Project Auckland: 2021 — a city transformed (NZ Herald)

2021 is a chance to set a target for some of the things we can do around the city, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff tells Tim McCready.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says the big events of 2021 will not only put Auckland on the world stage, but will provide the impetus to expedite Auckland’s transformation into a truly international city.

He likens the programme of events — including the America’s Cup, Apec, the Women’s Rugby World Cup, the men’s Softball World Cup, the Women’s Cricket World Cup and the kapa haka Te Matatini Festival — to royal visits of the past:

“People would get out and cut their hedges and paint their fences. This is a chance for us to set a target for some of the things we can do around the city — particularly our interface between the city and the waterfront.”

Goff says the events provide an opportunity for Auckland to show itself off to the world.

Apec will receive massive international attention, with global superpowers and representatives of the largest economies expected to attend — including leaders from China, the United States, Russia and Japan. An expected 10,000 visitors will arrive for the Leaders’ meeting over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Nov 12-14, 2021).

“We’re probably going to have to encourage a few institutions to close for the day on the Friday to compensate for the congestion that is going to occur,” says Goff.

Echoes of 1999

Goff has been to many Apec meetings in his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“They are unique opportunities to get key people together in one place, and in 2021 Auckland will be the focal point of extensive media coverage that will go right across the world,” he says.

Reminiscing about the last time Auckland hosted Apec in 1999, Goff acknowledges that while he thought it was a big event then, it was only a fraction of what Apec has become.

His standout memory from 1999 was meeting with then-US President Bill Clinton. Goff briefed him on what was happening in East Timor, where he had been an international observer of the vote for freedom, where the so-called referendum disintegrated into violence throughout the country, with anti-independence militants creating chaos.

“It was a chance — even as an opposition MP at that time — to meet some of the key world leaders, because of the unique role I had in relation to East Timor which was at the forefront of that particular gathering,” says Goff.

He notes the world has changed a lot since 1999 — and so has New Zealand. “Auckland is now projecting New Zealand onto the international scene as a really global city. One that is high-tech, moving ahead, one that people want to do business in.”

A packed schedule

Goff says that 2021 will provide a platform for Auckland to impress the people that are visiting — and all those watching from afar — that New Zealand is a small but highly competent, efficient country with high-tech innovation and a high quality of life.

“The America’s Cup will showcase the beauty of our environment with the broadcasting of the harbour, as well as our sporting skills and cutting-edge technology in yachting,” he says.

And while the Men’s Softball World Cup and the Women’s Rugby World Cup won’t be as big as the America’s Cup in terms of audience numbers, he says they are international events that will play to different markets: “Different people will pay attention to different aspects of what Auckland is doing that year. The Te Matatini Festival will be a great chance to showcase Auckland as the world’s largest city for Māori and Pasifika people — something that gives Auckland its identify.

“Our ability to leverage off the events in 2021 for investment, tourism and human capital is very important.”

One of Goff’s slogans for Auckland is ‘the place where talent wants to live’.

“That means retaining and attracting talent, and to do that, you’ve got to look like an international city humming with action.

“The centre of the city will epitomise that for Auckland — but with impacts across the whole city.”

According to the Rider Levett Bucknall Crane Index, there are 90 cranes in Auckland — an increase of 8.4 per cent over the past six months. Construction of new apartment towers, hotels, and shopping centres are contributing to the count.

“We’ll see a transformation of our skyline in Auckland, and we’ll start to look much more like a global city than a traditional New Zealand city,” says Goff.

He is looking forward to that growth, and seeing the city merge with the waterfront precinct.

“For most of this city’s history, we’ve had the red fence along the waterfront. The public have been separated from it, there is no public access.”

Goff’s eyes light up as he talks about his vision for downtown Auckland, as it begins its transition into a place where people want to go, relax and enjoy the surroundings.

Quay Street will be reduced to two lanes of traffic — with plans for wide footpaths, trees and plazas — connecting to a car-free lower Queen Street, the first part of Auckland’s “golden mile” to be pedestrianised.

The tanks at Wynyard Point, which have held a variety of hazardous substances and been a longstanding feature of Auckland’s skyline since the 1980s are being removed.

“The America’s Cup will use this area for bases in the first instance, and start to open that area up.

“You’ll see further developments of Wynyard Quarter and Britomart that will make them fantastic places to be,” says Goff.

“These are all places that will make our city a destination, not just a place to pass through.”

Smart cities

Goff sees technological solutions as a key component of Auckland’s transformation into an international city.

He points to the Safeswim programme as an example, which earlier this year won the Smart Water category of the IDC Smart Cities Asia/Pacific Awards 2018. A joint initiative between Auckland Council, Surf Lifesaving Northern Region and Auckland Regional Public Health Service, Safeswim provides up to date information to the public about Auckland’s beaches — including water quality, safety, and long-term health warnings.

“We’re the first city in New Zealand that can tell you — in real time — what the water quality is in beaches this morning, this afternoon, and tomorrow morning,” says Goff.

“We’re world-leading in that area, and we’re using it for the benefit of the people in Auckland.”

Other smart technologies are quickly — and dramatically — revolutionising transport in Auckland, including electronic scooters and the dynamic lane trial in Whangaparāoa.

“Twelve months ago, if you had asked me whether scooters could be a form of transport around Auckland I’d have said ‘I don’t think so’, but you see how quickly that technology changes.”

The Whangaparāoa Road Dynamic Lane project uses LED lights embedded into the road surface to mark traffic lanes instead of painted lines.

Changing the lights, along with traffic control gantries that display lanes, creates temporary lanes during heavy congestion to ensure free-flowing traffic. The project won Best Technical Solution at the Association of Local Government Information Management Awards.

Similar systems are used in Auckland along the Panmure Bridge and Auckland Harbour Bridge. The system is quick to build and around one-tenth the cost of alternative solutions.

“Auckland Transport is going to use that same technology in probably another half a dozen sites around the city,” says Goff.

“We can use technology to improve our transport systems. We can predict when something is going to happen or is starting to happen, and make changes that make it easier to get around the city.”

Goff says technology can be used to make every aspect of life better for Aucklanders:

from biological nutrient removal plants for more environmentally friendly wastewater treatment, to automatically resettable possum traps, to online resource consent filing, dog registration and rates payments.

“Council is tapping into innovations which enable us to do more for less — providing better services at a lower cost,” he says.

“It means we’ve been able to have a city that is growing by 30,000 — 40,000 a year, but we haven’t had the growth in staffing that is proportionate to the growth in population.

“Our per capita staffing levels are actually dropping — we’re providing better services at a lower cost to our rate payers.”

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