20 July 2017

Change Maker

Hell-bent on realising the full potential of Auckland’s Unitary Plan, energetic Generation Zero hustler Leroy Beckett discusses the group’s latest agenda.


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The youth-led organisation Gen Zero, one of New Zealand's most influential political agitators of the decade, has just announced five big ideas focused on getting our city moving in the right direction - faster.

Most of their campaigns have been about getting the public to support their causes. At the top of their list this time is stronger leadership at Auckland Transport.  The group’s Auckland spokesperson LeRoy Beckett says, they’re trying to fast-track the transport revolution by focusing on lobbying the Council, the AT Board and private sector people around selecting the right person for the top Auckland Transport role.

When current CEO David Warburton moves on at the end of the year, they want a leader with new ideas, someone prepared to take risks, who can make them a reality. “By paying huge rates, we should be getting the very best, someone international.  We talked to  Jeff Tumlin from the City of Oakland (US) an interim CEO who had a year to make changes.”

In that time, Tumlin created a Department of Transportation and looked at the values and metrics to enhance health and equity, not the traditional ways of getting more cars through intersections. As an interim director, he was fearless, made decisions and took big risks to make real change. If they fired him, he knew he could go back to his cushy private sector job. Nothing to lose.

“Ideally, they see someone from London Transport or New York. What they’ve done in those cities in the past few years is really good.”

“We’ve already met with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and he was really receptive. It’s about making sure we’re building momentum around finding someone different, changing the expectation from this just being something that no-one cares about; that’s just another bureaucrat to someone that really makes an impact.”

Generation Zero has already made its submission to the new Draft Plan that comes out in 2018 but they’ll continue to lobby for a plan that envisions a compact city where everyone can get around without a car, where homes are affordable and high quality. “The Plan refresh is a real opportunity to move away from the liveable city branding to replace it with something more inspirational,” says LeRoy.

Their widely-touted support for a regional fuel tax is another biggie, designed to cut carbon emissions and congestion. “It’s the simplest to implement and we could do it in the next year. Getting it through is purely a legislative problem.

“The fuel tax raises a few hundred million dollars a year. Over a decade, that starts to add up to where we can seriously start investing in our infrastructure with a light rail system and a biking and walking system and getting out there in the buses which are our most used public transport method. There needs to be more investment in our northern busway. The government won’t fund it, so we need to fund it ourselves.”

Auckland’s city centre is the fastest growing part of the country with a rapidly rising number of people living and working there. But it’s designed around car-based commuters, now a minority with too many carparks and poor roads which need to be re-prioritised as spaces for people.

Leroy says, most people don’t drive into the city now. Apart from all the  people who just live there nearly everyone else takes public transport. 8% cycle and the rest walk. But it’s still designed around cars. So much space is taken up by parking buildings and wide streets.

“We have to shift the idea of the city centre to being a place for people."

The city rail link will completely reshape the central city and we need to be ready for that. We need places for people who live there, work there and study there. That’s good for business too. We need more space to serve those people, particularly indoor public spaces which are really lacking.

“If you’re in the city, it’s raining and you don’t want to spend money, you need somewhere to go. The library and art gallery are the only places. They’re bustling. They’re nice places to be. We’ve had success with big idea things like Britomart, Wynyard and Lightpath. We have the ability to create things that people don’t expect.”

He says, now we’ve seen how successful shared spaces have been, it’s about moving that philosophy forward, perhaps closing Queen Street off for cars on a Sunday or specific days. And expanding that walking network.

Gen Zero and other Aucklanders fought hard for the Unitary Plan. “But it means nothing if the potential isn’t realised. The fastest growing household type in Auckland – they’ve researched it – is single people and couples without kids. They don’t want or need 3 bedroom homes on the outskirts of the city. We need to build more dense housing that provides space for those people - a good first home - and fills in the city so we’re more compact so there are fewer transport problems and car emissions.”

He says everybody agrees we need to build more houses in the city. “That’s how we solve the housing crisis. It’s about making sure the houses we build are the houses we need. That they’re sustainable and reflect the needs of people. They have to be where people want to live, work and close to recreational and cultural spaces. It’s making sure people get the benefits of the city so we’re not going to build houses sprawling out, ruining the environment, increasing rates and congestion.”

Gen Zero is pushing for the public and private sector to come together to build affordable housing that is dense and creates the city we want to live in. “There’s been a lot of research and good ideas. But we need to start building houses on a serious scale. And it needs to be incentivised. Anything in the way needs to be dealt with.”

With a core team in Auckland and about 15,000 people on their social network list in Auckland, Gen Zero is excited about the future. They’ve had a number of very successful campaigns, that have shown they can make a real impact. They helped add two more women to the AT Board …but it’s strength in numbers, says Leroy.  “We’ve opened up issues that have opened up Auckland. It’s about supporting good ideas. We need positive voices to support things and speaking out about things that are bad.”

http://www.generationzero.org/

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