Even in department stores throughout Europe, it is hard to escape Auckland. That is because of the widespread presence of a Dutch clothing range called NZA New Zealand Auckland. According to the manufacturer, the brand reflects the diverse natural riches and cultural heritage of the city. It speaks of a sparkling harbour, a benign climate, an array of green spaces, and an outdoor lifestyle that is coveted throughout most of the world.
This can be easy to forget in the hubbub over the issues that vex many Aucklanders, including, most obviously, its transport woes and the cost and shortage of housing. But the things the city is blessed to have should always be the starting point for any analysis of what is is good and what is bad. And, as the Herald series starting today will examine, what is required to turn it into a truly world-class city.
Recent surveys of major world cities in terms of their liveability have not been totally kind to Auckland. PricewaterhouseCoopers' Cities of Opportunity series suggests it may, in fact, even be falling behind. It says Auckland must pay attention to four particular areas - transport and infrastructure, technology readiness, demographics and liveability, and economic clout.
Only so much can be done about the latter - it seems unlikely Global 500 companies will shift their headquarters to Auckland - and this country always rates highly in the ease of doing business. But no Aucklander needs to be told much needs to be achieved in transport and infrastructure. Despite a surfeit of reports over many decades, the city has not responded effectively to long-standing needs occasioned by residential sprawl, the emphasis on cars and the dispersal of employment.
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The substantial cost of remedying that now reflects the belatedness of the action, but is something that is unavoidable if Auckland wishes to become a world-class city. It cannot be otherwise, because invariably the most liveable cities rate highly across all social and economic indicators. Over the next 10 days, the Herald series will, therefore, also look at where Auckland ranks in areas such as education, social connectedness, the environment and recreation.
In remedying deficiencies and driving towards a world-class rating, there will always be the temptation to make drastic changes. But the emphasis for Auckland should be building on what is good and already in place. We can learn from and adopt ideas that have succeeded elsewhere, but in most respects that should be a grafting process, not a recipe for upheaval.
It is, after all, the city's present shape that attracts so many newcomers. That appreciation is also shared by most long-time residents.
Auckland has all the basic preconditions necessary to be a world-class city. In addition to its natural advantages, there is a cultural vibrancy. The Herald series will look at how the obvious potential can be transformed into an urban success story. It is an undertaking in which we all have a significant stake.