Can 'Auckland disease' be cured?

The city has plans and talented people but why is it going nowhere fast, asks Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck
Viv Beck. Picture / supplied.
Viv Beck. Picture / supplied.

With so much opportunity around us, why is it that people often talk about things that are not working? Discussions stall, decisions get re-litigated, more reports are commissioned and around it goes ad infinitum.

A sure way to kill opportunity, frustrate everyone and cost a fortune in the process.

When I raised this with a colleague recently, he said, "You're talking about the Auckland disease. We've had it for years."

Having come from Wellington, which people talk about as a success with its waterfront and cafe culture, I've concluded that whatever you call it, we need to find the antidote to this disease - and fast.

There are lots of ideas, plans and talented people and yet we are not getting the best return for Auckland. The framework for a supercity is there but the execution is faltering.

My theory is that leadership and culture lie at the heart of it.

Simplistically, how we do things is as important as what we do to make the most of the opportunities Auckland has at its fingertips.

The heart of our city is going through massive change.

If you likened this process to a business, you would not expect to get the optimum result without knowing where you want to take it.

But vision and plans will only take you so far - the quality of your leaders and culture is essential. And importantly, taking your team with you and knowing the people you need to work with along the way.

Can these principles apply to changing a city? Yes!

Our waterfront is a prime example. Aucklanders love it and care deeply about it - that's gold dust.

We can imagine being able to walk or cycle along a beautiful promenade all the way from Westhaven to Mission Bay.

We can understand that this might take time and we don't mind that prospect, as long as we can see where the vision is headed and know the right decisions are being made to get us there in the end.

Try taking a walk back through time. Imagine if, after the furore a few years ago about the port encroaching into our harbour, a fully integrated vision of what our waterfront could look like had instead been developed, both with and without a port.

The pros and cons would have been clearly outlined and feedback sought.

Once the port review had come up with its recommendations, the vision would then have been adjusted to show how the waterfront could transition to a future without a port.
Over-simplified it may be, but this approach would have had some happy consequences.
Firstly, by developing the vision for our waterfront in a holistic way, a decision would have been made about the best option to accommodate cruise ships in future.

We would not need an ugly dolphin 80 metres out with a matching footpath to get to it.

Secondly, provision for hosting marine events would have been included in the vision and America's Cup plans would have been able to slot in without upsetting people again about the prospect of a 220m harbour extension.

Thirdly, transitional plans for the port would have been developed within this same holistic context and we wouldn't have had reason to be concerned about them being done in isolation.

The moral of the story? We could have saved a lot of time, money and anxiety for everyone if things had been done differently from the outset.

This same principle applies across many other areas and with more and more complexity in the world, we can't afford inefficiency. Money is tight and there are better things we can do with our time.

We have a chance to heal this "Auckland disease" and we must do it now so the next generation doesn't look back and ask why we didn't leave the city in better shape for them. How?

Here's my Christmas wish list:

We do things differently in 2018

• We all become part of the solution to achieve the vision of a great city.

• The public, private and not-for-profit sectors all have something to offer and we can't achieve great things in the silos that have often been a symptom of the "Auckland disease".

•Major projects have the right mix of skills and leadership

• Big projects are guided by leaders who consider the needs of stakeholders upfront and empower others to make good decisions. The proposed Light Rail project is guided by this inclusive approach, ensuring it's not developed in a bubble.

•We nail the next three years.

• We make and implement great decisions and turn on the best possible America's Cup, which Aucklanders can enjoy on our iconic waterfront - a lasting legacy.

I look forward to reporting on progress this time next year.

- NZ Herald

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