Here we go again. No, I don't mean back into lockdown.
I mean here we go again, guessing Auckland's future based on plans past. It won't hold drawing up a 10-year blueprint using the same old funding, financing, structural and governance models to deliver the same obligatory services, perhaps at better cost and more efficiently, made appealing with goals on climate change mitigation, inclusion, infrastructure renewal, amenities and housing for a growing population.
Auckland needs turning on its head, so we look, think and act differently to make a future that is going somewhere.
Auckland, New Zealand, should have an ambition to be the centre of the world, rather than sitting on the edge looking out, following smarter cities' leads, and wasting our current appeal as one of the few developed nations open for business.
There are hundreds of billionaires locked down, their ideas locked in, wanting a new home to invest in where innovation can grow and flourish to be the next big thing for a world that is learning to live differently at home, work and play. We don't even have to go and chase them with expensive and alluring marketing and incentive promotions. They want to come here. They want to be us.
We have a rare opportunity to become an international investment and creative technology hub, to be open to tapping talent from all over the world and gain the skills to create new opportunities, new jobs and partnerships and be a centre of excellence, a place where the future starts. But we will lose it. Why?
Our national default is to be cautious and perpetuate our love of an easy-going life in the slow lane. We do what we know, settle for good enough because you know "she'll be right, mate". We try not to stand out too much except when the flashes of brilliance of the art of engineering and design applied to sailing and rockets to the moon and beyond cannot be dimmed. We measure contentment and success by owning our own house, a subject that ignites emotions and outcry when that Kiwi birth right seems to be slipping away.
Our fixation with property and all the activities that seal the deal and make a house a home from bank financing to employment for an army of mortgage brokers, developers, builders and renovators contribute to GDP. But house ownership will not make our country rich, competitive, productive and appealing to investors with capital looking for a home. Complacency is a recipe for stagnation.
We need to look ahead to get ahead. The city is not dead, but it is a shadow of its former self and even when the health crisis abates and people have confidence to socialise in greater numbers and feel safe to hit the town more frequently, we will have to counter a new economic reality, find a new context to make our future.
Right now, restaurants and cafes around the city are struggling to survive. Continuation of emergency subsidies only postpone the inevitable. Tough as it is, there will be many retail and hospitality businesses that will not make it through. There will not be the demand. Many offices will have low occupancy as remote working, or a hybrid, based on life in the suburbs, become the new normal until people realise that human connection, the irreplaceable nuances of being in each other's company, exchange of ideas and shared experiences, rather than enforced social distancing and Zoom, make meaningful connections and a life worth living. And if we know that this is what tomorrow will be, we should be taking the steps to achieve this today.
Our next challenge is to reimagine Auckland, what it will be and need to be in two, 10, 20 or 50 years. It will not look like today.
You can be sure we won't have an Auckland port at the bottom of Queen St, but a modern, efficient, automated and profitable NZ port purpose built for the future in a central location close to population and transport corridors. We won't have a stadium in the suburbs, or a bridge vulnerable to wind gusts, but a chunnel or bridge and fast roads and rail that connect people and freight north to south just like the best of Europe or Japan.
Kids will leave school with science, maths, reading, writing and problem-solving proficiencies to earn skilled jobs relevant in an era of automation.
We surely will not have the same outmoded and constricting financing and funding models for local and central government to pay for the infrastructure, technology, science and social and health services Auckland, as New Zealand's gateway and economic engine room, will need to be a player on the world stage.
And hopefully we will have got over outright house ownership as the only aspirational option for having a home.
We are such a small economy, a little city by world standards, and so intertwined with each other that we are often reluctant to tell it like it is and put ourselves out there for fear of falling out of favour. It's time to rock the boat.
We must no longer shut up or put up. If Auckland is going to fulfil its potential to be a great city to live, work, play and invest in we need to show the courage and the leadership to start the journey today.
We are not like a Dubai, which rather than let the sands of time bury it, built a shiny megatropolis where the future is being lived every day. We don't have their oil money, but we are rich in imagination, determination, creativity, ingenuity and learning. We can attract investment money to build a vibrant city for the future. We are also kind and have a sense of justice and equality for all. We just have to stop yearning for what was and get on with designing a future to let the best of ourselves shine through.
Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber.