This article is one in a series on the Start project (Sustaining the Auckland region together – see links at the foot of the page). To comment, click on The new BD Central Forum. If you want to contribute a more detailed article, either in response or advancing a topic, email [email protected].
Published 5 February 2007
The city-region is an entity whose importance in global trade is growing, the Start project says repeatedly. But the new Auckland governance structure favoured by Auckland’s politicians won’t be cohesive, so a key plank of the project starts out under siege.
The draft sustainability framework for Start (Sustaining the Auckland region together) was presented to the Auckland Regional Growth Forum in December and will go out for public submissions in March-April, with an intended July completion for the final document.
Also in December, councils of the region sent their views on a proposed governance structure to the Government. It would have a Greater Auckland Council, election system uncertain. But the fundamental restraint will be that existing councils will retain their existing territories and, pretty much, the same powers.
While there will be advocates for the role of the city-region, the internal power struggles will ensure it operates with difficulty. There will be plenty of people who fight to prevent it from dominating, and there will be plenty who fear its potential domination will be used unwisely.
Many would regard that as true Auckland: Unable to make up its mind. How, then, does this city-region make its way in the highly competitive tussle between these economic zones of the world?
The workshop paper for the Start project had this to say on globalisation: “Globalisation may be seen as increasingly focused on cities, where the majority of the world’s population now lives. Cities are now regarded by many as the driving sites of the world’s economy. Whilst this may be something of a simplistic statement, it is clear that cities are places of substantial activity, innovation & accumulation. It is cities and not countries which are competing globally & regionally.”
This view, applied to Auckland, ignores a lot, such as:
Produce through Auckland’s port is not just city-created or city-targeted
Tourism, a large & growing force in the New Zealand economy, draws on the rest of the country, particularly the thermal area & southern lakes
Tourism-related products such as Central Otago’s pinot noir and businesses such as para-skiing aren’t city businesses, though plenty of integration through cities is needed
Auckland, even if it creates many new avenues for economic gain, should still support growth elsewhere in the country, including in other cities
Jumping on somebody else’s current model of economic best practice doesn’t make it right for us
The New Zealand way is, if anything, to adapt practices regarded elsewhere as they way to do things rather than to adopt them
International businesses based elsewhere may support economic growth here but â€“ especially if they’re American â€“ can pull out suddenly if it suits a higher purpose.
While the points above should be noted, there are ways the region can advance economically, and basing some economic growth on attracting immigrants & businesses because of the quality of life & lifestyle if we can raise our standards & earnings while holding down local prices.
The workshop report says: “In Auckland, global companies & economies work in local competition within global structures (eg, Vodafone). Cities are often talked about in terms of fostering entrepreneurial & creative activities, but in a global context they are also sites of uneven development & class distinction, bringing with them unique sets of social problems.
“Globalisation favours cities which are well positioned geographically to targeted markets and which have well developed infrastructure, particularly transportation & communications, and are physically attractive with a unique cultural identity. Maximising the use of assets & capital (social, political, democratic, cultural, financial, technical & environmental capital) is required along with a strong long-term commitment to addressing weaknesses.
“In the Auckland context it is important also to emphasise the development of the whole city-region, especially as one of Auckland’s key attractions is the lifestyle opportunities & unique natural beauty offered by the city centre’s immediately surrounding areasâ€¦..
“To become a global city, Auckland will need to embrace & grow its knowledge economy, identify & express its uniqueness (cultural, environmental & social) and offer world-class transportation & communications facilities.
“Even then, while it may be able to compete in some areas, its small population size & geographical isolation will ensure it never becomes a mega city or a particularly significant player within the global economy. Auckland will always have to find & play to other strengthsâ€¦..
“The challenge will be to develop highly participatory processes focused on integrated problem-solving. This requires creating new organisational frameworks that capture the collective wisdom, creativity & technical skill of the people of the region and assisting in the development of an intelligent city that anticipates change and responds appropriately.”
2 of the benefits of having media sit in on political workshops like this are that the strength & spread of opinions can be gauged and a view from the outside can be delivered, often contrary to the view delivered from the top table. Media were excluded from some of the key economic & political workshops of 2006, and this was one of them.
I’ve told many councillors over the past year that holding counsel privately, then delivering a fait accompli, is no way to act. It almost assuredly delivers a solution which is unaccepted by outsiders purely because of the manner in which it’s done. Exclusion usually means at least a failure to understand, if not an unwillingness to understand what you’ve been working on.
So I haven’t asked the workshop organisers about the inevitability of “never becoming a mega city or a particularly significant player” and I don’t know if this “never” view found acceptance. But if Auckland’s politicians & bureaucrats stick to the view that “world-class” means you’ve attained the top level, as they seem to be doing, then they’re aiming for second-rate. “World-class” means you’re patting yourself on the back for being up with the big kids. Meanwhile, somebody else is striving to get ahead.
And the next paragraph, the challengeâ€¦.. This one looks like it’s from talkfest territory, where the solution lies in creating bureaucratic structures. We have enough structures. In fact, we have too many. But perhaps it was inserted to tell the politicians attending the workshop they’ve got it all wrong:
The current structures don’t encourage participation
Solutions aren’t integrated
People’s ideas aren’t gathered for collective advancement
The city-region doesn’t anticipate change and doesn’t know how to respond.
Outsiders â€“ members of the public & interest groups â€“ only attend council meetings to complain. Constructive communication between the 2 sides is rare. And if the message was to encourage politicians to bring about positive structural change, it doesn’t seem to have hit home yet.
In some areas some councils have become proactive â€“ Auckland City Council’s work on strategic development areas is an example where the combination of bureaucratic & public input will have benefits.
But the vision of taking that sort of work further towards the creation of a vibrant city-region seems a long way from the mostly locally focused thinking that abounds.
Glimpses of what to aspire to, and of globalisation opponents
However, away from their focus on local scrapping, workshop participants were given inklings of what Auckland could aspire to. In the detail on globalisation, the paper says leading-edge innovation is happening around the world: “The core cities of tomorrow will be found among those cities that excel at the new technologies: alternative energies and the integration of ICT, biotechnology & nanotechnology. Speculating which cities they will be is difficult at this time: while leading cities do currently exist, they may be overtaken.”
Among a range of world scenarios, the paper suggests: “What emerges as the centre of a new world economy may not be a single city as in the past. Rather, it may be a complex series of linked cities, or a federation of citiesâ€¦..
“At the same time, a substantial number of citizens in the West oppose the institutions that are being set up to facilitate the new world economy, such as the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments) & the WTO (World Trade Organisation).
“This movement objects to the loss of democratic control of the institutions that rule their lives. Whereas they had the potential to influence national institutions through elected legislature, there are no such elected legislatures controlling the MAI & the WTO. These individuals also fear the powers that these new institutions confer on transnational corporations. They are also concerned about the erosion of national health, safety, workplace, social security & environmental standards as competition in world economy markets drives a harmonisation on the minimum, not on the best.
“This movement is innovating a new social institution called civil society to act as a counterweight to the new transnational forces. Their efforts are facilitated by ICT, which makes it possible for small & widely dispersed groups to organise more effectively than in the past.”
21 January 2007: Start project: What it’s about
Attribution: Start workshops papers, story written by Bob Dey for this website.
This article is one in a series on the Start project. To comment, click on The new BD Central Forum. If you want to contribute a more detailed article, either in response or advancing a topic, email [email protected].