I’ve lived in Auckland for 16 years. I moved here from the South Island, never thinking at the time that I would be here this long. I’ve lived out west, east, and north and I’ve travelled all over the wide expanse that now constitutes the ‘Super City’. My kids have spent the vast majority of their lives here and unconsciously describe themselves as Aucklanders, which sometimes offends my brittle Cantabrian sensibilities. All in all, this city is my home and I will happily admit that I sometimes take the best of it for granted, whilst focusing on the worst but the worst can be hard to ignore, especially when I think about what this city has been and what it could be.
There is no doubt that Auckland is surrounded by stunning natural beauty – the volcanoes, the Hauraki Gulf, the Waitakere ranges, and the beaches. Then there is the city itself – which is very often breathtaking from particular vantage points. There’s no shortage of destinations for walking, swimming, cycling, hiking, or day tripping. It’s a city that has developed fantastic opportunities for exercise and leisure. In this way, Auckland is world class.
However, Auckland suffers most of all from a lack of imagination, planning and delivery in other aspects – essentially infrastructure related. Anyone in doubt about the city’s inexhaustible love affair with roads, for example, need only drive for a short while before being confronted with the most popular item in town – the road cone. Any job, big or small, seemingly necessitates a plague of road cones to mark out the work and the no go areas. Anyone looking for a hot stock tip would be wise to invest in the road cone industry. It’s booming.
Now sure, roads require maintenance, of course they do. But historically, Auckland has thrown away so much, solely to quench its desire for more and more roads, motorways, flyovers and tunnels. And still there is congestion and huge delays on a network where one accident can bring everything to a halt.
Back in the day, trams transported Aucklanders all over the city but the lines were ripped up in the 1950s to make way for more roads and for the motorway system. It beggars belief that such a lack of foresight could occur, until one remembers that the Auckland Harbour Bridge, constructed in the 1950s was essentially obsolete when it was opened and four additional clip on lanes had to be added to cope with requirements in the late 1960s.
Auckland is growing and will continue to grow and there needs to be some very serious thought about how to establish a functional infrastructure to cope with it. Our water storage facilities are in dire need of development, as the shortage of the resource this year illustrates. As the population has bloomed, the action to cater to the city’s needs has not.
I don’t believe this can be left to politicians or to politics. The light rail programme was delayed this year when coalition parties objected to the options and there is too much at stake to continue flogging the dead road horse, without creating other transport alternatives to alleviate the congestion.
Imagination and action and a sense of creating something now, with the future in mind, is well overdue. If Auckland could get that right, then this city would truly be world class. How great would that be?