Dick Hubbard: Give us a city to be be proud of Len

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A former mayor of Auckland writes an open letter to the leader of the Super City as he starts his second term.

Sustainability ought to be the leitmotif of  Len Brown's stewardship.  Photo / Richard Robinson
Sustainability ought to be the leitmotif of Len Brown's stewardship. Photo / Richard Robinson

Dear Len,

You may recall I wrote an open letter to you via these pages just after you were elected as the first mayor of our new Super City.

Three years later we now find the Super City structure is reasonably well bedded down, the wheels have not come off and the prophets of doom have been found wanting. This is a tribute to your stewardship over the first three years.

However, now it is the time to think clearly about your coming three years. You have obviously been doing this as occasioned by your scorecard just released and your four-pillar approach - community, transport, environment and economic priorities.

This is all laudable but I now want to lay down the challenge for you to go even further and higher. It is well known that American presidents, and indeed political leaders everywhere, tend to change their style of leadership from the first to the second term. In the second term they inevitably want to be remembered as a "statesman" and aim to be remembered for setting a vision and a path that will only be truly recognised well after they are gone.

Legacy stuff indeed.

I challenge you to now step forward, step up and do just that. And how do you achieve this lofty goal? I suggest to you that the answer is deceptively simple.

In the past few days you have talked about your four pillars approach for the coming three years. I challenge you to now have these pillars joined into one overall uniting vision. Pull that off and that will be true greatness.

I believe the one uniting concept word that is lacking at the moment to join your pillars together is that of "sustainability". Sustainability should be the word, the policy and the vision that brings your whole city building programme together. And yet I am not so far hearing that word mentioned with any force.

Do not shudder at this "s" word as many do. The actual word is itself not important. What is important is the concept of building a city that is truly resource responsible and building a city that recognises the inevitability of the fact that we cannot live in the future as we are now. What is important is using the overarching principles of sustainability to drive all your initiatives on transport, urban design, intensification, economic development and the myriad of other programmes needed.

A truly sustainable city is one that thinks of and plans for the quality of life of not just its citizens today, but for many future generations ahead. It recognises the inevitability that we are not just going to live in the future in a carbon constrained world but also a resource constrained world. Airy fairy stuff? Not if you love your grandchildren.

You talk evocatively of your desire for Auckland to become the world's most liveable city. That's commendable. But I believe you cannot do it unless you enthusiastically and wholeheartedly commit Auckland to leadership in sustainability. Do not think you are nearly there by assessments through "tourist eyes" such as the recent Lonely Planet one that rated us as the world's 10th most visitable city. Such assessments are shallow, transitory, diversionary and dangerous. Now for the good news. Evidence from cities overseas clearly shows that citizens very rapidly become proud of living in a city committed to a clearly articulated sustainability path.

As mayor of Auckland City I visited Kyoto city, the Japanese city made famous as the origin of the Kyoto Protocol. The city leadership there has made a commitment to "walk the talk" in sustainability. In the centre of town is a huge big "thermometer" of the old-fashioned fundraising type. Only this one was designed to go down, not up. The measure - greenhouse gas emissions produced by the city each year. The target - being a carbon neutral city. Pie in the sky? Well, they are well over halfway there already. And the citizens love it and are hugely proud of it.

Time and time again in cities around the world bold leadership in sustainability has been shown to pay electoral dividends. You never ever hear of a city being "desustainabilised".

City leaders that go down the sustainability path sell the message that sustainability, correctly applied, is an investment in their cities, not a cost.

The science is there for you. There is a huge pool of knowledge in cities of what works and what does not. There are very powerful mayoral networks in sustainability for you to tap into. There is a rich smorgasbord out there of tried and true sustainability techniques.

And you have in place already a very powerful force right under your nose It is your Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse. She has the passion, the Waitakere experience and an intimate knowledge of world best practice in sustainability. You and her, both showing strong and determined leadership in this area, would make a very powerful leadership model.

New Zealand has a worldwide reputation as an exemplar of what can be done and we often lead by example on the international stage. Unfortunately in the area of sustainability our international leadership is somewhat lacking. Here is your chance to turn that round, to do something very major for not only your city but indeed your country.

Pull this one off Len and I believe you will legitimately be able to lay claim to being the architect of "The World's Most Liveable City". You might well be eligible for recognition in the 200th anniversary edition of the NZ Herald due out in mid-November 2063.

Best wishes,
Dick Hubbard
Former mayor - Auckland City

- NZ Herald

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