Adrienne Young-Cooper of Panuku sees her role as turning Auckland into the world's most liveable city. She talks to Bill Bennett.

Adrienne Young-Cooper brings with her a wealth of experience in urban redevelopment, property development and planning.

She is committed to the idea, most famously promoted by former mayor Len Brown, to turn Auckland into the world's most liveable city.

She puts building a sustainable, vibrant urban community at the top of her agenda for the Council's development and regeneration agency. "In particular, I know how to use special purpose entities to achieve public good outcomes; things that will endure," says Young-Cooper.

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"One aspect of being on the Panuku board is that you end up being the owner as well as the developer. It means you have to live with the results of investments. This is unlike the usual developer role."

Young-Cooper is a qualified company director with 30 years' experience in the public sector. She also understands what Auckland is today and where the city is going.

Her professional involvement with the city began whenshe workedearly in her career as a town planner for the old Auckland City Council.

Later she was on the board of ARTNL, the Auckland Regional Transport Network Ltd, when the organisation had the job of running Britomart and re-establishing rail in the city centre.

Today she chairs the Housing New Zealand board. She is also a director of the NZ Transport Agency and Hobsonville Land Company.

Among the challenges the mayor and councillors have set, Young-Cooper and Panuku are preparing for climate change, making the city more child-friendly, more walkable, easier to get around and more interesting.

Many seem a good fit with Young-Cooper's experience in town planning. "Most of these things come down to what the Council and private sector developers do. In particular, it is what they do around the city centre and the town centres. This is the critical role for Panuku."

Transport is one of the thorniest issues facing Auckland. Young-Cooper says: "We need to stop thinking of Auckland as being a village where you can drive from one side to the other to run errands visiting five different locations. We got used to being able to drive all over the city.

"While public transport is now much better, the sheer number of people travelling means it has become harder to drive all over the city. Recently, the Council unanimously adopted a proposal that cars can come to the central city, but not drive through the city. It's an incredibly powerful idea."

She says the central city is well served by motorways and by public transport; it is easy to get to, but it doesn't need to be a through route.

Young-Cooper likes to talk of "the right transport mode for the journey", which means the car isn't always the best option. She says there's a transition point where we don't automatically get into our car for every journey. When that happens people start to be a lot more thoughtful about how they travel.

"We will get to a stage in, say, 50 years, where people will be able to do much of what they need to do in a much more constrained area. The idea of catching a bus, walking, getting a scooter or whatever technology turns up becomes doable and you might only get in a car once a week. If you even have a car", she says.

In city terms Auckland is still growing up. Young-Cooper says it is on track to become a major city in much the same way as, say, Sydney or Melbourne. "We're currently 1.6 million. By the turn of the next century we'll probably be at least three million. At that point we'll look like Melbourne was 10 years ago."

For Young-Cooper the risk is that Auckland could grow into a great city of suburbs. She says to avoid that we need vibrant urban town centres.

The good news is that there are a number of opportunities to build on earlier public transport investment to make that happen.

Brownfield development — which means looking at investments that have already been made in efficient mass transit, then looking at the opportunities to back-fill areas with much higher density urban development.

Two examples are Avondale and Panmure. She says both have great transport access but there is also a lot of council-owned land that can be developed.

There is also Housing New Zealand and other Crown-owned land.

"This means we can reimagine what these suburbs can become as town centres. We're already seeing a huge uplift in the number of apartments."

Other places with potential include Onehunga, which will have light rail, and Manukau centre which has a transport hub.

Young-Cooper talks of an alignment between town-planner longterm thinking and the Maori perspective.

"It means you look back as much as you look forward. If you look back to the first European settlement of Auckland, you can still see the pattern of that in the landscape today. "The roads are still there. Queen Street is still there. The big trees are still there. The reclamation work is still there.

"If you project that forward say to 100 years in the future, we will see the things we are doing today.

Twenty-second century Auckland is being built right now. An obvious example is the City Rail Link, but there is also what is happening at Wynyard and with light rail which is coming right into the city centre; how we are thinking about population and how many people should live in the city. There are so many things happening now, including building on new areas 30 or 40km from the city. All of these will shape how the city looks in the future".

Building a city

● Auckland Council appointed Adrienne Young-Cooper to chair the Panuku Development board in September.
● Panuku manages about $2 billion worth of land and buildings owned by Auckland Council.
● As a council-controlled organisation, it has the job of implementing the Auckland Plan.
to build the future city