Idealog's Most Creative: Auckland Council's Ludo Campbell-Reid talks creativity

Idealog's Most Creative: Auckland Council's Ludo Campbell-Reid talks creativity

Auckland Council's design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid was one of the People's Choice winners for Most Creative in government/politics/economics for Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. A strong voice in real life and on social media for more human-centred urban design and development, more affordable, well-designed housing and more public spaces that think about people rather than cars, Campbell-Reid is playing an important role in ensuring Auckland residents get a better city. Here, he talks finding inspiration, the biggest lessons learnt and what he's working towards.

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity for me about being able to see around corners. It’s about imagining the unimaginable, it’s about seeing issues or things from a different perspective or an alternative point of view. It’s about not necessarily doing things in straight lines and it’s about always challenging: I say why? quite a lot!

When you are a child asking why is not actually encouraged because teachers don’t have time to attend to you as the questioning can be disruptive to the flow of the class. Being creative needs an active and inquisitive mind. It’s quite a disruptive activity.

I am told that the most creative time of our lives is as children and the older we get the less creative we become, which is a bit of a worry. But think of how creative our children are: the magical scenes, stories and environments they can create in their minds. It’s extraordinary.

What do you think it is about your nature/habits/interests that makes you creative?

Creative is a description of how people see me which is flattering I suppose. I describe myself as a creative pragmatist because the pragmatic bit gives me credibility in what can be quite a conformist and risk adverse world. Disruption is fine in business as it gives companies the competitive edge but in the public sector it can be the opposite. So to be a creative pragmatist makes me safer, and more tolerable!

Oddly enough, I don’t see myself as creative. The creative ideas I have, all day all the time (it can actually be a curse because my mind is always coming up with ideas that I haven’t a hope in hell chance of realising), don’t seem all that creative to me. To be honest, they seem plainly obvious.

But I am also a doer. I am impatient and love making things happen. When I arrived in Auckland I saw a very different city. I saw an un-well city but also the city that “could be” and there have been part of a whole bunch of actors like my incredible team who have been part of the metamorphosis.

The proposed Victoria St Linear Park

What first drew you to your chosen field?

I originally wanted to be a marine biologist or a doctor but got distracted with sport, girlfriends and the like, as you do when you are 18!! I nevertheless have always had this deep desire to help, to improve, to make better and even to rescue. I recently completed a leadership profile exercise. My key personality descriptor came out as “Restorative” which sums me up pretty well.

What was your upbringing like, and how do you think that led you to where you are today?

We are so often shaped by our experiences as a child, whether good or bad. Our parents and wider family too are big influencers on who we are today and how we think.

Where do your best ideas come from?

I have no idea! But usually they come when I am nowhere near a pen or paper so many ideas get forgotten. I had a great idea to have a pen and paper next to my bed in case anything popped into my head. But I forget to do this and these questions have reminded me.

What does inspiration look like for you?

Being moved to action.

When you are a child asking why is not actually encouraged because teachers don’t have time to attend to you as the questioning can be disruptive to the flow of the class. Being creative needs an active and inquisitive mind. It’s quite a disruptive activity.

If there were a secret to success, what would it be?

With cities the secret is: not such a big secret…it’s actually “walkability”.

In companies the secret is: finding talent.

With people the secret is: about deeply connecting with the person and giving your personal time. Making them feel like the most important person in the world.

With leadership the secret is: How you act, not what you say.

With life the secret is: Getting up early and making your bed every day! No rocket science there I am afraid!

What were some of the challenges that you faced early on? What went wrong? Any regrets?

Losing perspective about what is truly important in life. Fracturing my neck while surfing one morning in Gisborne was a big wake up call. My life certainly flashed past my eyes that morning. It has taken me some years to find my mojo again after that.

Do you work a lot? Do you have an obsessive part to your personality?

I don’t really stop and I do try fit in quite a bit. You also can’t be successful without being a little bit obsessive. Success takes hard work and dedication. Like my marriage and my kids. I’m obsessed with them but it takes hard work.

I also row before work most mornings on the Tāmaki Makaurau Estuary so I start early. My team and I train really hard because we want to succeed and we were New Zealand Masters Rowing Champions last year in the Coxless Fours. Many years ago I represented Great Britain at the World Rowing Championships. You have to be a bit obsessed, a bit mad. It’s the same in business.

I try hard but can’t switch off very well. I am an active relaxer. My job can too often be all consuming and has had a tendency to define me as a person which is completely wrong. My wife says the city is my mistress. She says that somewhat tongue in cheek and usually followed by a smirk or a laugh, but I know she is not happy with that part of my personality or the metaphor because there have been times when I have got the balance really wrong. The city might need me, but my family need me more.

What’s the secret to resilience?

Staying fit and retaining a sense of humour and positivity is crucial to resilience. I believe firmly in the power of attraction: if you think you can, then you are probably right. If you think you can’t then you are probably right too.  But also having a clear eye about the future state you are trying to get to keeps my energy levels up. If that future state is not compelling, exciting and sensational enough then the pain of getting there may not be worth it.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

I am very lucky as I deeply love what I do. Of course there are days when I want to throw in the towel but at the end of the day I love my job and I’m privileged to have a chance to really make an impact.

My days in London were during a good time for cities and being part of many transformative projects was quite incredible. For example Canary Wharf, Jubilee Line station redevelopments, Mile End Green Bridge and Ideas Stores in particular.

Also setting up Urban Design London in 2003 and securing funding for the programme was a big highlight for me. It had been an idea that took several years to land. But the biggest highlight is actually seeing what the current Director Esther Kurland has done with the organisation since I departed for Auckland, she’s taken it to another level.  Another highlight of the time was being nominated for Mayor of London’s London Planning Awards. Peer acknowledgement is always particularly sweet.

In Auckland there have been many highlights. In particular it’s seeing projects that were initially looked at with deep scepticism by many being delivered. Like the Lightpath, our hot pink soaring cycling superhighway, Wynyard Quarter and the shared spaces programme.

Auckland receiving a special mention in the Lee Kuan Yew World Cities Prize in 2016 for its design- led urban revitalisation work over the last decade.   

Also meeting some of the world most incredible people (usually women) involved in cities and urban development has left an indelible and positive mark with me:

  • Lucy Turnbull – Wife of the Australian Prime Minister. I took her on a walking tour of Auckland city centre a year back. We were joined by security staff. It was surreal!
  • Met with Former PM New Zealand Helen Clark in Singapore
  • Hosted Janette Sadik-Khan (former Transport Commissioner for NYC) in Auckland

But looking back, the best times have actually been when I have seen others succeed or do something sensational. That’s when the magic happens.


What do you think New Zealand is like for creativity? Is there something about ‘Kiwiness’ that helps or hinders?

I believe creativity is at the heart of what it is to be a New Zealander. Creativity has defined us. How do you survive? How do you stay relevant?” How do you contribute when you are so isolated? There’s something about “creativity and innovation through isolation”. I’ve heard that phrase used by a creative New Zealand genius Michael Smythe.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Professionally, team wellbeing is more important than my wellbeing. I am replaceable, but without the team you won’t get anywhere fast. There’s no blue print for the work we do. It’s all about context. Every city, society or culture is unique. Vision without budget is a hallucination.

Where to next? Do you have a goal you’re working towards?

  • A car-free, cycle-friendly downtown area
  • Port redevelopment into a new 'eco-city' precinct
  • Light rail from the Waterfront to K Road before the America’s Cup
  • Driving the urban design programme into the Auckland region so the whole of Auckland benefits from its approach.

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