        3. Anti cycleway way sentiment was also prevalent in the UK.
          Perhaps it is an Anglosphere thing?
          Perhaps too, the vested motoring, and related suburban sprawl interests in these countries are both more politically entrenched, and are more adept, at seeding the subversive social media, and Murdoch press campaigns. They fear the consequences to their industries if the infection spreads between countries.
          We desperatly need more people that combine Rod’s insight with his communications ability and reputation.
          He will be missed.

        4. Not when I read today’s posts on surveys done on people’s views on cycling and PT.

          And as a driver myself, I don’t recall every saying anything against cars. Maybe you want to think about your immediate go-to, that someone who supports cycleways must be against cars. Because, you know, its not a zero sum game.

    2. I agree, I don’t know what people are thinking when they troll about someone else’s tragedy.
      That said – the finger pointing at people as ‘anti cycling’ ignores the many posts on this blog that says terrible things about motorists and generalise everyone who drives a car as being personally responsible for a future human extinction event.
      All road users should pay more respect to each other. I’m bored with being called a road maggot when cycling and I’m bored of being called selfish when I’m driving.
      Of course not everyone on this blog holds such narrow twisted views, but some of the loudest voices are definitely belonging to the craziest.
      RIP Rod Oram and sincere condolences to his family and friends.

      1. A post attacking a roading or wider transport decision/non-decision is taken by some as an attack on cars or car drivers themselves. That is not the same thing.

        Being for better PT and cyclways isn’t anti-car. Saying cars should share (not dominate) a public thoroughfare is not ant-car. Saying a new road does not take into account these things, that it drives bad outcomes for the community, that there are better solutions for the money spent, that it isn’t backed by evidence, that it conflicts with other plans, is not anti-car.

        Some commentors clearly show their disdain for car but most of us and the post themselves, IMHO as a driver, do not. They make sensible propositions for a 21st century modern, growing city.

  2. Rod seemed like one of the good ones. I never met him but I avidly read his blog posts about cycling across central asia. He will be missed.

  3. We lost Efeso to a “Fun Run”; now Rod to a fun ride.

    Great men, of their time; but lost too early.

    Another sad day for the beautiful people.

  4. A big loss. I like the idea of the “a second line runs east to Tauranga and Whakatane and a third runs south through Hamilton, Rotorua, and Taupo and on down to Wellington.”

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