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The Moxie Sessions: What do they know of Auckland, who only Auckland know?

How are we going with this super city thing? What's Auckland's role within New Zealand, and as a launchpad to the world?

Vaughn Davis
Sun, 09 Nov 2014

Every month, The Moxie Sessions bring together a small group of business thinkers to discuss ways New Zealand can take advantage of the internet and boost its national competitiveness. This month, we returned to technology and innovation precinct Grid AKL to think about the city most around the Moxie table live in: Auckland. How are we going with this super city thing? What’s Auckland’s role within New Zealand, and as a launchpad to the world?

Kicking off the discussion were Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, Innovation Consultant James Hurman and Booktrack COO Tim Warren.

While the Auckland isthmus has been settled for almost 700 years, Auckland City as we know it is barely four years old. And like all four year olds, it’s still got a lot of growing up to do. While the average one can stand on its own two feet, feed itself without making too much of a mess and mostly go to the toilet without assistance, its cognitive and social skills are still very much a work in progress. Pre-schoolers take a while to find their voice, their sense of self and their place in their whanau and community.

And that’s pretty much where Auckland finds itself.

According to Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, the discussion is as much about Auckland’s place in the world as its place in New Zealand. The comparisons that matter to Auckland are not with Wellington and Christchurch, but with Amsterdam, Tokyo and Calgary. (Which as well as comparing ourselves with the best, makes for far more interesting council fact finding trips.)

New Zealand’s current focus on China, Penny says, presents a big opportunity for Auckland as an economic and political bridge between the countries. Unlike New Zealand (for all sorts of reasons, many outside the scope of this column), China loves mayors, and Chinese city and provincial government is just as important as central, particularly in areas like trade. Forging strong city-to-city links, she says, can benefit the entire country.

For Innovation Consultant James Hurman, Auckland is looking pretty sweet. Hurman’s company Previously Unavailable recently completed a study of Aucklanders’ attitudes towards the city and found that post-super-city only 21% were less proud of Auckland, with 32% just as proud and 47% more proud after the merger.

We don’t exactly know whether Auckland is alone in this or whether there has been some broader increase in national pride. But digging into the data, Hurman says this sense of pride stems from six ways Auckland has changed in the last few years:

  1. Our history and heritage have become more accessible and more celebrated.
  2. The range of recreational activities has increased – there’s just more to do.
  3. We’ve opened up access to the waterfront.
  4. Precinct developments such as Britomart and Wynyard Quarter have sprung up.
  5. Auckland’s restaurant scene has taken off.
  6. We’ve become a more obviously multicultural city.

It’s not all about lattes and lantern festivals though. Booktrack’s Tim Warren spent a good chunk of his career working in capital markets and for him, it’s Auckland’s capital system that places it at the centre of the New Zealand economy. 30% of Auckland’s economy is based on financial services, most of the banks are headquartered here and, Tim says, if you work in the financial markets 99% of the phone calls you’ll make in any given day are to other Auckland companies. All this, he says, adds up to a great city to do business in.

But are we just being a little smug?  With the all the benefits the super city brings (many of which do seem to be within a quick Corporate Cab ride of Queen Street), is the amalgamation papering over some rather important cracks and, more importantly, widening the gap between Auckland and Actual New Zealand even more?

Amalgamation, for example, makes multiculturalism easy – Mr and Mrs Remuera can now rightly say they live in a city where cultures and ethnicities of all sorts live and work… just not on their street, darling.

And while it’s popular to believe, at least in Auckland, that the whole JAFA-bashing thing has reduced over the years, there’s really no evidence to support that.

If looking outwards to the world is critical to keep attracting the talent and capital Auckland needs to continue growing, staying on good terms with the rest of the country counts too (if only to lessen the chance of one day being sacked, Rome-style, by the provinces.) Part of the problem, Penny says, is that central government doesn’t fully appreciate the role local government plays. As someone in the room suggested, Wellington trusts local government to run libraries and give out dog licences, but when something important like an earthquake happens, they send in a Minister.

So there’s clearly a job to do on that front. How to actually forge those relationships with the world beyond the latte belt is a little less obvious. The whole “Minister for Auckland” thing was one approach, but another possibility might be to turn that on its head and appoint an Ambassador to Wellington. At a more grass roots level, incentivising or otherwise encourage young Auckanders to spend a year of their secondary or tertiary education in another part of the country could help give graduates a more national view of things. And as the country’s biggest regional authority, there might also be opportunities to export our IP in running libraries, giving out dog licences and suchlike to other parts of the country.

So is Auckland that global city New Zealand needs? And have we really worked out the ideal relationship between local and central government, and between Auckland and the rest of the country?

The consensus seems to be not yet, and maybe not for a while. But there seems to be little doubt that this new Auckland, this wide-eyed four year old, teetering, tottering, not quite sure what it is, has all the ingredients needed for a world-class city. All that we need to agree on is the recipe.

Thanks to Alcatel Lucent for their generous sponsorship, which helps to make the Moxie Sessions possible.

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Vaughn Davis
Sun, 09 Nov 2014
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The Moxie Sessions: What do they know of Auckland, who only Auckland know?