Through the looking glass


    This week, we put the first of a series of questions to Auckland Central candidates for next month’s general election (See page 16).

    Given that the supercity reforms of 2010 were about transforming the City of Sails into New Zealand’s economic powerhouse, our first question was designed to see how well that might be going for its citizens.

    It’s an election which is increasingly (and atypically for recent years) becoming about values and the downside of a chimeric goal of economic growth: housing shortages and third-world illnesses, austerity consciousness, precarious employment, youth suicide and a general disregard for the endowment and wellbeing of future generations.

    “It’s impossible not to discuss houses when talking about Auckland: the city has a housing shortage and over-inflated prices,” – Monocle Magazine

    Since it’s interesting to see ourselves as others see us, it was useful to note that Auckland is again in the also-rans in this year’s Monocle magazine ratings for the world’s top 25 most liveable cities. It was in ninth place in 2012 when Mayor Len Brown’s new supercity was promising enlightened intensification, inner city redevelopment and better public transport.
    However, and with housing difficulties increasingly attracting demerits, the city slid to twelfth, seventeenth and, in 2016 and 2017, to twenty-second.

    The world-wide magazine attracts an almost cult following among its international readers and describes itself as ‘a briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design’. Gulf News has followed its annual ratings since editor in chief Tyler Brulé held the Monocle’s Auckland event for readers at Oneroa’s Oyster Inn.

    This year, the top city was Tokyo, which the magazine describes as “a big city on a human scale”. Melbourne was rated fifth and Sydney seventh.

    “It’s impossible not to discuss houses when talking about Auckland: the city has a housing shortage and over-inflated prices,” says the commentary.

    “It’s a situation fuelled by the appeal of living in the City of Sails. About 56,000 people a year move to this cultural melting pot with its temperate climate, pretty beaches, thriving arts and food sectors and business opportunities.”

    Restaurants, parks and art along the redeveloped waterfront have given Auckland the physical heart it once lacked, said the magazine, but it concluded that the housing crisis “must be addressed properly for the positives to outweigh the negatives”.

    “Last July the Auckland Unitary Plan was revised to allow for higher-density housing. In May the government announced that 34,000 homes will be built on Crown land over the next decade.

    “Watch this space,” it says.

    There is a warning in the words. Editor Andrew Tuck, describing the metrics that the Monocle team develops to measure its ‘liveability’ of cities each year, says even the subtlest shifts in how we live, work, play and fall in love can confound anyone who is out to rank cities for quality of life.

    Every such shift is likely to have unintended consequences, he says. “Take the push for increased urban density: a dry term for asking people to live in smaller apartments, taller buildings and with a lot of space-saving devices.

    “Yes, great to have a home in a booming city but if you shrink people’s living spaces then they will place ever greater value on access to green space, river walks and roof-top hangouts.

    “Not since Victorian times have parks been seen as so vital to a city’s mental and physical welfare. So, yes, we make sure that we count the trees, aware that each patch of green can restore a frazzled mind at the end of a long day.”

    Younger people waiting a decade longer before having children than their parents can also generate similar perceptual effects like demands for evening entertainment that would have been irrelevant to people starting families at an earlier age.

    Tuck points out that larger seismic shifts in our thinking in response to political events like Brexit and the US election have left many people reflecting on the more emotional elements of quality of life in cities.

    Do I feel comfortable here? Am I welcome?

    “Many now look at rankings such as ours with renewed urgency,” says Tuck. “Quality of life may rest on some bedrock notions but it’s also as changeable as us – and our politicians.” Liz Waters

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