Ludo Campbell-Reid is Auckland Council’s first ever Design Champion. In this feature article under the theme of #cityIQ, Mr. Campbell-Reid shares Auckland’s story of transformation through design, leaving behind its reputation as a city of cars to a smart city that is using design to better serve its citizens.

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, with a population of 1.5 million. It has one-third of the population of a small country and produces over 40% of the nation’s GDP. Its global position is far from our key markets.

Ludo Campbell-Reid’s presenation at the WDC 2014 Cape Town Design Policy Conference, October 2014

Auckland’s setting is a stunningly beautiful natural environment of coast, harbours and the landscape of a volcanic cone field. Auckland’s population is growing fast and is projected to reach 2.5 million by 2040.

For decades however, Auckland was held back by fragmented and competing governance structures, infrastructure deficits and poor quality urban design. Its city form and function catered more to cars than to people and with the highest ownership of cars per head of capita population in the world; it subsequently became dubbed “the city of cars”.

People also constantly bemoaned the ‘Auckland disease’ of short-termism and parochial disagreement. Auckland was clearly not meeting its potential. As Jan Gehl, one the world’s pre-eminent urban designers remarked: “Auckland was always the bad boy in the class”.

But in 2010, Auckland was thrown a lifeline. After a Royal Commission, history was created. The Auckland region’s eight councils were merged into one “super city” under a new Mayor, Len Brown.

Mayor Brown’s leadership has brought Auckland together like never before. His vision of transforming Auckland into ‘the world’s most liveable city’ is captured in a single comprehensive strategy, ‘The Auckland Plan’.

The Auckland Plan was developed in partnership with government, business, indigenous Māori tribes, non-government organisations and more than 15,000 Aucklanders. It is an integrated spatial and infrastructure plan for the next 30 years and combines economic, social, cultural and environmental goals. In record time, only 17 months after amalgamation, it was adopted in May 2012 and has since been the ‘guiding star’ for transformation, followed by all sectors. It guides the city’s investment, planning rules and psyche.

What are the main solutions proposed for the long-term challenges?

Some of Auckland’s challenges it cannot change are its remoteness and scale. The features it can change – inequality and polarisation of communities, economic strength, housing supply and affordability, urban design quality, traffic congestion, working with government – are today’s challenges.

  • Accommodating a rapidly growing population, in a “quality compact city”
  • Turning around economic under-performance with a strategy of inbound investment, innovation, internationalisation and export-led growth including tourism
  • Delivering outstanding public transport within one integrated network
  • Transforming the city centre and the waterfront
  • Unleashing economic and human potential of an impoverished South Auckland through early childhood education, skills, jobs, housing and health
  • Accelerating the supply, choice, and affordability of housing
    Putting children and young people first, with a focus on digitally-based education
  • Environmental action, green growth, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Radical improvement in urban design and place-making, while protecting heritage and character
  • Promoting Māori culture and identity as Auckland’s key point of difference in the world
  • Capturing creative vitality of Auckland as one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities

The rise of a design led city

Underpinning The Auckland Plan and Mayor Len Brown’s bold and audacious vision to be the world’s most liveable city has been a relentless pursuit of the concept of a design led city.

“A renewed focus on good design will ensure our built environment is successful, and better contributes to our sense of place and to Auckland’s liveability. As Auckland grows and opportunities for more intensive development are realised, this will be vital.” – Auckland Plan 2012.

Our ‘Design led city approach’ has the following behavioural components:

  • is a collaborative process involving cross sector and multi-disciplinary participation
  • embeds adaptive design thinking into the DNA and consciousness of the organisation (its policies, plans, projects and people)
  • empowers and excites Auckland citizens
  • recognises power of design to bridge professional and political divides
  • acknowledges the distinctiveness of the Te Aranga Māori Design Principles as our competitive point of difference and uniqueness in the world
  • builds in adaptability to change and resilience
  • is not prescriptive but recognises sense of place and context
  • is as much an Economic Development strategy as it is a Design strategy

Taking inspiration and learnings from cities such as Melbourne, New York, Vancouver, Barcelona, Bilbao, Singapore, London, Cape Town and Taipei we have strived to inculcate design consciousness, delivery and innovation into the very DNA of Auckland Council. As shown by the above cities, the role of City Hall and their respective Mayor’s are fundamental to the success in terms of providing leadership and holding the vision. And so if Auckland Council wants to join this ‘club’, it too must be seen to be leading by example.

Our intention is for the process of design to unlock the creative minds of business, government and Aucklanders so that the city’s design and its adaptive response to place, context and culture will in time be seen as its competitive edge. In this way we are also particularly conscious of the competitiveness between cities: for jobs, for tourism, for inward investment and for global relevance.

Our approach is not perfect and we have much to learn from our peers. But it has nevertheless been innovative in that it has involved the tactical deployment of resources, skills and expertise into the organisation with a clear mandate (led from the very top by Mayor Len Brown and supported by Council) and a targeted focus on design strategy, design policy and design projects.

Projects which have epitomised this design led approach, to name a few include:

Wynyard Quarter Waterfront Revitalisation
By Waterfront Auckland (Winner of the 2012 Excellence on the Waterfront award by The Waterfront Centre, USA)

Share Space
The pioneering inner city centre and streetscape revitalisation programme that has in certain instances seen a 430%+ uplift in retail hospitality takings and a 140% increase in pedestrian foot traffic post-implementation. This has helped turn around the “city of cars” to become more of “a city for people”.
Auckland Art Gallery
The beautiful and redeveloped Auckland Art Gallery (winner of the 2013 World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival and International Award for Architectural Excellence from The Royal Institute of British Architects).

City Centre Master
2012 winner of the New Zealand Institute of Architecture (NZIA) Supreme Urban Design Award which paints a bold 20 year journey of urban transformation for the city centre. Its vision is to become a globally competitive city centre. The plan was unanimously adopted by council and received 95% public support. The plan takes a pro pedestrian and human scaled city approach and was co-created with Aucklanders as well as the design industry. The plan proposes a new underground rail system (City Rail Link), a new light rail system, a redesigned rapid Bus network, an International Convention Centre, heritage precincts, new parks plazas and open spaces, a new pedestrian “laneway” circuit, new playgrounds for children, new “shared spaces”, precincts of high density mixed use and through the exciting Waterfront Plan (2012) prepared by Waterfront Auckland (a council subsidiary), the further unlocking of the waterfront for Aucklanders and visitors alike. A particular innovation of the plan is the creative and adaptive design response to tight fiscal constraints. Instead of council building new, much of the plan leverages off private investment. It also repurposes and breathes new life into existing infrastructure: redundant freeways are turned into cross city cycle ways, roads and tarmac are turned into green space and tree lined boulevards that simultaneously act as stormwater treatment areas. New parks and greenways are also introduced to meet needs of the growing inner city population, and under-utilised expensive and unadaptable road infrastructure is taken away and replaced with public space for recreation, amenity and public enjoyment. We describe the approach as “transformation on a budget”.

Combined with a carefully choreographed programme of advocacy and education (including ‘The Auckland Conversations’ programme which has since 2007 seen 90,000 attendees to a series of free public talks by internationally acclaimed city transformers such as Janette Sadik-Khan – ex NYC Transport Commissioner, Jan Gehl – world renowned urban design consultant and Greg Clark – international cities guru) these activities have worked in harmony to create a paradigm shift in thinking and behavioural change at the metropolitan city scale. There is now a palatable sense amongst Aucklanders that the city is on the move again after 50 years of stagnation and neglect.

For several years now Auckland constantly rates in the top 10 in three major international liveability indices, and in 2014 was third in Mercer’s “Quality of Living” survey. It was recently voted the world’s third best sporting city in the world at the prestigious Sport Business Ultimate Sports Cities Awards, and regularly tops international surveys as a great tourist destination.

Auckland’s design led city learnings:

There has not been one single strategy but rather a collection of tactical initiatives that have worked together. The sum of the parts is certainly greater than the whole. Our experience has discovered the following learnings, which may prove useful to colleagues from other cities:

  • Design Vision – Mayor or Civic Leader to set a clear vision
  • Design Leadership – provide mandate from the top. Council must act as a good client and lead by example
  • Design Champions – appoint Design Champions (political and staff) at highest level in organisation to act as “agents of change” across the Auckland Council family
  • Design Experts – recruit and appoint a world-class design team with international experience (40+ qualified UD staff in Auckland Council (including Auckland Design Office).
  • Design Policy – develop bespoke rules and establish clear design principles so that expectations of design quality are understood. A quick NO is always more useful to the private sector than a long drawn out YES!
  • Design Review – ensure that major Council projects and significant Private Development proposals are taken through a design peer review (see Auckland Urban Design Panel website). The Design Champion is mandated to review and sign-off all Council capital projects over NZ$2m against best urban design practice.
  • Design Consciousness – establish free public talks by international and local experts to create a behaviour change and to inspire, engage and show citizens what is possible (see Auckland Conversations website)
  • Design Enabling – work alongside private and community sector and provide them with the necessary tools such as the ‘How to?’ design guidance (see Auckland Design Manual) which also includes a unique ‘Te Aranga’ Māori Design Principles component.
  • Design Challenge – always continue to model, monitor and benchmark your work post implementation to demonstrate value. Your story must be compelling and inspirational.

Auckland’s journey towards becoming the world’s most liveable city is far from complete but it has learnt and taken inspiration and confidence from best practice city governance, planning and design and applied it to its unique social, economic, political and environmental setting.

So far it has produced globally innovative change in metropolitan governance in 2010, in order to achieve liveability. Auckland now has one Mayor, one council, one bold vision, one Auckland Plan, relentless determination, and purposeful partnership between local government, its indigenous Māori people and citizens.

The city is also being reinvented and rejuvenated in front of our very eyes through an adaptive and innovative design-led city approach which puts the needs of people before the needs of the motor vehicle and helps to build a city which is vibrant, dynamic and progressive.

In a short period of time Auckland has regained much of its lost ‘swagger’. Confidence is on the up and Aucklanders tell us every day we are on the right track.

Auckland intends to deliver its vision of being the world’s most liveable city.


About Ludo Campbell-Reid
Ludo Campbell-Reid is Auckland Council’s first ever Design Champion. He is accountable for design excellence in council’s policies, plans and projects, working with the private sector to achieve exemplary design outcomes and promoting a design-led city agenda. Auckland Council is the largest Unitary Authority in Australasia with assets over $32B and an operating budget over $3B.

Ludo developed Auckland’s first urban design framework, “Designing Great Places for our People,” a multi-layered behaviour change strategy to embed design excellence into the heart of city governance and the psyche of Aucklanders. Award winning projects such as the unlocking of the waterfront, the ground breaking “shared space” streetscape city revitalisation program and the transformation of the Auckland Art Gallery (winner of World Architecture Festival Prize), epitomise the success of this design-led approach.

Before moving to New Zealand in 2006, Ludo was CEO of Urban Design London, an organisation established to lift design quality in London by transforming public sector design capacity and skills. Earlier, as Senior Urban Designer at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets he was responsible for providing ongoing development, master-planning, architecture and design advice at Canary Wharf, London’s 2nd financial district.

Working in Cape Town during the 1990s, Ludo was a member of the ongoing master-planning team for both the V&A and Knysna Quays waterfront. He was also appointed as Urban Design and Technical Sporting Adviser to the Cape Town 2004 Olympic Bid Company.

Follow Ludo on twitter at @AKLDesignChamp

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