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Fixing NZ’s cities: a vision of our urban future

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Image via Twitter from Isabella Cawthorn

Report by David Batchelor
Phil Twyford, Minister for Housing, Urban Development and Transport, described a clear vision for the future of New Zealand’s cities at the Urbanism New Zealand Conference on Monday in Wellington.

After stating that New Zealand is an urban nation, Minister Twyford recognised that the country has never truly embraced urbanity. He noted the increasing struggles with homelessness, cold damp homes, traffic gridlock, unaffordable housing, social isolation, and crumbling infrastructure “reflect our collective failure to understand how cities work and invest in their success”.

However, Minister Twyford was optimistic about the future. He stated that “we have a chance to change the way this country that thinks about our built environment, our homes, the public and private realms, and our towns and cities”.

He highlighted the Government’s three focus areas to improve our cities. Firstly, to reform the housing and residential construction markets by reforming financing, tenancy laws, and the planning system. “These reforms” he said, “are underpinned by the insight that you must at least from one angle understand the city as a market, pay attention to how it behaves, and intervene when necessary, otherwise you get some pretty perverse outcomes”.

Next is to invest in “modern urban transport to support growth”, including more emphasis on public transport, rapid transit, and walking and cycling. Minster Twyford said that “transport is what drives urban form” so “we must invest in transport to drive the urban form that we desire”. He also provided a solution to the long-debated Wellington light rail proposal when he quipped, “and yes Justin (Lester), we also are developing a cunning plan for Wellington”.

The third is using urban and architectural design to achieve desirable and economically successful urban spaces. Twyford said that “it is time for a qualitative shift in how we design our cities… Good design has in the last two decades shown us, with the Wellington waterfront and Pukeahu National War Memorial Park and in Auckland, the Britomart and Wynyard Quarter – how the quality of the public realm can lift our spirits and make a city liveable, and that in turn attracts people and investment”. He highlighted Zavos Corner in Mount Victoria as “a great example of medium density suburban design”.

While the speech was tailored for his audience of architects, urban designers, planners, and urban academia, it was clear that the Minister is aware of the need to improve our cities.

See a transcript of Minister Twyford’s full speech here: https://bit.ly/2IJRRhC