Expert interview: Phil Goff, Mayor of Auckland Since 2016, Phil Goff has served as Mayor of Auckland, one of New Zealand's most socially conscious cities. In the latest installment of our Expert Interview Series, Mayor Goff was kind enough to discuss a number of topics surrounding Auckland’s policies and plans, such as the forward-thinking agenda of the Unitary Council, his own personal goals for Auckland over the next 20 years, and a host of other matters that help shed light on how this North Island city has maintained such high rankings in Mercer’s quality-of-living surveys year after year. Throughout the past 20 years, Auckland has consistently maintained or even improved its standard of living. What do you think have been some of the most successful initiatives for making this a reality? Since 2010, Auckland has been governed by one Unitary Council combining seven previous district councils and one regional council. This allows for a much more integrated and bold approach to city planning through: the creation of a more unified voice via unified decision-making, which helps to advance the region as a whole. an increased ability to plan strategically and implement positive transformative change. the more consistent delivery of various services across Auckland. the ability to collectively support local leadership and communities. the ability to engage more equally with central government. In addition, the ability to plan more strategically as a region has helped to accelerate decision-making and creates a more proactive approach to development and infrastructure provision. Fortunately, previous councils have left a strong legacy, which Auckland Council has been able to build, and where possible, improve upon. The ability to plan more strategically also helps to implement initiatives where benefits may not be realised immediately. For example, some significant initiatives with immediate impacts include: America’s Cup for Auckland in 2000 and the catalytic change to the waterfront. The 2011 Rugby World Cup, which showcased our city’s ability to host a multi-venue global event. A largely completed motorway network that includes the Waterview Tunnel, the expansion of State Highway 16, etc. A Rapid Transit Network featuring park and rides, dedicated bus lanes, integrated ticketing, the City Rail Link, etc. Meanwhile, some incremental initiatives which have resulted in positive impacts over time include: The Auckland Unitary Plan, an operative dedicated to helping our city meet its economic and housing needs. The Zero Waste Network, an organization creating positive change by guiding people in altering their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles. Improving marine and freshwater quality and safety through investments in and/or support of local initiatives like Three Waters, Water Sensitive Design and Safeswim. Building networks of open spaces and places for people to come together and enjoy the sights of the city, such as local and regional parks, cycle ways, community spaces such as libraries, and so on. All in all, we think our efforts have been successful. Auckland has been part of New Zealand’s Quality of Life survey since 1999, which measures the well-being of residents. Over the last six years, approximately 80 percent of Aucklanders’ rated their overall quality of life as “Extremely Good,” “Very Good,” or “Good.” On the other hand, as a city decision maker, what have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome to implement your quality-of-living ideas and best practices to create an attractive city for businesses, residents, and tourists? Being bold enough to make the difficult decisions necessary to ensure a better future for all, first of all. Change can sometimes be a challenging thing for communities and individuals to be confronted with, so we always ensure that all voices are heard and are included as part of the decision-making process. We’ve found that some of the big challenges are very often intergenerational, meaning the benefits, costs, and effects may not be realised by those debating them. There’s also the challenge of balancing the regional and local views, as well as long-term benefits against short-term costs and differing viewpoints. Disruption and pace of change through technology is also starting to occur, which challenges some traditional council processes and our ability to respond, e.g.: Airbnb taxes: we want these to remain fair to business and residents. Lime scooters: we want to encourage alternative transport, but not at the risk of other transport/pedestrian users. Meanwhile, we always want to raise necessary funding to address historic infrastructure underspend and new needs as they occur. For example, getting Auckland to be the first region in New Zealand to accept a regional fuel tax to fund roading was a massive challenge, but ultimately ended up being hugely beneficial to Auckland’s residents, businesses, and tourists. If you could give some general tips for cities that are already thriving on how to improve their quality of living even more, what would you say? If I had to provide a list of tips, I would say: Preserve what is good and adapt to meet the challenges of the future. Understand and consider all your diverse residents and community’s needs. Be prepared and able to adapt as cities will continue to evolve. It is difficult to predict what will provide them with competitive and/or comparative advantages in the future. Embrace what makes your city unique and special. It is also important to have a set of shared values to provide confidence that the decisions you make are the right ones for today and for future generations. For example, the following values gifted by mana whenua (indigenous people – Māori) to Aucklanders are: Atawhai | Kindness, generosity. Kotahi | Strength in diversity. Auaha | Creativity, innovation. Pono | Integrity. Taonga tuku iho | Future generations. Would you agree that a city’s talent and business attractiveness tend to correlate with higher living standards? Yes. My vision is for Auckland to be a world-class city where talent wants to live. This means attracting the skilled people, entrepreneurs, and investment our city and country needs, but also retaining our best and brightest New Zealanders. There is also a need to ensure that all Aucklanders share in our prosperity. One of the three big challenges identified in the Auckland Plan 2050 is ensuring that all Aucklanders benefit from our growing economy. Auckland has a relatively high standard of living, but low wage increases and increased living costs (for housing and rents in particular) have led some communities to feel as though they’re going backwards. Still, like other global cities, Auckland needs talent and must actively attract and compete for it. High living standards are part of that attraction. What do you believe should be the main priorities for Auckland over the next 20 years? Providing the necessary infrastructure to address historic deficiencies, while also identifying and seizing opportunities for growth as they present themselves to Auckland. Creating an efficient, effective, and environmentally friendly public transport system. Continue working with central government to address housing shortages. Moving from a consumption-based economy (construction) to a more creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial region. Continue on the targeted path towards reducing impacts on the environment (the Million Trees programme, the Central Interceptor wastewater tunnel, etc.) Building resilience to climate change. Cities are striving to implement a range of new technologies and modern infrastructure in quest of improving the living standards of their residents. At the same time, with globalization, gender parity, and diversity are all equally important components of the city’s future with a high living standard. How important is this statement for the city? Why is it important? We are proud of our diversity. Auckland is home to over 180 different ethnic groups and almost 40 percent of our residents were born overseas. The scale of the city’s ethnic diversity is significant nationally and internationally. Auckland’s rich diversity also includes age, gender, sexuality, disability, nationality, religion, and culture. Auckland’s diversity also includes persistent and growing inequality, often more substantially impacting Māori and Pasifika communities. Mentioned above, the Auckland Plan 2050 is 30-year spatial plan, and its “Belonging and Participation” outcome envisages a future where “all Aucklanders will be part of and contribute to society, access opportunities, and have the chance to develop to their full potential.” Key focus areas are to “foster an inclusive Auckland where everyone belongs” and “recognise, value, and celebrate Aucklanders’ differences as a strength.” We value and celebrate our diversity and cultural richness and our city is stronger for it. People are free to express their cultural identity and to be proud of it. We encourage intercultural approaches, where cultures interact constructively and there is universal respect for human dignity. The Intercultural Cities Index positions Auckland 14th among the 94 cities in the sample, with an aggregate score of 74%. Auckland scored highly in the following fields: commitment to intercultural principles, welcoming of newcomers, democratic representation and participation, a media conducive to promoting positive intercultural relations, international outlook, intercultural competence, education, a public service that is open to new ideas, dialogue and innovation, promoting inclusion at the neighbourhood level, business and labour market and public space. The assessment also recommended areas where we could strengthen our policies. These areas included providing mediation services, including interculturalism, a criterion when allocating grants, and considering the experiences of schools that have worked on multilingualism. Our goal is for Auckland to be inclusive so that all can share in its benefits and reach their full potential. Inclusion means living and working together with acceptance, trust, and mutual respect, while also creating a shared future based on respect for diversity. An Auckland that is tolerant, harmonious, and respects people’s rights is a stable, safe, and peaceful place to live. Being inclusive means intentionally addressing issues of access, equity, and participation for our staff and all Aucklanders. New Zealand ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985 and reports to the United Nations on progress with CEDAW commitments. Auckland Council endorsed the CEDAW goals in 2018 and will report regularly on work programmes that help deliver on these goals. In addition, women make up 52 percent of Aucklanders and Council support for gender equity issues is strongly expressed as part of our commitment to fostering inclusion, belonging, and participation for all Aucklanders. Currently, 33 percent of governing body members and 53 percent of local board members are women. We have made some gains as an organisation in addressing the gender pay gap but we recognise that there is work to be done on increasing the percentage of women in senior leadership positions. Would you be able to provide a few examples on how the city of Auckland tackled gender parity/diversity to positively improve the living standard of its residents (e.g.: increased security for women, dedicated infrastructure, etc.)? The Council’s Thriving Communities Strategic Action plan supports communities to be connected, resilient, and inclusive. The Council’s Empowered Communities Approach supports the delivery of the plan and includes communities of place, interest and identity. The Council’s Inclusive Auckland Framework is our strategic approach to responding to the needs of our diverse communities and leveraging the talent and insights of Auckland’s diverse people. Provision of grant funding to community organisations to foster social inclusion and equity. The Regional Arts and Culture Grants Programme is designed to enable organisations, communities, and artists to deliver arts and culture projects and activities across the Auckland region. The Auckland Council actively monitors gender pay parity across its workforce and has not identified significant differences in pay for male and female staff doing the same roles. Auckland Transport is conducting research on embracing gender equity in Auckland’s transport system. The Auckland Council became the first council in Aotearoa New Zealand to be awarded the Rainbow Tick Certification for diversity and inclusion. What other cities have done a great job improving the living standards for residents over the past decade? Could you name few and why? Visiting and living somewhere can be two different things. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a number of cities over time. As Auckland’s Mayor I have most recently visited Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Tokyo, and Fukuoka – all of which are impressive cities and regions. Every place I visit I try to observe and learn what makes that place different and good and whether that is appropriate or can be applied within an Auckland context. What I have observed over time is: When considering improvement of living standards, it should be for the city as a whole. Those cities that have focused on improving or maintaining living standards for all are the ones that are building social resilience and I think are doing a great job. Residents and youth in particular need to feel that they have a future if you want to retain talent. Most cities I have visited share similar challenges and are grappling with ensuring the fundamentals such as affordable and good quality housing, physical connectedness, protection of the environment, and ensuring that abundant employment opportunities are in place. These things I consider essential to ensuring you have a good city and good living standards. Great cities, however, seem to have a deeper understanding of how their physical infrastructure and spaces contribute to the personal wellbeing of their communities and residents through promoting a sense of community, pride, inclusiveness, connectedness, and freedom of expression. I think Melbourne is a city does a good job of capturing those intangibles. How would you summarize Auckland today, and where you would like it to see it in the future? Auckland today is a great city with great opportunities, but it also has its share of challenges to overcome. For example, Auckland needs to focus on managing the challenges and opportunities that growth brings, in particular: Providing the infrastructure for growth. Protecting and enhancing the environment. Sharing the benefits of growth. The future Auckland I’d like to see is: One of the world’s best-performing cities where talented and enterprising people can thrive. A place where Aucklanders care about each other and our environment. A place where people find it easier to afford their own home and are connected by a first-class transport network. A city where the next generation reaps the benefits from the difficult decisions we have made now.