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Marian Hobbs Speech: Urbanism Downunder Congress

Marian Hobbs Speech: Urbanism Downunder Congress, Sky City Congress Centre, Auckland Thurs March 20, 9.30am

This is a remarkable congress because it's a first for New Zealand. You've brought together all the professions involved in creating good urban areas – planning, architecture and landscape architecture, urban design, developers. And of course we're all residents so we know what we like and hate.

Your organising committee has involved local government, private practice and academia in producing a stimulating programme.

No one profession can create quality urban areas. We all need to work as a community. You are going to spend the next three days debating best practice, having brilliant new ideas and networking – getting to know who has the ideas you like and who has the influence.

As Minister with responsibility for Urban Affairs and Minister for the Environment I am involved in ensuring we create a better all-round environment. The Cabinet has just given me the task of leading our Programme of Action for Sustainable Development.

The programme recognises that everyone has a role to play and that there are many areas where the best results will depend on collaborative action.

Cities are increasingly the places where most New Zealanders live, work and, for most of the time, enjoy themselves. In holidays we escape to beaches/national parks – strangely, as we all do it together, we don't escape people. Urban drift is still a reality. –As well as most immigrants coming to live in cities, people are still moving from our rural centres to urban areas.

If we are to find in our cities the quality of life we want for our children, and ourselves cities must be places where you can start a business, live in a vibrant community and enjoy a healthy environment. As Minister with responsibility for Urban Affairs I am committed to making sustainable cities a reality.

Just six weeks ago Hon Jim Anderton and I launched the Sustainable Development Programme of Action in Auckland.

This programme contains the most comprehensive statement about cities ever adopted by a New Zealand Government. (see pg 19) It’s a strong recognition that New Zealand’s cities have come of age. You as urban professionals have your part to play along with the government in creating Sustainable Cities.

Six hundred years ago on the shores of the Manukau Harbour, between Mangere Bridge and the Airport, there was an urban settlement of two, maybe three thousand people - the city of O tu a tau a.

Archaeologists consider that the settlement was perhaps the biggest urban settlement ever achieved by a Neolithic (stone technology) culture. It was perhaps twice the size of any other recorded Neolithic settlement.

People were living in a centre of wealth and economic prosperity, with high aspirations. And it’s our story. We need to recognise and honour it as we think about what we want for our cities now and in the future.

O-tu-a may have been a successful settlement in the past. Auckland currently is not meeting everyone's needs. So the Sustainable Development Programme of Action must provide the vision and leadership for our cities of the future.

The programme of action acknowledges that the government has a contribution to make, local government has a contribution to make, and institutions and businesses have a contribution to make in realising our vision. Together we need to ask questions like - Do you site a school away from bus routes? How close is affordable housing to the workplace? How can we make better and more considered decisions together that will underpin the success of our cities? The government is committed to growth and innovation but with development that is sustainable – development that meets the present needs without compromising the needs of future New Zealanders. To me this means looking at the world through multiple lenses. Through a growth lens, we might ask how can we continue to develop. Through an environmental lens, we might ask how we can have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Looking through a social lens, we might ask how we ensure the children of our cities have houses to live in, food on their table and are safe in their homes, at school and in the street. Looking through a cultural lens, we might ask how can we retain our links to those important pieces of our past, like Otu a tau a.

I challenge you to stop working and thinking in professional or departmental boxes. Real world cities and real world issues don’t compartmentalise so readily or so easily. Neither should our thinking and working on solutions for our cities be compartmentalised.

The government has already taken a series of actions that recognise the importance of cities. These include the creation of portfolios with responsibility for Urban Affairs and for Auckland Issues, and the adoption of a sustainable cities strand in the Government’s Sustainable Development Programme of Action.

These actions do not sit alone. They build on a number of policy programmes affecting urban areas, such as local government reform, transport, and social and regional development

I want to explain a little of what Sustainable Cities is all about

Sustainable Cities recognises that cities are the essential places to achieve sustainable development because most people live there. Over three-quarters of New Zealanders live in urban areas. The two key outcomes identified for our cities are: cities are centres of innovation and economic growth; and liveable cities support social well-being, quality of life, and cultural identities The Sustainable Cities programme of action will initially focus on Auckland. We recognise that over 30 percent of New Zealanders live in the Auckland Region. It is the fastest growing region in New Zealand. Metropolitan Auckland is an important centre of innovation and sustainable growth.

I know some of you will be wondering about the other urban areas in New Zealand. The Sustainable City outcomes are relevant to all urban areas, but we need to start where the need is greatest. That place is Auckland. The lessons learnt in Auckland will be useful for our other urban centres.

So how we will go about putting Sustainable Cities into Action?

As Minister with Responsibility for Urban Affairs, I will promote the interests of New Zealand urban areas within government, focusing on larger cities and metropolitan centres.

I will do this by taking leadership to prioritise where action is needed - action to remove barriers to growth, action to improve liveability, and action to improve the international competitiveness of our cities.
I want to make it easier for government to hear the issues and to be part of the solutions.

Urban issues are complex and interconnected.

Decisions that may seem simple and straightforward can have ripple effects within a city and often have unexpected results. A decision on where to locate a school may affect the numbers of cars on the road if parents have to drive children to school. – Plans to allow a city to expand somewhere else may impact on the demand for government social, health and education services in specific places. Setting higher standards for motor vehicles can affect communities with little resource to replace them – which increases the need for public transport or affects where people can take jobs.

Let's focus on this issue of mobility and its connection with employment.

In 2002 the Ministry of Social Development placed over 50,000 people into long-term jobs – a 19 percent increase on the number placed in the previous year. It is clear that employment growth is being widely shared: the placement of long-term unemployment beneficiaries improved by 64 percent and the proportion of Maori and Pacific job seekers placed into work also increased.

We want to see such employment growth happening in our cities and in our provinces. But the decisions we make as government or local government can affect our ability to achieve these results. .

For example, the 1996 census found that over 12% of households in New Zealand, do not own a motor vehicle. That’s a lot of people. A survey done for the Ministry of Social Development has found that limited public transport system was a significant barrier for employment for at least 13-20% of Aucklanders. What was the solution? – cheaper second-hand imports? Better public transport? Both have effects. We must work together across issues to anticipate the effects of our decision and to try and find sustainable solutions.

City administrations which face these issues every day often complain that they can’t talk to government about their issues, because each government agency lives in a silo which deals with only part of the problem.

Our first priority is to ‘join up the dots’ within government. We want to provide a whole-of-government clearinghouse – a kind of one stop shop where urban issues can get an integrated government response.

We will also enhance the procedures for working across government at the national level to ensure that all policy development gives sufficient consideration to its impacts on cities. (We do have that with rural affairs. They are vigilant with health, with school buses etc) Cabinet has appointed two Ministers to oversee the whole of the sustainable Cities Programme of action –

Hon Jim Anderton as Minister for Industry and Regional Development and myself as the Minister with Responsibility for Urban Affairs.

We have been told that we are expected to actively drive the sustainable cities work programme to achieve results. Far from being daunted by this task, we are both excited to have the chance to do so.

Here is another discrete policy area that has implications for cities –Population change. Population mobility has implications for patterns of settlement, infrastructure and environment. The majority of new migrants settle in Auckland, at least initially. This has implications for housing, traffic congestion, population density/spread changing character as well as education, health and social services for new migrants

Government processes are changing across all government departments to ensure that how we develop is understood in the delivery of all government work programmes be it immigration, car imports, housing corporation designs, primary health care, hazardous substances regulations.

I also want to focus on creating or constantly improving partnership between central government and cities/metropolitan regions. We have improved – we acknowledge that there is not a hierarchy – and that we each have different roles/responsibilities. And we will argue – but we won't ignore each other.

The success and competitiveness of New Zealand cities has been dogged by issues of poor urban design, lack of integration of infrastructure and poor land-use planning. Too often central government decisions about where to locate and invest in schools, prisons, roads and hospitals have happened in a vacuum cut off from local planning and decision making.

We must change this, and change it urgently.

So what about Auckland, as our first focus?

Urban affairs unit

I am hopeful that we will very shortly establish an urban affairs unit, operating with a whole-of-government mandate. The unit will report through a central government Chief Executive and will initially focus on Auckland. Later its work will extend to other metropolitan and significant centres. The unit will operate from both Wellington and Auckland, and form a bridge of communication to develop and deliver projects.

I expect that our presence in Auckland will help us contribute to solutions – from questions such as "how do we undo congestion?" to how we power our cities.

The central task of the unit will be to work with Auckland Councils, agencies and interests to coordinate a programme of action across government, local government, business and institutions. We want to achieve what we will say we will and to track, audit and report on our efforts.

The Sustainable Development programme of action has a comprehensive list of issues to guide decisions on work priorities. The list ranges from looking closely at legislation and regulatory controls, to removing legislative impediments to sustainable medium- and high-density housing, to addressing issues identified in the Auckland Region Economic Development Strategy, to finding innovative approaches for sorting out peak traffic congestion

I encourage you get a copy of the programme of action and check out the comprehensive list of priorities for yourself.

Focus on Infrastructure

We will also be working on key issues in Auckland such as infrastructure. Infrastructure can define a city, and shape our perception of whether the city works for us as individuals and society. The resources required to create, operate and replenish our current infrastructure are enormous- to deal with rapid growth even larger.

For our cities to remain productive and competitive, to grow and expand, we need a flexible resource-efficient infrastructure. It has to have the ability to adapt, to change, to grow.

At Otu-a-tau-a, innovations in the form of black rock solar heated garden beds (walls and heaps) extended the critical growing season for sub-tropical crops and helped manage water supplies. That infrastructure remains visible today.

What can we learn from this example?

Many of you in the audience are innovative designers, architects, and planners. You can help us to develop high performance buildings, resource efficient buildings, communities that use less energy, less water, and that process on site much of their storm water runoff. I would love to see an Auckland example of the Sydney Olympic village model to showcase our innovative use of technology in achieving this.

A sustainable development approach to infrastructure emphasises the need to integrate social, environmental and cultural objectives into planning and provision of services. The considerations are not just economic.

Changing the way we have previously done things can provide us with solutions. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and its Energywise companies have proved this over the last seven years. Energy wise companies have accumulated energy savings of over $200 million, have reduced their energy operating costs, and have reduced their CO2 emissions by 3.8 million tonnes.

To begin with, the work in Auckland will establish a focus on integrated action by government to resolve a backlog of system-wide and interconnected issues in metropolitan New Zealand, some of it the result of complex legislation.

Focus on quality of life Creating liveable cities will be another important focus of our work. The quality of life attainable in cities contributes to individual satisfaction and also to competitive edge – in terms of attracting and holding a skilled and productive population. (Wellington's ambience and stunning harbour attracts young professionals.)

I want to have liveable cities that support social well-being, quality of life and cultural identities – and cities that are centres of innovation and economic growth.

Aristotle once summarized the principles of city building "A city should be built to give its inhabitants security and happiness". I couldn’t agree more!

Ethnically our population is changing. We need to ensure that all communities can participate fully in society. This has implications for institutional structures, community cohesion and the maintenance and development of cultural and national identities.

Internationally, cities that give priority to cultural development are shown to be more attractive and desirable living environments, more socially cohesive and more economically dynamic.

Investments in providing different cultural experience for a range of cultural needs and preserving our heritage have been key success factors in the urban redevelopment of Wellington, Christchurch, Napier and Nelson.

Cultural well-being is central to achieving social well-being. Supporting our culture and heritage, helping people to have a positive sense of identity, can help address the social problems that are seen most acutely in New Zealand cities.

Economic development is also encouraged by creative urban renewal and adaptive reuse of historic areas. Cities that support cultural industries make progress towards other urban objectives, such as industry development, regional employment and developing a sustainable knowledge economy.

If New Zealand cities are to provide fully for the well-being of their people, the contribution of culture and heritage will need to be given explicit recognition in central, regional and local government planning.

Focus on Urban Design

The way we need to shape our urban areas is also changing. I mentioned previously that government was going to look at legislative barriers to high and medium density housing. The benefits from this type of housing include increasing density around transport nodes and around town and growth nodes. This, in turn, helps make public transport more viable. –It can also help revitalise declining areas, bringing enough people into an area to support business and services. Higher densities can make it easier and more cost effective to provide infrastructure.

But high and medium densities may often be resisted by existing communities who have grown up on their quarter acre pavlova paradise. We New Zealanders often want to live in lower density communities, or are not ready for the reality of living closer to each other in cities. We can get fed up with perceived invasion of privacy or find we can’t cope with the noise. In Wellington for example, there were 3251 complaints about noise in the first six months of 2001, while noise complaints from inner city dwellers made up 27 percent of the total, up from 15 percent three years ago.

So the challenge is to meet growth demand while protecting what communities’ value. Local government is already leading by example.

Councils big and small, from Waimakariri, Rotorua and Tasman District Councils to Christchurch, Palmerston North, Waitakere, and Auckland City Councils, have been talking to their communities. They have been piloting ways of working with the community to achieve liveable urban environments.

But they – and others like the New Zealand Institute of Architects, Local Government New Zealand and various individuals – keep telling me that we need a commitment at the national level.

The government has heard these concerns. We have responded within the Sustainable Cities programme to identify a specific project over the next 18 months to negotiate an Urban Design Accord.

The Accord will be modelled on the New South Wales Urban Design Charter. This comprehensively covers design considerations of the built environment, but in my view is deficient in the area of cultural perspectives.

Work on the Accord will be collaborative, and there will be opportunities for local government and professional groups to be closely involved.

While the Accord will be a high level commitment to excellence in design, it will lead to policies and concrete actions at the local level. We need to find better ways to communicate between regions and with the government. I believe that urban societies possess unique capacities for problem-solving that have yet to be fully applied to the sustainable development challenges of today. At a central level we need to support, share and evaluate innovations from metropolitan regions, here and abroad. As Minister with Responsibility for Urban Affairs I will convene each year a Ministerial and Metropolitan Mayoral Forum to debate and resolve political issues relating to urban sustainability and growth and innovation in metropolitan regions.

Focus on Environmental Standards

A further area of Urban Affairs work will be the development of a package of National Environmental Standards-designed to protect human health and the environment. They can be used to place limits on discharges to air, water and land. And we know that the water at many of our popular beaches – which, of course, are popular because they are near urban areas – is often not of high quality.

National environmental standards will establish environmental bottom lines around air, water, and noise for urban places.

We are also developing urban indicators to measure our quality of life and environmental quality in urban areas. Last year New Zealand’s six biggest cities produced a seminal report on indicators of quality of life. This year I want to see a better level of cooperation from central government in producing the second edition

So to sum up. The excitement and the difficulty of urbanism is that everything is so interconnected.

Whether we approach urbanism from a cultural, economic, social or environmental perspective, ultimately they all affect each other. That complexity is a reality of urban systems, which should encourage us to think about urban issues at a system level. For government, a sustainable development approach to urbanism brings an order and a framework for contemplating how to make progress and how to intervene to strengthen urban institutions.

Personally I like the notion of sustainable development, because it is about doing things. I’m looking forward to getting on and doing. I look forward to working with you along the path towards building sustainable cities.

This is not something government can do on its own. But as Minister with Responsibility for Urban Affairs you have my assurance that we will play our part.

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