For years urban planners have talked about building liveable cities. Michala Lander wants to take that idea a step further.
Her goal is to create loveable cities. She says we aim to make our homes loveable and that we should have the same ambition when planning cities like Auckland.
Lander is the Auckland-based technical director of social planning for professional services firm GHD which advises on architecture and design, buildings, digital, energy and resources, environmental, geosciences, project management, transport and more.
For the last 15 years, she has led teams across Australia and New Zealand in planning and developing social and community infrastructure in areas such as education, health, open space, sports, and recreation facilities.
"When you look at what makes a liveable city there are a lot of metrics, but they assume each place is the same," she says. "Loveable is about embracing what is different about a place and celebrating those differences. It is about understanding the essence of a place.
"This is less about how it measures up against other places or cities and more about looking at how it can be made better in its own way."
Lander explains that when working to create a liveable city, planners might consider, say, the number of park benches a city needs. That would be a liveable city metric.
Building a loveable city means going beyond worrying about the number of benches and, instead, asking questions like: "Are people using them?"; "How much time do they spend there" and "Why do they go there in the first place"?
This is harder to nail down.
Lander says there isn't a simple formula for making places loveable, it's an organic process.
To help that process she has worked with others to develop an approach where planners focus on a place's existing strengths and build on them. A key part of this is not papering over the imperfections.
"Love is not about making everything perfect," she observes. "It sounds cheesy, but when you really love someone, you accept the little quirks that go with them.
"We focus on what we can celebrate about a place and maybe make a joke about the things that don't work. It could be those things will be fixed one day, maybe they won't.
That's not important.
"I worked on a project on Tasmania's West Coast, a place where it just rained all the time. That's part of the culture of the place. You can't fix it. You know it is going to be wet, that's just a quirk of the place, but there are all these other strengths to celebrate, so you can laugh about the little quirks and focus on the things that make it special."
While making a city loveable might sound indulgent and soft, there's a hard-headed economic reality behind the idea. Lander says: "If we focus on what people love, we attract people. That means we attract talent. Talent attracts industry and, in turn, attracts investment. You get a positive feedback cycle."
The opposite is equally true. Neglect a place and people leave, businesses pull out, you end up in a downward spiral. The place becomes desolate and empty, you can end up with increased crime, it can be scary and become a place no one wants to go.
A key element of loveable, is being different or even unique.
When Lander was working in Australia, city planners went through a phase of transit-oriented development. This is where planners create a dense mix of commercial, residential and leisure development within walking distance of a railway or bus station.
"I'm all for transit-oriented development, but that doesn't mean building a Westfield at every station. If you go down that route, every place in your city soon looks the same with all the regular franchises in every place.
"In Sydney, the metro system works so well because it changes the function of parts of the city. You can have areas that specialise in different things. So, this station is a place where sport happens, that station is where you go to shopping malls and another station is at the cultural precinct. Each of those functions can then be a catalyst for growth in the area."
Sydney's planners opted for a three cities strategy. Each has a different focal point, there's the Eastern Harbour city, the Central River city and the Western Parkland city.
Lander says Auckland has its own amazing narrative that weaves its way through the wider city area. "There is so much bush, so much birdlife and natural diversity that it lends itself to a parkland city in places, but then you have Mission Bay which has a very different feel, you go there for a different experience. It's a question of identifying what goes on in these areas and celebrating them."
One aspect of Auckland that impressed Lander when she returned to New Zealand after living and working in Australia was how, in the meantime, it had embraced Te Reo and Māori culture. "There's a lot more recognition of cultural values. I created the idea of Loveable when I was in Australia — we included the idea of a place being connected to the country. That's an indigenous concept in Australia.
"New Zealand has its own Te Ao Māori and Whakapapa concepts. To some extent that is part of the recognition of the natural environment and the recognition of place. It's a beautiful way of connecting."
Culture, in the wider sense, is an essential element of creating loveable places. Lander says: "Just as our culture and heritage shapes who we are as people and where we are going, the culture and heritage of our cities should shape where they are going."
Loveable places don't have to be exceptional. While there are places that we like to say are "world-famous in New Zealand", there is much that is more modest while still being loveable.
Lander says if you think about your neighbourhood, you'll know where you can get the best coffee, and which shop sells the best pies. "Sometimes that pie shop is so special people will travel from all over to visit the pie shop and it becomes a feature of the place. These things work on different levels, and they are not necessarily static, but there can be enough of them with inherent characteristics that make a place somewhere that people know and enjoy".
You can work to highlight and maximise a place's loveability, but Lander says you can't fake it. "When you use the term 'love', you need to be authentic. Otherwise, people are not going to trust you. It has to come from within and different people will regard different things as being loveable, that's okay."
Where does loveable fit into the bigger city planning picture? Lander says it is about getting people to aspire to more than being able to tick off some metrics of what you should have in a city. It's about asking how those things fit into the broader picture and what people's experience is going to be like. "It's about what is unique for a place and what works for that place. It isn't necessarily going to work for another place. You might want places with a bustling nightlife and a 24-7 economy, but not everywhere."
To help shift the paradigm away from "liveable" toward "loveable", GHD has developed the Loveable Cities Framework. This outlines 18 indicators and four dimensions underpinning "loveability" as informed by academic literature.
Under this framework, "loveability" is planned and delivered through "soft" infrastructure; programmes, services and activities complement the hard infrastructure and create an affinity to the place.
GHD applied this concept to the Draft Western Sydney Aerotropolis Social Infrastructure Strategy.
It is now being developed across the globe to test its applicability across different scales of projects and cultural contexts. By bringing "place identity" and "people experience" considerations into account, Lander says GHD is planning socially sustainable places for workers, residents, and visitors.
• GHD is a sponsor of the Herald's Project Auckland report.