As people move into the city from the suburbs, a new, different urban community is evolving, writes James Penn.

In any fast-growing city, visitors and workers flock there for business opportunities combined with enjoying its lifestyle and character; but in doing so, the growth of the city that they drive seems to threaten that very lifestyle and character.

Challenging that paradox seems to sit at the core of Viv Beck's mission as chief executive of Heart of the City.

While technically a business association, it appears the goals of Heart of the City are broader.

Says Beck, "It's that growing sense of community ... not just having a physical heart to the city. It's that soul. And we're starting to notice it."


Beck points to Splice community group's Random Acts of Kindness Day as an example of where Heart of the City has been able to use its network and influence to promote a community-focused initiative that builds a collective culture.

"People are interested in that. They're interested in having a successful business, but in the end, it is about the community we all live and work in," Beck says.

"We saw it with the America's Cup parade, where businesses that had a particularly good vantage point were making more of an occasion of it.

"As people start to move into the city, say from a home in the suburbs, it's starting to find a new urban form of community that would be different from a house in the suburbs."
Heart of the City describes their role as both amplifying and advocating - particularly as the central city grows.

While the geographic size of Heart of the City's remit is limited (around 0.08 per cent of the Auckland region), the economic scale is much weightier. The city centre generates $16 billion in gross domestic product - which is 20 per cent of Auckland's GDP; and 7.5 per cent of the entire country's GDP.

This makes Auckland city centre the fourth largest economic region in New Zealand behind only Wellington, Canterbury, and Waikato - when it comes to regional GDP.
Heart of the City focuses on four visitation pillars in its promotion and events work: dining, events, shopping, and arts and culture.

"To be a successful city centre, you want people to know what's on," says Beck. "But you want to make sure you've got a great offering for them to come in and enjoy."

Heart of the City is directly involved in the organisation of events - such as Restaurant Month, Artweek, and Four Days of Fashion; helping other events get off the ground and promoting others through digital channels.

Most Auckland urbanites will likely have encountered Heart of the City's website or Facebook page when seeking information about restaurants or festivals.
In the year to September 2017, received 2.3 million visits, while its Facebook page received 700,000 engagements.

Restaurant Month saw consumers spend 10.6 per cent more in 2017 than they did during the 2016 campaign,

The organisation has developed an "always on" marketing strategy. But while the scale of activity is certainly growing, Beck wants to see the nature of that activity continue to change.

"You can see it in Britomart: you might go one day and there might be a fashion show; another day there might be a big screen with a game on," says Beck. "You think about Federal Square, you think about the Viaduct area, Aotea Square; people are starting to enjoy the city in different ways. We've got a very diverse group of people living here now, and looking for different things."

Event-wise, the big ticket items on everyone's long term agenda in the CBD are the America's Cup and Apec conference in 2021.

Heart of the City's next three-year strategic plan is currently being developed with a focus on preparing the city for those events.

"Clearly what we've got to make sure is that the offering continues to expand," says Beck. "The promise of a unique and world class destination will be on show, and we've got to make sure the right things happen over those three years."

"It's the time we would've been doing that anyway, but it is an added impetus that we have got those events - and we've got to make sure that the city is as great as it can be at that time."

The less glamorous - but equally important - side of the organisation's role is advocacy. This includes acting as a conduit between city centre businesses and various other community groups.

"We're even involved in projects around the fact that you've got a city centre with limited space, and you've got to be thinking pretty innovatively about how you manage things like servicing and loading and rubbish management," explains Beck.

"They're not our functions specifically - we don't deliver on them - but we want to be part of those conversations to make sure that the city works as optimally as it can."

Another example is advocacy to ensure minimal disruption to Albert St companies that may be affected by the work on the City Rail Link.

Then there is tackling inner city homelessness.

"We're not a social service provider," admits Beck. "But we can see that there are people homeless on the streets, and we know that that's not good for the people and it's not great for a whole lot of other reasons in terms of various other impacts."

Heart of the City have been working with LifeWise and Auckland City Mission to develop a solution. The result has been the Housing First programme, which received significant government funding in 2017, including a $27m contribution to a $75m housing complex being constructed.

"Central government, local government, social service providers, and groups like ours have come together to support one internationally proven solution," reports Beck.

"It means that energy is going behind one solution rather than a whole lot of different ones."
In a world where pessimism about "growth pains" of the city are seemingly omnipresent, those responsible for the development of its core appear palpably optimistic.

"There will be massive change in the next 3-5 years," Beck summarises. "There are a whole lot of people delivering different parts of the physical and social development of the city, and the role we play is trying to make sure that people are collaborating and we've got a bit of a burning platform: we want it to be as great as it can be by 2021."
"I must admit, I do get excited about it."