Infrastructure Report: Agility, knowledge economy key for Auckland as an emerging global city

Aecom's James Rosenwax.
Aecom's James Rosenwax.

James Rosenwax says Auckland should focus on agility and the knowledge economy as it continues to emerge as a dynamic global city.

Rosenwax leads Aecom's Australia and New Zealand cities practice. He recently authored a report on using innovation to transform Australian cities.

He says Auckland is already on the radar for many of the world's major companies.

The Economist Intelligence Unit rates Auckland as the world's eighth most liveable city. Yet Rosenwax says being seventh on the Jones Lang LaSalle Investment Intensity Index is more important.

"The JLL index is a measure of a city's ability to attract investment from global corporations", he says.

Rosenwax say his company, Aecom, a global infrastructure and engineering design company, has identified Auckland as one of four incubator cities alongside Singapore, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Businesses like Aecom are interested in investing in Auckland partly because of the strength of the city's natural assets.

He says the clean, green New Zealand brand is important to the rest of the world and it doesn't take long for them to realise it is real: "You only have to look around Auckland to see it's a beautiful place".

A second factor is good governance. One advantage Auckland has over other cities is that there are fewer bureaucratic layers.

"There is only the central government and the Super City. There is no state government. From the rest of the world's perspective that makes Auckland a lot simpler to deal with. It also helps that New Zealand is politically stable. Investors like that."

Auckland's geographic position is another advantage. Rosenwax says the city is regionally well-placed to do business with Australia and Asia. He says that's important as the global financial centre of gravity is shifting from the west to the east. The relationship with China is a further huge positive in his eyes.

All these advantages only get a city so far. The world is not static and it is vital to stay abreast of the big trends affecting Auckland's potential.

Rosenwax says a global trend Auckland needs to take note of today is agility, in a number of aspects. "We need to be able to adapt to rapidly changing technology. We can't predict with certainty what will happen in 20 years' time. Government policy needs to be positioned to move quickly and people need to understand that things are changing fast. That means accepting change and embracing it."

Just as important as agility is readiness for the knowledge economy.

"The key part of this is innovation ecosystems. We published a report on the key ingredients for installing innovation ecosystems.

"We found that governance is critical, it's a real public-private partnership. You have to be agile and fast when it comes to seeing an opportunity, taking the opportunity and delivering the necessary infrastructure. Sometimes New Zealand trips itself with the amount of time it takes to get approvals", he says.

Businesses like Aecom are interested in investing in Auckland partly because of the strength of the city's natural assets.
Businesses like Aecom are interested in investing in Auckland partly because of the strength of the city's natural assets.

Rosenwax says there is an opportunity for New Zealand to speed up, to become agile in responding to opportunities.

A knowledge economy means having a digital infrastructure in place. He says the fibre network currently being built will be one of the reasons Auckland ranks so high in the JLL Investment Index.

Rosenwax says an innovation ecosystem needs a globally recognised school or college as an anchor tenant. He says: "These typically specialise in one area, so in San Francisco the University of California Berkeley is next to the area of Emeryville which specialises in biotech. These schools become feeders of talent into the innovation ecosystem."

He says the University of Auckland should look to partner with a global education brand like Harvard or MIT. "These partnerships can attract the world's best talent and the institutions are looking for global partnerships to get in to other cities."

In the past you would have seen business parks emerge to service an innovation ecosystem. Rosenwax says that's changed. "Now we're seeing placemaking to create a diverse business environment.

"Placemaking is how you activate a space and a community. It comes down to liveability but it also depends on social engagement and the liveliness of a city, region or town centre. A place that also embraces arts and culture. Auckland is in a strong position to make this work. Here it has authenticity. The way New Zealand embraces the traditional owners of the land is a real asset for the nation", he says.

One of the global trends that Auckland is seeing today is what Rosenwax calls the "flipping of the transport hierarchy". He says; "Traditionally roads have been the priority, but now, around the world you're seeing active transport - that's pedestrians and cyclists - becoming the priority. If you leave shopping precincts for walkers and cyclists, you'll get more retail activity."

We found that governance is critical, it's a real public-private partnership. You have to be agile and fast when it comes to seeing an opportunity, taking the opportunity and delivering the necessary infrastructure.

"In Copenhagen, the city has closed off streets to cars and the zones have prospered. In Sydney, the city closed George St, which was a major thoroughfare. It's time to get cars out of your cities, pedestrianise large parts of downtown Auckland and reprioritise access", he says.

Part of this means using new technologies and ideas, in particular ride sharing and car sharing. Ride sharing means services like Uber. Rosenwax says; "Car sharing is the future of car rentals where there is a car that sits in the street that anyone can use. In Australia the service is called GoGet, it has 50,000 users and the growth of the service has been exponential".

Another role for technology is use big data techniques. We can use the data that we get from our transport agencies and our telcos to optimise the transport infrastructure.

Rosenwax says in the long term Auckland should look at building a metro transport network. This uses driverless vehicles and services that are so frequent a timetable isn't necessary.

Sydney is building its metro now, but the cost is high and we don't have the population to justify the cost yet. He says instead of expanding the suburban rail network it would make more sense to invest in bus rapid transit now and build a metro system later.

Auckland's most obvious placemaking opportunity is the waterfront. Rosenwax says if he was in charge of the city his top priority would be to move the port.

He says: "I go down there and I see cars parked on the waterfront right in the city centre. There's an opportunity to reconnect the city with the harbour. Moving the port out of town would allow Auckland to develop to its area of expertise and specialisation".

One of the problems the city's leaders face is planning and zoning. Rosenwax says the idea is probably dead and that we need new ways of looking at how we build the city, how we live and work."

Rosenwax says planning came from the industrial revolution. The factories were dirty and there were incompatible land uses. "We're now seeing new industries, new employment and there is more compatibility between land uses. It means we'll have to relax some of our planning requirements to provide greater agility and flexibility. There's no reason why you can't co-locate modern industry with residential areas", he says.

- NZ Herald

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