Transport, transport, transport - that's what Mayor Len Brown has set his sights on this year in the quest to make Auckland the world's most liveable.
Mr Brown yesterday laid out his vision for Auckland in 2015, with hope of a major pace-change in sorting out the big issues that had held it back in previous international performance rankings.
Transport was clearly the No1 priority for Aucklanders, who could expect to end a decades-long wait for a better network as major upgrades came online.
The most important remained the City Rail Link, which would unlock the transport network across Auckland and provide potential for another 20 million rail trips each year. This year could see the first of the $280 million enablement works of the link, scheduled to be operational by the start of the next decade.
But continuing investment across all forms of transport was needed to keep Auckland moving, he said. The proposed harbour bridge SkyPath could be a "game changer" for cycling in the city, while busways, which took the lion's share of public transport use, would be improved under three years of new development. Added to that were the other two major roading projects - the Waterview Connection and the proposed second harbour crossing - and a range of other upgrades on city motorways.
"The issue for us is going to be not letting our old ways constrain us, and to get out there and invest now," he said.
"But the ratepayers being able to afford the level of investment is critical, so that's why the debate early this year on how we fund transport will be one of the most critical in the history of our city."
He also wanted to see Auckland's housing affordability and availability improve, and efforts to attract visitors through events to continue.
How we rank
• 10th: In The Economist Intelligence Unit's list of the most liveable cities (after Melbourne, Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Adelaide, Sydney, Helsinki and Perth).
• 3rd: In the 2014 Mercer Quality of Life Survey of liveable cities.
• 10th: In Lonely Planet's 2014 destination cities.
• 36th: In a 2014 survey by ECA International looking at the most expensive cities for expatriates in the Asia Pacific region.
How to boost liveability standing - experts
Transport commentator Matt Lowrie agreed Auckland's transport - especially public transport - was the one big liveability let-down.
Sprawling projects such as the City Rail Link, Waterview Connection and a proposed second harbour crossing would ease the flow on clogged motorways, but there were things that could be done sooner and more cheaply.
"The big thing that will really make a big difference quickly will be a stronger roll-out of the cycle network, and the funding issue is a big question."
Walking and cycling developments to watch included the Westhaven Promenade, a cycleway on Nelson St and the proposed harbour bridge SkyPath.
In public transport, the electrification of all trains would improve timetables, and Mr Lowrie was keen to see more bus lanes across the city.
"We've had more than a year of solid growth of public transport - it's up 8 per cent on what it was a year ago, and the rail network is up 18 per cent, which is just massive."
Mayor Len Brown says: "The most important project remains the City Rail Link which will unlock the transport network across Auckland. But continuing investment across all forms of transport is required to keep Auckland moving."
Deteriorating housing affordability - especially for first-home buyers - has marked against Auckland in liveability stakes.
The headache would only worsen as the population grows to two million within the next two decades.
NZIER principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub recently said today's home ownership situation could decide the financial fate of the next generation of Aucklanders, who would be divided into those whose parents owned a house and offspring of renters doomed to rent themselves.
Tim Nees, architect in residence at the University of Canterbury, said the problem was complex and difficult to tackle, but smarter planning and development was perhaps one direct way to help take the heat off.
"I think redeveloping in existing areas would attack affordability to some extent because the cost of new infrastructure does not get incorporated into the cost of land," he said.
Zoning regulations would need to be overhauled for town planning to encourage greater density, he said.
Len Brown says: Availability and affordability issues will be tackled by working through the Housing Accord with the Government and with social housing providers such as the Housing Foundation.
Auckland's lifestyle - its beautiful natural surrounds, restaurants, sports facilities and cinemas - has long propelled the city up global liveability indexes.
"We are talking to migrants and investors all the time, and lifestyle is always the significant factor in people's decision to want to live in Auckland," said Brett O'Reilly, chief executive of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development.
But there's still much that can be done this year.
Flaunting the city's outdoors in big events such as the Ultimate Waterman competition, to be broadcast globally in March, fuelled a visitor economy that in turn created more amenities for residents, he said.
But Mr O'Reilly felt there was equal opportunity in promoting our people - particularly those who made Auckland the largest Maori and Polynesian city on the planet.
A new Maori signature event for Auckland would soon join the Pasifika, Lantern and Diwali festivals that helped reflect the city's melting pot of more than 300 nationalities and ethnicities.
Len Brown says: "The proposed Development Auckland CCO will use the experience gained and the lessons learned by Waterfront Auckland to transform town centres across Auckland."
Jobs and the economy
One of the biggest hurdles on the road to better employment and a stronger economy in Auckland remains with gaps in the city's young workforce.
Around 16 per cent of Auckland youth are not in employment - and Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said no one disagreed the issue posed a problem for the city.
He felt it could be tackled by better education and unifying the many initiatives and agencies addressing it.
"We really do need a partnership and to centralise it, so we can deal with what I call the tail of the problem."
At the same time, there had never been a better time for jobs and economic growth in the city, he said. In construction alone, around 30,000 new jobs were expected to be created in the next five years.
"There has never been a better time for employment opportunities for Auckland, nor have we seen growth expectations like they been for decades."
Len Brown says: "We will continue to focus on building the visitor economy through great events as well as initiatives such as the youth employment pledge involving our major employers, hi-tech initiatives such as GridAKL and international investment initiatives such as the LA-Guangzhou Tripartite Economic Agreement."
A healthy environment was the foundation for a city's liveability, and 2015 would see some huge moves toward better looking after Auckland's surrounds.
Among the largest would be the completion of Sea Change marine spatial plan, which should begin to turn around the alarming decline in the ecological health of the Hauraki Gulf, Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor said.
Interim decisions on the Regional Policy Statement part of the Unitary Plan should also be available, giving clarity on priorities for landscape and biodiversity management in rural areas.
"Consultation on road pricing will focus minds on how to pay for much-needed public transport improvements."
More houses and roads would be built, with care needed to retain environmental quality, he said, and crucial reforms to the Resource Management Act nationally would determine if environmental standards were lowered or not.
Len Brown says: "The city will champion initiatives such as SeaChange, which aims to restore the Hauraki Gulf to its former glory."