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Liveable city

Feb 12, 2014

As the debate over Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan continues it is to be hoped the discussion will edge the city towards a tipping point where issues that go with urbanisation are more apparent.

If we are to transform Auckland’s urban environment to house an extra one million people over the next 30 years it will take more than just providing extra dwellings.

It will take a desire for change over a long period of time, a broadly held view the status quo is unacceptable, a radical change, an adherence to quality and innovation across everything the city does, a better understanding of urbanism, what it can offer, why it is man’s greatest invention and recognition of the benefits.

It has to come with an acknowledgment planners, urban designers, architects and developers are not the font of all knowledge and thinking when it comes to the challenges of transforming the urban environment in real life and real time rather than in the pages of plan, a drawing board or a marketing brochure.

A radical transformation requires better leadership, a long term horizon, commitment and constancy of purpose where at all times quality and innovation are the touchstone of what we do and not just empty adjectives.

Quality applies to everything we do – not just the built environment. It’s not just evident in a product, such as a nice building, a good restaurant, a well designed park bench, it is about the entire system that drives and runs the city we live in.

We need quality in the built and natural environment, central government and local body governance, infrastructure that works and meets the need of the people and businesses it services, health, education and justice institutions and cultural opportunities.

While these are distinguishing aspects, we need to define quality more broadly than has been done so far.

It is about the “it” factor – the intangible qualities or characteristics of a place, or a city, that make it memorable and results in more people going there more often, staying longer and choosing to live or work there.

It is about the power of a strong brand. You can’t see, smell or hear it but you know when you experience it.

So when we pat ourselves on the back about Auckland’s third ranking in the Mercer Livability Index do we look behind the headlines at the woeful performance of forty third placing in infrastructure performance stakes?

Auckland might be a nice place to live but clearly it is not a good place to do business on a world scale and rates poorly on economic performance and opportunity.

To transform Auckland into the world’s most livable city we need to live the brand and put the attributes of quality and ‘itness’ right upfront in everything we do and the things we demand and expect that others should do on our behalf.How can the city think about that when it makes plans?

It should define the way we think and do everything. We should have an ‘itness’ factor as a key measure of success in transforming the urban environment.Planners and urban designers should have to demonstrate how anything they do makes a difference to the ‘it’ factor of a place they want to develop or change.

Innovation also has a key part to play in transforming the urban environment. We know talent driven innovation is the main competitive advantage for companies and it is what they look for when considering new opportunities, new markets and new places to do business.

To drive innovation we need good infrastructure. To drive great urban places we need to galvanise innovation, entrepreneurship and dynamism.How do we garner the built environment to drive innovation? We need to plan to not plan too much and instead clear the path to unleash innovation and creativity.Unleashing innovation should rank above urban design if we want to transform the urban environment and just not make it prettier.

If we can get the quality and innovation the rest will follow more easily and quickly.


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