Londonism – leadership building a city's ideology
The Economist recently outlined how a strong mayoral office has helped transform London into a global city. Although the reshaping of once desolate Docklands and Canary Wharf goes back over 20 years, the article sees their emergence as a centre of global commerce and recreation as an expression of “Londonism”. This, it says, is “a distinct ideology” focused on the leadership provided by a strong mayoralty. Two totally different mayors, it argues, have helped create a vibrant, open, progressive, and highly successful city even in the midst of Britain’s economic doldrums.
In this posting I ask whether the creation of a stronger mayoral office might have done this for Auckland, and what sort of Auckland a visionary mayor might promote.
So, does Auckland governance deliver the right leadership?
Creating a stronger international presence so that Auckland can secure its place among the world’s wealthier centres was the aspiration behind the Royal Commission on Auckland’s Governance.
The Commission received useful advice on how the necessary leadership might be achieved from international expert, Robin Hambleton. Unfortunately, it watered down his recommendations and, like medicine, the watered down version may not deliver the cure.
Processor Hambleton pointed to the benefits of a directly elected Mayor presiding over an authority making strategic decisions on (selected) matters of city-wide significance. London provides the example of just such leadership delivering the vision needed to lift a city out of the ordinary.
At the same time, community leadership continues to reside in London’s 32 boroughs and central London’s City Corporation. The Royal Commission’s prescription for Auckland, though, downplayed community leadership by promoting the merger of existing councils and dramatically reducing both councillor numbers and their proximity to communities.
However, it did retain the idea of a mayor elected at large with an executive office attached to the mayoralty, although with more limited executive powers than in London and a more traditional brief.
In essence, the Commission’s prescription, and the government’s subsequent modifications, focused on changing structures to achieve gains in efficiencies and submerge parochialism, rather than on reshaping Auckland’s leadership.
The government paid lip service to local democracy by retaining ward-based elections for councillors. But this further compromises city-wide leadership by retaining an incipient parochialism in council, without really achieving local leadership. Locally elected boards cannot do much, either, as they lack budgets and only have the powers delegated by the council.
So we have a governance structure that compared with London compromises on leadership at all levels. The question remains whether the civic leadership can still evolve, and be effective.
Making the most of what we’ve got
Fortunately, the mayoral contest turned into a two horse race. And while it was between two tried and tested mayors from the old regime, they did offer voters a choice of politics and style. With a solid win, community-focused Mayor Len Brown can assume a mandate to insert his values of inclusion into a long-term vision for Auckland, albeit one that needs to take the council with it. Fortunately for him the council is weighted in his favour.
Like former London mayor “red” Ken Livingstone in London, he is also prepared to back some of the infrastructure projects that business favours. And, keen to make his mark quickly, Mayor Brown has embarked on a programme of 100 projects in 100 days. Most of these are sensible, tidy-up initiatives, pulling together a range of outstanding issues. But this is short-termism, much of it to do with matters that could have been handled locally; hardly visionary. It implies that the new Mayor could get his fingers into all sorts of pies and be distracted from the big picture.
Can Auckland have its Canary Wharf?
On the other hand, the risk of consciously pursuing a big vision is that we try to emulate the big stories from overseas: waterfront master plans; convention centres, cruise ship terminals and the like. This is the “me-too” version of vision – Auckland wanting to be one of the big boys. And, incidentally, spending big money to do it. Unfortunately times have changed. The rebuiilding of Docklands coincided largely with boom times in one of the world's major metropolitan centres. But this is Auckland emerging tentatively from the depths of a major global downturn.
Of course, this simply increases the challenge, and behoves us to find a different way. And that may just be to blend Mayor Brown’s focus on community with how we assert our place in the world.
This is Auckland, Tamaki Maka Rau, with its own distinctive heritage – a Māori, Polynesian and Pacific heritage, a colonial past, a land of settlers, where cultures old and new meet and mix. It is a city of seas, seafarers and travellers, a waypoint between east and west. It’s an outdoor sort of place, a weathered place that can function well in rain or shine. (Now there’s a challenge – one that Wellington, for example, has risen to in its streetscapes, byways, and public places). .
One Auckland, many Aucklands
As the Economist says about London, Auckland has its own geography and its own lifestyles. It enjoys spectacular landscapes reaching from coast to coast and houses diverse and evolving communities, some steeped in the long history of the land and others fresh off the boat.
Can we link these places and peoples, perhaps bring them together symbolically on the shores of the Waitemata and the city centre? At the same time, can we ensure that their individuality is expressed in a series of well connected places and spaces – leafy suburbs, urban villages, rural settlements, and coastal communities -- of colour and character?
We do not have to reinvent Auckland so much as highlight and build on what we already have and who we already are. Urban form, urban design, and civic projects will ideally bring out what’s best about our city, our citizens, and our landscapes, making Auckland open and accessible. This is the challenge for our mayor and for mayors to come, a challenge of creating a singular vision globally recognised, one that encompasses our localism, diversity, and internationalism.