Worst. Turnout. Ever!
That's what some people are saying, and they're blaming the low voter response so far on "voter apathy". I'm not so sure, though: we can still get our forms in the post today, or (as I'm intending to) deliver it to the council buildings by midday on Saturday, and I wonder whether people are just leaving it until the last moment because it takes a lot of time and effort to work out what the candidates actually stand for.
Unlike central government, where one votes for party candidates with published manifestos, the local body candidates tend to be independents or have only loose party affiliations, and there's a plethora of flyers, websites, blogs, myspace pages, interviews and questionnaires to trawl through in order to work out which, if any, candidates share one's vision for Wellington. There's also the fact that we have to vote for not just a mayor, but councillors and regional councillors as well. And don't even mention DHBs...
I'm not going to mention my choices here: suffice to say that none of the candidates seem to have a vision that directly matches mine, and my picks will be fairly reluctant compromises. If I were running for mayor myself (and despite a few calls for that, I don't have the experience, financial backing and/or personality disorders required to do so), my slogan would be:
Just like Wellington, only more soThat's based on the observation that the things I love about Wellington are those qualities that make it different from the stereotypical Kiwi way of life. It has a dense and centralised CBD, with enough working population and tall buildings to make it feel bigger and more urban than it actually is. It has relatively high public transport use, though there's still a long way to go and there have been some recent setbacks. It has a young, liberal and well-educated population, with a reputation for innovation and intellectual curiosity. It has some inner-city suburbs that are much denser than quarter-acre suburbia, though still far less dense than typical residential neighbourhoods in mature Old World cities. It has a thriving and diverse dining and shopping scene, though I believe it has potential for even more. I love Wellington, but I think it could be even better if it maximised those points of difference.
To be specific, I'd vote in a split second for any candidate who proposed the following principles and specific policies:
Principle: a major mind-shift away from low-density suburbia and reliance on private vehicles.
- Fast, frequent light rail on the "spine" from Johnsonville to the airport, with other railway lines to be converted later
- Increased frequency and capacity on existing bus routes, concentrating on other major routes (Karori, Brooklyn, Island Bay)
- Ticketing needs to be integrated, easy and cheap
- Congestion charging in the CBD and along specific routes
- A moratorium on greenfield development
- Residential intensification and mixed use at neighbourhood centres along the spine
- Improvements to pedestrian and cycle networks (including wider footpaths, gradual pedestrianisation of the CBD, and longer pedestrian crossing phases at traffic lights)
- Promote car-sharing schemes, with discounts for those living in car-free households
- The waterfront should be an urban place, not an "escape" from the city: continue with the agreed framework
- Support for the School Of Music next to Civic Square
- An open space network for Te Aro, with a strategically-located new square or pocket park in SoCo, and enshrinement of existing informal short-cuts as public pedestrian laneways
- Swap Glover Park for Swan Lane carpark
- Provide quality small public spaces and wider footpaths by gradually reducing surface parking
- Many more street trees, and encouragement of green roofs, green walls and planters
- Create small parks in inner-city neighbourhoods by shutting off one end of a side road to vehicles
- An integrated vision for the city: the Capital Precinct, Harbour Quays and Waterfront frameworks have to fit coherently with each other and with the rest of the city
- Enforce low/high city distinction: keep most of Te Aro at 4-8 storeys, but allow tall towers in the existing high city
- Seek a regulatory framework that would allow tighter control of architectural quality in private developments
- Public architectural competitions for all public buildings
- Too low is as bad as too high: encourage coherent development of vacant sites, car yards and bulk retail locations in Te Aro
- Ultra-small apartments are only allowed if they can demonstrate exceptionally good space planning and shared facilities
- Fund "demonstration buildings" to create models of high-quality high-density housing
- There's nothing wrong with a strong government sector, but Wellington needs to diversify
- Attract another major tertiary institution (perhaps a specialist institute)
- Create or strengthen clusters in alternative energy, transport, new technology and design
- Encourage light manufacturing (clothing, food, furniture) in the central city
- Designate part of Te Aro as a "noise-control-free zone", discouraging upmarket residential development while encouraging the night-time economy
- Require private residential developments to include a proportion of affordable housing
- Require all central city developments to have ground-floor retail space, and if these are not immediately leased, offer them as cheap temporary studio and exhibition spaces