Auckland’s Spatial Plan goes under the microscope

Auckland’s Spatial Plan goes under the microscope

In downtown Auckland last night a host of Auckland business and local government leaders converged to listen as an expert panel shared their ideas on what the Auckland Spatial Plan could look like, how policymakers and ratepayers could contribute and interact with it, and how the plan could benefit the rest of New Zealand.

New Zealand Council for Sustainable Business Development’s Heather Stonyer, Manukau City Council strategist Dr Maggie Lawton, Nextspace executive committee member of International Society of Digital Earth’s Richard Simpson, and financial journalist Rod Oram comprised the panel. 

Although he’s only been in the job for 20 days, Dr Roger Blakeley, chief planning officer of the new Auckland Council, looked comfortable as he kicked the evening off as moderator of the debate, and more importantly, the gatekeeper of time with each panellists being allocated only three minutes each to answer three questions. 

Auckland’s Spatial Plan, as defined in the Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Act 2010, is intended to contribute to Auckland’s social, economic, environmental and social well being through a comprehensive and effective long-term 20-30 year strategy for Auckland’s growth and development. 

“Everything is expected to be delivered by the spatial plan – no pressure” joked Blakley. 

Blakeley highlighted three important statistics on Auckland in the run up to the panel discussion. The good news, he said, is that Auckland comes out fifth most liveable city in the world according to the Mercer survey. The not so good news is that Auckland comes out 46th city in the world for infrastructure provision. The even worse statistic is that Auckland comes out 84th city in the world for GDP per capita. 

“In many ways, I think the spatial plan will be the key that unlocks the infrastructure provision and that, in turn, will help unlock economic growth of Auckland. 

“Why don’t we aim to get Auckland back into the top 10 cities in the world in terms of GDP per capita by the end of the 30-year period of the spatial plan?” he asked. 

Rod Oram was the first of the four panellists to speak and began by reciting his first impression of Auckland upon coming to live in New Zealand in 1997. As the plane honed in on Auckland, he said he was initially impressed. However upon taking a walk to Auckland’s waterfront, he quickly became disappointed. 

“I was incredibly deflated. It was shocking. There was nothing to look at. I’ve never seen such a miserable waterfront, though it’s got a bit better over time.” 

Oram said that while the spatial plan is about how we can better use the region, it’s also about telling the story about what we’ve got wrong in the past and how we can put it right, in terms of making sure we get the best development and the best activities happening in the most appropriate challenges. 

The challenge presented by the spatial plan, said Oram,  is to move away from how we use the region now, to how we’ll use it in a sustainable and wealthy way in the future, in terms of economic, socially and culturally aspects. And tackling these challenges in a visual plan is key. “People learn in different ways, but visual is one of the most powerful. We have to make sure we do the spatial plan in a way that turns people on, not off...and that’s why I think visualisation is so important,” said Oram. 

Richard Simpson, from 3D visualisation specialist Nextspace, demonstrated how a widely accessible interactive Auckland Spatial Plan can lead to knowledge sharing, improved governance, greater transparency, and allows cities to interact with communities in new ways. 

“With a multidimensional spatial plan, the best information and ideas provided by council and community could be openly available to everyone,” said Simpson, who is also a former Auckland City Councillor. “We could view a digital ecology of maps, consents, development plans, transport routes and public works, as well as a wide variety of economic, social, environmental and cultural data including historical records and photographs. From all of this, cities and communities can make better evidence-based decisions.”

“If the spatial plan is presented visually and overlaid on a unified 3D model of the Auckland region, this would improve decision makers’ clarity around the challenges, opportunities and solutions for the city. It would also make civic planning more relevant to communities and serve as a common language for progression.”

He says the spatial plan can bring significant economic benefits to Auckland and the rest of New Zealand, serving as a digital commons from which content-rich applications for city services and community engagement could be developed, creating employment and export opportunities across a range of sectors from creative industries to utilities. 

For Manukau City Council strategist Maggie Lawton, emphasis needs to be placed on not just the plan, but also the process involved in developing the plan. “The spatial plan is about how you use information.” 

Pointing out that we’re swimming in information, Lawton asked: “How do we bring that (information) together in a way that we can make best use of it and also include all the people that need to be involved in the discussions?” The community’s involvement, she said, is critical. 

“We need to have a conversation with the community about that they want for the future....Auckland has to agree on what the vision is for Auckland.” 

New Zealand Council for Sustainable Business Development’s Heather Stonyer said the spatial plan, “ ultimately about the people who live here, who play here, who work here. You must never forget that ultimately it’s not about building a city per say, it’s about building a city for people”. 

“We need to provide leadership through this plan. Leadership that will secure the balances that our city needs, and the balances are around our built and natural environment. We need to recognise that 80 percent of Auckland’s housing stock is built now. It’s poorly performing and its here now. We have got networks that are not connected—they’re here now. We have infrastructure that is here now. It’s not just about what the future will bring, it’s about the card on which we’ll build this city.”

She pointed to three important questions that need to be asked: What’s not broken? What’s not working? What’s doable? 

She then proceeded to discuss the sustainable aspects of Auckland, beginning by taking a global stance. Worldwide, she said, cities are responsible for 75 percent of the world’s energy use and they produce more than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Cities, she said, will determine wether we shift to sustainability and whether we succeed or fail, because it’s driven through people. “If we don’t change people’s behaviour, we’re not going to do it. And that’s part of what the spatial plan must enable us to deliver. We have to make the right investment choices for a sustainable future. It’s not just ecological. It’s about our economic and social wellbeing. It’s about creating a place where people want to come and live and want to contribute to its growth. That’s what the spatial plan needs to deliver,” she concluded.

Source: Visual City Whitepaper

Main Image: Flickr- Lynda W1

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