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Generation Zero: Let's Grow Up

by Sudhvir Singh

The Auckland Unitary Plan provides us with a once in a generation choice: do we keep pursuing the failed model of car-dependent urban sprawl, or do we aspire to developing a quality, compact city? The Unitary Plan sets out the zoning patterns that will guide Auckland's growth over the next 30 years, a period where Auckland is estimated to grow by one million people.

This is a plan for the future, and so it is critical that our leaders hear the voices of the generation who will inherit our city. Unfortunately, misinformation about the plan has spread like wildfire, fuelled by a vocal, older minority who seem to be against any form of change. Now is the time to have a mature conversation as a community about the future shape of our city.

Auckland is a beautiful city, yet it is handicapped by car dependency, poor quality urban developments, air pollution, and limited housing choices. Young Aucklanders have suffered: we have grown up being stuck in traffic, priced out of the housing market and isolated from one another.

We dream of a well-connected community linking up where we work, study and play. This sense of community does not demand a ‘quarter acre’. We prefer to live in mixed-use urban areas with cycling and public transport options, rather than being isolated on the urban fringe where our livelihoods and social lives are a long drive away.

I grew up in Torbay, and have vivid memories of hanging out after school at the picturesque Long Bay Regional Park. At the time, our local community had the foresight to oppose sprawl into Long Bay and Okura. But a decade later, due to our reluctance to intensify around our town centres, the rolling hills behind Long Bay are being paved over because too many think that the only way to grow is out. In fact, it is neither the only way, nor the best way. The Unitary Plan provides us with an opportunity to embrace high quality development of our existing town centres, whilst celebrating our heritage, and putting a stop to further expensive destruction of our cherished rural hinterland.

When I was accepted into medical school, the choice to move to Grafton was a choice to avoid sitting for two hours a day on the Northern Motorway. From my new apartment surrounds not only did I have the convenience of a short walk to university, but I was also close to my friends and numerous cafes, libraries, the Domain, and a greater range of public transport options for my hospital placements.

I have now finished my medical training, and it has been interesting to see where my classmates have chosen to base themselves since graduation. So where have they gone? Many have fled to the inner-city neighbourhoods of Melbourne and Sydney. But why? Of course, money is a factor, but more than that, it’s lifestyle. Vibrant neighbourhoods with character, that allow residents to be close to work, cafes, shops and schools. Having all this in one place, is not, evidently, too much to ask. If the Unitary Plan ends up as an endorsement of the status quo model of urban sprawl, it is inevitable that large numbers of Auckland’s young people will pursue their future elsewhere.

As well as the lifestyle benefits of a quality compact city, there are established health, environmental and economic benefits to cities which have embraced high density. Over half of Auckland’s carbon emissions come from transport, and if we adopt an urban form that reduces our car dependency, not only will we be doing our fair share for the climate but our city will be healthier and more productive. The ability to measure the health burden of air pollution is now greater than ever, and the figures are not pretty for Auckland: 1.16 million days being lost due to illness related to air pollution, and motor vehicle emissions cause twice as many deaths as those resulting from traffic crashes in the city. University of Auckland research has outlined how shifting just 5% of vehicle kilometres from trips less than seven kilometres to cycling would:

  • save about 22 million litres of fuel
  • avoid 122 deaths annually as a result of increased physical activity and reduced air pollution; and, as a result
  • generate net savings of about $200 million per year.

The current debate about our city’s future has been hijacked by a vocal and myopic minority, unable to imagine a 21st century Auckland weaned off petrol and traffic jams. In response, Generation Zero decided to act. We’ve turned up to local community meetings (and have been booed for having such audacity), encouraged our communities to get involved with the discussions and communicated an aspirational vision for a quality, compact city.

We share the concerns of many people and ask the same tough questions of the Council: How does the Unitary Plan ensure good quality urban design? How does it integrate provision of public transport with intensification? These are questions that need answering, by the Council, but we also need to provide a mandate for a quality, compact city through our submissions.

We’ve developed an online form that allows people short on time to submit feedback to the Council, as well developing templates for people who want to write a more thorough submission, available here

I’d urge you to have your say this week. An old guard promoting the failed model of urban sprawl wants to place a stranglehold on our city’s future. Don’t let them. Auckland, let’s not grow out. Let’s grow smart. Let’s grow up.

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