Auckland: a tale of two cities

Publish Date : 26 Jan 2016
Auckland: a tale of two cities
Prof Greg Clark CBE

Greg Clark, global cities advisor, visited Auckland last week. Here’s what he had to say about growth, liveability and housing.

What changes have you noticed since you were last here 18 months ago?

There seems to be more people in Auckland and an increased buzz on the streets. That's important for a city whose main challenges are being small and geographically remote.

The airport is busier, there are more people living in the city centre and the waterfront looks as though it has unstoppable momentum in terms of the scale of development activity. There’s a substantial amount of construction happening, suggesting a city where new transport is coming, land is being more efficiently used, and external investors are noticing opportunity.

The changes in Auckland currently are products of success and outcomes of long-term efforts to enhance Auckland.

Why is Auckland growing so quickly?

What’s happening in Auckland is not unique – it’s happening to all of the good cities that have a compelling combination of liveability with safety, stability, urban amenity and opportunity. Successful cities all over the world attract population, jobs, visitors, investors, and amenities. That is how the world accommodates both population growth and the shift to advanced economies, by building better cities.

The choice for cities isn’t between growing or not growing, it’s between having managed growth or unmanaged growth. Managed growth involves investment in infrastructure and amenity, shaping where and how growth occurs, and making it work. Unmanaged growth means sprawl and inappropriate development. It doesn’t work for long.

Housing affordability in Auckland is a hot topic right now.

Affordability is itself not always a good measure of how a city is doing. Some people see increases in house prices as a problem, others see it as success. It depends on what your stake is. The trick is to achieve affordability through cycles of growth.

That means matching the supply of housing with demand for housing. Successful cities have to build more homes, more quickly than before, without compromising quality. All major cities are focused on this issue now – it requires sustained efforts to increase land supply and site assembly, enhance density in the right places, make planning smoother, connect places better, and increase construction capacity and innovation.

There’s a lot of debate in Auckland about whether to grow ‘up’ through intensification or ‘out’ into greenfields areas.

I don’t see this as the choice. Rather it is how to combine different kinds of city living in one place effectively. So I see this as a tale of two cities.

For many years, Auckland provided the people who live here with a unique opportunity. People have been able to enjoy a relaxed suburban lifestyle, come into the city to work, and then dash out again.

But this model is not on its own sustainable. The effect of this was that Auckland city centre lacked the scale, range, and quality of metropolitan assets: facilities like business schools, convention centres, film studios, innovation districts, city centre apartments, cultural institutions, entertainment offerings and public spaces that you find in other metropolitan cities. So firms, talented young people, and jobs have been leaving the Auckland in the past 20 years to go other cities that have these assets (Sydney, London, Los Angeles, for example).

In order for Auckland to be sustainable, you need to be able to capture more of that advanced economy and more of that talent that goes with it. That means you need a vibrant and successful city centre that has those functions and amenities.

The new proposition, as I see it, is that Auckland essentially becomes two complementary cities that work in partnership with each other.

People still have the opportunity to live in charming suburbs and commute in and out like they used to, and it will become much more attractive to do this by public transport and bike.

But there is also a second Auckland emerging. The city centre and waterfront are becoming places where many people now live and can rub shoulders with each other. There’s a rich mix of different kinds of people doing a wide range of things. They are underpinning new facilities with taxes and disposable income, and giving the city new energy.

Auckland is proving what many successful cities like San Francisco, Barcelona and Tel Aviv already know. If you can increase the number of people living in the centre of the city it allows the city to grow without much congestion, and creates wonderful amenities and urban buzz that everyone can benefit from.

So suburbanites can keep their quarter-acre sections?

Yes, absolutely. Indeed, planned and managed growth in the city centre will protect the suburbs from the unplanned growth that some of them don’t want to have. Having that vibrant city centre also enriches the jobs and lifestyle choices of the people who live in the suburbs.

Auckland’s ‘two cities’ with their different liveability and quality of life equations can and should co-exist, and they do co-exist in every other really successful city in the world. So the old model of Auckland as a city without a real centre cannot succeed, but the new model of the two different lifestyle equations of a united Auckland can.

If you think about New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, the great cities of the world, or Singapore, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto, Barcelona or Sydney, they all have these two cities, working together. Auckland never had that until now.

What can residents do to help make Auckland the world’s most liveable city?

Citizens should recognise these two different Aucklands and encourage both to evolve. That means being great customers for the city, as well as living here. Live Auckland, love Auckland.

As we enter the next mayoral election, there’s also a role now for renewed civic leadership. The leaders of universities, cultural institutions and large companies could be a combined leadership team for the city, working with the council and the mayor to help shape Auckland. Successful cities have civic leadership teams that promote the city and help to manage its evolution.

What are we doing right?

Last week, the JLL Momentum Index, which looks at short- and long-term drivers of change in cities, listed Auckland in the top 20 cities in the world for the first time. According to the report, Auckland has a growing and diverse population, a dynamic city economy, and a healthy innovation ecosystem. It cited Wynyard Quarter and the proposed City Rail Link as key developments.

Prof Greg Clark CBE is a global advisor on cities, who has worked in 100 cities around the world. He led the International Metro Review of Auckland in 2006 and was International Advisor to the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance.

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