14 March 2013 - As Auckland awaits the unveiling of the new Unitary Plan tomorrow (March 15) let us hope that people as much as housing and highways are the focus.
This year has so far seen much debate on topics related to this plan such as growth in housing affordability and provision, transport projects and the major traffic snarl up last week, which showed us all how vulnerable we are to a single incident and sparked a great deal of comment as well.
This of course is all related to the way our city develops, influences and is influenced by our transport investment – what we build and how we use it.
What was really interesting in relation to the traffic gridlock wasn’t all the “experts” (often with axes to grind) and their opinions on the matter, but the public reaction. While the professionals argue over philosophical matters and from entrenched views on rail or road or sprawl or density, one design or another, one wonders whether people get lost in all the noise.
The people who actually live in this great city of ours are a great resource when it comes to thoughtful and interesting ideas as solutions to the weakness in our transport network. Last week there were no calls for a major infrastructure building campaign, instead people showed considerable insight by offering solutions such as:
Look at what happened in Christchurch post earthquake where out of necessity schools combined, one starting at 7.30am, the other at 1pm; businesses had to set up in the suburbs because the CBD was destroyed; productivity gains were achieved in many companies because staff worked from their homes, removed from the distractions and often unnecessary meetings that occurred previously.
This is not to say that what resulted in Christchurch is a blueprint for the future, there were also downsides to these changes, but these sort of matters need to be given serious consideration as we debate the range of solutions.
Taking a more flexible and efficient approach to allocating road space
No doubt people have noticed that the vast bulk of the Auckland transport network is empty 20 hours of the day. Rather than thinking the only way for the future is to build more highways to cater for the expected 400,000 more homes that will be built in the next 30 years, what about ways to spread this demand over more of the day.
Auckland does not have the luxury of time to construct new buildings and create new highways. Our transport network failed at key points last week and will probably do so again in the near future.
Underlying this seems to be a theme that people want planners and engineers to think about how people could use the city and the transport network before developing big ideas.
People are at the heart of our city now and in its future. In the end it is people whether they’re travelling, investing, working, living or playing that use our city and their needs and desires are the most important. The “experts” could do well by taking this view of Auckland’s problems and future solutions.
The good news is that planners and engineers are starting to think more about how people interact with their environment. There is now even a computer simulation “people-focused” approach to urban planning and in particular transport planning called HUB-id. Any individual can be a pedestrian, car driver, bus user, train user and cyclist at different times – often even on the same day - and we require a city that has public transport and transport networks that work together. We’re a small city by global standards with a desire to be the most liveable in the world. To do this we’re going to need to be innovative and see our future through the eyes of those who will inhabit it and use the facilities we create.
The Unitary Plan will be a key tool in determining Auckland’s future development and in doing so determine our city’s transport development and resilience. In the end it’s people that sit in cars, catch buses and trains, walk, live in houses and apartments and work, study or play. Building in this ethic to our debates over transport projects, housing choice, urban form may just help to generate new and more intelligent solutions to old problems that aren’t going to get any smaller.
Steve Dudley is an Associate transport engineer at Aurecon and Damien McGahan is a Planning Leader at Aurecon
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