Monday, May 4, 2020

NZ's Covid-19 Truth is Hiding Behind Numbers

Science and Sensibility

Long ago, in my post graduate studies and my London based operations research working career I did a lot of computer modelling of scientific systems, and built computer models. The study of Pandemics relies heavily on computer modelling. I've done some reading and produced this piece which is a contribution to New Zealand's Covid-19 public policy debate....



Each day since the start of our Covid-19 pandemic New Zealanders are given the day’s numbers at the top of the news – how many new cases, and how many deaths and recoveries. We’re also advised how many cases are in hospital and how many are critically ill. Increasingly we get information about how much has been spent subsidising workers wages, supporting businesses, and what’s needed to support the economy.

Counting and numbers is comforting science. It can be a way of confronting an onslaught as we gradually get our heads around what’s happening, and at the same time bundling it away as if it’s all under control. But what exactly are we being told each time the latest figures are announced, rising consistently, dropping slightly, increasing again? As we do what we’re told, and we wait.

Scientific analysis of an epidemic typically divides the population into three groups of people: Susceptible, Infectious and Recovered. It’s a useful way for us all to understand what’s happening. Computer models of how a pandemic progresses through a population calculate, one day at a time, how many to subtract from the Susceptible and add to the Infectious, and how many to add to the Recovered. How many die each day is also predicted. Assumptions include the average number of contacts each person has per day, the probability contact with an infected person results in infection, what proportion of the Infectious population recover, and what proportion die.

Significantly, the model shows how the Susceptible population reduces over time as the pandemic works its way through the population because people who have Recovered are assumed to be immune (the jury is still out on that assumption with Covid-19). The chance of someone getting infected after social contact drops over time because fewer people are susceptible. Most models assume that as more of the population become immune through having been infected and recovered, major outbreaks happen less and less frequently then stop, and the pandemic is said to have run its course.

Modelling is an essential tool in forming policy to guide national and global responses to a threat like Covid-19. Fine tuning of pandemic model assumptions has been enabled by data from the direct experience of frontline health workers in Wuhan, Italy and New York.

The teams that have been advising the UK government have published descriptions of their models. These are typically structured as above, but provide for more stages in the progression of an infection, divide the population into age groups and geographic areas, and model the capacity of the health system to cope – including the number of intensive care units available (ICU).

Such models have played a critical role in shaping the UK government’s response which has shifted from mitigation to suppression since the pandemic started. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) model predicted that, if nothing was done to mitigate the effects of the epidemic in the UK, 85 per cent of the population would be infected, there would be 24 million clinical cases and 370,000 deaths. At its peak, 220,000 ICU beds would be required whereas only 4122 were available.

All of the UK models examined options for mitigation including case isolation, voluntary home quarantine, social distancing of the over-seventies, social distancing for everyone, and school and university closures. But modelling indicated mitigation would still lead to more than 200,000 deaths. UK researchers generally argued the only alternative options to mitigation were suppression strategies, partly because China showed they were possible, and as a reaction against the huge death toll in Italy.

The LSHTM group modelled the use of repeated lockdowns, each triggered when the number of ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients reached a particular number. If the threshold was set at a thousand ICU beds, the number of infections could be kept to four million and the number of deaths to 51,000. The downside of the strategy would be that 73 per cent of the time between now and December 2021 would be spent in lockdown, by which time only 11 million people would have been infected and, unless a vaccine had been found, the epidemic would still be far from over.

So far in New Zealand the number that we are not talking about is the size of our Susceptible population. That’s because it’s just about all of us, and instead we talk about elimination or eradication of the virus. However, the Covid-19 virus is alive and well all round the world and despite the best disinfection and sanitising under the sun, it is certainly present in New Zealand. Those of us who haven’t been infected yet are susceptible to infection at any moment – though those moments are minimised while we are in lockdown – and it is assumed that testing and tracing will deal with the Covid-19 viruses already in our environment.

There has been some discussion in New Zealand of second and third waves of infections (as happened in the Spanish Flu epidemic 100 years ago) which are generally though to have been caused by mutants versions of the original virus. That is not the same as recognising that modelled suppression strategies being implemented in the UK and elsewhere show the need to provide for repeated lockdowns for the rest of this year and 2021 at least. Way before then in New Zealand, based on the present rate of Government subsidy spending and the effects of lockdowns on economic activity, the treasury cupboards will be well and truly bare. Before then very difficult public policy decisions will need to be made, which go well beyond the simplistic and comforting numbers we currently see on TV.

We need to have conversations about the cost of a death, and about social inequality.

More than 32,000 people died in New Zealand last year. Of these 353 were due to motor vehicle accidents and 685 were suicides. The largest cause of death - about 30% - were cancer deaths, 15% were from heart disease, and 7% due to brain conditions like stroke.

Of the 3,912 people in the UK who died of COVID-19 in March, 91% had at least one pre-existing condition (most common was heart disease), and on average they had 2.7. Many of those who died would likely have died from pre-existing conditions. This isn’t to say those deaths don’t matter, or to forget that although significantly fewer young people have died, they too have died in numbers that in normal times would be shocking.

We can always live in hope for a vaccine, but we also need to be prepared as a country to expect a very long wait. It is easy to say that “we” are all in this together, but already the gap between the have’s and the have not’s is a chasm. It is relatively easy to ride out long lockdown periods in a pandemic with a big back garden, protected income, and substantial retirement savings. Much harder if you’re unskilled, got a young family, aged parents in care, and a mortgage.

Deaths attributable to the economic consequences of lockdowns must also be anticipated. People will vary enormously in their reactions to being confined in their homes, without regular work. Domestic violence incidents are on the rise here, and US news reports of kilometre long queues for food parcels and people openly carrying guns are frequent.

Our Government says it has “provisioned $52 billion, if necessary, to use for cushioning New Zealanders against the impacts of the virus, positioning New Zealand for recovery, and helping us to reset and rebuild our economy to support long-term recovery.” This would be an enormous debt for the country to carry.

Our death-count due to Covid-19 is now 20. How many deaths have been avoided so far is difficult to know, but we are beginning to understand what the costs of the Government’s suppression strategy are and will be, to us and for the country.

The cost of a life is routinely used in justifying the cost of a new road in New Zealand. It’s set at somewhere between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000. If a new road can avoid enough fatal motor vehicle accidents public money gets invested in the road. The benefit in lives saved exceeds the cost of the new road. Who knows what investment might reduce youth suicide, or prolong the lives of those suffering from cancer?

Part of our preparation for the rest of 2020 and 2021 will require public conversations about how the suffering caused by the pandemic should be allocated and shared, and about the very future of our society.

** I have drawn from an article by Paul Taylor, titled "Susceptible, Infectious, Recovered" contained in the 7th May issue of London Review of Books.

Resilient Cities need Balanced Capital Investment


The impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic are still being understood, but it seems clear that this crisis will force changes in cities, physically and socially, that will echo for generations.

Central and Local Government institutions are rolling out short term economic relief packages across New Zealand. A strategy of road and rail “shovel ready” development projects is under consideration for the long term. While these approaches are an important part of a planned approach to recovery, they don’t engage with the fundamental need for change, nor the opportunity this disruption presents for the Government to implement its Living Standards Framework and rebalance New Zealand’s natural, human, and social capital, alongside its financial and physical capital.

How cities are planned has always been a reflection of cultural and technological trends, and major health crises. The cholera epidemics in the 19th century sparked the introduction of modern urban sanitation systems. Housing regulations around light and air were introduced as a measure against respiratory diseases in overcrowded European slums during industrialization. Mass transit and the automobile shape urban form, internet technology enabling working and shopping from home influences urban design priorities, and climate change pressure is forcing adaptation.

New Zealand’s pandemic response has been led by a brave and enlightened Government, and only a few outbreak clusters have occurred. But across the world, cities have been on the frontline with overwhelmed heath systems, and with daily wage earners and the urban poor suffering from lost income and a scarcity of city services and social safety nets to protect them.

Even before the current pandemic cities have needed to change significantly to meet the global goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, Sustainable Development Goals, or New Urban Agenda. To reach these goals will require major alterations to how we build, manage and live in cities – not just change, but transformational change. Such change has seemed beyond reach, but from energy to housing to mobility, sustainable, cost-effective, solutions are at hand. The challenge has been to change people’s understanding of what’s possible and the courage to make it happen at scale.

One of the unintended consequences of this crisis has been that we have seen, quite dramatically, that radical change to our everyday lives and systems is possible. Amidst fear and uncertainty, people are seeing fragments of what a future city could look like. People across the world are breathing better air than they have in decades due to a dramatic decline in vehicle traffic and factory output. People are unwittingly enjoying “car-free street days” on a daily basis, finding that walking and biking are also viable and even preferred. Cities like Bogotá, Berlin and Mexico City have already expanded pedestrianization efforts to encourage these activities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered urban life across New Zealand. Work from home is the new normal for many. So is walking, biking and enjoying nearby open spaces and parks. But the fate of thousands of small businesses and workers that make urban centers work is up in the air. These changes have sparked a debate about what is essential in a city, and perhaps more importantly, how cities can better respond to current and future crises. This pandemic is exposing fault lines with respect to physical infrastructure and inequalities in access to core urban services. It’s also raised questions about healthy density in cities. The most successful cities are able to achieve liveable density – a balance where benefits of agglomeration are significantly higher than the cost of congestion – as well as healthy density – a balance where the threat of a viral pandemic is built into its physical design and infrastructure.

It is the lack of access to essential service infrastructure such as water, housing, internet and health care, that has exacerbated the challenge of responding effectively to COVID-19 in modern cities.

We need to bring laser sharp focus on investing in essential infrastructure for better health, wellbeing and resilience for New Zealand’s urban populations. This involves identifying and investing in high-risk locations, including poor and under-resourced communities. It can also mean building infrastructure that is intentionally geared towards a low-carbon future.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Who is Auckland's CBD for?


COVID19 is like no other disruption we’ve seen in a lifetime. A gift from hell considering its dramatic and universal impact on human health. A gift from god considering the opportunities opened up as governments, communities and people have rapidly adapted.

Lockdown has provided unprecedented opportunity to reflect on what we do, and how we live, particularly in cities. It has focussed as much attention on what is essential as it has on how to live differently while still feeling satisfied and achieving most pre-pandemic goals.

We’re all getting a bit bored living in our bubbles, but the new urban silence, cycling and pedestrian safety, making do with less, cleaner and clearer air, no rush hour commutes and traffic jams, discovering neighbours and neighbourhoods, and the sheer power and utility of internet access to family, food, friends, information and work, has made people sit up and think. There’s a lot to like about the new urban paradigm that has been forced on us, despite the irritations.

What we are experiencing suggests new possibilities for cities.

What we have experienced in Auckland has roots in the “Competitive City” thinking of the last couple of decades. The minister’s introduction to The Ministry of Environment 2010 publication entitled: “Building Competitive Cities” begins:
An important component of the Government’s
economic agenda is ensuring New Zealand cities are
internationally competitive. This means cities that
enable their citizens to enjoy a great lifestyle and
affordable housing; cities that are efficient for business,
encourage investment and jobs; cities that are attractive
for visitors to support New Zealand’s increasingly
important tourism industry.


A key Government intervention toward this agenda was the amalgamation of Auckland’s four city and three district councils to form the supercity council, and the establishment of a cluster of independent Council Controlled Organisations. Further interventions in process now include opening up public infrastructure projects to private investment and reform of the planning system.

From its inception Auckland Council has embraced and enabled the Government’s economic agenda which has emphasised private property development and international tourism. Auckland’s CBD increasingly looks and feels like other international cities with their Dior, Prada and Gucci shops appealing to rich tourists and high-rise office towers sporting international brand neon signs appealing to investors. Much of this development and of the transport infrastructure to service it – including cruise ship berthage – has been at the expense of basic public and community infrastructure provision.

Standing in stark contrast, Wynyard Quarter’s internationally famous waterfront development with its playgrounds, heritage wharf structures, bridges, and wide-open public spaces came from a political agenda which emphasised the creative, playful and reflective qualities and needs of the resident and visitor population. It has also been a successful public economic investment.

Right now, Auckland CBD’s headlong plunge into the competitive city abyss, is at a standstill. Workers and contractors are in lockdown. They’ll be back as soon as the country’s lockdown rules allow it. But this pause in construction does allow some reflection on what is happening there, and whether the assumptions behind it still stand now that the world has changed.  

High street retail shopping has been coming under increasing pressure and competition from online shopping for some time now. People I know, and know of, buy furniture and even leather shoes online. My last two shirts came from eBay Australia. Lockdown level 3 will almost certainly open up online shopping to non-essential items. Every week of this lockdown indicates that shopping is moving off the street and into cyberspace. Yet much of the Auckland CBD Commercial Bay development which took away Queen Elizabeth Square is new retail.

International tourism is also at a standstill, and is likely to remain so for several years if New Zealand succeeds in its COVID19 elimination strategy. Allocating high-end retail space in new CBD property developments for high net-worth tourists cannot be justified economically. Existing such provision will need to be re-purposed to generate enough revenues to pay the ground rent.

The International Convention Centre is infrastructure to service what amounts to international business tourism. Its utility must be questioned, just as the future of high-end casinos is threatened by the absence of big-spending international tourists.

And on the subject of tourism, New Zealanders are big travellers. For the foreseeable future, many will now be looking to travel and enjoy holidays in their own country. Auckland’s CBD is being changed and developed now, but not to meet the needs of domestic tourists. Kiwis might like a drink and a bite in downtown Auckland, which they can find, but there’s so much else that could be done that would make the CBD more attractive to the domestic population. Places to play (on land and in the water), places to learn (Maori museum, Visitor museum, Maritime museum), places to create (music, street theatre), and places to chill and watch the world go by.

But one of the biggest changes that Lockdown has stimulated has been working from home. Already many companies are recognising that staff want that to continue in some shape or form – whether it’s one or two days a week, whether it’s week about, whatever – many working people have rediscovered their local neighbourhoods, neighbours and communities and built worthwhile relationships they’d like to retain. Working nine-to-five, five days a week, and all that time spent commuting, doesn’t seem so attractive – or necessary – anymore. Which means less CBD office space is needed, and less commuter traffic capacity is needed.


It’s easy to make these obvious points, and there will be many contracts and commitments that need to be delivered and completed. But this moment cannot be allowed to pass without learning from what is happening, as it provides a real-life glimpse into the future of cities in general, and an opportunity to break with the old paradigm and its assumptions.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

Missing the Point - Moving the Port


For a good while now, NZ Herald has been publishing opinions about Auckland's port, and when, where, if, and how it might be moved. Its opinion writer of the year, Simon Wilson, can't let the story go. But much of the coverage doesn't properly explain this very big public policy issue. I'll try and explain my reasoning below, using Simon's article from today's NZ Herald.

But first a little bit of policy analysis 101. Considine's Policy Diamond is a good start....


This policy diamond diagram is general, not specific to POAL, but illustrates four main components needed for a public policy investigation which recognises that making or changing public policy is fundamentally a political process, and not a rational process, despite the hopes and aspirations of some of those who may be affected.

Simon's article today is entitled:  What happened to the plan to shift the Auckland port? (unless you have access to NZ Herald Premium you won't be able to see it).

This is where the problem of his explanation begins.

There is no plan to shift the Auckland port.

There are ideas about shifting it. There are visions about what could happen if it was moved. There are aspirations and hopes about that. But there is no plan. And there can't be a plan until there's a policy to have a plan from those with the power, and any "shift the port" policy investigation worth its salt needs to acknowledge the boxes in the diagram, and address them.

Otherwise all we're talking about in these NZ Herald opinion articles is ideas (not plans), which typically embody only the values of a selection of those affected (eg un-named citizens of Auckland), contain carefully chosen financial and resource information that supports the ideas, and generally fails to fairly describe the drivers and policies of the main institutions of influence. There's a place for writing about ideas and aspirations of course - but there's a world of difference between that and good investigative journalism about a complex public policy matter such as moving Auckland's port.   

Here is the Herald article, with my comments:
What happened to the idea of moving the port? Isn't this a good time, with no one around, for Northland to sneak in, load up all those cranes and straddle carriers and just steal them away to Northport? That's not quite as silly as it sounds, and it wouldn't need to be Northport doing it. Ports of Auckland (POA) could take charge.

It is misleading to imply that moving the port is this simple. Like scoring a cheap point in a debate. Readers can laugh. But are they any the wiser? I don't think so. And if POA "could take charge" shouldn't they be part of this opinion? Or is this just setting up another "right of reply" and so it goes round and round.
Susan Krumdieck was a member of the Upper North Island Supply Chain (UNISC) strategy group that recommended moving the Auckland port earlier this year. She told me this week that she had asked POA: "If the 1.4km of berth at Northport were built and ready, and your owners said, 'Pick up operations and move to Northport,' what would happen?"They said: 'If the Northport build had been done with the equipment and operations designed in, then it would take about a month to break down the POA, put the kit on ships and build it back at Northport. Call it three months all up to shift the POA to the new berth at Northport'."Krumdieck added: "With the land available and the ability to lay it all out from scratch, the efficiency of the operations could be improved to world class. The POA would make more money for their shareholders. POA business would 'move' to Northport, not be lost to the ratepayers."

Informed readers will be aware that it doesn't matter what point is being made, it is always possible to find an expert who will - for whatever reason, and with the best will in the world - apply their expertise and argue in support of that point, and an expert who will convincingly argue against it. This kind of quoted expertise might fill up the column, and it might cheer those who need cheering in COVID times, but it lacks balance and over-simplifies.
The POA shareholders, remember, are us - the ratepayers of Auckland. Moving the port north doesn't have to mean we would lose anything. And Northport, which is near Whangarei, is already part-owned by POA.
This is the heart of the opinion piece, and is where it fails as a piece of public policy analysis. Sure ratepayers are shareholders. But that group is only one of the groups who are affected. The customers of the port will also be affected. Auckland has changed since it was established in Waitemata Harbour, but having a port at its center was key to its development, and this remains a critical part of its economy. The logistics arrangements of POAL customers include port handling charges of course (and cranes and straddle carriers), but they also include roading and transport time costs. Many of those customers would lose if the port was moved. But those losses are ignored and dismissed in this opinion piece. They need to be addressed in any move the port investigation. I'm aware that issue has formed part of other reports, but it's ignored in this piece. And I haven't even got started.
So what did happen to the idea of moving the port? As we move out of lockdown, the Government says, there will be a massive spend on infrastructure to get New Zealand working again. The Auckland Council has submitted a list of 73 projects.Not a one of them bears any relationship at all to the proposal to move the port. Yet the council and the Government have said the car and container operations do not have a long-term future on the downtown Auckland waterfront. A working group representing all affected groups came to the same conclusion in 2016.   
The idea of moving the port is still pretty much that - an idea. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Auckland Council does not have any "shovel ready" projects to move the port, as it has yet to adopt any policy in that direction. Last time I looked at the port it was business as usual - a multi-story carpark is close to completion for its car import business, and the new automated straddle carrier systems and container handling facilities on Ferguson Terminal are close to being fully operational after more than a year's installation and testing. All funded by public money. Until Auckland Council, in collaboration with POAL and Central Government, has adopted a "move the port" policy, nothing will change, despite all the reports in the world. To be fair to Simon, the next part of his opinion piece does make that statement....
As yet, there is no political commitment to the UNISC recommendations, which include expanding Northport and the Tauranga port. The crisis has probably pushed a decision out to an uncertain future date.But it is agreed the port will need to move within 20 years or so. Even Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, one of the most vocal critics of UNISC, says yes to that.The thing about 20 years, with a project of this scale, is that it has to start now. Moreover, given all the money the Government is about to spend on economic salvage, if the port isn't included now, it may never be.There'll be no money left for anything else. Covid-19 could become a Trojan horse for killing off the idea. So what should they do?
In this part of his article, Simon moves from writing about "moving the port" as an idea, to it being a project, something that has gone beyond being just a plan, and is actually happening, and can be started right now. But it clearly isn't. As the millions being spent now on developing the port infrastructure in Auckland clearly shows. Despite this reality, Simon spends a good chunk of his article show-casing the project ideas of his expert advocate Krumdieck...
The heart of the UNISC proposal is not the move to Northport. It's that freight haulage should shift largely to rail. That requires a modern railway network and a new "inland port" or freight hub in Auckland's northwest, probably near Kumeu.The proposal is for a rail line "around the back door", as Krumdieck puts it. One that doesn't route freight on to State Highway 1 through the city, as the port does now, or across the harbour bridge, but skirts round to the west.It's the key to managing congestion on Auckland's roads. And the condition of the country's highways. And it's a vital component in our response to the climate crisis. In time, UNISC proposed, 80 per cent of the country's freight could be shifted by rail. Modernising the Northland-Auckland railway and building the inland depot, says Krumdieck, "should be top of the list" in the new infrastructure spend. Krumdieck, by the way, is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Canterbury and a world-renowned expert in freight logistics. She did the freight modelling for UNISC, using an advanced programme common in Europe and Asia but not yet licensed to anyone else here.The new freight hub will become an "intermodal distribution centre" that "draws the heavy industry and warehousing out along that line and provide the lifeline for rational industrial growth". Getting goods into the city will be the "last leg", done by road freight, largely at night. The rail link will continue through Avondale to the industrial south and further, into Waikato and beyond.The freight hub would remain an Auckland operation. The city won't be losing out but will be able to function better and get many other benefits.
These are all good ideas. The idea of rail - especially freight rail - from Auckland to Northland has been around for decades. It is an aspirational idea that doesn't become part of a plan and then a planned and budgeted project just because an expert backs it. Until there is a policy to move the Auckland port - or parts of it - that is agreed by the relevant institutions and policy organisations, ideas like this will remain pie in the sky. Which clearly frustrates Simon...
As with the idea that a Northport operation could still be a POA business, this is something Goff has never seemed able to grasp.
Praising individuals who support your values, and mocking those who don't might raise a laugh and trigger supporting letters to the Herald newspaper, but it doesn't improve the quality of the journalism, nor the investigation. Institutional politics and the political economy of all of those who are affected are at the heart of this public policy issue. Getting to grips with what is happening inside those institutions, and bringing into the open the concerns and fears of those who are affected is essential to an understanding of this public policy issue. Simon finishes his piece like this... 
Re-establishing the Northland line, says Krumdieck, has a business case larger than two - for every dollar spent, the benefit will be more than $2.Also: "The cars on the Auckland waterfront could move to Northport and Tauranga today. The servicing jobs would move with them and the workers would be able to afford to live there."It all depends on the railway. Build a rail line able to carry the cars on electric trains and, right there, you've got an excellent model of what the future of freight in this country could look like.On the other hand, if we don't do it, keeping the port and its related operations where they are will cost at least $8 billion, with no new benefits to show for it. The business case for that, Krumdieck notes, is less than one.And what's the real cost going to be? Krumdieck puts it, "realistically", at $14 billion."That $14b will return more than twice because it enables a totally different future. The rebuild of New Zealand rail – preferably electric – is the main thing separating New Zealand's future as a prosperous nation from a future as a third world backwater. You either build the country that works well, or you are Ghana."Meanwhile, Ports of Auckland has just announced the arrival of 12,000 boxes of bananas and 12,000 cartons of pineapples. And more coffee beans.It's way beyond reason to use our downtown waterfront and clog up our roads for that.
It all sounds so simple. Build an electric freight rail line. Problem solved. But it isn't that simple. And dismissing New Zealand, and POAL, as being "Ghana" doesn't help.


Friday, April 17, 2020

Essential Development Vs Shovel Ready Planning


The following text was penned for NZ Herald a few days ago....

New Zealand’s immediate response to the pandemic includes prioritisation of essential services and protection of essential workers. Central Government has focused upon the food, health and financial needs of people, families and communities across the country in the sort of forced paradigm shift not seen since the Great Depression and after World Wars I and II.

Global norms and political priorities previously considered immutable by the rich and powerful have been torn asunder in the public interest. National governments have sacrificed their economies in radical actions to protect public health. Lockdown measures and rocketing unemployment are the new normal. Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, has called for businesses to “hibernate”. Around the world media reports of daily infection and death statistics sit uncomfortably beside the usual reports of GDP dips, exchange rate changes, and stock market swings.   
   
The pandemic has exposed gaping holes in public health systems and forced the world to redefine what is essential and to plan and act accordingly. Many of those changes should not be temporary just while there is an emergency. The priorities that underpin them need to be incorporated into a new social contract between government and people, a contract which protects and promotes what is essential.

Already there is discussion and debate about what sort of response will be needed in future after the worst of the pandemic has passed. Commentators around the world are thinking and writing about climate change and carbon emission changes, about changed work and commuting practices as people have adapted and learn and work from home, about changed travel demands as airlines are grounded and cruise ships are refused entry, about the need to prepare for the next pandemic, and about the importance of social networks within communities and families as they look out for and look after the vulnerable.

The New Zealand Government deserves much credit for its pandemic response on behalf of the people. Unfortunately this approach is not evident in preliminary accounts of what is planned for its post pandemic response which have focussed on “shovel ready” roading and poorly planned transport infrastructure projects, and a return to the old paradigm.

My grandfather was one of thousands of men employed in the 1930’s using a shovel and wheelbarrow to construct the Waitaki hydro-electric dam which still supplies our country with renewable electric power. An essential service if ever there was one, and a project with a huge benefit cost ratio.

Which is more than can be said for roading and light-rail projects that are apparently “shovel ready” for New Zealand’s economic recovery. Many of these transport projects are based on urban population growth assumptions and scenario planning that must be questioned. Rushing to build roads for a future that has changed and that are not economic is a poor use of resources and will serve to reduce the country’s productivity.  

Surely the investment emphasis needed post-pandemic is lots of essential small-scale health, education and community infrastructure projects throughout the country, rather than a few high-risk think-big projects that are based on high population growth projections. Already there are positive signs such as an educational TV station, providing school kids with computers, and internet in all homes.

Rather than put the country’s post pandemic project decisions into the hands of a few captains of industry, it would be better to establish local Community Pandemic Recovery Agencies (based on the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Agency model) working in partnership with local government to identify and lead local economic development projects. Some of these will already be planned and be “shovel ready” such as cycle paths, bus shelters, and footpath improvements, community infrastructure including day-care and drop-in centres, sports facilities and playgrounds, and environmental projects such as wetland restoration and coastal protection.

Projects like these would kick start local economies across the country, provide the revenues needed to bring smaller businesses out of hibernation, create employment opportunities, and bring the economic multiplier effects that stimulate community retail and entertainment enterprise.

These are the essentials of a post-pandemic recovery package that continues the paradigm shift and political priorities and values in action now.

Mangawhai Interlude Pictures

It's been almost two years since my last post. Been distracted since going to New Orleans. Smelling the roses a bit more. However this COVID19 pandemic has got me thinking. In the meantime - a single Mangawhai sunrise...












Saturday, June 9, 2018

Murals - Not Advertising Signage

Readers will be painfully aware of the visual pollution evident throughout Auckland streets - where there is commercial activity - because of our city's highly permissive rules on advertising and signage. It's not until you visit cities which regulate instead in favour of architecture and street art that you see what might be possible in a repainted Auckland.

I've just included here 3 street scenes each from Austin Texas and New Orleans Louisiana. Please note that each set of these pictures is from a single street. Cesar Chavez Street in Austin, and St. Claude Street, New Orleans.

First: Cesar Chavez Street in Austin...




(I am aware these don't do justice to Austin's street art, but they give a flavour.)

And, St Claude Street, New Orleans...




In Auckland, an enlightened street art policy would enable its Pacific and Polynesian culture to be much more on display than at present. Many benefits can be envisaged. The current dominance of international brands would be slowly replaced by imagery reflecting local culture.

Driverless Bus in Perth

Another field trip at the PIA (Planning Institute of Australia) conference held in May in Perth. This time to learn about Australia's first driverless electric shuttle.

The Royal Autoclub of Australia, with support from West Australia State Government and the City of Perth is trialling a fully driverless electric shuttle bus on a small route in a part of urban Perth. Groups of delegates were able to experience this service, and be briefed on how it works, and what it's safety features are. For many of us this was quite an education into driverless vehicle technology.



The RAC "Intellibus" is a level 4 vehicle. It uses LIDAR, stereovision cameras, GPS and odometry to drive itself. It is fitted with multi-sensory technology providing 3D perception that allows it to map the environment along its route, detect obstacles and interpret traffic signs.

You can learn more from this site.

Here's a wee video of part of my trip in it....



Monday, May 4, 2020

NZ's Covid-19 Truth is Hiding Behind Numbers

Science and Sensibility

Long ago, in my post graduate studies and my London based operations research working career I did a lot of computer modelling of scientific systems, and built computer models. The study of Pandemics relies heavily on computer modelling. I've done some reading and produced this piece which is a contribution to New Zealand's Covid-19 public policy debate....



Each day since the start of our Covid-19 pandemic New Zealanders are given the day’s numbers at the top of the news – how many new cases, and how many deaths and recoveries. We’re also advised how many cases are in hospital and how many are critically ill. Increasingly we get information about how much has been spent subsidising workers wages, supporting businesses, and what’s needed to support the economy.

Counting and numbers is comforting science. It can be a way of confronting an onslaught as we gradually get our heads around what’s happening, and at the same time bundling it away as if it’s all under control. But what exactly are we being told each time the latest figures are announced, rising consistently, dropping slightly, increasing again? As we do what we’re told, and we wait.

Scientific analysis of an epidemic typically divides the population into three groups of people: Susceptible, Infectious and Recovered. It’s a useful way for us all to understand what’s happening. Computer models of how a pandemic progresses through a population calculate, one day at a time, how many to subtract from the Susceptible and add to the Infectious, and how many to add to the Recovered. How many die each day is also predicted. Assumptions include the average number of contacts each person has per day, the probability contact with an infected person results in infection, what proportion of the Infectious population recover, and what proportion die.

Significantly, the model shows how the Susceptible population reduces over time as the pandemic works its way through the population because people who have Recovered are assumed to be immune (the jury is still out on that assumption with Covid-19). The chance of someone getting infected after social contact drops over time because fewer people are susceptible. Most models assume that as more of the population become immune through having been infected and recovered, major outbreaks happen less and less frequently then stop, and the pandemic is said to have run its course.

Modelling is an essential tool in forming policy to guide national and global responses to a threat like Covid-19. Fine tuning of pandemic model assumptions has been enabled by data from the direct experience of frontline health workers in Wuhan, Italy and New York.

The teams that have been advising the UK government have published descriptions of their models. These are typically structured as above, but provide for more stages in the progression of an infection, divide the population into age groups and geographic areas, and model the capacity of the health system to cope – including the number of intensive care units available (ICU).

Such models have played a critical role in shaping the UK government’s response which has shifted from mitigation to suppression since the pandemic started. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) model predicted that, if nothing was done to mitigate the effects of the epidemic in the UK, 85 per cent of the population would be infected, there would be 24 million clinical cases and 370,000 deaths. At its peak, 220,000 ICU beds would be required whereas only 4122 were available.

All of the UK models examined options for mitigation including case isolation, voluntary home quarantine, social distancing of the over-seventies, social distancing for everyone, and school and university closures. But modelling indicated mitigation would still lead to more than 200,000 deaths. UK researchers generally argued the only alternative options to mitigation were suppression strategies, partly because China showed they were possible, and as a reaction against the huge death toll in Italy.

The LSHTM group modelled the use of repeated lockdowns, each triggered when the number of ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients reached a particular number. If the threshold was set at a thousand ICU beds, the number of infections could be kept to four million and the number of deaths to 51,000. The downside of the strategy would be that 73 per cent of the time between now and December 2021 would be spent in lockdown, by which time only 11 million people would have been infected and, unless a vaccine had been found, the epidemic would still be far from over.

So far in New Zealand the number that we are not talking about is the size of our Susceptible population. That’s because it’s just about all of us, and instead we talk about elimination or eradication of the virus. However, the Covid-19 virus is alive and well all round the world and despite the best disinfection and sanitising under the sun, it is certainly present in New Zealand. Those of us who haven’t been infected yet are susceptible to infection at any moment – though those moments are minimised while we are in lockdown – and it is assumed that testing and tracing will deal with the Covid-19 viruses already in our environment.

There has been some discussion in New Zealand of second and third waves of infections (as happened in the Spanish Flu epidemic 100 years ago) which are generally though to have been caused by mutants versions of the original virus. That is not the same as recognising that modelled suppression strategies being implemented in the UK and elsewhere show the need to provide for repeated lockdowns for the rest of this year and 2021 at least. Way before then in New Zealand, based on the present rate of Government subsidy spending and the effects of lockdowns on economic activity, the treasury cupboards will be well and truly bare. Before then very difficult public policy decisions will need to be made, which go well beyond the simplistic and comforting numbers we currently see on TV.

We need to have conversations about the cost of a death, and about social inequality.

More than 32,000 people died in New Zealand last year. Of these 353 were due to motor vehicle accidents and 685 were suicides. The largest cause of death - about 30% - were cancer deaths, 15% were from heart disease, and 7% due to brain conditions like stroke.

Of the 3,912 people in the UK who died of COVID-19 in March, 91% had at least one pre-existing condition (most common was heart disease), and on average they had 2.7. Many of those who died would likely have died from pre-existing conditions. This isn’t to say those deaths don’t matter, or to forget that although significantly fewer young people have died, they too have died in numbers that in normal times would be shocking.

We can always live in hope for a vaccine, but we also need to be prepared as a country to expect a very long wait. It is easy to say that “we” are all in this together, but already the gap between the have’s and the have not’s is a chasm. It is relatively easy to ride out long lockdown periods in a pandemic with a big back garden, protected income, and substantial retirement savings. Much harder if you’re unskilled, got a young family, aged parents in care, and a mortgage.

Deaths attributable to the economic consequences of lockdowns must also be anticipated. People will vary enormously in their reactions to being confined in their homes, without regular work. Domestic violence incidents are on the rise here, and US news reports of kilometre long queues for food parcels and people openly carrying guns are frequent.

Our Government says it has “provisioned $52 billion, if necessary, to use for cushioning New Zealanders against the impacts of the virus, positioning New Zealand for recovery, and helping us to reset and rebuild our economy to support long-term recovery.” This would be an enormous debt for the country to carry.

Our death-count due to Covid-19 is now 20. How many deaths have been avoided so far is difficult to know, but we are beginning to understand what the costs of the Government’s suppression strategy are and will be, to us and for the country.

The cost of a life is routinely used in justifying the cost of a new road in New Zealand. It’s set at somewhere between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000. If a new road can avoid enough fatal motor vehicle accidents public money gets invested in the road. The benefit in lives saved exceeds the cost of the new road. Who knows what investment might reduce youth suicide, or prolong the lives of those suffering from cancer?

Part of our preparation for the rest of 2020 and 2021 will require public conversations about how the suffering caused by the pandemic should be allocated and shared, and about the very future of our society.

** I have drawn from an article by Paul Taylor, titled "Susceptible, Infectious, Recovered" contained in the 7th May issue of London Review of Books.

Resilient Cities need Balanced Capital Investment


The impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic are still being understood, but it seems clear that this crisis will force changes in cities, physically and socially, that will echo for generations.

Central and Local Government institutions are rolling out short term economic relief packages across New Zealand. A strategy of road and rail “shovel ready” development projects is under consideration for the long term. While these approaches are an important part of a planned approach to recovery, they don’t engage with the fundamental need for change, nor the opportunity this disruption presents for the Government to implement its Living Standards Framework and rebalance New Zealand’s natural, human, and social capital, alongside its financial and physical capital.

How cities are planned has always been a reflection of cultural and technological trends, and major health crises. The cholera epidemics in the 19th century sparked the introduction of modern urban sanitation systems. Housing regulations around light and air were introduced as a measure against respiratory diseases in overcrowded European slums during industrialization. Mass transit and the automobile shape urban form, internet technology enabling working and shopping from home influences urban design priorities, and climate change pressure is forcing adaptation.

New Zealand’s pandemic response has been led by a brave and enlightened Government, and only a few outbreak clusters have occurred. But across the world, cities have been on the frontline with overwhelmed heath systems, and with daily wage earners and the urban poor suffering from lost income and a scarcity of city services and social safety nets to protect them.

Even before the current pandemic cities have needed to change significantly to meet the global goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, Sustainable Development Goals, or New Urban Agenda. To reach these goals will require major alterations to how we build, manage and live in cities – not just change, but transformational change. Such change has seemed beyond reach, but from energy to housing to mobility, sustainable, cost-effective, solutions are at hand. The challenge has been to change people’s understanding of what’s possible and the courage to make it happen at scale.

One of the unintended consequences of this crisis has been that we have seen, quite dramatically, that radical change to our everyday lives and systems is possible. Amidst fear and uncertainty, people are seeing fragments of what a future city could look like. People across the world are breathing better air than they have in decades due to a dramatic decline in vehicle traffic and factory output. People are unwittingly enjoying “car-free street days” on a daily basis, finding that walking and biking are also viable and even preferred. Cities like Bogotá, Berlin and Mexico City have already expanded pedestrianization efforts to encourage these activities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered urban life across New Zealand. Work from home is the new normal for many. So is walking, biking and enjoying nearby open spaces and parks. But the fate of thousands of small businesses and workers that make urban centers work is up in the air. These changes have sparked a debate about what is essential in a city, and perhaps more importantly, how cities can better respond to current and future crises. This pandemic is exposing fault lines with respect to physical infrastructure and inequalities in access to core urban services. It’s also raised questions about healthy density in cities. The most successful cities are able to achieve liveable density – a balance where benefits of agglomeration are significantly higher than the cost of congestion – as well as healthy density – a balance where the threat of a viral pandemic is built into its physical design and infrastructure.

It is the lack of access to essential service infrastructure such as water, housing, internet and health care, that has exacerbated the challenge of responding effectively to COVID-19 in modern cities.

We need to bring laser sharp focus on investing in essential infrastructure for better health, wellbeing and resilience for New Zealand’s urban populations. This involves identifying and investing in high-risk locations, including poor and under-resourced communities. It can also mean building infrastructure that is intentionally geared towards a low-carbon future.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Who is Auckland's CBD for?


COVID19 is like no other disruption we’ve seen in a lifetime. A gift from hell considering its dramatic and universal impact on human health. A gift from god considering the opportunities opened up as governments, communities and people have rapidly adapted.

Lockdown has provided unprecedented opportunity to reflect on what we do, and how we live, particularly in cities. It has focussed as much attention on what is essential as it has on how to live differently while still feeling satisfied and achieving most pre-pandemic goals.

We’re all getting a bit bored living in our bubbles, but the new urban silence, cycling and pedestrian safety, making do with less, cleaner and clearer air, no rush hour commutes and traffic jams, discovering neighbours and neighbourhoods, and the sheer power and utility of internet access to family, food, friends, information and work, has made people sit up and think. There’s a lot to like about the new urban paradigm that has been forced on us, despite the irritations.

What we are experiencing suggests new possibilities for cities.

What we have experienced in Auckland has roots in the “Competitive City” thinking of the last couple of decades. The minister’s introduction to The Ministry of Environment 2010 publication entitled: “Building Competitive Cities” begins:
An important component of the Government’s
economic agenda is ensuring New Zealand cities are
internationally competitive. This means cities that
enable their citizens to enjoy a great lifestyle and
affordable housing; cities that are efficient for business,
encourage investment and jobs; cities that are attractive
for visitors to support New Zealand’s increasingly
important tourism industry.


A key Government intervention toward this agenda was the amalgamation of Auckland’s four city and three district councils to form the supercity council, and the establishment of a cluster of independent Council Controlled Organisations. Further interventions in process now include opening up public infrastructure projects to private investment and reform of the planning system.

From its inception Auckland Council has embraced and enabled the Government’s economic agenda which has emphasised private property development and international tourism. Auckland’s CBD increasingly looks and feels like other international cities with their Dior, Prada and Gucci shops appealing to rich tourists and high-rise office towers sporting international brand neon signs appealing to investors. Much of this development and of the transport infrastructure to service it – including cruise ship berthage – has been at the expense of basic public and community infrastructure provision.

Standing in stark contrast, Wynyard Quarter’s internationally famous waterfront development with its playgrounds, heritage wharf structures, bridges, and wide-open public spaces came from a political agenda which emphasised the creative, playful and reflective qualities and needs of the resident and visitor population. It has also been a successful public economic investment.

Right now, Auckland CBD’s headlong plunge into the competitive city abyss, is at a standstill. Workers and contractors are in lockdown. They’ll be back as soon as the country’s lockdown rules allow it. But this pause in construction does allow some reflection on what is happening there, and whether the assumptions behind it still stand now that the world has changed.  

High street retail shopping has been coming under increasing pressure and competition from online shopping for some time now. People I know, and know of, buy furniture and even leather shoes online. My last two shirts came from eBay Australia. Lockdown level 3 will almost certainly open up online shopping to non-essential items. Every week of this lockdown indicates that shopping is moving off the street and into cyberspace. Yet much of the Auckland CBD Commercial Bay development which took away Queen Elizabeth Square is new retail.

International tourism is also at a standstill, and is likely to remain so for several years if New Zealand succeeds in its COVID19 elimination strategy. Allocating high-end retail space in new CBD property developments for high net-worth tourists cannot be justified economically. Existing such provision will need to be re-purposed to generate enough revenues to pay the ground rent.

The International Convention Centre is infrastructure to service what amounts to international business tourism. Its utility must be questioned, just as the future of high-end casinos is threatened by the absence of big-spending international tourists.

And on the subject of tourism, New Zealanders are big travellers. For the foreseeable future, many will now be looking to travel and enjoy holidays in their own country. Auckland’s CBD is being changed and developed now, but not to meet the needs of domestic tourists. Kiwis might like a drink and a bite in downtown Auckland, which they can find, but there’s so much else that could be done that would make the CBD more attractive to the domestic population. Places to play (on land and in the water), places to learn (Maori museum, Visitor museum, Maritime museum), places to create (music, street theatre), and places to chill and watch the world go by.

But one of the biggest changes that Lockdown has stimulated has been working from home. Already many companies are recognising that staff want that to continue in some shape or form – whether it’s one or two days a week, whether it’s week about, whatever – many working people have rediscovered their local neighbourhoods, neighbours and communities and built worthwhile relationships they’d like to retain. Working nine-to-five, five days a week, and all that time spent commuting, doesn’t seem so attractive – or necessary – anymore. Which means less CBD office space is needed, and less commuter traffic capacity is needed.


It’s easy to make these obvious points, and there will be many contracts and commitments that need to be delivered and completed. But this moment cannot be allowed to pass without learning from what is happening, as it provides a real-life glimpse into the future of cities in general, and an opportunity to break with the old paradigm and its assumptions.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

Missing the Point - Moving the Port


For a good while now, NZ Herald has been publishing opinions about Auckland's port, and when, where, if, and how it might be moved. Its opinion writer of the year, Simon Wilson, can't let the story go. But much of the coverage doesn't properly explain this very big public policy issue. I'll try and explain my reasoning below, using Simon's article from today's NZ Herald.

But first a little bit of policy analysis 101. Considine's Policy Diamond is a good start....


This policy diamond diagram is general, not specific to POAL, but illustrates four main components needed for a public policy investigation which recognises that making or changing public policy is fundamentally a political process, and not a rational process, despite the hopes and aspirations of some of those who may be affected.

Simon's article today is entitled:  What happened to the plan to shift the Auckland port? (unless you have access to NZ Herald Premium you won't be able to see it).

This is where the problem of his explanation begins.

There is no plan to shift the Auckland port.

There are ideas about shifting it. There are visions about what could happen if it was moved. There are aspirations and hopes about that. But there is no plan. And there can't be a plan until there's a policy to have a plan from those with the power, and any "shift the port" policy investigation worth its salt needs to acknowledge the boxes in the diagram, and address them.

Otherwise all we're talking about in these NZ Herald opinion articles is ideas (not plans), which typically embody only the values of a selection of those affected (eg un-named citizens of Auckland), contain carefully chosen financial and resource information that supports the ideas, and generally fails to fairly describe the drivers and policies of the main institutions of influence. There's a place for writing about ideas and aspirations of course - but there's a world of difference between that and good investigative journalism about a complex public policy matter such as moving Auckland's port.   

Here is the Herald article, with my comments:
What happened to the idea of moving the port? Isn't this a good time, with no one around, for Northland to sneak in, load up all those cranes and straddle carriers and just steal them away to Northport? That's not quite as silly as it sounds, and it wouldn't need to be Northport doing it. Ports of Auckland (POA) could take charge.

It is misleading to imply that moving the port is this simple. Like scoring a cheap point in a debate. Readers can laugh. But are they any the wiser? I don't think so. And if POA "could take charge" shouldn't they be part of this opinion? Or is this just setting up another "right of reply" and so it goes round and round.
Susan Krumdieck was a member of the Upper North Island Supply Chain (UNISC) strategy group that recommended moving the Auckland port earlier this year. She told me this week that she had asked POA: "If the 1.4km of berth at Northport were built and ready, and your owners said, 'Pick up operations and move to Northport,' what would happen?"They said: 'If the Northport build had been done with the equipment and operations designed in, then it would take about a month to break down the POA, put the kit on ships and build it back at Northport. Call it three months all up to shift the POA to the new berth at Northport'."Krumdieck added: "With the land available and the ability to lay it all out from scratch, the efficiency of the operations could be improved to world class. The POA would make more money for their shareholders. POA business would 'move' to Northport, not be lost to the ratepayers."

Informed readers will be aware that it doesn't matter what point is being made, it is always possible to find an expert who will - for whatever reason, and with the best will in the world - apply their expertise and argue in support of that point, and an expert who will convincingly argue against it. This kind of quoted expertise might fill up the column, and it might cheer those who need cheering in COVID times, but it lacks balance and over-simplifies.
The POA shareholders, remember, are us - the ratepayers of Auckland. Moving the port north doesn't have to mean we would lose anything. And Northport, which is near Whangarei, is already part-owned by POA.
This is the heart of the opinion piece, and is where it fails as a piece of public policy analysis. Sure ratepayers are shareholders. But that group is only one of the groups who are affected. The customers of the port will also be affected. Auckland has changed since it was established in Waitemata Harbour, but having a port at its center was key to its development, and this remains a critical part of its economy. The logistics arrangements of POAL customers include port handling charges of course (and cranes and straddle carriers), but they also include roading and transport time costs. Many of those customers would lose if the port was moved. But those losses are ignored and dismissed in this opinion piece. They need to be addressed in any move the port investigation. I'm aware that issue has formed part of other reports, but it's ignored in this piece. And I haven't even got started.
So what did happen to the idea of moving the port? As we move out of lockdown, the Government says, there will be a massive spend on infrastructure to get New Zealand working again. The Auckland Council has submitted a list of 73 projects.Not a one of them bears any relationship at all to the proposal to move the port. Yet the council and the Government have said the car and container operations do not have a long-term future on the downtown Auckland waterfront. A working group representing all affected groups came to the same conclusion in 2016.   
The idea of moving the port is still pretty much that - an idea. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Auckland Council does not have any "shovel ready" projects to move the port, as it has yet to adopt any policy in that direction. Last time I looked at the port it was business as usual - a multi-story carpark is close to completion for its car import business, and the new automated straddle carrier systems and container handling facilities on Ferguson Terminal are close to being fully operational after more than a year's installation and testing. All funded by public money. Until Auckland Council, in collaboration with POAL and Central Government, has adopted a "move the port" policy, nothing will change, despite all the reports in the world. To be fair to Simon, the next part of his opinion piece does make that statement....
As yet, there is no political commitment to the UNISC recommendations, which include expanding Northport and the Tauranga port. The crisis has probably pushed a decision out to an uncertain future date.But it is agreed the port will need to move within 20 years or so. Even Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, one of the most vocal critics of UNISC, says yes to that.The thing about 20 years, with a project of this scale, is that it has to start now. Moreover, given all the money the Government is about to spend on economic salvage, if the port isn't included now, it may never be.There'll be no money left for anything else. Covid-19 could become a Trojan horse for killing off the idea. So what should they do?
In this part of his article, Simon moves from writing about "moving the port" as an idea, to it being a project, something that has gone beyond being just a plan, and is actually happening, and can be started right now. But it clearly isn't. As the millions being spent now on developing the port infrastructure in Auckland clearly shows. Despite this reality, Simon spends a good chunk of his article show-casing the project ideas of his expert advocate Krumdieck...
The heart of the UNISC proposal is not the move to Northport. It's that freight haulage should shift largely to rail. That requires a modern railway network and a new "inland port" or freight hub in Auckland's northwest, probably near Kumeu.The proposal is for a rail line "around the back door", as Krumdieck puts it. One that doesn't route freight on to State Highway 1 through the city, as the port does now, or across the harbour bridge, but skirts round to the west.It's the key to managing congestion on Auckland's roads. And the condition of the country's highways. And it's a vital component in our response to the climate crisis. In time, UNISC proposed, 80 per cent of the country's freight could be shifted by rail. Modernising the Northland-Auckland railway and building the inland depot, says Krumdieck, "should be top of the list" in the new infrastructure spend. Krumdieck, by the way, is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Canterbury and a world-renowned expert in freight logistics. She did the freight modelling for UNISC, using an advanced programme common in Europe and Asia but not yet licensed to anyone else here.The new freight hub will become an "intermodal distribution centre" that "draws the heavy industry and warehousing out along that line and provide the lifeline for rational industrial growth". Getting goods into the city will be the "last leg", done by road freight, largely at night. The rail link will continue through Avondale to the industrial south and further, into Waikato and beyond.The freight hub would remain an Auckland operation. The city won't be losing out but will be able to function better and get many other benefits.
These are all good ideas. The idea of rail - especially freight rail - from Auckland to Northland has been around for decades. It is an aspirational idea that doesn't become part of a plan and then a planned and budgeted project just because an expert backs it. Until there is a policy to move the Auckland port - or parts of it - that is agreed by the relevant institutions and policy organisations, ideas like this will remain pie in the sky. Which clearly frustrates Simon...
As with the idea that a Northport operation could still be a POA business, this is something Goff has never seemed able to grasp.
Praising individuals who support your values, and mocking those who don't might raise a laugh and trigger supporting letters to the Herald newspaper, but it doesn't improve the quality of the journalism, nor the investigation. Institutional politics and the political economy of all of those who are affected are at the heart of this public policy issue. Getting to grips with what is happening inside those institutions, and bringing into the open the concerns and fears of those who are affected is essential to an understanding of this public policy issue. Simon finishes his piece like this... 
Re-establishing the Northland line, says Krumdieck, has a business case larger than two - for every dollar spent, the benefit will be more than $2.Also: "The cars on the Auckland waterfront could move to Northport and Tauranga today. The servicing jobs would move with them and the workers would be able to afford to live there."It all depends on the railway. Build a rail line able to carry the cars on electric trains and, right there, you've got an excellent model of what the future of freight in this country could look like.On the other hand, if we don't do it, keeping the port and its related operations where they are will cost at least $8 billion, with no new benefits to show for it. The business case for that, Krumdieck notes, is less than one.And what's the real cost going to be? Krumdieck puts it, "realistically", at $14 billion."That $14b will return more than twice because it enables a totally different future. The rebuild of New Zealand rail – preferably electric – is the main thing separating New Zealand's future as a prosperous nation from a future as a third world backwater. You either build the country that works well, or you are Ghana."Meanwhile, Ports of Auckland has just announced the arrival of 12,000 boxes of bananas and 12,000 cartons of pineapples. And more coffee beans.It's way beyond reason to use our downtown waterfront and clog up our roads for that.
It all sounds so simple. Build an electric freight rail line. Problem solved. But it isn't that simple. And dismissing New Zealand, and POAL, as being "Ghana" doesn't help.


Friday, April 17, 2020

Essential Development Vs Shovel Ready Planning


The following text was penned for NZ Herald a few days ago....

New Zealand’s immediate response to the pandemic includes prioritisation of essential services and protection of essential workers. Central Government has focused upon the food, health and financial needs of people, families and communities across the country in the sort of forced paradigm shift not seen since the Great Depression and after World Wars I and II.

Global norms and political priorities previously considered immutable by the rich and powerful have been torn asunder in the public interest. National governments have sacrificed their economies in radical actions to protect public health. Lockdown measures and rocketing unemployment are the new normal. Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, has called for businesses to “hibernate”. Around the world media reports of daily infection and death statistics sit uncomfortably beside the usual reports of GDP dips, exchange rate changes, and stock market swings.   
   
The pandemic has exposed gaping holes in public health systems and forced the world to redefine what is essential and to plan and act accordingly. Many of those changes should not be temporary just while there is an emergency. The priorities that underpin them need to be incorporated into a new social contract between government and people, a contract which protects and promotes what is essential.

Already there is discussion and debate about what sort of response will be needed in future after the worst of the pandemic has passed. Commentators around the world are thinking and writing about climate change and carbon emission changes, about changed work and commuting practices as people have adapted and learn and work from home, about changed travel demands as airlines are grounded and cruise ships are refused entry, about the need to prepare for the next pandemic, and about the importance of social networks within communities and families as they look out for and look after the vulnerable.

The New Zealand Government deserves much credit for its pandemic response on behalf of the people. Unfortunately this approach is not evident in preliminary accounts of what is planned for its post pandemic response which have focussed on “shovel ready” roading and poorly planned transport infrastructure projects, and a return to the old paradigm.

My grandfather was one of thousands of men employed in the 1930’s using a shovel and wheelbarrow to construct the Waitaki hydro-electric dam which still supplies our country with renewable electric power. An essential service if ever there was one, and a project with a huge benefit cost ratio.

Which is more than can be said for roading and light-rail projects that are apparently “shovel ready” for New Zealand’s economic recovery. Many of these transport projects are based on urban population growth assumptions and scenario planning that must be questioned. Rushing to build roads for a future that has changed and that are not economic is a poor use of resources and will serve to reduce the country’s productivity.  

Surely the investment emphasis needed post-pandemic is lots of essential small-scale health, education and community infrastructure projects throughout the country, rather than a few high-risk think-big projects that are based on high population growth projections. Already there are positive signs such as an educational TV station, providing school kids with computers, and internet in all homes.

Rather than put the country’s post pandemic project decisions into the hands of a few captains of industry, it would be better to establish local Community Pandemic Recovery Agencies (based on the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Agency model) working in partnership with local government to identify and lead local economic development projects. Some of these will already be planned and be “shovel ready” such as cycle paths, bus shelters, and footpath improvements, community infrastructure including day-care and drop-in centres, sports facilities and playgrounds, and environmental projects such as wetland restoration and coastal protection.

Projects like these would kick start local economies across the country, provide the revenues needed to bring smaller businesses out of hibernation, create employment opportunities, and bring the economic multiplier effects that stimulate community retail and entertainment enterprise.

These are the essentials of a post-pandemic recovery package that continues the paradigm shift and political priorities and values in action now.

Mangawhai Interlude Pictures

It's been almost two years since my last post. Been distracted since going to New Orleans. Smelling the roses a bit more. However this COVID19 pandemic has got me thinking. In the meantime - a single Mangawhai sunrise...












Saturday, June 9, 2018

Murals - Not Advertising Signage

Readers will be painfully aware of the visual pollution evident throughout Auckland streets - where there is commercial activity - because of our city's highly permissive rules on advertising and signage. It's not until you visit cities which regulate instead in favour of architecture and street art that you see what might be possible in a repainted Auckland.

I've just included here 3 street scenes each from Austin Texas and New Orleans Louisiana. Please note that each set of these pictures is from a single street. Cesar Chavez Street in Austin, and St. Claude Street, New Orleans.

First: Cesar Chavez Street in Austin...




(I am aware these don't do justice to Austin's street art, but they give a flavour.)

And, St Claude Street, New Orleans...




In Auckland, an enlightened street art policy would enable its Pacific and Polynesian culture to be much more on display than at present. Many benefits can be envisaged. The current dominance of international brands would be slowly replaced by imagery reflecting local culture.

Driverless Bus in Perth

Another field trip at the PIA (Planning Institute of Australia) conference held in May in Perth. This time to learn about Australia's first driverless electric shuttle.

The Royal Autoclub of Australia, with support from West Australia State Government and the City of Perth is trialling a fully driverless electric shuttle bus on a small route in a part of urban Perth. Groups of delegates were able to experience this service, and be briefed on how it works, and what it's safety features are. For many of us this was quite an education into driverless vehicle technology.



The RAC "Intellibus" is a level 4 vehicle. It uses LIDAR, stereovision cameras, GPS and odometry to drive itself. It is fitted with multi-sensory technology providing 3D perception that allows it to map the environment along its route, detect obstacles and interpret traffic signs.

You can learn more from this site.

Here's a wee video of part of my trip in it....