COMMENT

Cars out of the central city, big plans for the waterfront: we're becoming a real 21st century city, according to Auckland Council's "design champion", Ludo Campbell-Reid.

Are we? There's a great new passion for inner-city apartments: 57,000 people live in the downtown area now, which is more than the number who drive in and twice the number predicted just a few years ago. In 2024 our first underground rail will open; before 2030 we'll have light rail as well.

But 21st century? Apartment living and electric rail networks are 19th century ideas.

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That's not such a bad thing: the 19th century had a lot going for it. I don't mean the bad bits, the rapacious appropriation of Māori land, the dreadful sanitation, all those pompous patriarchs of industry and politics.

There was also an enormously positive spirit. A civic far-sightedness that gave us the beauty of Albert and Victoria parks, the Domain and Western Park, the old art gallery and public library building now gracefully holding its own as part of the new Auckland Art Gallery.

A lot else that's now been torn down, too, and we need to learn from the tragedy of that.

The 19th century spirit also gave us, almost alone in the world, a meaningful treaty of settlement – albeit with a meaning still unfolding today. And it revealed, among the tangata whenua, a revolutionary skill in guerrilla warfare.

Most of all, that spirit was manifest in Pākehā and Māori alike in creative entrepreneurship, egalitarian confidence, in stuff-it-mate, we're-going-to-do-it-our-way. The national character, or at least what we like to think of as the national character. That came from the 19th century.

Richard Goldie, the architect behind the proposal to sink a stadium into the seabed at Bledisloe Wharf, laments that we no longer live in an audacious age. It's a shame: a bit more audacity wouldn't hurt our civic planning right now.

And let's go back even further, to the values of pre-European centuries. To kaitiakitanga, say: the guardianship of land and sea. And manaakitanga: the spirit of hospitality that assumes trust, integrity and reciprocal care from host and visitor. Kotahitanga, too: the sense of communal identity.

As it happens, the council has all that written into its own goals. For values to guide our lives in the 21st century city, it's right there in tikanga Māori.

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I know, try telling Twitter about manaakitanga. Still, the 21st century isn't over yet and the forces of outrage might not prevail.

The internet of things – machines that talk to each other – is already making us a better city, especially in transport. Cars that try not to bump into each other, the real-time electronic signs at bus stops, the smartphones that enable Uber and Lime and will soon do so much more.

But is the future really here yet? Will light rail dominate rapid transit in 30 years' time or will we be zipping around in pods slung from overhead lines? How long before someone invents a device so easy and safe and cool that it replaces e-scooters, e-skateboards, Segways, hovercraft, jetpacks and, who knows, bicycles?

What's going to happen to office buildings? Working hours? What will we do when machines do most of the things we now call work? Will kids born today live in a city that looks like the Los Angeles of Blade Runner? Will their parents? Their grandparents? The original movie was set, after all, in 2019.

Auckland in the 21st century? I don't know, it will change and change again. Let's say it'll be a city whose people have adaptive skills, holding true to the true old values (those parks, that art gallery) and ready to embrace the new and the different. I'm such a Pollyanna, but someone has to be.

Cities are where we surround ourselves with strangers and find the way to thrive. So they have to be inclusive, for immigrants and for all the different ways we live, and for all the people who don't find it easy.

Cities have to stop the new from sabotaging the old. Amazon and Uber Eats? Well, if you must. But every time you buy online you make it just that little bit harder for actual shops and restaurants to survive. The city would die without shops.

A bit more audacity wouldn't hurt our civic planning right now.
A bit more audacity wouldn't hurt our civic planning right now.

And when we clear all the unnecessary vehicles off the streets, it can't be just to make more room for couriers. We'll want to live in those streets. Hang out, be entertained, buy things, see people, relax and be stimulated, love the new green spaces, the trees and gardens. Put ourselves in the way of an encounter: a city is where you go for surprises. A city is too big to be predictable.

A city could be a place where we don't hate each other.

The great American-Canadian journalist Jane Jacobs wrote about this. For her, the streets were our public spaces – leafy, with broad sidewalks and apartment buildings with windows to lean out of and front steps for sitting on. Cars used them, sure, but the streets were at their best when they were for people.

Can we do that in central Auckland? For the people who live there and for all the workers and shoppers and cinema goers and library visitors and everyone who comes in, for the fun, for the food, for the opportunities, for the community? For the life of the city.

It's another idea from the middle of the 20th century. But isn't that's how we'll fix Auckland? Borrow the best from whenever we find it, add some technology, and invent new ways to make it work.

6 THINGS TO FIX IN AUCKLAND

Today: How to let the past shape the future

Tomorrow: A dream of fabulous ferries

Wednesday: How to get better housing

Thursday: How to get better bike lanes

Friday: How to get better politicians

Saturday: A dream of a new museum