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Building An Inclusive Culture
Len Brown is the first mayor of Auckland’s Super City – Australasia’s largest territorial authority formed in 2010 when seven for mer local councils and a regional council were amalgamated. He was elected on a plat form of improving public transport options; quality compact urban design; innovative, high-value economic development; and build ing an inclusive culture in a city of 1.5-million and 180 ethnicities. His vision is for Auckland to be the world’s most liveable city. Instilled at young age by his family, Len today has a strong sense of community service and involves himself in many com munity issues affecting his constituents.
THEY MATTER MORE THAN ME
Too often these days in New Zealand, we find a growing number of public officials and holders of high office who betray the very citizens who shoulder their salaries and perks. These are those who flaunt their high positions with a sense of entitlement to the exclusion of all others whom they consider beneath them.
Can we deny the existence of such abuse that flow into our collective stream of consciousness by responding in silence or apathy? Have we not come across reports of high officials of the land who charge their office expense accounts rent on homes they already own? What about those who frequent fancy restaurants declaring boisterously “Do you know who I am?” as a prelude to demanding special treatment absent of which follow verbal abuse and threats to those who refuse to serve it?
Then there are those who have lost their mandate to sit in high office but nevertheless maneuver to keep their perks and fund ing citing as basis clumsy rulings which should never have been made in the first place?
These examples are, after all, public knowledge. They are useful because they spotlight just how far such snobbish attitudes of the highly placed contribute to strangling development of a more dynamic and open society as it does to hobble an eco nomy. That it continues to occur more often than not is corro sive. It insults decent hard-working people from different and disadvantaged backgrounds just as it does to stifle social acceptance and mobility. The one clear mes sage it sends to those outside the ‘circle of entitlement’ is this: “They matter more than me all because of how powerful they’ve become.”
When this message is repeated again and again it filters down to our children who are the next gen eration. Because their elders do nothing in their time to correct it then why should they in theirs? Let us not forget lest we regret doing so that the strength of a democracy rests not with the elected but to those who elect, for why then do we call the elected ‘public servants’ in the first place?
A STRONG SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Even now and then it is comforting to know that there are on balance ex ceptions to the rule. Len Brown is one of them. Here we see a public servant who exudes a strong sense of community whose ‘common man’ touch attracts credibility and respect.
Much of that profile may have to do with his own upbringing in South Auckland where he was raised. Growing up in Otara for Len revolved around family, church, school and community under the strong influence of his parents Tom and Ngaire who are described as strong believers in so cial equity and social justice as well as active in the community life.
Going on to study law at the University of Auckland and with that done, his days as a lawyer progressed by making partner with Wynyard Wood – a legal firm built since 1894 on a strong tradition of client service in Auck land. During this stint at this firm, he established one of its three offices at Highbrook Drive in East Tamaki principally so that he could personally focus on the specific legal needs of residents he was already quite familiar with in the area.
It was also around this time that Len immersed more and more of himself at the coalface of his com munity of origin during his free time. He co-founded the Otara Flea market, which today is a familiar institution in South Auckland where it continues to be a venue for social interaction between many local ethnic minor ity groups and a source of much-needed funds for other commu nity development purposes. Other initiatives where he lent a hand raising them up include the innovative Otara Health com munity service, the Howick Free Legal Service, and the East Ta maki Business Association.
HONESTY AND BASIC DECENCY
Len’s public service career began in 1992, when he became Manukau City Councillor for Otara. He was elected as Mayor of Manukau City in 2007 in what others at the time humorously refer to as the ‘Lenslide’ by topping off the count with more than 32,000 votes. That victory came as a surprise to a lot of pundits swayed more perhaps by polling results which surfaced before Election Day that had two other contenders – Olympic runner Dick Quax and radio personality Willie Jackson, comfortably ahead and head-to-head for the same job putting Len far behind at third.
The ‘out-of-the-blue’ outcome to the finish line was said by post-election analysts to be mainly the re sult of voters’ buy-in for Len’s campaign platform highlighted by such issues as capping rates at the cost of inflation, increasing public transport, and working with youth in the region. But the rabbit-out-of-the-box Len managed to pull up at the last minute wasn’t so much about issues but more with his being a genuine and credible fellow to a lot of ordinary folks who reckoned that his approach to politics reflects his honesty and basic decency.
Len’s political style and flair is impressive in that it is generally people-centred. He is as much as could be hoped for as a local authority leader even in circumstances when higher authorities maintain a level of control over his own agenda. He is approachable, knows what he is talking about, keen to represent all of Auckland, inclusive in his approach and always seeking a consensus.
AUCKLAND HOME TO MANY CULTURES
If we look back to the year 1842, the population of Auckland was 2,895 people living within a built area of 32.2-hectares with a density of about 87 people per hectare. It was a township es tablished 2-years earlier around Commercial Bay with a smaller settlement in Onehunga. Freemans Bay and Mechanics Bay only became established a decade later.
Roughly a century later in 1945, the city’s population grew to 251,667 people and its built area to 13,642-hectares or a den sity 18 people per hectare. State provisioning of housing led to new developments that included Meadowbank, Waterview and Mt Roskill. The completion of Tamaki Drive also opened up expansion in eastern suburbs like Kohima rama and St Heliers.
By 2008, Auckland’s population ballooned to over 1.6-million people. Its built area expanded to 2,520-hectares with a density of 23 people per hectare. This was the period of significant growth across all points of the compass towards Auckland Airport, Mangere, Albany and Waitakere. New suburbs were also being developed such as Flat Bush and growth was increasing through intensification adding strains to public transportation with increased popularity of ‘lifestyle blocks’ cropping up in Pukekohe, Kumeu and Whenuapai.
By this time, Auckland had become home to many cultures not only consisting of Māori, but also with substantial representa tions of Europeans, Asians and Pacific Islanders. It has the lar gest Polynesian population of any city in the world and a higher proportion of people of Asian origin than the rest of New Zea land. Ethnic groups from all corners of the world have a pre sence in Auckland, making it by far the country’s most cosmopo litan city.
Auckland’s growth has been anything but spectacular compared to other urbanised spots across the country. But the problem is that if we are to rely on urban sprawl alone Auckland would be nearly twice as big as it is now in 30-years time. The finest urban development minds in the world have agreed that a Los Angeles type sprawl where a lot of slum areas have developed is neither sustainable nor a good way to create the world’s most liveable city.
TO EMBRACE ITS GROWING DIVERSITY
Environmentalists have condemned the sprawling nature of New Zealand cities for being wasteful of both energy and land. As early as 2000, there has been a new emphasis on creating sustainable cities, by erecting more energy-efficient buildings and encouraging new growth around public transport hubs.
The quest to create sustainable environments for New Zealand’s major cities in the future took shape when the Labour Party and a Royal Commission conceived the concept of ‘Super Cities’. Auckland was first in mind largely because it was the economic engine of New Zealand and contained over a third of its total population not to mention that it was still growing. Suffice it to say, there was opposition to this plan from the extreme ends of the political spectrum and entrenched city council bureaucracies.
At the time, the Labour-led government also saw the wisdom for Auckland as a whole to embrace its growing diversity. It in tended to transform Auckland into a unified governable ‘organ ism’ and grow its economic base by not selling off its public as sets. In order to achieve these ‘fair-share-for all’ objectives, an amalgamation of Auckland’s various city councils – who often were said to be responsible for creating ‘paralysis gridlocks’ as far as the region’s continued development and progress was concerned, would give way to just one – the Auckland Council.
In August 2009, Len stated he would run for the mayoralty of the combined Auckland “super-city” in the Auckland mayoral election, 2010. He announced his candidacy in front of his supporters at Sorrento in the Park, One Tree Hill, and Maungakiekie. His campaign speech focused on delivering public transport, public ownership of the region’s public assets, environmental protection, economic and social development. He won the position by a majority of 65,945 votes over main rival candidate, Auckland City mayor John Banks, on 9 October 2010.
A VERY DIFFICULT SITUATION
While the whole concept of creating ‘super cities’ was a Labour Party initiative, the incoming National government set out to remake it in its own image. Together with the Act Party led by Rodney Hide they put in legislation that eventually forced rates to go up in some cases. The merging of the eight former coun cils’ rating systems into one was a very difficult situation for Len politically, but if he had tried to change that system it would have been tantamount to breaking the law.
It’s not only the issue of raising rates that’s making ordinary Aucklanders angry – an inescapable consequence of a Govern ment-imposed rating system based on capital value. The other more important issue that’s a major cause of concern is that Government seems to be at war with Auckland?
While it is tempting to conclude that this falling out with Auckland is political – that from National’s perspective the wrong guy won the mayoralty; it is probably more complicated than that. At the core of it the ongoing debate is about specific roles that both central and local government should assume in building successful cities.
The Royal Commission on Auckland Governance that preceded the amalgamation, and then the Auckland Plan, tap into a rich vein of international thinking on the importance of cities in today’s economic map. If New Zealand’s major cities are going to harvest prosperity from the concentration of people, businesses and creativity, then they need active collaboration between central and local government and ones that produce solutions to hanging problems like the state of public transport systems, affordable housing and a planned, balanced approaches to funding and managing growth in all of New Zealand’s major cities.
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Mayor Len Brown’s Vision
The huge transport gridlock problems that plagued the 12-million residents of Metro Manila was solved by building the US$ 1.2-billion Mass Rail Transit System in the 1990s by a consortium of Philippine com panies under a Build Lease Transfer Agree ment with the Philippine Government that within just 5-years was completed on schedule and within budget. In this video, Mayor Len Brown demonstrates his vision and the role rail can have for Auckland’s Super City in 30-year’s time. The question is, if Metro Manila could achieve it, why not so a smaller city like Auckland? Learn more about Rapid Transit Systems here.
NO CLEAR CHALLENGER AHEAD
These are the same perplexing questions that many Auck landers keep asking as they watch a succession of government ministers trying to advance backwards into Auckland’s past ways of doing things with no obvious purpose. Until this argu ment is resolved, and we have central and local government pulling at each other’s hairs, it is going to be difficult for Auck land (or any other city for that matter) to make any progress hoped for.
Meanwhile, Len is happy to put to one side personal barbs and challenges with the intent of achieving in a decent way what is best for Auckland. He appears to be willing to put aside the politics of the situation and work cons tructively towards what he believes Aucklanders think what’s best for them.
This non-combative approach speaks volumes about Len and it looks increasingly likely he may not face a serious challenger in elections which are only several months away. It is a clear indication that Len Brown has once again the public on his side because insofar as he’s concerned, the people of Auck land matter most.
And when that vote is all counted in for Len they can finally say: “We matter more because of how powerful we the people have become.”
(NOTE: This article was written by Karl Quirino, a reputation management specialist and brand profile developer who acts as SCOT Trust New Zealand’s communications media adviser for content development and management. Most of the material and views expressed herein are those informed from previously published content readily found in the public domain and should not necessarily be construed by readers to be or not be the personal opinions of the Board of Trustee of SCOT Trust New Zealand.)
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