Experts debate how best to design resilient cities

Experts debate how best to design resilient cities

New York-based landscape architect Ken Smith; urban champion at Auckland Council, Ludo Campbell-Reid; and NZ Institute of Architects president Patrick Clifford are among the experts who converged last week for session one of Unitec’s ‘Forum for the Future’ series. The opening session, focusing on how New Zealand can create resilient cities, was hosted by Unitec’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Architecture.

Ken Smith on New York's Museum of Modern Art's roof top garden.

Recent events in Christchurch have highlighted the need for all of our cities to be resilient and prepared. At the same time, Auckland in particular faces significant growth pressure. The city’s population is expected to grow by around 800,000 people in the next 20 years. Panellists considered the issues facing the city. They also discussed the Auckland Spatial Plan—a 30-year vision and strategy being developed by the newly-established Auckland Council—with the aim of making Auckland the world’s most liveable city. 

Business commentator and journalist Rod Oram was facilitating and welcomed the six panellists who included prominent New York-based landscape architect, Ken Smith; MP for Mt Albert, David Shearer; NZ Institute of Architects president, Patrick Clifford; urban champion at Auckland Council, Ludo Campbell-Reid; developer Brady Nixon; and a senior lecturer in landscape architecture at Unitec, Matthew Bradbury. Oram began by asking panellists to describe a city in terms of a personality. Tweeter Mr Zane E had my favourite of the night:

“Auckland is a 21 year old student, full of potential but can never make up its mind.”

Next the panelists considered the question: What makes a city is resilient?

Campbell-Reid said it was about the people being resilient—a human trait. He cited that when the IRA bombs ripped the heart out of Manchester City, the city took the disaster as an opportunity to reinvent itself. Now, he said, the heart of the city has a real vibe and heart.

For his part, Bradbury believes the resilience of a city will increasingly depend on its ecological and environmental health. On this note, Oram commented that he’d been amazed by the discussion in Christchurch about the rebuild, saying that folks who had previously been conservative in nature were coming up with ideas such as vertical farming on the side of buildings in the city. 

The question was then asked: What are the big environmental challenges for New Zealand cities? 

Shearer believes the problem is our imagination in considering, for example, other fuels, other ways of moving around and finding a way to make trams sexy again.

He wondered, did we really all choose to expand Auckland outwards because we want to live on the periphery of the city or do people want density and a big city vibe?

Smith notes there are successful low rise cities in the world, citing Dutch cities as an exemplar. As a New Yorker, he was charmed by our beautiful bungalows and villas. If Auckland is a city of 165 neighbourhoods, then it’s like New York which is the same. Smith liked the idea that there could be an alternative to the extreme view, where Auckland has to choose between density verses sprawl. 

Ludo Campbell Reid loves Auckland and as an immigrant he can see that we have a real point of difference to any other international cities. He believes in Auckland and New Zealand. He sees New Zealand as a country that is rich in culture and unique in its smallness. We need believe in ourselves, he says,  and celebrate what we have to offer rather than comparing ourselves to others and feeling we fall short.

 A tweeter then asked: How does one compare a city that is 170 years old to one that it 3000 years old?  

Reid responded that the Maori have been here for 1000 years and along with that comes a history we should embrace and be proud of. Working with the brand new Auckland Council and being involved in the creation of Auckland’s first planning vision document, the Auckland Spatial Plan, he is excited at the progress the Super City has made in the nine short months it’s been in existence.

The first draft of the Auckland Spatial Plan will be released on August 25 and he encourages everyone to read it and make comments or submissions for the future of their communities and their city.  

Reid went onto describe a buzz at the new Auckland Council—a sense of hype, energy and momentum for positive change. He says there’s a real chance to move Auckland forward.

Recognition of that buzz was backed up by developer Brady Nixon. He said prior to the creation of the Super City there was no accessibility to the multiple councils in the city, adding that when developers wanted to approach the council, the general outcome was frustration and a butting of heads. He said he’s been very impressed by the transformation in such a short space of time and the Auckland Council seems to have a ‘we’re in partnership with developers’ approach now. He believes the creation of the Auckland Council is the best thing that could have happened to Auckland.

Oram then opened the discussion up to the live audience, where the following question was posed: If you could change one thing about Auckland what would it be

  • Rod Oram: change Auckland’s name
  • David Shearer: Transpor
  • Patrick Clifford: Transport. He also called for a cost benefit analysis to be undertaken. Rather than just analysing the economic costs of transport delays, he called for the analysis to also include the costs on residents’ health and well-being that result from not being able get around the city
  • Mathew Bradbury: Re-think Auckland as a landscape and we might see a better way of connecting the city to the landscape and actively using our water ways.
  • Ken Smith: Remember water is a valuable resource in the world and Auckland has a lot of it. He challenged the audience to think about the benefits and advantages derived from Auckland’s topology. The city is surrounded by water, he said, and the amount of water that falls from the sky will be the most valuable commodity of the 21st century.
  • Brady Nixon: A Change in Attitude. He said residents need to stop being so narcissistic and thinking only about themselves and instead challenged them to take part and to their bit to make Auckland the world’s most liveable city.
  • Ludo Campbell Reid: Believe in Auckland’s potential. The concept of Kaitiaki—to leave a place better than how you found it—is a real legacy and that, he said, personifies true resilience.

Unitec 2011 Forum for the Future still has three more sessions, ‘Championing Pacific Languages’, ‘Enriching Maori Entrepreneurship’, and ‘Re-inventing Public Broadcasting’. Find out all the details by heading to the Forum for the Future website HERE.

In the meantime, check out the video clip of part one of session one below.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).