Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world's best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city? This week the Herald begins a 10-day series examining some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland's success matters to the rest of the country. In the second part of the series we look at the environment.
Auckland needs to take urgent steps to maintain and improve its environment.
The biggest challenge is coping with the implications of rapid growth.
The numbers of new Aucklanders exceed the number of dwellings being built; congestion is getting worse while government dithers on congestion funding and on public transport projects; water, wastewater and other infrastructure is struggling to keep up; and in a couple of months there could be a chainsaw massacre as urban tree protections expire.
Yes, a compact urban form is essential to cope with growth and create a sustainable city.
But intensification needs moderating by creating new green spaces and protecting built heritage and our unique volcanic cones. We need quality, not slums. Hobsonville is an exemplar.
The rural environment is also important.
The Waitakere Ranges and many regional parks provide quiet respite from urban pressures.
Our remaining undeveloped coastline needs better protection, as do outstanding landscapes including those on Gulf islands.
Rural intensification should be constrained to suitable countryside living areas, not allowed to sprawl willy-nilly.
Productive soils need protecting too so we can feed people with local produce.
There's a compelling need to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, the underpinning of our long-term prosperity.
Consideration of all these matters is vital if we want to be a world-class city with high liveability and our own unique character.
Managing development within environmental limits remains a real challenge.
But Auckland is not just land.
Nearly 70 per cent of the city is sea and there we have big challenges too.
The Hauraki Gulf's environment is deteriorating: Seachange - Tai Timu Tai Pari is aiming to chart an improved, agreed way forward to address this amongst key stakeholders.
There is controversy about limits to Port expansion.
The Kaipara - Auckland's forgotten harbour - is under severe stress with its marine life being affected by sediment and nutrient run-off from unsustainable land management: almost the entire west coast snapper fishery spawns in that harbour so there will be consequences if this isn't rectified.
The city of sails needs clean seas and a healthy, productive marine environment.
The big picture is that the present-day state of the environment in Auckland needs work to get it to world class.
If we continue to allow more growth without some fundamental fixes, we will go backwards.
This is the most serious challenge in our city's history.
Slowing growth to more manageable levels has appeal.
Cool, clear, strategic thinking is essential to chart the right way forward.
• Gary Taylor is chairman of the Environmental Defence Society.