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‘Master plan’ urged for urban sustainability

‘Master plan’ urged for urban sustainability
-Parliamentary Commissioner’s State of Nation Address

New Zealand’s cities must start thinking about “master plans” for their development or their habitability will be threatened, said Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Morgan Williams in Lincoln University’s annual State of the Nations Environment Address last night. (18 July).

His address was entitled The Urban Habitat: is it habitable?

Describing cities as the “crucible of the nation”, Dr Williams said people “love to live where it is lovely” but there were many indicators showing that the urban environment was in trouble. Auckland’s transport woes and Christchurch’s air pollution were two examples.

Mobility was a key determinant of urban environmental quality, he said. Quoting figures to illustrate attitudes, he said that in Auckland only 7.6 percent of the working population used public transport to get to work against a European average of 39 percent, and 85 percent travelled to work by car compared with a European average of 43 percent.

“And we’re nuts about the provision of parking,” he said. “Christchurch has 942 parking spaces per 1000 central business district workers against a US average of 468 and a European average of 230.”

Referring to Christchurch’s smog and air pollution problem, he said it was a case of a city exceeding its “air shed” capacity.

“The reality is that we’ve made no progress as citizens in 10 years. We know a lot about the problem, but after early progress we have paralysis by analysis.

“And it’s not been about who has been in Council at the time but about how we have all related to the problem.”

Citing the Brazilian city of Curitiba, which he visited in April this year with a New Zealand fact-finding party, Dr Williams said it was a highly visible “reference point” to show how to combine a healthy ecology, a vibrant economy and a society that nurtures people.

“Curitiba has lifted itself out of tough circumstances by the strength of good design and cohesive political leadership,” he said.

“Some things have come out of that visit that we in New Zealand have got to start thinking about.

“The development of a master plan; a focus on quality of life - this is the key driver of why you would want to live anywhere in the first place; putting people first, not cars; the protection of green spaces and heritage; citizen access to services and facilities; education for sustainable living and urban research and planning.

“In New Zealand we know more about growing ryegrass than about how cities grow,” said Dr Williams. “Our urban research is so fragmented. We’ve got to start planning as if we believe there is a tomorrow.

“We’ve also got to have a hard think about our leadership. We’re good at clubs and that level but I wonder how good our leadership is when we get to bigger aggregations.

“Long-term visioning is needed,” he said. “We must set goals, we must set a series of steps.”

As far as the air pollution problem in Christchurch was concerned, he said the city had to get behind step-wise progress.

“Set goals. Set a series of steps. That’s the only way we will make progress.”

Dr Morgan’s address was chaired by the Mayor of Christchurch Garry Moore and the Deputy Chairperson of Environment Canterbury, Diana Shand, provided a reply.

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