Written by Vicki Holder
By 2029, Auckland’s population will swell to two million, maybe more. While this growth is creating a more exciting and vibrant global city, it also brings considerable challenges for housing and infrastructure.
When you add the impacts of climate change and natural disasters that threaten Auckland’s liveability, it’s clear that we have some serious thinking to do about the way we plan, design and construct our city to withstand what the world throws at us.
Mayor Phil Goff points to the increasing number of cranes across the city skyline. “Something like $73 billion worth of commercial property construction is underway and our city is growing. Within the next decade, we’re going to hit two million people so we need to look at both sides of what that growth means.”
On the positive side, he says, Auckland is becoming a globally competitive, international city, which means diversity that we need to celebrate.
“We’re now on a scale where we can offer choice and opportunity to people in how they learn, live and enjoy their leisure.”
On the downside: “If you grow rapidly but don’t provide the infrastructure for the city, you end up with traffic congestion, a housing shortage and an unaffordability problem. You also put huge pressure on your environment.”
He quotes a recent survey – the Value Champion Survey – which rated New Zealand, not just Auckland specifically, against 13 other Asia/Pacific countries. Although we are ranked first equal for having the cleanest air among the 13 countries and we have the best score for green spaces, we bombed on transportation and waste because we produce too much plastic and packaging.
Goff says the council is tackling these issues, but we need to do more.
At the top of his list of concerns is climate change, because it threatens our very survival – environmentally and economically. “We need to start with transport because that’s 40% of our carbon emissions.”
Andrew Eagles, chief executive of the Green Building Council of NZ, says we need to get the transport right because it will lead to people feeling more connected, being able to get around more easily and feeling safer. “We know Panuku Development is doing great work creating more city hubs. But we’re working with 50 or 60 years of poor investment in this.”
Goff says how we move around and how we live in a more compact city with greater intensification calls for a change of culture.
“It’s not about building more and more suburbs further out from the city with bigger and bigger motorways to service them. We’ve got to change from the culture of the private car to focus on walking and cycle ways. And we need to go electric.”
He says pedestrianising our streets is key. It’s already starting to happen in downtown Auckland. “But the government needs to incentivise the importation of electric cars. For every electric car we’re importing at the moment, we’re bringing in another 65 SUVs.”
The much-delayed City Rail Link will make a big difference. Goff signed the Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration in Paris at the C40 Conference about 18 months ago, and Auckland is committed to converting its bus fleet.
Property commentator Mark Graham, publisher of the Design Guide, says as transportation improves, planners need to rethink suburb design by taking new, sustainable approaches.
He says we need smaller lot sizes that eliminate driveways and garages as we move away from cars. We must also encourage predictable, safe separation of pedestrians and moving vehicles. “New developments will utilise technology like autonomous, shared electric cars parked at solar-powered, remote lots and smart street lighting which minimises energy use and harmful environmental impact.”
In a future with fewer, more energy-efficient cars, says Graham, communities must share neighbourhood amenities like public access areas. We’ll have drone ports for deliveries and wider shoulders in the road for collections and deliveries. Businesses will relocate to urban peripheries, and this new dynamic will help reshape traffic patterns so emissions and road noise will diminish.
Six years ago, the council asked the green building council to create a tool to look at resilient, low-carbon homes that deliver energy-efficient and healthier homes. Two-and-a-half years ago, Panuku stepped forward to use the tool they developed. Eagles says, “They also took on board the Greenstar communities scheme which focuses on engagement with stakeholders like iwis so they get the communities they deserve. They are currently building 9000 homes to Homestar standards and other organisations have also started using the tool to change the way they design and build. Of that, Auckland can be proud.”
Waste and the inability to deal with it is another crisis in the making. We create more plastic than almost any other developed country. When China rejected our waste for recycling, we resorted to sending it to Indonesia and Malaysia. Soon they, too, will close the door, and we don’t have the ability to recycle onshore. The council is in discussion with the government on what can be done but we must start by reducing the amount we produce, says Goff.
“We have to change our ways. Our packaging industry is a disgrace. We need to substitute with biodegradable products. We need product stewardship and a container deposit scheme so we can create incentives for people to recycle. We’re having those discussions with the government as well.”
With increased pressures, the quality of Auckland’s water is a major headache for the council. A programme called SafeSwim, initiated 18 months ago, shows real-life data on beach safety and water quality. After it has rained, the app shows a great many of our popular beaches aren’t safe to swim in. The solution involves a huge investment, and Auckland ratepayers agreed to this when they voted for a water quality targeted rate.
This allowed the council to bring forward plans to stop storm water entering the waste water system and to clean up our beaches and waterways. When it’s completed, the central interceptor will help reduce wastewater overflows by 90 percent within a decade. It’s a start.
In terms of keeping Auckland green and protecting the existing plant cover, the council has committed to planting a million trees. Goff is also talking to the Ministry for the Environment about bringing back better protection for our heritage trees after the Resource Management Act was changed to make it easier to remove trees. To stem the advance of kauri dieback, the city’s budget has increased from $3million over a long-term period to $100million.
Then there is the on-going predator control problem. On that score, the council is achieving – it has successfully eliminated predators on Tiritiri Matangi Island and aims to do the same on all islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Not everyone is in favour of 1080 poison, but since the last drop in the Hunua Ranges, rats and possums are no longer being trapped.
While all of this is good news, there are still a lot of challenges if we are to safeguard Auckland’s future.
Sustainability industry leader Davina Rooney, general manager of sustainability for Australian company Stockland Properties and CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia, says Auckland is on the right pathway by setting up meaningful frameworks and mapping the impacts of our decisions. Sustainability, she says, must be at the heart of any journey into the future.
Decisions should not just be about profits. “Businesses, too, stand to benefit from making changes. For example, making their buildings more energy efficient and climate resilient will lower insurance costs,” says Rooney.
More importantly, having resilient buildings and other infrastructure means communities can be more resilient.
“Establishing resilience is complex and involves taking small ideas and making them bigger. You take a meaningful piece that works and embed it in your governance. You take it to scale and discuss it with your community and evolve it over time.
“Drawing down on some international examples is important.”
Rooney says when we have these conversations, we have to take all the concepts and plans and make them far more of a community conversation.
For that she commends Auckland’s council, which is currently engaging with different parts of the community to hear their views to work on finding long-term liveability solutions.
As Eagles says, the more we shout about it, the more change we’re going to get.