Reinventing Local - a 500 word op-ed piece

The editor of an Auckland media outlet asked Claude Lewenz to write a 500 word op-ed piece in the lead-up to the local body elections.

Reinventing Local

With local body elections on, good citizens put their names forward to serve. But once elected, how effective can they be? What policies can they champion to make a difference to our communities?

I suggest they reinvent “local”. Auckland does not do local. Auckland does not understand local. If it did, it could overcome many of its grave challenges.

The enemy of local is daily transport. Local dies when zoning separates the places we go day-to-day: work, school, shopping, services and social pursuits. Local is so dead in Auckland that few understand how critically important real local can be. Local means eliminating the need for daily driving.

Two facts make this relevant: the tech revolution and housing demand. Local body leaders should consider the threats and opportunities of both.

New Zealand’s bane, its distance from global markets, is fast becoming its most valuable asset thanks to the tech revolution. The nerves of tech are ultra-fast fibre-optic business broadband. Its muscle is the Internet of Things. Tech’s brain however remains human – the world’s best and brightest, including expat Kiwis and first-world migrants seeking better quality of life to relocate their businesses. But today’s New Zealand does not offer what they want – socially enriched face-to-face communities with daily destinations within walking distance.

Auckland’s failure would be to build thousands of new homes located far away from work, shops, services and schools. We don’t need a special-housing accord; we need a special-town accord.

It is a simple proposition: within rural areas, zone for country towns based on the historic car-free country towns of old Europe where cars are for outbound travel, not daily life. Those towns are prime visitor destinations because people love their quality of life. People love waking up to birdsong instead of belching trucks rumbling outside their townhouse window. People love strolling car-free streets to the village café to enjoy delicious, affordable food. People love meeting friends on the village plaza without an appointment: real face, not Facebook. Parents love the security to raise free-range children. Elders love remaining in their community after they stop driving. In such places everyone knows each other. When something goes wrong, they take care of their own, not looking to the authorities. Then we come home to Auckland and ask, “Why can’t we live like that here?”

We can. Indeed timing could not be better. But we need new development patterns. We need to reinvent local.

It’s harder to retrofit an existing community built on a transport development pattern. But Auckland projects a need for 400,000 new homes on greenfield sites. Build them like the old European country towns, and base their local economy on the tech revolution, not on roads and rail. Move destinations not people.

Of course, there is more to it than a quick op-ed piece, but as you stand for office and ask for votes, whether you are left wing or right, reinventing local should appeal. Growth without congestion. Growth that feeds prosperity. Growth that nourishes the body and soul.

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