Postcard from South Africa #1

Greetings from Durban, South Africa, where it can get very hot and humid (apparently 44 degrees and 80% humidity on Christmas, although I wasn’t here for that) and the thunderstorms are pretty impressive (fork lightning is badass).

John P Durban

The long Durban beachfront. In the distance, you can see the stadium built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup – it’s achieved the holy grail for stadiums, covering its ongoing operating costs

Naturally occurring electricity is one thing, but the manmade power grid is another. South Africa’s power supply is currently going through the biggest disruption for a number of years, with “load shedding” across the country – rolling power cuts, affecting anyone who hasn’t got a backup generator (and many of the wealthier households do). The state-owned power company, Eskom, is cutting off power to entire suburbs or cities at a time, trying to prevent a devastating national blackout where no one can get electricity at all:

Eskom’s Andrew Etzinger says the power cuts are necessary to avoid a countrywide blackout.

“The worst case scenario is a national blackout which we seen in other countries over the last couple of years which happens when the entire grid is lost and no customers are supplied.”

He said if that happened in South Africa, it would take around two weeks to restart the grid while the entire country is remains in darkness.

How did things get to this stage? Again according to Eskom, “over-burdened power plants, the neglecting of refurbishing infrastructure, poor coal quality, heavy rains and an over-reliance on diesel are among the reasons for South Africa’s current power crisis” – pretty wide-ranging there, and presumably most of the fault lies with Eskom itself, or with the government. Eskom do go into more detail on their current problems in that article, making it a good place to start for more information (also another article here). President Zuma, on the other hand, has pointed the finger at apartheid:

South Africa’s energy problems were a product of apartheid and government was not to blame for the current blackouts, President Jacob Zumasaid on Friday.

“The problem [is] the energy was structured racially to serve a particular race, not the majority,” Zuma told delegates at the Young Communist League’s congress in Cape Town.

He said the ANC had inherited the power utility from the previous regime which had only provided electricity to the white minority.

Twenty years into democracy, 11 million households had access to electricity, double the number in 1994.

While everything from the second paragraph onwards is obviously true, it’s facile to blame a system which ended 20 years ago, especially given the various failures which Eskom have acknowledged. Electricity is an indispensable part of modern living, and an unpredictable supply can lead to all sorts of other issues for households and businesses.

Anyway, it does make you take stock and think again how lucky we are to live in New Zealand, where electricity is reliable and affordable (not to mention mainly renewable), and the market system appears to work reasonably well.

Flyover Fund: Wellington Auction Tonight

The Architectural Centre’s Auction for the Anti- Basin Flyover Fund takes place tonight at  7:30pm St Joseph’s Church, 42 Ellice St, Mt Victoria, Wellington.

The auction is happening because NZTA are still trying to force this pointless and expensively hideous structure on little Wellington despite losing the case for it at the Board of Inquriry. More millions of our  tax dollars on QCs…

Here is the catalogue of donated works.

There is a great range and something for all tastes, I have donated a print of my 1988 portrait of Ralph Hotere [selenium toned silver gelatine print], because I know which side he would be on:

Ralph Hotere

Here’s a short description of my experience of meeting Ralph for the first time on the visit that I made the portrait:

In winter 1988 I had the opportunity to visit Ralph Hotere at Careys Bay near Port Chalmers for a few days and make this portrait of him. It was an extremely rich experience, he had a way of offering things in a simultaneously casual and formal way; looking back I can see now how lucky I was, although at the time I was principally concerned about whether I was ever going to get a chance to take the portrait.
I got to hang out at his house; major works by his own hand and others, including McCahon, stacked deep against the walls, and down at the pub, which back then was a seriously quotidian operation, focussed on serving the fishermen from the boats that tied up across the road. Ralph cleaned up all-comers on the pool table. The pub seemed to never close. Both buildings were freezing.
We drove around in one of his lovingly maintained old Jaguars, up to the cemetery on he hill where he said there was a headstone McCahon had painted I should see, and, where he suddenly turned to me and asked, almost accusingly; ‘got your camera?’ He clearly had decided this was where he wanted to be photographed, he then arranged himself apparently casually but in fact quite deliberately. He gave me the shot.
He also took me to a studio he kept in the stables of a Victorian estate up on Observation Point, overlooking the port. He spoke of the great sculptural qualities of the straddle cranes working below. He was at that time fighting to save the headland from the port company’s land eating expansion plans.
Thinking of an appropriate image to donate to this auction I immediately thought of Ralph: he often found himself at odds with the plans of powerful public institutions. And not because of a resistance to change or progress, but because so often those plans resulted in brutally clumsy outcomes developed through poor processes. In particular those that discount long lasting negative effects on people and place. So it is with this proposal.


Sunday music: Talking Heads on cities

A blast from the past: the Talking Heads’ ode to urbanity, “Cities”. This is from the band’s fantastic concert film Stop Making Sense:

The Talking Heads emerged from 1970s New York. The city itself wasn’t doing so well at the time – like many other large American cities, it was struggling with deindustrialisation, white flight, and a crime wave. But it was a fantastic time and place to make music. Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were originating hip-hop; Television, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, and the Ramones were putting together punk rock.

People were swapping ideas and innovating. Things were happening. That’s what happens in cities.

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne realised how important urban places are to creativity. A few years ago, he wrote a great book about cities and streets, drawn from his experience touring all over the world and riding around cities on his folding bike – it’s called Bicycle Diaries.

Pets in the city

Here at transportblog we’re big fans of initiatives that increase housing and transport choice in Auckland. This is why we support investment in Auckland’s “missing modes”, such as public transport, walking, and cycling, as well as simple policy changes, such as removing minimum parking requirements and apartment sizes, which will enable more intensive and diverse housing developments.

While any single transport investment or policy change is likely to have a small impact, when considered together their impacts can be cumulative and synergistic.

Indeed, improved housing and transport choice would leave us materially better off, due to lower housing and transport costs. We could expect greater social mobility, with Auckland less spatially stratified by age and income than it is now. Improvements in material well-being and social mobility would leave us as a society happier and healthier. On a day-to-day basis we’d also sit on our arses less. Auckland’s high rates of obesity, and associated complications such as diabetes, would decline. The ecological footprint of the city would shrink with its waistline, as people used less energy and land to sustain their life-styles.

We would likely see more families living in the city centre, and also the flip-side of the same coin: More young adults living in the suburbs. Imagine blocks of terraced houses located above shops adjacent to a train/bus station, from where young adults can easily access both the socio-economic opportunities of the city, as well as supporting their aged parents. Such urban villages could emerge across Auckland if our transport investment and land use policies were focused on enabling such choices. (Note to NIMBYs: Restrictions on housing intensification are effectively forcing your children to live further away from you).

I would also expect to see more pets in the city. Like our precious Princess Kura below, with her favourite plastic pot (if you look closely you can see the teeth marks around the top of the pot).


Personally, petting time makes an important contribution to my quality of life. And it would appear that I’m not alone (source):

Social support is critical for psychological and physical well-being, reflecting the centrality of belongingness in our lives. Human interactions often provide people with considerable social support, but can pets also fulfill one’s social needs? Although there is correlational evidence that pets may help individuals facing significant life stressors, little is known about the well-being benefits of pets for everyday people. Study 1 found in a community sample that pet owners fared better on several well-being (e.g., greater self-esteem, more exercise) and individual-difference (e.g., greater conscientiousness, less fearful attachment) measures. Study 2 assessed a different community sample and found that owners enjoyed better well-being when their pets fulfilled social needs better, and the support that pets provided complemented rather than competed with human sources. Finally, Study 3 brought pet owners into the laboratory and experimentally demonstrated the ability of pets to stave off negativity caused by social rejection. In summary, pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)

In the rest of this post I want to explore some of the ways in which we can accommodate pets in the city without necessarily increasing pet numbers. In some respects I am focused on increasing productivity, i.e. getting more petting output for the same pet input.

First let’s consider barriers to petting time. One barrier is, I think, particularly important: Uncertainty over future location. Traditional pet ownership implies a reasonably long-term commitment. This commitment is a problem not just for young people who are mobile, but also old people who are not confident they’ll be able to support the pet for the duration of its life.

This uncertainty is likely to have two effects, both of which are negative. First, many people will not get a pet, hence their petting time will be suppressed optimal levels. Second, the people who do get a pet may subsequently find themselves in a position where they can no longer look after the pet, at which point the pet is effectively given up.

Thankfully, awareness is growing of the benefits of petting time, as well as the barriers to pet ownership, is growing. And as usual, people are finding some awesomely creative ways to solve the problems.

The first solution is “pet-friendly cafes”, where you can see lots of other people’s pretty pooches. Overseas this has been taken even further, with the development of “pet cafes”. These places supply their own little fur babies.


Many pet cafes partner with animal rescue organisations so as to increase public awareness of the opportunities for animal fostering and adoption.

One really effective way to increase petting time, while avoiding the pitfalls of pet ownership, is to sign-up to fostering. This is an excellent option for people who travel a lot, are unsure of their finances, or are unsure if pet ownership will integrate with their lifestyle. In these conditions, fostering can be an excellent way to test the waters. The RSPCA in New Zealand notes:

Foster parents are a vital part of our work. Every animal that you foster is given a second chance at life – and the more animals you foster, the more lives you help save. Many of the animals that come into the SPCA Auckland Animal Village need a little extra TLC before finding their new forever home. Foster Parents provide a temporary home for these animals as they recover from surgery or illness, or simply put on a little more weight before being desexed. While each animal is different, the average length of stay is 3 – 5 weeks for cats, and 6 weeks for dogs. Once they are ready, the animals come back to the Animal Village and are put up for adoption.

Fostering is a wonderful experience that gives you the opportunity to meet and help many wonderful animals. Animal rescue organisations typically contribute to the costs of fostering, e.g. equipment, food, and vet bills – so beyond your time and love costs are minimal. There are a range of foster options, with some animals requiring fostering until such time as they are adopted (anywhere from a week to months) with others needing fostering for a specified length of time, e.g. until they recover from illness, holiday relief for other carers, or pets in crisis.

A common argument advanced against fostering is that “it would be too hard on the animal to give it up”. While emotions are a relevant consideration, I think it’s really important to understand that there are simply more rescue pets than there are available foster homes (or potential adoptive families). So the harsh reality is that the dogs who are not placed in foster care will often be put to sleep; this is especially true of animals with behavioural issues. So the majority of foster dogs are 1) very much in need of fostering and 2) relatively well adjusted in temperament and demeanour, having been screened and assessed for unsociable traits.

And one of the large advantages of fostering is that you can trial a range of different animals and, if you bond with a particular one, then there you usually have the option to adopt it. Like this little one; Punky the Yorkshire terrier.


Which brings us nicely to the issue of adoption.

Animal adoption is a more serious commitment, insofar as you commit to caring for an animal for the duration of its life. However, in many cases animal rescue organisations have a surplus of older animals, whose original owners have passed away or had their living arrangements change. So if you are uncertain of your ability to commit to the full lifespan of an animal, or having the skills/time/energy to nurture and train them when they are young, then I would encourage you to consider adopting an older pet. Adopting older animals has a number of advantages. First, less certainty is required about your future. Second, they tend to be cheaper to adopt, and you have a clearer idea of their personality and temperament. Contrary to perception, older animals often come pre-trained, and they are still trainable.

So just to re-cap some of the key points in this post:

  1. As Auckland grows our transport investments and housing policy changes should support greater choice.
  2. We can expect these changes to result in greater spatial diversity, and greater demand for “pets in the city”.
  3. There are ways to accommodate increased demand for petting time, without increasing the number of pets.
  4. Options include visiting pet-cafes (i.e. pet sharing), fostering, and adoption.

Which brings me to my final plea: If anyone of you out there is considering getting an animal, then please consider adopting an animal from a rescue organisation. There are many, many beautiful animals out there who would love to be part of your family. You will also genuinely be supporting animal welfare, rather than inadvertently funding pet over-breeding and the profits of backyard breeders.

To drive or not to drive, that is the question: generation Y research

This is a guest post from Dr Debbie Hopkins, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Otago – she’s currently doing some research for the NZTA on non-drivers. Read on to find out more and see if you might be keen to help out with the research by being interviewed.

Every day we make decisions about how we travel. These decisions include whether to go somewhere, where to go and how to get there. While we have some control over how we travel, there are a whole range of things that we might not have much control over that influence our travel decisions, such as where we live, access to public transport, and family commitments.

And these influences have changed over time.

For the past 100 years or so, the car has been the main way that people travel. Nowadays, our towns are designed to help people drive cars – large shopping centres with parking, direct routes for main roads – but sometimes this means that people without cars are left out. It can also mean that our urban areas might not be nice, safe places for people to walk or cycle. This has meant that for many people, car travel is preferred, so driver licensing, car ownership and distance travelled have all been increasing.

But it seems that things might be changing. In the past decade, there has been increasing evidence that generation Y – people born between 1980 and 2000 – are travelling in different ways and not wanting to travel by car as much as earlier generations. Industrialised countries including the USA, Canada, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Japan and Australia have all reported declining licensing amongst the 18-35 age group. Young people are also less likely to own a car and if they do own a car, they are travelling less.

We can make assumptions to explain why young people are travelling differently, but this isn’t very helpful… it is important to actually know for sure what is making this change happen. This could help policymakers and planners to design transport systems which better suit the needs of young people.

The Energy Cultures research project ( is conducting research to find out more. Dr Debbie Hopkins is looking for non-drivers from Auckland, who are willing to be interviewed about their travel behaviours. This would include people who might have a licence but don’t need/ want to drive, or people without a licence at all.

Participants need to be:

  • Aged 18-35 years old
  • New Zealand resident
  • Living in Auckland
  • Grown up in Auckland (especially ages 14-18)
  • Non-drivers (either with a licence but not driving, or without a licence)

Participants will be put into a draw to win one NZ$100 supermarket voucher.

If you, or someone you know, fit the criteria please contact:


Postcard from Downtown Los Angeles

We’re going to need to re-inhabit and rehabilitate our cities and our urban neighborhoods whether we like it or not, because the suburbs are bankrupting our culture, economically, ecologically, socially, and spiritually. - James Howard Kunstler

On a recent west coast (US) whistle stop tour I took a couple of days to check out Downtown Los Angeles. For half a century downtown LA epitomised the country’s flight to the suburbs abetted by mass motorisation — fleeing businesses and residents, abandoned buildings, and a concentration of social problems. Over the last decade, and in particular the last few years, Downtown LA has emerged as one of the most interesting urban stories in America. From mothballed turn-of-the century buildings being re-imagined as lofts and co-working offices- to 21st century transportation systems both unlocking and re-centralising the place, Downtown LA has been quite seriously called “America’s Next Great City.”

Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles

Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles

Like 100 years ago Downtown benefits from a convergence of public transportation routes. I arrived from the south via Metrolink into the remodeled Union Station and effortlessly switched to the Red and Purple subway lines which overlap to provide 5 minute headways across Downtown. Los Angeles is rapidly extending and connecting this subway system. The Purple Line will be extended to the “Westside” (UCLA, Westwood) by 2035 and the Metro Line LRT will be extended from the busy 7th St/Metro Station all the way to the beach in Santa Monica by next year. In the short term (2020) the Central Connector project will allow the regional LRT lines from Long Beach (Blue Line) and Pasadena (Gold Line) to run through Downtown using a new alignment while adding three more stations.

Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles

Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles


Recently opened Spring Arcade under redevelopment

An ambitious focused rehab project is currently underway on Broadway. Widened footpaths, mid-block crossings, and tightened intersections are part of this ambitious project to help resurrect the district with 12 old theatres and dozens of amazing old buildings many of which remain mothballed above the street level. A circuitous downtown streetcar will be added along here as well. In the short term street upgrades have been “painted on” using the NYC interim design technique of textured paint and physical barriers. The recent changes don’t seem to cause any problems and the traffic is surprisingly tame and civil. The traffic signals are timed with very short phases and concurrent crossings (and better road rules), allow people to walk effortlessly across the numerous dense districts that form the downtown.


Los Angeles Theater. Broadway, Los Angeles


NYC-interim design on Broadway

The residential population in the city has exploded from 29,000 in 2006 to 52,400 in 2014 . While the local population looks very DINK-y (dogs, gym bags) a grade school was opened just last year. This new population has an abundance of consumer choices from the 600 new stores, restaurants and bars that have opened since 2008. In addition to steampunk bars and taco trucks local residents are increasingly being served by conventional retail. So not only can you buy a pair of brand new 1982 Nike Air Force sneakers from the specialty boutique store but you can also pick up a vacuum at Target or socks at Ross. Global brands like H&M and Zara have recently opened very successful flagship stores and the uber hip ACE Hotel has just opened in a refurbished old building.


Angel City Brewery, Arts District, Los Angeles


Urban Outfitters, Broadway, opened 2014.

According to a friend, the technology sector has reached a critical mass with tech companies like NationBuilder using a Downtown location as a key branding and talent attraction strategy. Other large, established creative firms like Yahoo which traditionally locate in Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Culver City are now looking for options Downtown.

During my time in LA I kept thinking about what Gordon Price said to me a couple of years ago- “In 10 years Los Angeles will be unrecognisable”. At that time he was referring to Measure R a successful local tax initiative that provided specific funding from sales tax for public transportation projects. Since that time Downtown LA is already unrecognisable. This is what a city looks like being turned over and re-imagined in real time, and like NYC, it will be worth revisiting time and time again to enjoy the changes. If you are in Los Angeles for a short period of time, do yourself a favour- skip the beach and head Downtown. If you are there after the extension of the Metro Line you will soon be able to do both.


7th Street, Jewelry District, Downtown Los Angeles

Changing transport trends being noticed

As mentioned yesterday, the second interesting paper going to the Council’s Infrastructure Committee is in relation to Transport Trends (page 9). It highlights many of the same trends that we’ve been noting for a few years now and shows that change is happening in how Aucklanders get around. A summary of the trends is below.

  • Journey to work information from the 2013 Census was released in February 2014. The journey to work data showed an increase in public transport modeshare from 2006-2013 from 8% to 10%, a reduction in private vehicle modeshare from 86% to 84% and an increase in walking and cycling modeshare from 5.9% to 6.3%. 44% of the growth in journeys to work between 2006 and 2013 was by public transport, 41% by private vehicles and 15% by walking and cycling.
  • Journey to work information from the 2013 Census was released in February 2014. The journey to work data showed an increase in public transport modeshare from 2006-2013 from 8% to 10%, a reduction in private vehicle modeshare from 86% to 84% and an increase in walking and cycling modeshare from 5.9% to 6.3%. 44% of the growth in journeys to work between 2006 and 2013 was by public transport, 41% by private vehicles and 15% by walking and cycling.
  • Slower growth in VKT, including declines in VKT per capita observed in Auckland and across New Zealand over the past few years are consistent with changes in transport trends observed internationally in a wide variety of developed countries. Most developed countries show a decline in VKT per capita and slower VKT growth since the middle of last decade (generally pre-dating the Global Financial Crisis) with some countries (such as the United Kingdom) exhibiting a decline in VKT per capita for a much longer period.
  • International literature outlines a variety of reasons behind the change in transport trends over the past decade. These include both short-term (e.g. effects of the Global Financial Crisis and subsequent widespread recessions) and longer term (e.g. cultural shifts, higher oil prices and growing urbanisation) causes.
  • Recent transport trends, both nationally and internationally, are important to note because they represent a significant change from many decades of consistent growth in both VKT and VKT per capita, as well as a change from previously persistent declines in public transport and active transport modeshare. Growing international recognition of the longer term causes of these changes is also extremely important in relation to future transport projections, to ensure that those forecasts are not over-projecting future VKT, leading to unnecessary investment.

The journey to work results from the census is something we’ve covered before including how it’s changed over time. The paper also compares Auckland’s results with those seen in some of the key Australian cities which shows that we still have higher levels of car use for getting to work than our neighbours to the west however we do seem to be doing better on walking.

Census Auckland vs Australian cities

The big news story from the census in relation to transport was that from 2006 to 2013 while all modes grew, the largest growth in trips to work was trips on public transport. It’s probably the first time in many decades that has happened. The report notes that it’s a clear sign the investment in improved transport choice and travel planning has had a major impact.

Census Auckland history

Census Auckland history graph

The report moves on to data from the Ministry of Transport on vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) and says that while the total number of VKT has increased since 2001, the majority was in the 2001-2006/7 period after which the growth slowed and even went backwards in 2011/12.  On a per capita basis however represents a real decline in how far people are driving.

NZ Regions VKT

We also know that similar trends of flat lining falling car usage have been seen overseas and the paper highlights this through the graphs below show US vehicle miles travelled in total and per capita. The second graph compares a number of other western countries, most of which VKT fall off. from around 2003.


INTL vkt trends


As to what’s causing the trends, this is summarised by this table

Change in transport trends

The report lastly covers off some of the implications from the changing transport trends. Probably the key is that the councils transport models will need to be updated and that is likely to result in changes in the mix of projects that are likely to get built.

Combining the changing trends with the tighter funding that is likely to eventuate and we might just end up knocking a few of the crazily stupid roading projects (like Penlink) off the list for some time.

This report was also picked up on by the Herald yesterday. It’s good to see the mainstream media finally starting to pick up on some of these trends.

Fanshawe St Goes Green

Not a new flag design [not bad though]. No this is a some seriously significant tarmac for Auckland. Why so? FANSHAWE ST BUSLANES_8083 The 28th of April 2014 is proving to be a bit of a red letter day for the minor revolution that is sneaking up on Auckland: The revitalisation of Auckland as a Transit city. Of course it marks the beginning of our new electric trains in ordinary service, but also another, smaller, much cheaper, but arguably just as significant change begins today: Northbound bus lanes on almost all of Fanshawe St. How could anything as boring as buslanes; patches of garish green crystals on existing Macadam be so significant, especially compared to the arrival of the long awaited electric trains?

FANSHAWE ST red and green

Red and Green: what could be better?

Well because they represent a new nimbler Auckland Transport. Able to act fast on good ideas, willing to listen to suggestions from outside their usual processes, and one looking significantly more interested in serving all road users and not just those single occupant car drivers. Here’s a little history: Luke’s post from February this year started the ball rolling, caught the attention of many at AT, particularly the Chairman of the Board and, waddayaknow? Action. And now: Done.

Take a bow Auckland Transport.

And now we know quick fixes can be done, so we look forward to many more like this one, I’m sure our readers have many more in mind. To start I guess the obvious one is the need to link these new bus lanes in Fanshawe St with the ones on the Central Connector through Customs St……


Street crystal joy

Also this is a good opportunity to point out another good recent upgrade; what it says on the back of that City Link Bus: Higher frequencies to Wynyard Quarter, an increase in freedom now amplified by this increase in road priority on this route with the new bus lanes. Imagine anyone using the Onehunga Line to get Wynyard Quarter must be feeling triple the love from AT today!

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)

Peds Rule

Give Way Law change A4

Changing the road rules to favor pedestrians at intersections is something that will transform city life. It will allow people to move around more freely, access services and conduct everyday activities with less intimidation and inconvenience from marauding drivers. In conjunction with simple road markings, it will also help to liberate kids to travel to school or visit friends on their own, and encourage walking as a legitimate transportation mode.

As a recent immigrant I have learned to qualify my expectations, ranging from- this is different, but I can deal with it (eg. rugby league), to holy crap, this is mental, which is what I think of this road rule. With fresh eyes one can see how unique the pedestrian status is here compared to North American and European contexts. Here are a few examples:

  • At intersections and driveways it is common to see people running or madly jumping out of the way of turning cars; this doesn’t happen in large North American cities,

  • People walking are constantly looking way over their shoulders in a state of paranoia for cars to turn across their path,

  • Pedestrians increasingly cross mid-block in order to avoid the debacle of our intersections.

It didn’t take long before I became accustomed to the madness and started walking around town as if in a war zone.  This was brought to my attention on a recent trip to Vancouver when walking around downtown my friend stopped me and said, “you don’t have to worry, the cars will stop, it’s not like Auckland.” I was clearly suffering from a sort of post traumatic stress condition.

From an urban design perspective the road rules force a lot of knock-on problems that are difficult and costly to mitigate. For example, oddball pedestrian refuges are placed on insignificant side roads forcing intersections to be further blown out to accommodate rare large vehicle turning movements. Another example is the placement of speed tables in places that could easily be controlled by a regular crosswalk. While tables may make sense in the densest city centre context, it seems like overkill along regular corridors where a simple crosswalk would suffice.  I’ll write about stop signs and crosswalks in a subsequent post.

In the comments section recently we have been reminded of the tremendous progress that is being made to changing these road rules by  Walk Auckland, Living Streets Aoteroa, and the Waitemata Local Board. In addition to the other other sensible transport guidance the Waitemata Board supports changing this antiquated rule.

“Auckland Transport to advocate for a change of the give way rule requiring motorists to give way to pedestrians at intersections.”

And from Living Streets:

“…we think the Road Code should treat pedestrians as it treats other road users at intersections (mode equality). This would mean that turning vehicles would give way to pedestrians walking straight through (see the diagram below). This is already the law in Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA.”

For those interested in the gory technical and policy details,  have a look at this comprehensive paper by Dan Ross (pdf) posted through Living Streets Aoteroa. Of the many interesting tidbits from this paper is the description of a ‘courtesy crossing’. (No points if you guessed who benefits from said courtesy.)

As a side note, it’s important to note the leadership of these local efforts. Urban innovation is increasingly being driven by cities, not national governments. You can expect to see more deviations from the typical car-first paradigm that is embedded in national and Canberra policy, where the applicability to urban Auckland in particular is suspect.

This rule change will happen, and like the new turning give-way rule, it will quickly be assimilated into our daily lives. Of course, comment away on how dangerous this rule would be to implement, in particular the ‘false sense of security’ it will provide.

For fun, this is how Dustin Hoffman deals with traffic in NYC (sorry no puppy photos).