Friday, January 28, 2011

Integrated planning - it’s all about working together

Just another catch cry?
We hear a lot about integrated planning.  What is it?  I checked that out with the authority on everything, Wikipedia. 
the Integrated Planning System is a structured planning framework adapted from the US military's Joint Operational Planning and Execution System:. 
This isn’t particularly helpful. But it does remind us that modern planning has rigid, hierarchical military origins.
So I looked elsewhere.  In business defined integrated planning as
A joint planning exercise that ensures participation of all stakeholders and affected departments.  Its objective is to examine all economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits, in order to determine most appropriate option and to plan a suitable course of action.
This is better, introducing ideas of collaboration and cross-disciplinary analysis.
How do we see integrated planning in New Zealand? 
According to the NZ Transport Agency,
Integrated transport ...  takes account of and connects [transport systems, the form of urban development and how land is used] [and] helps ensure that development of the transportation network and land use is coordinated.  
Issues traditionally treated separately should be considered jointly.  The NZTA provides a toolkit for doing integrated planning, containing case studies and guidelines to help practitioners align transport and land use outcomes.
The New Zealand Planning Institute also offers a toolkit.  This rolls up spatial plans, asset manage-ment plans, planning balance sheets, financial plans, and the like.  Presumably integration happens when we get all our plans lined up, an exercise focused on procedure.  
Working together
It’s unlikely that integration can be delivered simply using a toolkit. It is more important to focus on outcomes rather than prescribe methods.  Case studies are helpful for lessons learnt.  But integrated outcomes cannot be defined simply by imitation or documentation. 
In fact, they rely on getting people who would not normally do so to collaborate. 
It’s a good idea to focus first on what objectives the relevant agencies and their personnel share.  Getting this to happen takes leadership.  In cities, shared objectives may relate to large projects, urban form, economic revival, community development, ecological restoration, and so forth.  
The challenge is not to make ever more complex plans, but to create the environment for collaboration through which hard-to-achieve objectives are met by working together.
Getting results through leadership and collaboration ...
This blog was sparked by a recent Listener story about Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, an expat Kiwi who led a revamp in London’s West End.  She did this not by writing plans and spending public money – although there has to be some of that – but by working with a range of stakeholders “from retailers, to police to transport chiefs to the mayor”, getting them to agree on what needs to be done.  The thing I love” she says “is getting public, private and voluntary to work together, taking the best of each sector and getting them to knit together”.
There are some interesting themes here.  Dame Judith got people out of their silos.  And she worked across three sectors, government, business, and civil society, the latter being individuals and organisations working voluntarily towards social ends.  
How often do we overlook the capacity of civil society?  Too often planners assume that community consultation covers off community interests.  Perhaps we should be thinking about civil society as a partner in the development of our communities, and a key element in our constitution.
Dame Judith also emphasised action – getting things done, not just talking about them.  If that means working with voluntary associations or community groups, so much the better.
Getting past adversarial planning
There is overlap between this and CityScope’s recommended approach to integrated planning for large urban projects.  Our review of experience in large urban projects suggested that leadership and governance to enable different stakeholders to pursue shared goals was the key to success.   
Currently we rely too much on process and adversarial conflict resolution in planning, and on regulating for what cannot be done.  This may be necessary if we have widely different objectives.  But it would be far better to focus on plans that can be agreed upon, achieving and acting on consensus outcomes, while resolving details of difference through mediation and even compromise.
People may have to agree to differ on smaller issues so they can deal with the big ones.  They may have to work outside their professional institutions, to work across departments and organisations, and in doing so back off institutionalised values and ideological clichés.
Can we restructure our way to collaboration?
Perhaps that is what restructuring Auckland local government was about: merging eight councils to create more a collaborative, less professionally or geographically hide-bound body? 
But is that enough if people’s old values and professional affiliations persist in the new structure?  A new organisation needs a new culture, and a sense of a common purpose that goes beyond feel-good documents.  Otherwise, the old inefficiencies and prejudices persist. 
Integration and culture
So how do we achieve the organisational culture necessary for integrated plans and outcomes? 
Well, another New Zealander has had some quiet success at this.  Gregg Innes has developed a business bringing about cultural shifts in US local governments.  Councils there have much wider responsibilities.  They have to work against the inefficiencies created by departmental silos and professional patch protection. 
Greg has successfully developed and applied techniques to counter this, techniques that help shift cultures so they are more responsive to wider organisational objectives and work together despite different backgrounds.  But that’s another story.
It’s important at this stage simply to acknowledge that today’s urban areas and issues are complex and conflicted.  Change is not linear – things don’t proceed smoothly down a clearly marked path.  But let’s not push complicated processes under the guise of integrated planning when commitment and cooperation are most needed.
Rather than lock ourselves into over-complex planning methods we should perhaps consider how professions, organisations, and people can simply be encouraged to work together across local government and civil society.  It’s not a matter of scale.  Bigger units of government will not be more effective.  Restructuring alone won’t do the trick.  Overlapping plans won’t carry the day.  It’s fundamentally a matter of sustaining the leadership and culture required to get the cooperation necessary to deal with the big projects and big issues.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A less conventional take on convention centres

Bad for business
I came across a blog the other day in praise of convention centres.  Its a few months old now, but it  backed the competitive bid by the Edge  (which already runs a centre that can host 2,250 people) to provide a large one for Auckland. 
It was followed by a comment that suggested convention centres don’t actually contribute to city well-being .  The author of the blog, Sydney, said he had not seen the research behind this claim. 

Well, try this 2002 article in the Economic Development Quarterly.   Heywood Sanders assessed evidence from 36 feasibility and market studies in the United States.   The results were pretty conclusive.  Large downtown convention centres, once built, rarely deliver.  One reason is  the static or declining market for trade shows, conventions and conferences.  Another is the tendency for consultants to substantially over-estimate attendance, and optimistic forecasts of occupancy to be accepted without question.
Monuments to bad decisions
A convention centre is being promoted as something of an anchor project for an internationalised CBD in Auckland.  I put some ideas for how we might remake Auckland’s CBD into a recent blog.  A new convention centre has no  part in any prescription I could come up with. 
Monumentalism – building (hopefully) iconic, large structures with ratepayers’ money (and future ratepayers' money ) – is a high risk business.  And convention centres, alongside large sports stadia, are among the least likely to deliver.   
Take the North Harbour Stadium, for example.  As stadia go, it certainly looks good.  It’s beautifully designed, and sits well in an attractive location.  Is it often used?  No.  Is it ever full?  No.  Has it contributed to the economic well-being of North Shore or Auckland?  No.  Has it cost the ratepayers? Yes, big time.  The lesson?  Something more modest would have delivered the sporting and entertainment benefits at a lot less cost.  Big and iconic is not always beautiful.
Why not?
So what’s wrong with a big, bold convention centre for central Auckland?  It’s not the same as a sports stadium on the outskirts. Is it?
Well here are my reasons for dismissing it and moving on.
First, convention centres are so 1990s.  There is evidence that the market has been in  decline for some time as conference and convention  budgets are cut back.  Why invest public money in a mature or declining market, especially when you already have low risk private investment in it?
Second, New Zealand is remote.  Remoteness may be a strength on some counts, but in the case of conventions its a weakness.  Don’t expect large numbers to travel for two, three. or four days just  to sit in a glorified hall for two or three days more, no matter how good the audio visual systems and morning teas.  Not many will.  And today fewer organisations are willing to pay for them to do so.
Even conventions focused on Asian markets experience a drop in the number of delegates once they come down here.  Big conferences in Singapore or Hong Kong become small conferences in Auckland.  Organisers and sponsors don’t like that.  They may encourage localities to build centres because the additional competition is good for them, if not for centre owners.  But their focus on attendance means that they locate conventions with a view to how easy it is to get people there.

And getting European and North American conventioneers to travel more than a day or two is even harder work. 
This point was made by the international panel invited in 2006 to review the Metropolitan Auckland Project.  They counselled caution based on the northern hemisphere experience.  Our city politicians would do well to heed the warning contained in the panel's Final Report (pages 30 and 31). 
Third, convention centres like sports stadia become significantly more expensive to build and run the bigger they get.  Those extra  500-1,000 spaces needed to take the capacity to, say, 4,000 or 5,000 delegates happen to be the least used but may cost the most to build.  Quite simply, the marginal costs of super-sizing exceed the marginal benefits.  Bad economics.
Globally large conventions are a very small part of the convention and conference market.  And, because lots of places have been sucked into building big centres competition for them is keen: too much capacity fighting for too little demand.  Bad strategy.
We can cater for the majority of conventions likely to come this way using facilities here now.  Let’s make sure they are continuously full before we build something that will be mainly empty. 
Fourth, convention centres tend to be imposed on prime central sites.  They are highly visible and cast big shadows.  They create dead areas around them  They are bulky and functional; and often ugly as result.  They privatise potentially good public space.  Barren concourses and echoing corridors may be the only concession to the local community.  Bad urban design.

Fifth, convention centres rely on keeping the public out.  They are built for business people, academics, and professionals. They may occasionally cater for concert goers.  But by definition they are largely for people from somewhere else.  Then they enclose those people for most of the day, isolated from the city around them.  True, a few locals may be able to walk the ramparts, or attend the occasional meeting.  But they are essentially exclusionary. Bad community development.
Sixth, if we did succeed in scoring one of the few really big conventions (say, more than 3,000 or 4,000 delegates) one effect would be to congest the accommodation sector.  Delegates are in for two to three nights, then gone.  This means a short peak in accommodation demand, potentially disrupting the flow of real tourists who come to stay, explore, and spend.  Bad tourism investment.
Would any of the current bidders want to build a large centre from scratch without a taxpayer handout?  No, they want the taxpayers – or ratepayers – to pay for them.  Even the advisors who make a living pushing these things onto governments are unlikely to invest their or their clients’ dollars.  But they will suggest we spend our taxes on them (and some of our children’s taxes as well).  Bad business 
Ah, but what about the multiplier effect?
The difficulty of justifying convention centres in conventional terms is why we rely on abstract multiplier analysesto demonstrate that dispensing large lumps of public money on uneconomic projects might just be justified by private spin-offs.  Multiplier analyses rely on a host of arbitrary assumptions to generate the numbers, though, and they generally presume we could not do something better with the funds (like leaving them in local pockets).  They are too abstract by themselves to justify big spending plans.  And the absence of follow-up reviews to see if what they predict is what happens is a worrying if they are used to justify fiscal foolhardiness.

Building a large convention centre is deadweight spending, giving new meaning to the idea of an anchor project.  So, if I might mix metaphors , let's treat this one like the downtown rugby stadium, and kick it into touch.  If we cannot justify a large new convention centre through a realistic, market-based business case, let’s move on.
How about a cultural centre instead? 
If we must try to manufacture an iconic place of assembly in the CBD, can we be a little more lateral?
Here's my idea.  This is Auckland; Tamaki Maka Rau, not the Gold Coast, or Vancouver, or Singapore.  If we want to invest (not too much!) on making Auckland’s mark on the world let’s do it on something meaningful to Aucklanders, something that we can share with our visitors. 
 An iconic cultural centre, perhaps?  It could reflect our roots, our reality, our people, and still explore our future.  Something unique and distinctive, on a site and of a scale, cost, and form that befits our city and setting.  Better to have a cultural centre for Auckland and of Auckland that welcomes visitors (and may even strengthen the city's appeal for modest conventions); a centre continuously busy, where what you hear is the beat of the city’s heart and not the whistle of the wind around empty halls.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Subsidiarity: putting civil society in its place

Communities doing their own thing
An article in today’s New Zealand Herald reported on the progress being made by a voluntary association of residents of the Matakana area developing local walkways.  Businesses, residents, and donors have pitched in to work with council support to create off-highway links between the rural settlements of Matakana Village, Point Wells, and Omaha Beach.  This is a modest local initiative.  It is a sign, though, of increasing community interest in the quality and accessibility of the physical environment outside our cities.  The Tawharanui Open Sanctuary Society is in the same vein (and locality).  Here, a local community voluntary initiative has been encouraged and supported by local government (the regional council) to achieve conservation outcomes. 
This is a sign that working together communities can deliver projects with a public benefit.  They do not need simply to join the queues contesting government delivery of taxpayer funded projects.
Volunteering, the foundation of civil society
Of course, community focused voluntarism has been with us for a long time, especially in urban areas.  The Māori Warden Association is an excellent example we are all familiar with in New Zealand.  The NZ Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations includes around 130 member organisations, which among them employ 11,000 paid staff and represent 41,500 volunteers. The Federation is committed to building strong and equitable communities.
Volunteering New Zealand is an organisation that provides resources and support to organisations in emergency services, health, welfare, education, culture, faith based services, community support, ethnic interests, sport and recreation, conservation, special interests, advocacy and international volunteering.  It provides a strong framework of volunteering centres throughout the country. It  estimates that around 34% of the population aged over ten years is involved in volunteering. 
A high rate of volunteering is confirmed by recent research by Massey University and the Ministry of Social Development.  This puts New Zealand number seven among nations when measured as the share of the economically active population in the not-for-profit workforce.
This is all evidence that New Zealand enjoys a strong civil society, made up of the range of organisations and associations of individuals (and businesses) that contribute freely to the effective functioning of communities without relying on the strictures of the state to do so. 
Civil society, the state, and the market
Civil society has long played a role in getting underprivileged communities moving in developing nations.  For them it may be the main means of group survival, and a force against anarchy.  Often non-government organisations arise from the ground up and become important organising agencies for infrastructure and services in poor communities which depend more on social capital than state direction and resources.  
Now, it seems, civil society may have a more visible role to play as developed nations move into a new, fiscally challenged phase of slow growth and development.
An active civil society can underpin social progress and build stronger communities, ideally supported by the state.  Even better, civil society, the state, and commercial organisations (those regulated by the market) can come together to achieve beneficial social and economic outcomes.  
It’s interesting that a growing awareness of the potential of civil society has triggered some rethinking even in conservative quarters.  Think Tank Res Publica with its emphasis on a more inclusive form of democracy has informed the British government’s thinking about new ways of advancing the social programme, ways less dependent on welfare and more on capacity building. 
There is a risk that moving more towards a society based on voluntarism is no more than a means of running down central government, undoing hard-fought for welfare programmes.  Some equate it with inserting the market where the state has traditionally operated. But this thinking risks confusing the elevation of civil society with corporatisation of services that no longer fit comfortably into the state’s mandate. 
Sure, the relationship between state, civil society and the market needs to be debated.  But that should not prevent us exploring what is potentially a much more effective and balanced form of government (and governance) in which communities, business, and governments act in partnership.
Subsidiarity – a better form of governance?
I have recently been involved in a project looking at subsidiarity in Lombardy (population 9.9m ) in northern Italy.  Subsidiarity is the principle that responsibilities for governing should be allocated from central to decentralised agencies wherever practical.  This is the vertical subsidiarity that features in much of the literature about democracy and governance.  The rationale is that decisions are best taken as close as possible to where they will have most effect.  This arrangement helps communities relate to different tiers of government while providing for more effective governance.
In Lombardy the related principle of horizontal subsidiarity is also important.  This sees functions allocated to the agencies most suited to implementing them.  These may be voluntary or commercial organisations.  Functions that have traditionally been the role of government might move out under these circumstances.  It goes without saying that if the government does allocate responsibility to an outside agency it needs to be accompanied by public funding and monitoring to ensure the best return on the taxpayer investment.  The point is, though, that government need not take direct responsibility for delivery  to get the best outcome.
A suggestion: endorsing subsidiarity in the constitution
Built on our strong and growing civil society, an established and transparent market place, and sound agencies of government, the forthcoming review of the New Zealand constitution might consider vertical and horizontal subsidiarity as potential governing principles, and in doing so acknowledge and endorse the growing importance of community-based organisations in future New Zealand governments.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The constitution of local government

Another constitutional review
Constitutional arrangements in New Zealand are up for review again, just over five years since the last inquiry was published.  The terms of reference this time appear more focused - on electoral matters, Crown-Māori relationships, bill of rights issues, and the matter of a written constitution.
This blog considers where local government falls in New Zealand’s constitution.  It’s an issue that I think needs to be brought squarely into the mix, not just as a detail when considering Māori representation.
Report of the Constitutional Arrangements Committee, 2005
The last review decided that New Zealand’s constitution is one of “pragmatic evolution”.  It is based, the panel said, on New Zealanders’ instinct to fix things when they need fixing, when they can fix them, without necessarily relating them to any grand philosophical scheme. 
Lack of an underlying philosophy or consideration of the relationship between constitutional and democratic principles is a bit worrying.  Pragmatism can be ad hocery by another name.  It hardly makes for consistency or good government. 
Some of the concerns raised by the panel in the last review are also a bit of a worry:
“ Minor repairs here and there may alter the overall balance between the branches of government in a way that is not necessarily foreseen or intended. We are concerned that this has happened recently.
“Committee members offer different examples. Among them are
• the conferring of powers of general competence on local government
• the postulation of “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” in legislation and the judges’ role in   elucidating them in the course of interpreting the phrase in the context of the particular statute
• the question whether state education is required to be secular” (P12)
A philosophical grounding – perhaps laid out in a written constitution – should avoid such concerns. 
Focusing just on the first concern: there is clearly discomfort that the Local Government Act 2002 broadened the powers of local councils.  Why?  Is the constitution just about protecting the power of one group over another?  Does local government not exist in its own right, but only at the pleasure of central government?  Is this constitutionally sensible? 
Federalism puts local first
Consider the experience of the former colonial states most like New Zealand.  Australia, Canada, and the United States all have written constitutions.  They were drawn up by federations of erstwhile separate provinces or states – former colonies.  Through federation they created and formally conferred selected powers on a central government.  These powers related to functions best performed in a united way at the centre.  They included defence, trade, property rights, and currency, for example. 
The point is that the central – federal – governments were created by the provincial governments.  The centre’s powers were conferred by the people through a written constitution.
Consequently, state or provincial governments in these countries empower local government, mainly to undertake functions best performed “on the ground”. 
In the United States local powers are defined widely.  Municipalities are typically involved in local infrastructure, parks, reserves and recreation, police, fire services, emergency management and services, urban planning, economic promotion, housing, transportation, court activity.  Given these local responsibilities local government is an important focus of democracy, and drives the character and quality of local life.
Creation of a centralised state in New Zealand
New Zealand is different.  We have a gap where provinces once existed, and local government remains subject to central edict.  The reasons lie in our constitutional history.
We could consider the Treaty of Waitangi as being parallel to the written constitution of those other post-colonial states.  The difference is that through the Treaty Māori ceded certain powers best implemented centrally to the British Crown rather than to an agency of their own making. 
Consequently, New Zealand’s arrangements for government were designed by the British Parliament.  In particular, the 1852 New Zealand Constitution Act created six provincial councils, a legislature, a central House of Representatives, and defined relations among them.  
Land wars and the demands of development in sparsely settled areas mean that the provinces struggled financially.  In the end, bickering among them and the emergence of separatist movements in the South Island led to their abolition in 1876.  Since then, local government has operated at the behest of central government. 
Consequently, the power of people and their communities depends on the goodwill of nationally elected representatives and a highly centralised bureaucracy.
Shifting the balance
Historical circumstances, small scale communities, and a unique if contested contractual place for Māori may justify New Zealand’s singular form of democracy. 
But the fact that conferring the power of general competence on local government disturbed central politicians in the 2005 review does raise questions around how rights are protected -- or evolve -- in an unwritten constitution.  Federal arrangements elsewhere certainly spell out the relationship between central and local (state or provincial) government more clearly on the basis that power is ceded by the people to their representatives, not the other way round. 
As it turns out the central politicians responsible for the last review need not have worried about what they might have away.  Any concession of authority was more form than substance.  It certainly did not stop central government from stepping in and reshaping Auckland. 
Maybe the centre has a case.  Local government does not always get things right.  But, then, nor does central government. 
Distrust of local by central government is a form of distrust in citizens and their communities.  That’s too bad in a democracy.  And perhaps it’s a state of affairs that the forthcoming constitutional review should confront.
Consider the possibility that communities might play a bigger rather than smaller role in democracy.  That building capacity in communities is one way of reducing the excesses of central government.  That civil society and voluntarism could contribute more to shaping New Zealand, and central government less. 
These propositions might require some radical rethinking about constitutional matters.  But through them we might just put the demos – the people in their territories – back into our democracy.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Crossing the urban-rural divide

The edge – always in transition
The urban-rural divide preoccupies planners and politicians.  It is where city and country meet.  It is where countervailing forces create an area in permanent transition.  It is not an area easily defined, but is marked by its distinctive mix of activities and a continuously  changing landscape . 
Here traditional investment in rural enterprise may decline in anticipation of future urbanisation.  Or, rural production is compromised by pressures from urban people and their needs, while the physical environment is reshaped by urban expectations. 
Conversely, the urban-rural edge may be where extensive farming gives way to intensive horticulture to satisfy city consumers.  Or urban capital dabbles in new forms of production, displacing the old.  Where urban refugees stimulate demand for services to replace those lost as a result of declining traditional activity.  And where rural conservation may be championed by urban interests.
The result of all this is not the new and brash dislodging the old and valuable, as the more conservative planners would have us believe.  It is more about the inevitably changing and often contested nature of rural activity in the shadow of the city.
Governing beyond the urban edge
While a city’s hinterland may have some characteristics considered urban, and while urban refugees boost rural population , the character of the divide is definitely not urban.  I have argued already that governance of urban and rural areas should differ to reflect their  different needs and values. 
It was illogical for the architects of Auckland’s new city to lump 14,680ha of rural land onto 1,630ha of urban land.  An extensive area of a mainly rural nature should not be governed by predominantly metropolitan politicians, managed by predominantly metropolitan managers, or planned by predominantly metropolitan planners.
In this posting I confront the argument that because the urban area depends on services delivered from the rural area they should be administered as one. 
Crossing the boundaries
The reliance of a metropolitan area on its hinterland for food, water, waste disposal, and recreation doesn’t justify governing them as one.  Cross-boundary issues – issues that affect parties on both sides of the divide – can be dealt with by means other than amalgamation. 
Rural hinterlands have always accommodated urban infrastructure.  And with corporatised services, there is even less need for producers to sit within the same administrative boundaries as users. 
Drawing water from the Waikato River, for example, does not mean that Auckland Council should have authority over local government in the Waikato region.  Similarly, waste disposal often takes place across boundaries. Catchment and drainage issues across jurisdictions can be readily handled by collaboration, especially as the technical capacity for monitoring and management improve. 
What about recreation?
City dwellers make use of the surrounding countryside for recreation.  But does this justify placing country and coast within the same administrative boundaries as a densely settled urban area?
Rural communities the world over cater for day visitors .  Hopefully, they take good care of the local environment and local community in doing so.  There is a good incentive .  The visitor industry provides income and employment that complements other rural business.  It supports commercial and community services that might not otherwise survive. 
Planning in these areas can ensure that their appeal is not undermined by a degraded environment.  There is no need for city boundaries to swallow our rural playgrounds to achieve that, though. 
Anyway, Aucklanders’ recreation impacts stretch well beyond even the new boundaries.  Was it considered that the holiday destinations of Coromandel or the Bay of Islands should be included in the city on these grounds?  Course not.  So the rural the playground argument does not justify Auckland’s exaggerated boundaries.
Are they really Auckland’s regional parks?
What about responsibility for regional parks?  Aucklanders have funded regional parks scattered widely across the rural hinterland, a legacy of the Auckland Regional Council.  Most are well removed from the urban area.  The Hunua and Waitakere ranges alone provide 34,600ha of reserve land (50km south and 25km west of the CBD respectively).  They include protected and restricted water catchments, significant bushland areas, and recreational facilities. 
If we place the water catchment reserves aside aside, rural areas still account for 79% of the balance of 4,900ha of regional parks.  Unfortunately, most are remote and hard to get to.  40% by area are north of the metropolitan edge.  The seven parks north of Orewa average 90-km from the CBD.
The parkland focused on the Firth of Thames (18% of the total), to the east, is not a lot more accessible, with five parks there an average of 70km from the CBD.
What were they thinking?
Despite a policy of containing urban development to reduce travel demand, the ARC invested heavily in remote, car-dependent parks.  Where is the consistency in that?

Look at the following diagram which compares visitor numbers in 2007 with the location of the 17 main parks.  Parks more than 50km away from the CBD tend to be much less patronised than the others, so may not be serving the purpose they were intended for. 

If they were intended for conservation  purposes, should the ARC should have been acquiring and running them at all?  The same goes if remote park locations were justified by an expectation that they would cater for users from outside Auckland. 
If the real priority is creating recreational and educational experiences for Aucklanders, then we need to think more seriously about developing truly urban parks and forget about acquiring large swathes of remote country and coast. 
Rethinking our countryside parks
Now that we have reformed Auckland’s governance – for better or worse – it may be time to rethink ownership and funding of non-urban parks.  In many countries national and state agencies take responsibility for major parks outside urban areas .  This can resolve issues around purpose, funding, and partisanship. 
Now that we don't have a regional council the Department of Conservation could perhaps take responsibility for acquiring significant parkland outside Auckland urban area (and elsewhere).  It would mean a reorientation of priorities and perhaps increased funding.  It recognises that the benefits of iconic parks are national rather than just regional. 
We could be even more creative.  Gary Taylor, long an advocate for coastal protection, has set up the New Zealand Coastal Trust, for example.  The aim is to provide for voluntary mechanisms and cooperation among agencies to acquire and protect significant coastal land, including areas long considered the holiday playgrounds of city dwellers.  The Karori Sanctuary Trust in Wellington is a great example of volunteerism restoring as well as preserving an important wildlife park close to the urban area, in this instance.  
Maybe we should think more about growing the involvement of civil society as a partner with government in conserving our favourite natural and recreational areas outside our cities.
The city council looking after its citizens
The reform of Auckland’s governance, even if the boundaries are flawed, provides an opportunity to rethink the governance, funding, and management of valued rural and coastal areas in the city's hinterlands.  A starting point might be clarification of the role and use of regional parks.  A finishing point might be a new agency taking over responsibility for running and expanding them.
Auckland Council can then concentrate on what needs to be done on the urban side of the divide.  This may even be an opportunity for developing a more extensive and accessible greenscape within metropolitan boundaries, rather than seeking simply to extend urban values into nearby rural areas.