Auckland Mayor Len Brown's goal to create the world's most liveable city has suffered a blow after an international strategy guru rated Wellington and pre-earthquake Christchurch ahead of the Queen City.
"We doubt that Auckland is the most liveable city in the country, no less the world," says Hong Kong-based Professor Michael Enright.
"We'd put Wellington first in New Zealand and pre-earthquake Christchurch second, sorry," he said in the Auckland chapter of a report on New Zealand's competitiveness.
Auckland, Professor Enright said, lacked entertainment and cultural facilities, still depended on cars to get around and needed to move the container port off the most important piece of land in New Zealand for an iconic building.
"We should ask, 'What is the value of the Sydney Opera House to Sydney, or the Eiffel Tower to Paris?'
"While foreign impressions of Auckland are positive, very few foreigners can name a single thing that is distinctive about the city," the report said.
Some of his strongest criticism was directed at the CBD, calling the $45 million upgrade of the Aotea Centre a "concrete jungle" and bemoaning the lack of a world-class entertainment or nightlife district, like a Times Square.
"Queen St, which should be the Champs Elysees, the Fifth Ave of Auckland, is deteriorating ... there is limited outdoor cafe culture near the city centre."
Professor Enright said Auckland's first priority should be a mass transit system, including the city rail loop, followed by revitalising the CBD - calling the $45 million upgraded Aotea Square a "concrete jungle" - and an end to urban sprawl in favour of an "overall denser Auckland".
That would lead to a "complete change" in what Aucklanders consider the ideal lifestyle, including giving up the house in the suburbs and the car.
Many of these ideas are contained in the Auckland Plan - a 30-year blueprint for the city - but Professor Enright said the plan was not bold enough and Auckland might arrive in 2040 prepared for 2022.
Mr Brown said Professor Enright had not pulled any punches with his take on Auckland and its competitiveness, but the two of them agreed on what was critical for the city.
"His view would be that we need to move at a faster pace," said Mr Brown.
"My view is that we need to bring Auckland along and do it in a way that is reasonably affordable and we can justify."
Asked about moving the container port, Mr Brown said there was considerable discussion about port development.
"The cost of shifting the port would be absolutely prohibitive but that doesn't mean we completely close it off as an option. Short-term it's problematic," Mr Brown said.
Medium and long term we can continue to have a discussion, he said.
The report, New Zealand's Competitiveness: competitiveness at the leading edge, was sponsored by the Government and an Auckland Council body, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed).