WHAT WOULD I DO AS MAYOR
PHILOSOPHICAL BASIS FOR CITY MANAGEMENT
(Why a city exists, as a basis for its management to enable that purpose to be optimally realised.).
(1) Planet earth, including our immediate environment, is in a constant state of “churn”, with all its elements interacting competitively and/or co-operatively with others to mutual destruction and/or advantage. Change is inevitable and unpredictable, being instigated by variations in solar radiation, galactic relationships (including gravities, meteors), tectonic activities and geological, climatic and oceanic changes, quite apart from variations in flora and fauna, and changes in inter-biota relationships. Such changes can be progressive and partially predictable, but such predictability is short-lived and subject to sudden interruptive re-direction. This has consequences for planning as addressed later.
(2) All life forms exist byinteracting with their environment and changing it to their advantage. They do so as individual life-forms. Higher life forms, including humans, also have empathy for others, particularly for family, for mutual advantage and for the propagation and sustainability of the species. They fulfil these additional functions as collectives, inhabiting ever-larger towns and cities as they enable ever-greater co-operation for ever-higher levels of specialisation of personal functions, and economies of scale production and distribution of the variety of goods and services that specialisation generates. General Interest Groups (GIGs) include families, villages, towns, cities, regions, and nations, and combinations thereof. Special Interest Groups (SIGs) include social, religious, environmental, cultural etc groups and commercial companies. They manifest themselves as special-purpose sub-sets of GIGs.
(3) People live together in GIGs to better their lives via the mutually-advantageous transactions, interactions and experiences (TIEs) available therein. Larger cities offer higher specialisations and standards, and greater choice of personal and family betterments (as in religious, cultural, recreational, general welfare etc as well as income earning and expenditure options), so naturally attract those seeking same, and retain them until this situation reverses.
(4) SIGs form and develop in response to the psychological needs of activist citizens who enjoy working collectively in such groups to achieve a mutually-acceptable or desired goal. Developmental activist goals are necessarily political.
In general, the goal or goals around which SIGs form must be simple, and generally singular in purpose, to be widely acceptable as a raison d’etre. Some developmental SIGs promote their cause to the wider public by seeking a voluntary “change in perception (or attitude, or “morality”)”. Further, some of those obtain legal empowerment to regulate and enforce such a change on members of the wider public, whether valued “appropriately” by that public’s individual members or not.
(5) Over time, many such SIGsdevelop a collectivised ethic, increasingly restricting their members to “team player” respect for the “group think” ideological (single issue) glue which binds them together, then seek to enlarge their group’s power by recruiting ever more supporters until ultimately (in the ideal) all of society is incorporated. People subscribing to a collective’s ideology and goals are necessarily inhibited from developing personal perceptions, thinking independently, and acting innovatively to better himself and/or their families in areas in which the group has interests, without being specifically authorised (or instructed) to do so. For to indulge in any of these activities is to threaten the group’s ideology. Regional planners, once a Developmental Plan has been developed, tend very much to resist any deviation therefrom.
(6) Human thought and action are a combination of imagination and pragmatism. These disparate human functions are popularly perceived as emanating from the “heart” (for personally core = emotion-driven intuitions, perceptions, ideas, (integrated) visions and artistry, on which the likes of collectivised/ “integrated” (urban) design = aesthetic arrange-ments are built), or the “head” (for impartial and logical determination of facts, realities and considerations of personal costs & benefits v.effects on others and the environment, essentially the task of individuals). Recent discoveries suggest they are generally located in the brain’s right and left hemispheres respectively. Chinese see everything as creative tension between (heart and head as) Yin & Yang, with appropriate balances resulting in harmony. All human problems, both individually and collectively, can be traced to un-reconciled conflict between these two disparate human functions.
(7) A “successful” individual is one who combines inputs from each of “heart and head” to achieve a balanced combination of applications and outcomes, while also remaining “solvent” within social and economic parameters. He does this by defining, selecting reconciling and prioritising his dreams and ambitions with his personal resources (capabilities, time available etc), initially for personal advantage, then possibly (in consequence, and generally to a lesser extent, if at all) voluntarily for the advantage of one or more of the various groups with which he is associated. That is, he balances his ambitions against his resources (heart v. head), effecting value-judgements and tradeoffs in the process of decision-making for optimising self-management within the personal resources available.
(9) Clearly Auckland is currently “unsuccessful” in those terms, as we aspire to a higher place on OECD tables (like, above Australia’s), yet the government is currently borrowing $250 million per week from offshore largely to prop up the Auckland economy (which is earning at least 10% less per year than it is consuming) just to remain clinging onto the bottom rungs of the OECD comparisons ladders. Additionally, we are losing our talented and well-educated youth to greener pastures overseas, together with businesses and savings, while not attracting sufficient foreign talent and invest-ment to offset those leakages. Moreover, many of the immigrants replacing our home-grown migrant engineers, doctors nurses etc will take decades and even generations to “get up to speed” with the local socio-economy to be able to give as good as they get. That is, we are killing the goose which lays the golden eggs, and working steadily towards a future as a stagnant backwater of the south-west Pacific. Which is about as remote and irrelevant to the rest of the world as possible
(10)Effective city managementinvolves balancing budgets, not only that of the Council’s own incomes & expenditures, but also that of the city as a whole. This latter task has escaped Auckland’s city managers in the past (resulting in potentially runaway indebtedness), and looks to do so in future, unless the Council better understands /accepts this major responsibilitiy for ensuring the economic effects of its own interventions are sustainably net-$beneficial (rather than net-$detrimental as now). This requires rigorous application of RMA S.32 to ensure the region’s hard $cash economy can achieve and maintain $balance. There is no way of redressing this other than by ensuring Councillors get inputs from the Head as well as the Heart, enabling them to accountably make the necessary regulatory value-judgements and tradeoffs
(11) Auckland’s future socio-economic “sustainability” is entirely dependent on its youngsters being retained in sufficient number and quality to play a large part in recovering for Auckland its “rightful place” in the world (such as in the top ten of every OECD table). To do that, there must be available to them :
(i)an economy functioning and progressing(from quality and quality education in the creation of “real value”, being what real people want and need, rather than what government directs – see associated essay) sufficiently freely (from unduly debilitating ie net-detrimental regulation) to attract and encourage innovative development and progress.
(ii)a full range of employment types to match the need for them. If these are to be economically viable (ie meet real people’s real wants and needs, rather than government pre-dilections) they can only be created a private sector undeflected by political/ideological financial/economic distortions and unpredictablities. Which in turn requires the sum of risks and rewards of employment to be far less dis-incentivising for potential employers than they are today.
(iii)personally-efficient transport(in terms of personally incentivising levels of comfort, convenience & flexibility, and of both travel time and (unsubsidised) travel cost)to the best possible job for them wherever it may be. Such quality transport, which meets real people’s real wants and needs rather than regional planners’ aesthetic designs, is also necessary for the 70% of daily trips which are social, cultural, recreational, shopping etc in nature, have competing destinations scattered throughout the city, are every bit as important as work trips to the sort of people who add “vibrancy” to any city, and are not realistically accessible by any form of public transport, now or ever. This means better roading, with areal grid-type networks replacing the radial routes servicing the pre-WWII location of employment downtown, which has declined from 50% of regional employment in 1950 to 10% in 2000, and continues to decline despite radial rail transit and congestion-creating delays of the downtown-bypassing SH20 linkage and western bridge (Pt Chevalier – Highbury).
(iv) “affordable” housing, ie satisfactory housing available at the traditional three times the household income (or less) of new entrants to the housing market, translating to 1/3 of household income for either rent or mortgage when equity is 20% of full value. Unaffordability is caused by several factors (see (v) below) each bandwagon-jumping to compound the original, bubble-triggering and boosting causes : (a) regulations specifying land development and housing standards way above what the market can afford based on a (traditional) total cost of three times incomes, and (b) artificial shortage in the supply of housing land imposed with and by Metropolitan Urban Limits, reducing a finite but vast regional and national resource to a very limited one, further limited by land-banking to the point of disappearance.
(v)Undistorted financial markets, would enable housing to revert to an appropriate (“non-bubbling/unbubbled”) place in a full array of undistorted investment options. For decades now, the opportunities for capital gains together with gross disregard for first home buyers’ needs and affordabilities – in favour of vested interests such as existing ratepayers and SIGs – has been building towards the imminent mega-bust. Tomorrow is finally coming, if it hasn’t already arrived. .
(12) Achieving these five outcomes will be especially difficult in that their current deficiencies are the direct result of government and Regional Policies, Plans and regulations which impose costs (almost entirely for the benefit of others, who already benefit from an enhanced economy if the development or change of use occurs, rather than the initiator) which work in direct opposition to the outcome sought. Nor do planning documents address these problems in any more than fine language and stated intentions unmatched by any associated (and effective) policies. Instead :
(i) Around the western new world, the American architect-driven, coercively public transportised and densified “implosion” style of townplanning (refer separate essay) adopted as “resource management” for Auckland is demonstrating proneness to economic failure (even to collapse) in all cities which have adopted it, driven by ever-greater congestion, the higher resource (including energy) costs per m2 of apartmentalisation, and the over-mortgaging necessary to access any form of housing ownership as a primary requirement of and for living. In stark and growing contrast, those cities which allow and “enable” automobility and urban expansion (rather than restricting both) can sell new houses at three times household income or less, and are (comparatively) booming, with much higher employment, attracting youngsters from implosion cities. This leaves sufficient household income available for normal living requirements AND savings and investments in economically-productive services, infrastructure, and environmental protections, ie jobs. Any remainders – and these are significant in an expanding city thus prosperous society – can then be applied to voluntarily purchasing personally-preferred selections of social and environmental “goods” ie “lollies”, up to the $value of that remainder. The personal and national bankbooks are thus “balanced”, with essential expenditure being less than income, obviating the need for borrowing any more than is both warranted to fund basic essentials, and prudent. As President Willian (Bill) Clinton said; – “It’s the economy first, stupid” Yet we have been persuaded by social and environmental advocates to put anything first BUT the economy. And it’s not even as if we are getting the social and environmental “goods” (in aggregate) we are paying so dearly for.
(ii)Labour regulations : Who would want to be an employer, given the legal responsibilities, compliance obligations, security and productivity risks and incriminations/potential criminalisations that attach to that status today? The minimum wage requirement ensures that many possible “low quality” jobs can’t exist, and many youth never get a chance to even start climbing the ladder from an initial low quality job towards better pay and conditions as they discipline and train themselves to meet their pre-requisites.
(iii)Auto-mobility is more personally convenient, efficient and effective than any form of collective transport for about 97% of all daily vehicular trips, which is why public transport needs to be subsidised to (in effect) bribe people to use it. Yet Auckland has been effectively stripped of road user taxes for decades for their use elsewhere, their use as cross-subsidies for suburban transit (especially rail), their squandering on tunnels at four times the cost of bridges and eight times the cost of surface roads, to mollify neighbourhoods which could have been agreeably compensated for a tiny fraction of the excess costs of (inferior) tunnelling, and who will (mostly) have left the neighbourhood well within a decade. Rail transit has been authoritatively shown to be uneconomic for cities with a population less than 5 million and 30% of regional employment centralised, and grossly so for Auckland parameters. New rail transit represents an enduring financial burden both in the loss of the alternative uses for the $capital it absorbs (up to $10 billion for Auckland if the full planned 155km system is built), and in running and maintenance costs several times what can be collected by farebox.
(iv)Housing unaffordability : With sections costing ten times what they need to as a bare minimum, because they are so highly specified (“gold-plated”, “world class standards”, 100% safe, absolutely NO environmental effects, over-inspected, costly delays & charges) and the developers (and eventual purchasers) so ripped off by legally-empowered ticket clipping beneficiaries at every turn of the screw, it can be no wonder that housing plus land costs about nine times income, or three times what it needs to cost, that New Zealand now competes with Iceland and the PIIGS to be the most heavily borrowed nation (per capita) in the OECD, and that coming generations are finding the home-owning and work situations so discouraging as to drive substantial migration to greener pastures overseas. While renting is an option for those unable to save a deposit, it is certainly not the preferred option in a society which supposedly is free enough to enable people to achieve their dreams. Historically, overly top-heavy “landlordised” (serf) societies became revolutionary.
(v) Un-distort financial markets : Unregulated markets fluctuate naturally and quickly from mini-boom to mini-bust and back, (para (1)), churning the availability of goods, terms of trade etc with prices, continually matching productions with consumptions. But Governments are prone to intervene to prolong booms, at least until after the next election, and imbalances tend to accumulate requiring ever-greater intervention (including borrowing offshore) to counter-balance them. Interventions can be regulatory or fiscal, eg manipulating interest rates or taxation regimes. Such boom prolongations are inflationary, incentivising the public to protect savings in assets like property (or gold) because bank savings or treasury bonds are forever eroding in real value, especially when double-taxed. If government really wants to sustain a market economy (rather than create inflation to rob wealth), it needs to progressively reduce, rather than increase, its manipulations of factors which distort and threaten “other-than-housing” investment options.Similarly, local gov’tseems determined to clip every developmental and building ticket at every stage, to benefit SIGs and existing ratepayers, already bloated from capital gains. The effect is gross unaffordability for first home buyers, the very people we need to retain rather than drive offshore. Consequential employment in development, building & supply industries is severely detrimental for the economy at large. This is unsustainable, and will eventually cause a mega-bust.
1If this proves impossible before lenders lose confidence in their prospects of repayment, they will stop lending, ensuring : (i) our consumption falls immediately to match productivity, and … (ii) our future borrowing capacity is impaired, if not destroyed. New Zealand was in that situation in 1984 after we lost our UK market to the EEC and over-indulged in uneconomic major energy projects; the IMF only agreed to rolling our loans over at affordable interest rates if we transformed our economy from “over-regulated”= suppressed to “more market”. Replacing town planning legislation with RMA was supposed to help with this. It is remarkable in having failed to do so. Equally remarkable is the inadequacy / ineffectiveness of any and all monitoring / review mechanisms of economic performance to date.And RMA S.32, instead of ensuring benefits and costs are considered, merely empowers planners to ignore them.