The prospect of some enlightenment on Auckland’s future, from a commanding view, bode well. So did a slow and easy evening rideÂ through the domain.
However, as unenlightened as most of our media discourse is, I’m generally positive about any discussion about our city’s future. Hell, even a quasi-transmogrified John Banks can’t really rile me up too much. Mostly I’m just glad that finally our urban landscape, and the life within it, is finally getting a look in.
With getting people on bicycles being inextricably bound to our city’s salvation, and transport being the main issue on voting Aucklanders’ minds, I was really looking forward to Late at the Museum, featuring stellar (and cycling) economic guru Rod Oram, architect Pete Bossley, and transport planner Chris Harris, inquisited by the invariably interesting Finlay Macdonald. And aural enhancement courtesy of Miho Wada, Scratch 22, The Drab Doo-Riffs, and Popstrangers.
As a thing, Late is exactly the kind of â€˜salon’ experience that a grown up burg should be fielding â€“ a genuine mashup of ideas, music, and interesting people in an environment so steeped in our shared history that you feel something good is gonna come our way, come what may. Â And as an economics know-nothing I had been inspired by a previous Late in which serious players on our economic landscape (on stage and on the floor), had managed to expand my horizons, helped by some super warbling by the Bellbirds. Did I mention that arriving via the domain is a damned fine ride?
So why did the Thursday’s panel discussion leave me, quietly contemplating the next flight to Copenhagen?
If nothing else, appropriate to its neon-ized nomenclature, Late was illuminating: We got some sobering background to Auckland’s dysfunction, and some interesting international perspective.
Most of us are already familiar with the tragedy in two parts in which Robbie’s farsighted public transport plans were iced by the other Rob.. the Muldoon one, and in their later incarnation being stymied by Stephen Joyce’s obsession with being able to drive to Wellsford before his cupholdered coffee gets cold. Less well known, is that by international standards, Auckland has far less control of its own resources than most cities in the OECD. The panel’s consensus, emphasized that we are little more than a colony of Wellington, with weak economic and political clout.
Various speakers reflected on how governments have tried to inflict architectural sports themed follies on our waterfront, yet treated Aucklanders patronizingly anytime we’ve wanted to direct our our money towards solving our transport woes. Comparisons were made with the US struggle for independence from its colonial masters, and the â€˜no taxation without representation’ alluded to a potential form of (last resort) rebellion that might see Aucklanders finally get control over its own infrastructure.
Inexplicably, transport was sidelined. Rod Oram offered some hope by way of mentioning we’re the sixth most diverse city in the world, and by the fact of our fast population growth: we are simply going to have to build a lot of new smarter, higher density buildings in the near future, and there is a good chance they will reshape our urban landscape – in a good way.
I was really looking forward to Pete Bossley’s perspective, but I was surprised to hear him express such a lassez-faire attitude. Sprawl, just… is. Apparently. Whatever happens, just… happens. And Auckland’s urban future will be great as long as it’s… â€œsurprisingâ€. If that’s really how it is Pete, then I will agree with you with your other point: That we get the cities we deserve.
If you’re wondering why such an un-cycle-specific post is turning up in this blog; well, that is kind of the point. Â Hell, as a designer and someone (for want of a better cliche) ‘passionate’ about his city’s potential, my perspective is going to be wider than cycle lanes. But arriving at such a large congregation of the urbane, in expectation of great ideas along with a good time, I was genuinely surprised to be parking the only bicycle to be seen; moreover, in a discussion about a city most beset with issues of transport, and people frustrated with it, cycling wasn’t even alluded to.
Late is great Â- no question, but this time it was also a leveler. While the background and analysis was informative, I didn’t see a lot of vision.
Did I miss something?
Sure, I don’t expect to have Auckland’s problems solved in an hour long panel discussion, and whitewashing the real issues isn’t going to do urban renewal any favours. But I know that we’re not short of good ideas, they just need to be visualized for a broader public, rather than filtered through red-herring debates around sports arenas and party central, as mainstream media is wont to do – or as at Late, being bogged in the mire of our blighted urban history. I don’t doubt that the panelists all possess insight into how Auckland can become the great city we yearn for. But if our ‘thought leaders’ are unwilling to articulate some solutions Auckland’s transport issues,Â then perhaps the rest of us are going to have to wrestle for the handlebars of the debate.
For that, we won’t have to wait long:Â Cycle Action Auckland has an Urban Design Event on September 30. If nothing else, cycling will get a mention.