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Will Auckland stop being the greatest?

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Will Greater Auckland stop Auckland being the greatest?

Take that, Aussies! This week, Mercer, a company specializing in staff relocation HR issues, released its report on the top cities in the world for Quality of Living. Auckland is number 4, tied with Vancouver. Sydney comes in at 10, Wellington is 12, Melbourne 18, and Perth is 21. Here’s a pretty slideshow about the results from Forbes magazine, posted on MSN. The baseline city for the comparison was New York—any score above 100 means the city is a better place to live than Gotham.

According to the Mercer company website:

Mercer has designed an objective way of measuring quality of living for expatriates based on factors that people consider representative of quality of living. Once a year, Mercer conducts a quality of living study in more than 380 cities worldwide based on detailed assessments and evaluations of 10 key categories and 39 criteria or factors, each having coherent weightings reflecting their relative importance.

The factors that Mercer took into account when considering the cities in its survey are available here, but in brief they look at the political and social environment, medical and health considerations, schools and education, the natural, economic, and socio-cultural environments, public services and transport, recreation, consumer goods, and housing.

Each year, the company chooses to pull out a particular category for special focus, and this year the category was Infrastructure. No NZ or Australian city features in the top five for the Asia Pacific region. Those honors go to Singapore, the Japanese cities of Tsukuba, Yokohama and Tokyo, and Hong Kong, which tied with Yokohama.

Included in the Infrastructure index are electricity, water availability, telephone, mail, public transport, traffic congestion, and airports. Auckland’s ranking is 43 and Wellington’s 47. Vancouver comes in at 6, tied with Dusseldorf, and the highest-ranking Australian city is Sydney at 11.

Even without having access to the full, detailed report, I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Auckland City fell down in at least three infrastructure categories: electricity, public transport, and traffic congestion. It’s an astonishing fact that in the 2006 New Zealand Census, the second most popular means of getting to work in Auckland was a company car, truck or van. The private car was, of course, the most popular. Hardly surprising then that the roads are congested.

Conversely, the public transportation infrastructure in the top five Asia-Pacific cities is amongst the most efficient in the world. The characteristics of those cities promote much more efficient public transport, whether it’s the physical constraints on their size (Singapore and Hong Kong are both islands), the fact that the city has a particular focus (Tsubuka was planned in the 1960s as a Science City), or that Yokohama and Tokyo are both harbor cities.

Why is it then that the cities of Auckland and Wellington—also harbor cities—fall down so badly in the infrastructure stakes? Could it be that local authorities listen only to property developers and civil engineering companies, resulting in more and more urban sprawl and more and more roads with cars on them carrying just one person? Just how early twentieth century do you want to be down there?

Specifically, in the Royal Commission executive summary about the planned “Auckland Council”, that body will have sole authority to develop transport and land use strategies and the arterial road network. Well, there’s a money-saving idea, right there. Just one set of local pollies to have to lobby instead of several!!

What worries me about the idea—being shoved through Parliament under urgency—is that it not only reinforces the notion that bigger is better, but also the idea that if you just aggregate problems into one Big Problem, then a Big One-Hit Solution will magically solve it. The problem with infrastructure in the Auckland region isn’t that management of it comes under the purview of so many local authorities but that all those authorities refuse to acknowledge what the problem is.

Two words, folks: Smart Growth. Unless the legislation governing the Auckland Council specifically limits the construction of new motorways—which just enable people to ignore the fact that the one-car one-rider syndrome is what causes traffic congestion in the first place—and explicitly charges the new authority with the responsibility to provide a public transportation system that is efficient and the first choice for commuters, then it’s just money in the bank for companies that have profited for decades from Stupid Growth.

Along with those responsibilities should come measurable targets, and accountability when the targets aren’t achieved. It’s a bit late for New Zealand to be leading the world on this, but do you really have to be so far behind the curve that you’re up the Hummer’s tailpipe?



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