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A resolution to make this city better

Regardless of what you may think of the Catholic Church or religion in general, most people can probably agree that Pope Francis’ down to earth manner combined with his simple and common sense messages prompting people to think about how they treat others has been extremely positive. A single sentence from his end of year service the other night was something I thought was particularly relevant to this blog.

He also encouraged people to reflect on whether they used 2013 to improve the place where they live. “This year did we contribute, in our own small ways, to make it more livable, orderly, welcoming?”

Perhaps the key reason I put the time and effort in to continually write this blog (often to frustration of my wonderful wife) is that at the end of the day I want to make Auckland (and New Zealand) a better place. I want it to be better for everyone and the main issues that we talk about of transport and urban form are ones that affect all of us whether we want them to or not.

In terms of Auckland it’s clear to most of us that we have made a lot of mistakes in the past and in both of these areas. In my opinion we can only fix them through intelligently working through the issues rather than applying some form of ideological solution – although some solutions probably require a bit of a leap of faith. I hope that we (as a blog) can help to facilitate intelligent discussion to help make this a reality – even if it seems we are often talking about what we consider silly ideas, it’s probably a bit of a case of it’s always darkest before the dawn.

Coming back to Pope Francis’ comment, I would like to think I can say that I have contributed to making this place more liveable and welcoming (not sure how we do orderly ;-) ). Further without people reading and supporting us we wouldn’t be able to get traction on many of the things we do, like we have with the Congestion Free Network as an example. So in a way you could say that by reading this blog you too are helping make this city more liveable.

But I guess I would also like each of you to think about what else you can do to make this a better place. Perhaps it’s engaging with others in your own communities to push for improvements, perhaps it’s taking some time out to do something like write a formal submission in support of ideas that make this place better and in opposition to ideas that don’t or perhaps in your professional life that you ensure that what you are doing will actually make a positive difference to everyone. I’m sure many of you are doing these things already.

This is also something quite similar to what Brent Toderian – who visited Auckland a few months ago – wrote a year ago on Planetizen and in my opinion is still just as relevant today.

Hello Planetizen readers – on this New Year’s Eve, I find myself “thinking with my thumbs” on my Blackberry as my wife and I explore Seattle before tonight’s festivities – thinking beyond the resolutions and goals for myself, my family, and my company. I’m thinking about us – a community of urbanists, who have been working for much of our careers to make our cities, towns and communities better.

Sometimes we’ve worked with success, often with frustration and fatigue, but always with a passion that keeps driving us forward.

We’ve known for decades the better ways to do things, for greater urban health, sustainability, resiliency, vibrancy and economic success. Ways to address critical challenges as diverse as affordability, our carbon and ecological footprint, public health crises, demographic shifts, on and on – many or most with the same “convenient solution”… better, smarter city-making.

The challenge isn’t one of not knowing. It continues to be a challenge of doing. Of having the will and skill to get past the short-term politics, the rhetoric, the market momentum, and the financial self-interest that has kept our better solutions from being realized. This is what we all need to be better at, in 2013 and beyond.

And he’s come up with some resolutions we should think about.

Here are a handful of resolutions, quickly written with my thumbs, for our community of international city-builders to hopefully embrace. They aren’t unique – we all know what they are, and any of us could write them – but like resolving to lose weight each year, it’s the doing that counts, not the uniqueness of the resolution.

If we can make these real in 2013, we would truly make our cities better.

– We resolve to come together as professionals and disciplines, and finally break the silos that keep us from achieving holistic, complete city-building. We will agree across professions to common definitions of success.

– We resolve to set better goals, and better measure the RIGHT successes, rather than optimizing the wrong things. Smart growth, not sprawl (and before someone says we need to define these better, or replace them with “fresher, cooler terms” – we’ve defined and debated such terms incessantly for decades, with not enough attention to achieving them). Shorter, smarter trips, with everything we need closer. More parks and public places that more people visit, and stay in longer. The key is to be clear, and to honestly measure success over time. In many cases, we’ve been busy measuring the wrong things.

– We resolve to not just increase density, but to do density better! With beautiful (but not necessarily more expensive) design, walkability, mix and completeness, amenities, and housing and population diversity.

– We resolve to stop feeding, or accepting, the unhealthy and distracting “war on the car” rhetoric, and inspire our cities with what true multi-modal cities can achieve. All ways of getting around work better, including cars, if we emphasize walking, biking and transit!

– We resolve to house the homeless, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it actually saves us money. We can’t afford to NOT house the homeless!

– We resolve to take back our own language from those who’ve made it code or ideological – words like livability, and quality of life. These are not left or right wing – they’re just smart, and critically important to successful communities.

– We resolve to stop accepting “false choices” that are dumbing-down our conversation about how to building cities. Heritage preservation OR smart growth. Good planning OR job creation. Beautiful design OR affordable design. Good city-making doesn’t play these false choice games.

– We resolve to stop using the eight most frustrating words in the english language – “we could never do that in our city!”

– Lastly, we as urbanists resolve to be not just involved in, but absolutely integral in, the broad conversation about the success of our cities and nations. We will be more clear, more persuasive, more “human” in our speech and writing. We will be a powerful voice as urbanists. And at the same time, we’ll listen and learn a lot better.

This list isn’t intended to be comprehensive – it’s the best my thumbs could think of today. But I was inspired to share them with you because I’m inspired by the year we could have together, our community of urbanists. Feel free to add more, to contribute and debate, but most importantly, to passionately participate this year.

I think that 2014 has the potential to be a great year for Auckland and I’m certainly going to resolve to keep doing what I can to make this city better . Will you? (it’s certainly a more achievable resolution than losing weight or reducing alcohol consumption)

5 comments to A resolution to make this city better

  • Warren S

    Matt – You have my utmost admiration. You are amazingly prolific and it is unbelievable how you source all the relevant data that you do. Furthermore the overall thrust of the blog and and supporting analysis is better than is disseminated from official sources. I also appreciate the non-political stance taken by you and the other moderators because that is the way it should be. This is not to deny those making comments, to make ( sometimes exasperated ) comments when the government of the day does not wish to see reason.
    Finally I wish to acknowledge that you do this without reward merely for the love of this city of Auckland, so most of all we followers of the blog must thank your wife for her patience,tolerance and support of your fantastic efforts.

  • grantb

    Thank you for all your efforts Matt. Very much appreciate all the contributors hard work.

    This blog has certainly made me think more about my environment. Spent New Years wandering around downtown with the family, and on a lovely summers day, the Wynyard quarter was looking superb. Lots of families enjoying the space and showed Auckland at its best.

    The viaduct still felt a bit exclusive; if not eating/drinking at one of the upmarket restaurants, not a lot going on.

    Overall the only thing I found missing down the waterfront was some grass, trees or playgrounds.

  • Liam W

    A simple and worthy resolution Matt, one that will certainly serve this blog well as its agenda-setting role in Auckland’s transport and urban form debate continues to grow with the page views. Hopefully also one which will inspire all involved in the transport/built environment professions. Thanks for all the work put in, and let’s hope it continues to bear fruit in 2014.

    On the subject of resolutions, one from Jarrett Walker – “Now and then, I will step outside of the binarisms that energize me.” –
    http://www.humantransit.org/2014/01/resolution-find-more-dimensions.html

    I think it’s an incredibly important thing to sometimes go beyond the binarisms/dichotomies that we construct to make debates more direct and exciting; and to try and think in a more nuanced and critical way. Certainly many debates we involve ourselves in as urbanists and transport geeks frequently get defined in oppositional and ideological terms, so we lose nuance and the big picture.

    This blog has always done a great job of presenting the facts and facilitating a nuanced debate, and as a result is one of very few places on the internet that is genuinely stimulating. So thank you Matt, Patrick et al, love your work.

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