Mark Thomas - New Mayor for Auckland

A new plan for Auckland: smarter growth, more with less, support for change

Cities have been around for thousands of years. Athens may have had a population of 300,000 in the 4th century BC. Yet their rate of growth has been increasingly significantly in more recent times and the World Health Organization estimates that 70 percent of the global population will live in cities and towns by 2050, up from just 50 percent today.

Unsurprisingly, there has comparable growth in city-research, city studies and city consultants. It’s sensible to use relevant, appropriate benchmarks – particularly when you are doing something new. But one of the most important parts of a city’s plan is that it identifies strongly with its city and is owned by its people. The current Auckland Plan doesn’t achieved this. I suspect no more than a few dozen people could outline the key aspects of the plan. More will have heard of the Mayor’s ‘most liveable city’ idea, but as they contemplate their 10% rates increases, the difficulty finding affordable, convenient housing and the slow or inconsistent transport experience they may be wondering how that is going.

International consultants McKinsey published an article on making cities great last week. They boiled it down to three key ideas: 1) Smart growth; 2) Do more with less; 3) Win support for change. This is a great quick reference guide for each of us when we think how Auckland is progressing.

The main element of ‘Smart growth’ is to figure out what our city’s competitive advantage is and then put together a compelling offer to business that also makes economic sense for the city. How would you answer that question for Auckland? If we look at our economic development agency ATEED’s eight broad target areas (Food and beverage processing; Information and Communications Technology; Tourism, Screen and digital content; Construction and engineering; High-Value Manufacturing; Life Sciences including health technology and biotechnology; International education; and Marine) how confident are we that the smart growth challenge is being answered? This looks more like a pick-n-mix, than a smart approach to growth.

Mckinsey’s second great city element is ‘Do more with less’. Great cities must look at what it is essential that a city does directly and what it should partner a more expert provider to do. Do you think Auckland Council is best to deliver everything it does? The Community Development Department of Auckland Council has been one of the lowest ranked areas of council since 2010. The current “Empowered Communities’ approach is an attempt to improve this, whereby the current ‘lowly ranked’ department is reforming itself! But we could certainly have spent less money and achieved more if we had transferred the department earlier to an organisation that knew how make this important part of council work much better.

Third is “Win support for change”. Big plans for change needs to be owned by stakeholders. “Listen to the neighbourhoods” a former long serving Mayor of Boston said, “Make people believe and understand that you are making their lives better.” We are far away from this in Auckland because too many residents haven’t been listened to effectively, and their ideas don’t form part of Auckland’s plans.

Smart growth, do more with less, win support for change. That sounds like a much more liveable plan for Auckland – but it will need new leadership.

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