WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

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 so
That'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.

Policies:
  • 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
Principle: a quality public realm isn't always the same as maximising unbuilt space.

Policies:
  • 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
Principle: design matters.

Policies:
  • 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
Principle: a diverse and lively economy.

Policies:
  • 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
And there'd be much more; more than I can write in one post. The thing that has kept me from voting thus far is that those candidates that are closest to me on one policy tend to be diametrically opposed on others. I think I've made my compromise decision now, but I'll still wait until the last minute to vote in case anything changes my mind.

16 Comments:

At 3:08 PM, October 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

#1 on my agenda for a better Wellington- Stop Roger Walker.

 
At 3:50 PM, October 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kinda wish I hadn't sent back the three extra voting forms that were sent to my apartment (people that hadn't changed their address for some reason).

Also, I've been secretly hoping for John McGrath's truck to take out a pedestrian.

 
At 3:50 PM, October 11, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

I'm not so sure: Sirocco's not so bad, and while the new stage of the Century City development looks like it's covered in arbitrary spiky bits, at least it's a break from the usual "variations on a cube".

Even ArcHaus, while they've delivered or threatened some of the worst new buildings in Te Aro, seen to be capable of decent buildings when given the right brief. In that case, their poor outcomes are not necessarily a result of lack of talent so much as an excess of acquiescence.

 
At 3:53 PM, October 11, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"I've been secretly hoping for John McGrath's truck to take out a pedestrian."

It's just about the only thing that hasn't gone wrong with his campaign so far :-)

 
At 5:29 PM, October 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mate, at least stand for council!! Going by those well thought out and clear principles/policies I think you'd poll very well indeed. Take pity on us and stand next time.

 
At 7:44 PM, October 11, 2007, Anonymous LX said...

Yes I'd vote Tom for Council or Mayor.

Took me ages to get my voting done. Really was tempting to toss the ballot paper out. The choices were so uninspiring.

 
At 8:20 PM, October 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or failing that, find some wealthy guy (or girl) who can give good speeches and be his (or her) puppetmaster...

 
At 9:33 PM, October 11, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

"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)..."

Money aside, you have to be underestimating yourself.

And I'm not so sure money would even be that necessary these days for little-ol-Wellington's election. A well carried out internet campaign could probably deliver more votes than the billboards and cars.

And you can work on cultivating the personality disorders over the 3 years.

(Of course pressure aside, you have to actually want it... nah thats not important.)

 
At 9:50 PM, October 11, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

"Principle: a major mind-shift away from low-density suburbia and reliance on private vehicles."

On this very sensible principal. There was a seminar by Richard Heinberg tonight on Peak Oil. Nothing really new in it for those that have seen the movies. But it is certainly something I'd rather see Councils pay attention to than Climate Change. Instead of being carbon neutral, the aim of Wellington city should be to maximise the opportunity we have as a compact city, and the region with its good rail corridors, in this coming situation.

With 69% of commuter travel in the region still private vehicle, Wellington isn't really as much of a public transport using region as we like to pretend we are.

And I wonder if we react very late to Peak Oil we could face serious supply/cost issues as the demand for public transport infrastructure (rolling stock, busses, steel, iron/rails, etc.) goes up. There is quite a lead time as it is getting this stuff.

 
At 3:22 AM, October 12, 2007, Blogger benn said...

Tom for mayor! Ill back him!

 
At 10:36 AM, October 12, 2007, Anonymous Toby said...

Er... how about "On with Tom!"

Tom, we have three years between now and the next election. Amongst all your blog readers I'm sure we can rustle-up an electioneering crew.

Toby

 
At 11:31 AM, October 12, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

That's a lot of arm-twisting! I'll have to have a serious think about it next time, but before then I'll have to learn more about all the other issues (other than built environment and transport, which are my particular hobby horses) in order to have a properly-thought-through platform.

Erentz: "Peak Oil... is certainly something I'd rather see Councils pay attention to than Climate Change"

I think that's important too, but for me one of the most important things about moving away from private transport is the effect that the required infrastructure has on the urban environment. Even if cars were powered by perfectly clean and renewable fuel, they'd still take up so much space for roads and parking that there's not much room left for an actual city. A bus takes up about twice the space of a car in heavy traffic, but can carry at least 20 times the number of people: have a look at the packed buses bumper-to-bumper on Willis St at rush hour, and imagine how wide Willis St would have to be to accommodate all those passengers if they drove at 1.3 people per car! And light rail is even more space efficient, which is one of the reasons that I promote it.

"With 69% of commuter travel in the region still private vehicle, Wellington isn't really as much of a public transport using region as we like to pretend we are."

Although less than half of the peak-time commuters into the CBD use a private vehicle, which brings the importance of compact urban form into play. Some jobs will always be dispersed, but we need to maintain and build on our existing concentration of workplaces rather than letting random office parks spring up around the place. Jville, the CBD, hospital and the airport are all on the spine, so a really efficient linear transport system could tie together those major employment nodes and help people who work in all of them.

"if we react very late to Peak Oil we could face serious supply/cost issues as the demand for public transport infrastructure (rolling stock, busses, steel, iron/rails, etc.) goes up. There is quite a lead time as it is getting this stuff."

Exactly: look at the problems last year when there was a spike in oil prices, and the PT system just couldn't cope. You can't just conjure trains, tracks, buses and rivers out of thin air, and years of assuming that people will stick with cars meant that we hadn't prepared for what could be just a tiny foretaste of the oil shocks to come.

 
At 9:58 PM, October 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you Tom in having concerns about the impact of cars on the urban environment. I heard a great talk by John Whitelegg, an english professor/transport expert last year discussing the impact that a car focused society has on people, particularly children. He highlighted the fear campaigns that are used for pedestrian safety -like the 'stop,look,live' slogan, that scare parents into driving their kids everywhere and should instead be focusing more on drive awareness of pedestrians. (In Britain it was 'one false step and you die' showing a kid stepping out into the road.)

 
At 10:16 PM, October 12, 2007, Blogger Ronnie Horesh said...

You'd keep the blog going Tom, if you became Mayor?

 
At 8:32 PM, October 14, 2007, Blogger Greg said...

Anon: I fully agree with you about the 'Stop, Look, Live' promotion. When I first saw it, I was struck by how much it puts the burden of safety on the pedestrians. An argument can be made for it - it's the pedestrian's health at risk - but it implies a free ticket to drivers who often don't pay enough attention at crossings.

How many of those inattentive drivers are just in too much of a hurry, trying to rush their kids to school before pressing on to the office?

Turning the topic back to the original post, now that Kerry has successfully staved off an improvement to the WCC (in my opinion), I'd like to make my voice heard. Based on the Canadian laws, which I'm more familiar with, is there something which requires the Mayor to read letters posted in by constituents? I'm overly opinionated and I don't mind taking a bit of time to share my thoughts and views, especially those that I believe her election campaign didn't represent.

 
At 11:05 AM, October 15, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

greg, "Based on the Canadian laws, which I'm more familiar with, is there something which requires the Mayor to read letters posted in by constituents?"

I don't know about having to actually read them. But they do have to respond in an official capacity to all requests/questions. Ditto for MPs. But I imagine that this probably means one of the lackeys does the writing, they do the signing.

In my experience I have recieved responses from Kerry and other councillers.

Give it a go, just send an email, you can find the email addresses for each of them here:

http://www.wellington.govt.nz/about/mayor/index.html

 

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