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Bob Harvey honoured with international award


11 November 2008

Bob Harvey honoured with international award for environmental leadership

Bob Harvey has been recognised as one of the world’s leading environmentalists.

Overnight the Waitakere mayor and life-long campaigner for projects ranging from environmental protection to peace and anti-nuclear issues received the LivCom Personal Award for best practise in the management of the environment.

Endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme, the LivCom Awards recognise individuals, groups and cities who are improving the lives of ordinary citizens through the creation of “liveable communities”. More than 50 countries were represented at this year’s LivCom conference and awards, held in Dongguang, China.

A love for the environment and other social issues has been a part of Mayor Harvey’s life for as long as he can remember. As a young man in the 1960s he campaigned for peace and against nuclear weapons. In the 1970s, the advertising man and political campaign strategist was at the forefront of the Save The Manapouri campaign and helped Labour leader Norman Kirk to show New Zealanders that they needed to sit up and take notice of the rapid depletion of the country’s natural resources.

“In the 1970s, New Zealand hit rock bottom environmentally with carnage in forest and coastal settlements as they were cut up by developers,” he says. “There was greed as the new money began to take hold. You could see the parallel with the rise of capitalism and the disregard for the environment. “

At a local level, Harvey remained dedicated to protecting the Waitakere Ranges. He lived in both Waiatarua and Titirangi before settling in the foothills of Glen Eden and has volunteered over 40 years to the local Karekare Surf Lifesaving Club. It was this sort of dedication and a drive to make a difference that saw him claim the mayoralty of Waitakere City in 1992 and his vision and leadership have seen him re-elected for an unprecedented six consecutive terms.

He counts this year’s passing of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Act through Parliament as a highlight. “That is a ground-breaking piece of legislation that comes after 40 years of negotiation, heartache and downright hard work by many, many people,” he says. “It is a demonstration that caring for our environment for future generations is now core business for both local and central government.” The law now informs resource consent processes and holds government agencies and councils accountable for supporting protection measures.

In receiving the LivCom Award, Harvey acknowledged the support of successive councils he has led, as well as a team of dedicated and “highly talented” staff. “And, of course, the community at large. I have often said that New Zealanders will do anything if you ask them but nothing if you tell them. So it has been important that every step of the way we have consulted and taken the community with us.”

Inspired by the Earth Summit held in Rio in the early 1990s, Harvey’s vision for an environmentally-focussed city led to the 1993 establishment of Waitakere as New Zealand’s first “eco city” and the official adoption of Agenda 21 as a way of addressing environmental issues and social inequities through community-council partnerships. Agenda 21 is now fully integrated in Waitakere through established planning procedures and democratic processes. The ‘Quadruple Bottom Line’ is the planning framework for assessing relative social, environmental, cultural and economic impacts, enabling more effective decision-making and ensuring a strong and workable sustainability focus.

“The eco city was a bold idea and we had to do it strategically and wrap it around council decision making. To be successful, it required an absolute commitment and the triumph is that we’ve held that true for 16 years,” he says. “Everything I do is tied to those eco city principles and our ‘First Call for Children’ agenda. Everything is interrelated, whether it’s cleaning up our city, reducing crime or reducing stress in people’s lives. One benefits the other.”

Harvey’s eco city vision and leadership has gained him an international reputation as a speaker on environmental issues and helped put Waitakere City on the world map. An executive member of the global Mayors for Peace organisation, president of the New Zealand Peace Foundation and a member of the Australasian Mayors for Climate Change organisation, he was the keynote speaker at the Eco City Summit in Washington DC this year, where he was labelled “New Zealand’s Al Gore”.

Harvey was also the keynote speaker at the Mayor’s for Peace Conference in Hiroshima during the 60th anniversary commemorations of the Hiroshima bombing. He received a UNESCO International Peace Prize in 1998. Rolling Stone magazine once cited Bob as the 25th “coolest person” on the planet and in 2006 Metro Magazine named him as one of the 25 notable people who have indelibly shaped Auckland during its 166-year-long history.

LivCom chief executive Alan Smith says Harvey’s contribution has embraced all of its award criteria:

“From the outset of taking office, Bob Harvey has actively sought ways of embracing the community in the strategic direction of the city,” he said. “A successful system of community meetings has been introduced that have led to greater social ownership of major policy schemes, with the city becoming more of a facilitator than a top down g overning body. Bob Harvey has led the introduction of numerous policies and facilities aiming to improve both the physical and mental health within the community and remains committed to the ongoing social development of the City of Waitakere.

On the back of its mayor’s drive for a sustainable future, Waitakere City has won numerous awards and accolades for its community partnership programmes, such as Project Twin Streams, and for sustainable building projects, such as its new Waitakere Central civic and administration building and city libraries and community centres.

“It’s never been about tree-hugging. It’s been about smart, sustainable, thinking and being focussed on the outcome and delivery. That’s been very personal to me,” he says. “No council in New Zealand has a stronger social agenda than us and I’m very proud of that.”

Harvey believes he has largely achieved what he set out to do when he took on the Waitakere mayoralty – create a more successful and sustainable city for the 21st century. It’s also why he isn’t too worried about how people will remember him when he’s gone.

“I don’t care. I’m leaving that to history,” he says. “I’d be happy if my tombstone simply read: ‘He helped save the Ranges. He was a good man’.”

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