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New Zealand and Sustainable Urban Development

Updated on October 30, 2017
KsenijaZ profile image

Graduated in Geography with a major in Environmental Protection. In love with sustainability, ecology, geology and nature.

Auckland (as seen from Devonport), the largest urban area in New Zealand
Auckland (as seen from Devonport), the largest urban area in New Zealand | Source

The unsustainable nature and the deterioration of the quality of the urban environment are key issues for New Zealand. In less than a century, New Zealand has moved from a predominantly rural nation, a nation based on natural resources, to a predominantly urban population with a diverse range of activities that generate wealth. While this is no different from the development of other nations, New Zealand, along with Australia, made this transition in an extremely short time. As a result, it still faces the challenges and opportunities of cities.

Drone footage of Auckland City

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It can also be described as 'getting more from less for a long time'. United Nations Agenda 21 is a framework for action to achieve sustainable development. The concept of sustainable development in New Zealand has not been widely accepted or enforced despite the strong impact of the Resource Management Act 1999 (RMA). A global program of Agenda 21, adopted by New Zealand after Rio, sets out one framework for focusing on sustainable development. Unfortunately, it did not receive much attention from the central government and was accepted by only some local authorities. Sustainable development is now a local agenda, with increased challenges for global 'enforcement targets'. New Zealand has entered a new era of globalization. Global competition moves the center from countries to cities. This gives the local communities an important opportunity to provide creative local solutions. Sustainable development of New Zealand urban environments was marked by lack of vision, lack of concern ('urban denial') and the history of many (minor) beginnings and only a few ends. Decision makers are not aware how the current attitude towards urban issues and sustainable development is in conflict with the one that is advocated by international organizations, other countries, and markets that are considered important. Such a relationship is a strategic risk to the environment, the economy and the prosperity and opportunities of urban communities.

Wellington, the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zealand
Wellington, the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zealand | Source

Wellington on a Drone

Local Authorities

New Zealand's local authorities experienced an important reform in 1989, which included a new process of annual planning and reporting, accompanied by a public consultation request (known as the Special Consultative Procedure). Over the 1990s, this approach to community planning and public participation consolidated, but some weaknesses also emerged. The Labor government, elected in 1999, has introduced further reforms. This legislative review has reached a surplus in three new laws, including the new Local Government Act 2002. This new law emphasizes enhanced planning, reporting, accountability, and a new purpose of sustainable development, improving the electoral process and highlighting new aspirations for government reports. In the late 1990s and the beginning of the 21st, there has been a grim development in public sector governance, as central government agencies in New Zealand have developed new structures and procedures to achieve better coordination between public service activities and government strategic guidelines (specific commitment to sustainable development). Legislative review of the local government is shaped by this context. The introduction of the Longterm Council Community Plan (LTCCP) in the Local Government Act 2002 was in many respects the logical outcome of the previous introduction of the 1989 annual plans and the requirements for the preparation of the Long-Term Financial Strategy (LTFS) 1996. Both the Annual Plan and the LTFS highlighted the need for a strategic plan. However, the introduction of the LTCCP is also linked to ensuring that local authorities are 'supervisors' of sustainable development. In the 1990s, some local authorities were at the forefront of the efforts of the public sector to promote sustainable development. In recognition of the need for greater urban sustainability, the eight largest cities participated in the Big Cities Project, which wanted to measure, control and improve the quality of urban life.

The Square of the Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand
The Square of the Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand | Source

Agenda 21 and Resource Management Act

After the Rio Conference (1992), there were very uneven reactions to the challenges of sustainable development in New Zealand. The conservative national government in the mid-1990s showed no interest in Agenda 21. In 1991, a new statute was put into force, the Resource Management Act (RMA), followed by a wide range of reviews of environmental statutes. The RMA provided arguments for 'sustainable development' in the opposition that the law should promote sustainable development. There was no political will to amend the legislation to reflect the Rio Conference's claims; the prevailing characteristic at that time was market liberalism, and this led to the view that the market was the best resource management institution. RMA tried to satisfy public participation in decision making on the environment, but people's opinions were in fact subordinated to expert evidence, especially by lawyers, designers, and other experts. Apart from public participation in resource management procedures, there was little interest from the central government for Agenda 21. In 1998, the Parliamentary Envoy for the Environment wrote:
'Despite the high impact of RMA, the concept of sustainable development in New Zealand has not been widely accepted or implemented, and many politicians and key government organizations have not met with it. The comprehensive objectives of sustainable development (unlike sustainable management) are not a move of any legislation or policy, and Agenda 21 is not broadly supported. This means that local communities and businesses are not adequately informed about opportunities to improve the quality of life and urban environments.'

Hamilton, the fourth-largest urban area in New Zealand
Hamilton, the fourth-largest urban area in New Zealand | Source

Actions at the Local Level

Some Local Authorities had their representatives at the Rio Summit, and these people have launched local actions to implement Agenda 21. One of the famous local representatives was Bob Harvey, Mayor of Waitakere, a local authority in the Auckland Metropolitan Region. In the mid-1990s, Harvey began with an 'eco-city' vision and the Waitakere city became internationally renowned for its commitment to sustainable development. In spite of the political vacuum described by the parliamentary envoy for the environment, there were several local authorities who were interested in the Agenda 21. In addition, many local authorities have been included in the State of the Environment Monitoring. Others have committed themselves to the Healthy Cities programme, which had a cross-sectoral approach similar to that associated with the concept of sustainable development. Many local authorities have taken into account sustainability principles, although they did not necessarily use the terminology of sustainable development or the Agenda 21. There was interest among academics, environmental NGOs and the business sector (for example, a strong New Zealand Economic Council for Sustainable Development). It was only in 2000 that the central government began to be clearly aware of the objectives of sustainable development. The Labor government has advocated accelerated regional development and sustainable economic development and pointed to regional disparities and unequal economic growth as a result of market liberalism of the previous government. In addition, there was a growing interest in environmental sustainability as well as a more sustainable approach to social costs. Later came the adoption of a model of social development, which emphasized investing in the human and social capital as a means of fostering economic growth and the removal of dependency. This government has expressed strong support for a more integrated approach to decision-making and has confirmed that, in order to achieve the desired social, economic and environmental outcomes, a long-term cross-section of the actions of all sectors is needed. Since 2000, the central government has cooperated with the local government and economic sector. In August 2002, before the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the government published the Program of Action for Sustainable Development.

Tauranga, the fifth largest urban area in New Zealand
Tauranga, the fifth largest urban area in New Zealand | Source
Tauranga, Red Square
Tauranga, Red Square | Source

Quality of Life Project

While efforts have been made in central government agencies to tie up activities through political governance (expressed as desirable outcomes for the nation), some local authorities have been more and more enthusiastic about having the opportunity to measure the quality of life of their citizens. The New Zealand communities are very diverse, economically, culturally and socially. Some of the major metropolitan areas have experienced significant growth as a result of both internal migration and immigration, and also because their populations have a larger share of the Maori and Pacific people whose average age is smaller and their fertility rate is greater than the majority ethnic group Pakeha (those of British and European origin). The pressure of infrastructure and social tensions created by the growth of the population prompted the metropolitan authorities to establish a research project known as the Big Cities Project. It initially included the six largest local authorities, four of them from the Auckland region (Auckland, Waitakere, North Shore and Manukau), together with Wellington and Christchurch. The project was expanded to include Hamilton and Dunedin, and the Quality of Life report from the year 2007 already included 12 cities/councils (this was the last fully prepared report; the last Quality of Life report was written in 2016 - it included seven city councils and two regional councils). The project is an attempt to collect information on the quality of life in these cities and to identify the links between social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being. The collection of data on the quality of life was recognized as providing an information base from which information and planning of decisions on urban matters will be made. This project was largely based on existing data sources because local authorities were not able to create an extended collection of new data. The existing resources included population census data, other official statistics and city council reports. A new set of data was collected through the distribution of the Quality of life survey. This review, carried out for the first time in 2002, allowed data to be collected for indicators for which data was not available elsewhere. The importance of this project is probably the most appreciated if the fact is that almost half of the total population of New Zealand lives in these cities. The publication of the first report in March 2001 gave precious information to the mayors for use in their discussions with the ministers of the central government. It also prepared a framework for further monitoring at the local level and influenced recent decisions on national monitoring, discussions on measuring results and developing indicators of sustainable development. Following the publication of the first report, the project was given greater importance in the World Summit for Sustainable Development, when political executives prepared to report on New Zealand's achievements in the decade after the Rio conference. The second report of 2003 has 56 key indicators of quality of life and related measurements. Key results from the Quality of Life report show some improvements in some areas and shortcomings in others. The conclusions are that the quality of life in cities improves in some cities, but that cities are not necessarily sustainable. A few points for campaigns are set as a result of trends. These points include the need for coordinated and focused actions in planning long-term growth in cities, managing and minimizing wastewater, protecting biodiversity, air and water quality, increasing the use of alternatives to personal motor vehicles, accelerating the development of companies that create sustainable employment, the growth of work and skills appropriate to employment needs, and the encouragement of young people's participation in education.

Napier, the sixth most populous urban area in New Zealand (Napier - Hastings)
Napier, the sixth most populous urban area in New Zealand (Napier - Hastings) | Source
Napier
Napier | Source

Green New Zealand

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Incentives for Sustainable Development

With the exception of a couple of local examples, sustainable urban development has too little attention. There are many opportunities to 'get more from less for a long time' when cities are developing.
As the urban population became more numerous, so:
- demand per capita has increased in terms of land, water, energy, transport, housing, and services
- the air pollution and the amount of waste and wastewater have increased
- the losses of heritage and attractiveness arose with strong pressures on traditional bonds
- the opposite effects on the health, well-being, and well-being of people and communities occurred.

Possible incentives for the adoption and implementation of sustainable development in New Zealand include:
- preparing a strong national sustainable development strategy that recognizes the requirements for creating more sustainable urban environments (for example, the use of resources, eco-efficiency, integrated management of environmental, economic and social issues)
- requirements that all government agencies report annually how they have recognized and improved the principles of sustainable development as part of policy and program development
- setting up a sustainable development unit to inform ministers of strategic risks and opportunities in adopting a global sustainability agenda
- the establishment of a non-governmental, enterprise-oriented 'Foundation for Sustainable Development' as a high-level independent body advising the government.

For urban sustainability will be crucial greatly enhance the role of communities. The government must find new and creative ways to inform and empower communities, involve them in decision-making, and enable them to make decisions in an efficient and effective manner. Information on the urban environment exists, but they are scattered, variable qualities, and the lack of data integration and analysis. In the absence of national support, investments in urban research are also limited.

Dunedin, the second-largest city in the South Island
Dunedin, the second-largest city in the South Island | Source

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    • KsenijaZ profile image
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      Ksenija 2 weeks ago from Novo mesto, Slovenia

      I think they won't ruin it, because locals understand the enviroment ans there are/were some great local projects (for example Waitakere - first NZ eco-city ... it ia now under the Auckland administrative) where a lot was done in the meaning of urban sustainability. It is really a beautiful country.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 weeks ago from USA

      It would be a travesty if they ruined this beautiful country because they couldn’t agree on a path forward. It was stunning how the population is so concentrated. The world has entirely too many people.