Monday, March 2, 2015

Diagnosis and Prescription for Auckland’s Dis-ease

The waterfront bull-rush battle amongst Ports of Auckland (POAL), Auckland Council (and its family of Council-Controlled Organisations), property investors, and advocates for public space and sustainable transport, is the latest chapter in Auckland’s long history of public planning battles mocked as “the Auckland disease”: a symptom of severe growing pains, vigorous vested interests, and increasingly de-regulated public institutions.

The battle goal has remained the same: control over economic or social benefits from waterfront land reclaimed from the seabed over the last one hundred years.

By 1973 Ports of Auckland’s predecessor, Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) had reclaimed 160 hectares of Waitemata Harbour seabed adjacent to Auckland’s burgeoning central business district. Today POAL operates Auckland’s port on about 55 hectares of this land and much of the rest has been vested to Auckland City Council for public roads and streets, and to utility operators for public works like railways, bus and train stations, the central post office and gasworks.

Such uses of reclaimed seabed appear to be strongly in the public interest, however other transactions have principally benefited AHB. As Roland O’Regan, Chairman of Wellington’s Harbour Board in 1974 observed: “..some Harbour Boards seeking to protect themselves against sudden falls in income…have vested large areas of seabed in themselves so they have the power to create income earning land...”. Auckland Harbour Board persuaded Parliament to grant it some 5,000 acres of seabed in 1875, while a few years later Wellington Harbour Board only gained rights to specific seabed areas relating to specific works. O’Regan went on, “Auckland Harbour Board not only has large areas of seabed vested in it but receives $1,000,000/annum from residential rents.”

Sour grapes perhaps, but this is the basis of much of the Auckland disease, and also why Wellington’s redeveloped waterfront is much more successful as a public attraction than Auckland’s central waterfront is today, and is shaping up to be in future.

From the mid-1970’s Wellington Harbour Board and Wellington City Council entered binding agreements and generally worked together “to implement the Concept Plan to the fullest extent in its provision of open spaces and recreational facilities for the use and enjoyment of the public which would not otherwise be achievable.”

Auckland Harbour Board’s behaviour stands in stark contrast. In 1965, increasing rent potential to more than $1.4 million/annum, AHB doubled ground floor area entitlements in its plans for the Auckland Downtown site. This led to the controversial 20 storey tower now known as the HSBC building and to an unsuccessful public space named Queen Elizabeth Square. And since 1997 POAL has pocketed more than $250 million from the sale of Queens Wharf, Princes Wharf leases, Viaduct Harbour land and Wynyard Quarter.

Accounts setting out revenues that publicly-owned POAL earns from its waterfront real estate business, let alone from importing cars, and the extent to which these revenues subsidise its container handling charges, are all hidden from public scrutiny.

Things might have been different if Auckland City Council had stood up to Auckland Harbour Board when it had the opportunity, and might still be different if Auckland Council accorded proper weight to its Local Government Act duties to ratepayers. Instead both institutions stand guilty of being bought off. Auckland City Council opposed the dominating POAL supported Hilton Hotel development on Princes Wharf until it was promised a rate revenue stream from activities that would be located outside its jurisdiction above the seabed. One might have expected Auckland Council to replace Queen Elizabeth Square with equivalent green space within the city fabric, but instead wants the silver on offer to compensate Precinct for carparks lost by the CRL tunnel; is attracted by the promise of development levies and rate revenues from expanded commercial development; has made vague unbudgeted promises to free up Queens Wharf and lengthen Captain Cook for cruise ships; and offers the public a cheap deal “letting us have access” to streets and wharf spaces that we already own!

This cheap public land swap deal is especially cheap because any public money that might be paid to POAL can immediately be translated into a dividend so the Council gets its money back.

Combined with POAL’s noisy claims it can built wharf extensions to Bledisloe and demolish part of Marsden Wharf all without public notification the casual and unconsulted sale of Queen Elizabeth Square simply add insult to past public injuries.

Wellington’s waterfront development has not all been plain sailing however. Controversially its Regional Council granted consent for a Hilton Hotel on Wellington’s Queens Wharf which was challenged in the Environment Court by the Wellington Civic Trust and Wellington Waterfront Watchdog. The judge ruled that the adverse effects on the public enjoyment of wharf space adjacent to the hotel should not be permitted. The hotel has not been built and the status and quality of Wellington waterfront public spaces and amenities has been further protected and upheld. Auckland sorely needs the same sort of coordinated, principled and organized civic unrest to hold Ports of Auckland and Auckland Council institutions to account.

The remarkable link between intrinsic human qualities such as behavior, conduct, and demeanor - and the external built environment has been recognized for years. Cities shape their citizens. Yet, this link is given little consideration in the design of Auckland’s redeveloping waterfront. The plans we see have public spaces that are shared with buses, cars and a light-rail line; spaces that are partly under private control and subject to surveillance; instead of public spaces that act simply as locations for urban interaction.

Places which are only “accessible” to citizens rather than controlled by them through use, are not truly public places.

Auckland has the opportunity now to design and create its own particular waterfront city form. One that is the shaping environment for people who grow and live here. One which actively addresses urban relationships that are overdue for repair including the city’s relationship with the Waitemata Harbour, sea and its ecosystems; the city’s relationship and engagement with Maori and Pacific culture; the built city’s relationship with shaded and leafy green spaces; the central city’s public relationship with its own citizens.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

QE Square as it used to be


Anyone remember this? Looking south east across Queen Elizabeth Square showing the Coutts Fountain, the corner of Customs Street, the South Pacific Hotel (far right), the Central Post Office (centre), Endeans building (far left).

"Please acknowledge 'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1021-531' when re-using this image." The period is 1980-89.

Looks like an Urban Designer in Auckland City Council tried hard for a while. Even then it was hard to get rid of the cars. They seem to have rights in Auckland that would never be tolerated in other first world cities. In Auckland we celebrate when we share space between pedestrians and cars (like on Princes Wharf and on Queens Wharf and on Queen Elizabeth Square). In Wellington cars were banned from waterfront public spaces almost two decades ago.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ports Expansion Protest on Queens Wharf

Great weather for a hastily organised protest that I only found out about because I was on the ferry with some protestors. Architects, Landscape Architects, Devonport Heritage, Local Board Members (from Devonport/Takapuna and Waitemata) and at least a couple of Auckland Councillors (Chris Darby and Wayne Walker).
Margot McCrae speaks out, while noted architect Julian Mitchell holds the megaphone.
Later, Cllr Darby addressed the crowd. Tip of the iceberg of public concern. Great to see this being organised by Auckland's urban design professionals.
This pic shows what the fight is over. Behind the protestors you can see the entrance to Waitemata Harbour - framed to the right by the end of Bledisloe Wharf reclamation - and to the left by North Head at Devonport. The draped banner shows the seaview that would be blocked by POAL's proposed B2 and B3 wharf expansions (each about 100 metres long and 30 metres wide), which POAL has indicated it would want to infill between in future.
Any POAL talk that "you can see under the B2 and B3 wharf structures" is disingenuous to say the least.
This was an excellent opportunity to gain some media attention before the Notice of Motion meeting tomorrow of the Auckland Development Committee of Auckland Council. This meeting will re-consider its recent "decision" to weaken its stance from "reclamation is non-complying" to "reclamation is discretionary".
The Notice of Motion ahs been signed by 9 councillors after hard work by Cllr Chris Darby. The NOM meeting is timed for 1:30pm tomorrow - Thursday - at the usual meeting venue old Auckland Council Building on Queens Street. There is confusion about whether public will be allowed to address that meeting - there is talk that it might be held "in confidential".

This is all legal dancing on the head of a pin stuff by Council officers. Sure the Unitary Plan needs to be sorted out, and property rights need to be protected and legal positions agreed behind closed doors. But this matter - the matter that POAL be permitted by its Auckland Council owner to act in its own interests and expand its reclaimed land holdings - that matter is a Local Government Act matter. Legitimate for you to consider that matter in public. And where is the second stage port study anyway?

In my view Council should be taking public soundings right now, as Mayor Blumsky did when public lost confidence there in Wellington Council's handling of waterfront issues, and call for a moratorium on all waterfront development. Pending engagement with the public and Auckland's design community over the whole waterfront redevelopment from Custom Street, Downtown, Quay Street, Light Rail, Buses, Queens Wharf, Captain Cook, Marsden, and Ports. And a funded and staged Masterplan. Instead of the present ad hoc arrangements.

Ask the people what they think.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Comparing Wellington & Auckland Waterfront Planning

Auckland Council had a big meeting covering a number of issues of interest to me on Thursday, 12th February. These included Queen Elizabeth Square, Central Wharves Strategy, and Expansion of Ports. I asked for and obtained speaking rights and was granted the opportunity of a 5 minute slot. This has been captured on Council's excellent live news feed from the meeting - and you can see the actual presentation - and questions here on video demand. These are the slides I presented (with one exception). I introduced the presentation by explaining that the work was some of the fruit from PhD research I am enrolled to do at School of Architecture and Planning at University of Auckland. The PhD is a planning study which compares approaches to waterfront urban regeneration at Auckland and Wellington.

Because my major objective in much of the work I am dedicated to in Auckland relates to the provision of effective public space and amenity, I began with this quote from a NZ Herald Editorial thirteen years ago. It argues for more green public space in Auckland's downtown waterfront area. There has been a wonderful little addition since that time - and that is Takutai Square in Britomart Precinct. 
What is often forgotten as Council and Councillors grapple with Auckland's waterfront, is that this is the latest set of issues in a long history that stretches back more than 100 years, and where Auckland Harbour Board has played a critical and highly influential role. Learning from this history is important because Ports of Auckland (which was created from Auckland Harbour Board) continues to exert an excessive influence on the form and nature of Auckland's city waterfront. For example this diagram shows AHB plans from the 1960's which depict an urban form which would have delivered the sort of city form called for in the NZ Herald. You can see the low rise tower that was planned then across Quay Street from the Ferry Building. You can see an expansive Queen Elizabeth Square and significant planting. In my view this plan misses the opportunity of providing a large green space like Takutai Square, and it disrupts the linkage and urban form of Queen Street which - in my view - should continue past the CPO, across Quay Street and onto Queens Wharf. Nevertheless. AHB ditched this plan in favour of one which resulted in an enormous increase in commercial floor area, and corresponding loss in good quality public space. Public space has never been a priority for AHB or POAL. Nor should it be. Their objectives - especially POAL - are for it to be "a successful business". Public space however was a priority for Auckland City Council and still needs to be for amalgamated Auckland Council - which owns POAL. (This slide was not in my Council presentation for reasons of time pressure.)

This diagram shows some of the transactions that have occurred as AHB and POAL have changed the uses of various parts of the land that AHB has reclaimed over the years. AHB and POAL have pocketed large capital sums, and continue to extract significant rental revenues from reclaimed land assets. I have sought information about the proportion of POAL revenues that derive from its real estate business. But this information has been denied, because, apparently, it is not provided to its owner.
Over the years AHB reclaimed 162 hectares of the seabed in proximity to the central city - this is shown here as land to the north of the red line which in part is the site of Custom Street. Over the years much of this land - which was vested in AHB - has changed in use as summarised in the slide. In round numbers POAL now occupies about a third of what was reclaimed, streets and public amenities and publicly owned buildings (like the CPO) occupy another third, and the remaining third has been sold for private development.
The situation in Wellington is significantly different. You can read here a tiny part of my research findings. The quote from the Chairman of Wellington Harbour Board was the start of a process where the whole of Lambton Harbour and reclamations back to Jervois Quay was shifted from port use to civic use and development. Unlike the ad hoc approach that has been deployed by AHB and POAL. The 1986 quote is an extract from a legally binding agreement entered into between WHB and Wellington City Council which clearly commits both parties to working together to deliver open spaces, recreational facilities and suchlike for enjoyment by the public which would not otherwise be achievable.

My research interest was triggered in Auckland by Princes Wharf. I still find it extraordinary that Auckland authorities have not had the gumption to conduct a thorough enquiry into the Princes Wharf fiasco. The public is faced with a wall of silence. Reflection is an important part of good planning. Wisdom comes from checking what went according to plan and what didn't. Reputations all over the city would not be ruined with a useful dose of truth-seeking, but would help us all learn and not repeat the same planning mistakes. Which I see too clearly happening again now downtown. The artist's picture shows a Prince Wharf concept with huge amounts of public amenity that was published and attracted public support. The other photo shows what is there today. And it should be noted that the RMA plans called for 35% of Princes Wharf to be public space. The same sorts of quantitative promises are being made right now by Auckland Council over what will replace Queen Elizabeth Square. It's not about quantity guys, it's about quality. We have 35% public space all right - but how good it is?

For example these two images show what was promised for the public space within the Princes Wharf development - and what you see now if you are ever attracted to go down there. Talk about a phalanx of grey, and where public space is 100% "shared" with cars.
We need to learn from the past behaviours of AHB and POAL. But this learning should not be taken up by Auckland Council as its own raison d'etre. Which is what seems to be happening. This interesting observation (in the slide) from the previous Chairman of Wellington Harbour Board explains the bind we have been in, here in Auckland. It explains the motivations behind POAL and AHB behaviours. It explains their rationale. We need to understand it for what it is, and work around it and against it in the broader public interest. This is not to say that Auckland's port should move somewhere else, but it is to say that it needs to be contained and controlled. Because they won't control themselves. They are not incentivised to curb their expansionist behaviours or to use their land efficiently for port purposes only. They are motivated to act like a seaside property speculator. Council has the duty, powers and responsibility to control POAL.

The Wellington story is not a fairytale. It is littered with problems, issues and famous public confrontations. My research has brought to light stories that raged in local newspapers and on the ground. One was the ham-fisted effort to build a Retail and Events Centre on its Queens Wharf. Another related to plans pushed by Wellington's Waterfront Development Agency for a waterfront tower. These and other issues culminated in a public meeting attended by a 1,000.
Wellington City Council recognised it had an issue, and took action which was strongly and effectively led by Mayor Blumsky.
This slide lists a few of the actions that resulted. Interestingly, at the Auckland meeting where I made this presentation, Committee Chair Penny Hulse - to her credit - saw the value in the idea of a Community Consultation Committee for Auckland
This slide lists major findings of the community consultation committee. It is important to note that this committee was made up of members of the great and the good. It was not a rabble of grumpy yachties for example. It was supported by Wellington City Council's urban design unit and staff. The reports that were produced, the way the Council acted and supported the committee, the reports it received, and the decisions it then took are exemplary and show a much sounder based way forward for Auckland Council than its present ad hoc and pragmatic approach.
One of the most significant outputs and outcomes of the community process was the production of the Lambton Harbour Open Space Master Plan. This was prepared with the Consultation Committee, Wellington City Council - and by a grouping of New Zealand's leading architects and landscape architects (Athfields, Megan Wraight and others). The image here is one part of it. Those who have been to Wellington will recognise that much of what you see there today, was envisaged in this plan - which significantly provides for at least 5 separate green spaces. Any building or commercial development is shown in outline, and how they might relate to the public spaces. But it is the public space design which sets the context for built development. Not the other way round as we see at present in Auckland CBD waterfront planning, where public space has become the poor cousin in urban planning and urban design. 

My final slide summarised to the Auckland Development Committee what I think it can learn from its own history and from the more civic minded approach that has delivered to Wellington the waterfront that it now enjoys.

Observations: Auckland Development Ctte Meeting 12 Feb

There was a lot going on at the Auckland Development Committee meeting on Thursday 12th Feb. (By the way - this pic wasn't taken at the time - - just here for illustrative purposes).

This blog contains my big picture view of where Council is going with: Downtown development; Queens Wharf; Central wharves strategy; and Ports Expansion. These matters were all dealt with at this meeting - but in separate, seemingly ad hoc items.

The blog also contains my more detailed observations of three interesting moments (out of many).

First of all, I generally think it's a good idea to make a double cruise ship terminal on Captain Cook Wharf lengthened by about 100 metres, in order to free up Queens Wharf so it can genuinely become a people's wharf, and to better provide for cruise ships in Auckland. However, until this is funded, and until a discussion is had about why POAL shouldn't run that facility (after all POAL pockets berthage fees, and doesn't POWL run Wellington's cruise ship terminal?). I am also persuaded by landscape architects of the significance of the Queen Street through and onto to Queens Wharf alignment as a design driver for downtown development. However that should not be at the expense of public space options which are threatened, for example, with the loss of Queen Elizabeth Square, and nor should we be blind to the loss of public open space in Lower Queen Street that is envisaged with buses circulating around Endean Building and Mercure Building and hence onto Lower Queen Street and with a fast frequent light rail service that is now being considered.

However, given Auckland's history of promising all sorts of public benefits to smooth the way for private developments, I am increasingly concerned that history may be repeating itself right now. Call me cynical maybe, but I could not help but see Thursday's meeting as being primarily about getting the Precinct Development and CRL enabling works underway. A significant log-jam in that project is Queen Elizabeth Square and Auckland Council's need to compensate Precinct properties for the loss of carparks in its high rise project that will be caused by the Central Rail Link (CRL) Tunnel passing directly beneath. The price oif compensation has never been revealed but it appears to be around $25,000,000 to $30,000,000. The freehold sale price of QE Square has also not been revealed - understandeable as a commercial transaction - but it has been estimated at around $60,000,000. A problem for Council is its variously stated commitments and obligations to provide commensurate public space nearby (though what "nearby" means is a challenge). Council would like to effectively trade QE Square away and get the CRL tunnel works underway, but it must also provide "commensurate" public space. Solving that conundrum is Council's priority.

I'm afraid I see all this talk of opening up Queens Wharf (to the public) and Captain Cook Wharf (mostly to cruise and sometimes to the public) as an unfunded and "jam tomorrow" trade for the loss of QE Square public space. Much the same promises were made when AHB built its headquarter building on Quay Street, and when POAL signed its lease deal for the Princes Wharf development. Promised public spaces and amenities never eventuated. It wasn't even "jam tomorrow" in those cases. And not to be outdone in all this the committee also had to deal with POAL with its plan to lengthen Bledisloe to enable it to accommodate Queen Elizabeth and other cruise ships, and its push for more reclamation. My take on the day is on 1ZB Larry Williams show (see slideshow version)....



and here on Stuff.

Now for the three moments:

There were some memorable Q&A sessions which really should be edited from the live webcast and presented as stand-alone clips. Cllr Wayne Walker was insistent and competent in asking Rick Walden of Centre Centre Integration (CCI) and Clive Fuhr of Auckland Council Property Ltd (ACPL) respectively about how Lower Queen Street would work as a public space without QE Square and with planned bus and light rail movements, and about whether Council would retain more control over how QE Square developed if it sold a leasehold interest and not a freehold interest. This latter question was a fascinating insight because it is widely known around the table that Waterfront Auckland has been able to achieve all sorts of environmental and social benefits from developers by virtue of leasehold arrangements. Cllr Walker persisted with Clive Fuhr, getting fobbed off and deflected, and finally asked Clive the perfect question: "Would Council have more control over what happened on QE Square land if it was a leasehold sale?" Clive would have known the answer. Instead he turned his head and said ,"I think Mr Watts an provide the asnwer to that." He was referring to Tim Watts who is an urban planner and urgan designer for Auckland Council. He is not a part of Council's Property CCO. The fact that Cllr Walker had to persist with this line of questioning, and the fact that those who know the facts will not state them in a meeting makes the meeting a farce.

The second memorable moment came when Cllr Chris Darby was handed a POAL Q&A paper which contained information about POAL's freshly and non-notified consents for B2 and B3 extensions to Bledisloe Wharf. He wanted to know how much Rick Walden knew about the POAL plans when Rick had responsibility for preparing the plans and options consideration for the Captain Cook cruise ship terminal extensions. Cllr Darby was first able to establish that what POAL was proposing would affect the ability of Captain Cook to handle crusie ships. Rick Walden was clearly uncomfortable about the questioning, but, like Clive tried to bat the questions away, rather than honestly answer them. Very bad public look. Finally Cllr Darby asked the hard question, "When did you know about POAL's consented plans to lengthen Beldisloe Wharf?" (Doesn't this sound like the sort of thing you might expect in court? How the hell has it got to this? Why are councillors being denied relevant information? How can they make good decisions when relevant history, facts etc are being kep from the?) At least Rick Walden answered this one. He said, if my memory serves me right, "I heard on Sunday night." Which was about 4 days before the meeting. This raises another question. How can the manager if city centre integration do his job if he's being kept in the dark about what other parts of the council "family" are doing and deciding? (Cllr Fletcher generously observed that "there was a glitch in the system" and went on to more honestly describe it as a "toxic environment").

The third memorable moment came from Cllr Brewer. He had sat stewing for hours in the earlier parts of the meeting. Saying little but becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Late in the day he made a number of observations which are important. One of these was to the effect that: "we talk about having a waterfront masterplan but we don't really. Instead we have a number of separate plans, and even when we did the waterfront masterplan the port was left out. That's clearly a problem..." and he also spoke about the port company itself, "....with all the money the port has been paid for land why isn't it paying for the lengthening of Captain Cook Wharf...?" His frustration was telling.

Good planning is about good argument nothing hidden. Bad planning resorts to pragmatism and power. That's what we are seeing here. Unless Council fixes itself, there will be a steady decline in public confidence, and necessary resort to the courts for resolution because recent Council decisions are not in compliance with either the Resource Management Act or the Local Government Act.

QE Square - Recent Historic Photo

Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, has this photo of Queen Elizabeth Square Auckland, in an article entitled: "Story: City public spaces, Part of page 6 – Protecting public spaces"....:

Which reads: "In the late 20th century some cities tried to provide more public spaces. Auckland’s Queen Elizabeth Square, at the bottom of Queen Street, opened in 1980. Overshadowed by skyscrapers and lacking street life, it remains more a place to walk through than to linger. This arresting stainless steel ‘Wind tree’ sculpture, designed by Michio Ihara, is shown here in 2000. It was removed and put into storage when the square was remodelled in the early 2000s...."

The remodelling included Kauri tree planting, removal of these seating and planted areas, and the conversion of the space into a bus interchange.

QE Square is a sad neglected carpark

I know QE Square is not perfect. Shops don't front onto it. The Kauri plantation is misconceived.

But you can see here how sunny Queen Elizabeth is most of the mornings throughout summer. Which is great. The coffee bars buzz, people walk through, and they'd sit and chat if they could. It would make a great Takutai Square. The prevailing Sou'westers don't get in there.....

If it's sold outright it won't be qualitatively replaced with paved space on the waterfront - breastworks or wharves - because those spaces are different in character and physical layout (quite apart from the fact they are already in public ownership). Wellington understood the need to have green spaces set back a little from the waterfront for other purposes. Whether it's for a child's playground (such as you see now at Wynyard Quarter), or whether it's to plant a shade tree with grass beneath (such as you also see at Wynyard back from the waterfront along Daldy Street). A few years ago there was the WindTree sculpture but that's gone.

What you see in this image is a measure of the extent to which Auckland Council devalues public space like this. Sure it's technically road reserve - but does it have to be left unattended for drivers and courier vans to park at their leisure? Council continues to try hard with Aotea Square - which is essentially a paved carpark - but the main reason it's unsuccesful is because the buildings don't address the square at a human scale. QE Square - when Precinct have their carparks beneath - will also be a paved carpark (complete with rail tunnel) just like Aotea Square from an urban infrastructure point of view. Why not work with Precinct to design a City Square that does integrate with its built edge and has the same success factors as are exhibited in these world class civic square examples?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Narcissism builds a NarciCity that grows Narcissists

It isn't a new thought that the culture, ideas and values that go into building and shaping a city establish an urban form that instills the same culture, ideas and values in the citizens that grow there.

Aristotle wrote about it thousands of years ago as he considered how different urban designs shaped cities as well as the people who lived in them. He was interested in relations between culture, urban design and civilisation, he wanted cities built to produce what he considered to be the best Greek society. He prized and valued equality and fairness and democracy.

Not every person prioritises those values. What happens to a city that is built according to other values? And what effect do different city types, cities with different personalities if you like, different morphologies, have on the people who develop and grow up in them?

Many cities have big egos. Maybe they care more about the way they look from the outside, rather than how they feel for those living on the inside.

Imagine a city that is shaped by a culture of narcissism.

What is Narcissism?

The term narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. These advances eventually led Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus "lay gazing enraptured into the pool, hour after hour," and finally changed into a flower that bears his name, the narcissus. While mirrors are a superficial part of this story, the parable and ideas are much deeper.

A book by David Thomas, (Narcissism: Behind the Mask), describes the narcissistic character traits of individuals who he describes as "power-hungry". Not everybody who gets elected to govern a city has the ideals of Aristotle. It is not unknown for the men and women who are elected to positions of power to be "power-hungry". According to Mr Thomas the personality traits of a "power-hungry" narcissist are:
  • An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
  • Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
  • A lack of psychological awareness
  • Difficulty with empathy
  • Problems distinguishing the self from others
  • Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults
  • Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
  • Haughty body language
  • Flattery towards people who admire and affirm them
  • Detesting those who do not admire them
  • Using other people without considering the cost of doing so
  • Pretending to be more important than they really are
  • Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements
  • Claiming to be an "expert" at many things
  • Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
  • Denial of remorse and gratitude
These are the traits of a narcissistic individual. But unless that person has the power of - say - Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Margaret Thatcher (famous politicians with narcissistic personalities) - then it is unlikely they will influence a city or world history - beyond their own families. But is it that simple?

Dr Leon Seltzer rather cynically oberves,"Narcissist politicians don't serve the people; they serve themselves" in an article he uses to explore "why narcissism is so rampant in politics". The more substantial quotes below from Dr Seltzer (who is a psychologist) give a flavour of what he thinks motivates the narcissist politician:
....what typically drives them is a lust for power, prestige, status, and authority. These (let's call them) "objects of admiration" not only gratify their need for self-aggrandizement by feeding their oversized ego. They also provide them with compelling evidence to confirm their sense of superiority to others—probably their most coveted need of all.... There's little question that politicians—wield vastly more power and control than the average citizen.

Even before winning office, these individuals may have been inclined toward such "entitled thinking." But there's little question that once elected their newly elevated status promotes further exaggeration of this tendency—which, ultimately, must be seen as anti-social. As politician the whole city has become one huge "narcissistic supply" for them. That is, the ego gratifications available simply from residing in City Council are truly extraordinary: such an unusually prestigious role can't but pump up their self-esteem to levels that further confirm their bloated sense of self. Whereas before they put themselves on a pedestal, now the whole city obligingly seems to follow suit. Moreover, once ensconced in office they may well feel accountable to no one but themselves—free to play their competitive power games with impunity (and frankly, the public be damned).

Beyond such pragmatics, implicitly believing that it's better to receive than give, narcissist-politicians' immense appetite for flattery, praise, and adulation is also abundantly gratified. Quite independent of professional achievement, they expect to be treated as superior. Their fragile psyche demands being admired and looked up to—and unquestionably holding high office almost guarantees that this ego requirement will be amply met. Such an enormous "fringe benefit," helps explain why so many of them become "career politicians," holding onto such psychological blessings as long as possible. In such instances, the chief reason for remaining an incumbent isn't to fulfill any idealistic aspirations. It's to "secure" their inflated self-regard.

But while they may delude themselves that their city sorely requires their unique talents and skills, they experience little motivation to serve the citizenry as such. They've won their position primarily to serve themselves—and they can do so almost obsessively. The saying "Promises are made to be broken" rings particularly true for them. It's become almost a joke that the devout pledges they make on the campaign trail bear only trifling resemblance to what they do once in office. The ability to convince voters that they'll best represent their interests is what defines their success. Actually implementing what they avowed they'd tirelessly work for isn't really an essential part of their agenda—which is typically well-hidden from constituents (and many times from their conscious selves as well). In short, their campaigns measure how well they can dupe the public, not how well they'll fulfill their responsibilities once declared victorious.

Notorious for being empathy-challenged (though they may be extremely adept at masking this deficit), narcissist-politicians are frequently tone deaf as regards how some of their private, "entitled" actions can affect public opinion. Compartmentalizing their lives, they suffer from a peculiar moral myopia and lack of imagination, unable to anticipate how their sexual infidelities, or other behaviours, might be held against them. In this sense, their exaggerated sense of privilege frequently undermines their better judgment. As cold-hearted and calculating as they can be—for they see others as essentially objects to manipulate for personal gain—they're strangely naive (or even unconscious) about how their unprincipled acts could be negatively interpreted by others, who don't necessarily assume such behaviors as "entitled" at all.

Frankly incapable of emotionally identifying with others' distress, the wrong they may have done them remains forever out of their focus. What is in focus for them is the deeply felt assault to their self-image that comes from being charged with wrongdoing. And, so threatened, their push-back reactions are self-righteously contrived to reclaim both their personal and ideological superiority over their attacker. Flagrantly falsifying facts and details beyond reason, they vehemently proclaim the moral high ground.

Sound familiar? I know it's over-written and exaggerated stuff, but I've included it here to flesh out the overall argument I am making.

Organisational Narcissism

A number of academics are considering what might make an organisation behave in a narcissistic manner. For example Grant and McGhee of AUT's Faculty of Business have looked at the "personality" of failed finance institutions in New Zealand. They write about organisational narcissism. Their analysis of narcissism, based on an extensive literature search, starts like this:
In modern parlance, yet still rooted in this ancient myth, narcissism “generally connotes a person who possesses an extreme love of the self, a grandiose sense of self-importance, and a powerful sense of entitlement” (Duchon and Drake, 2008, p. 303). While useful, this definition needs further unpacking. Brown (1997), while noting the divergent conceptions of narcissism, summarised much of the extant literature into six broad behavioural/psychological characteristics. Denial, the first of these, has the narcissistic individual “disclaiming awareness, knowledge, or responsibility for faults that might otherwise attach to them” (p. 646). Rationalisation is the narcissist’s attempt at justifying unacceptable behaviours or attitudes and presenting them in a socially acceptable form. Self-aggrandisement refers to the tendency to overestimate one’s abilities or achievements. The narcissistic personality, imbued with these beliefs, is often accompanied by “extreme self-absorption, a tendency toward exhibitionism, claims to uniqueness, and a sense of invulnerability” (p. 646). In addition to these characteristics, and to further self-enhancement, the narcissist also distorts reality through selective perception. This fourth one, attributional egotism, is the tendency to explain events in a self-serving manner and to attribute positive outcomes to causes internal to the self and negative outcomes to external factors. The psychoanalytic literature generally accepts that narcissists use self-serving behaviour to preserve and/or enhance self-esteem. A narcissist bolstered by the above characteristics, also has a strong sense of entitlement. This, in turn, is associated with “a strong belief in his/her right to exploit others and an inability to empathize with the feelings of others” (p. 647). Unfortunately, for him or her, this lack of feelings towards others matches an insatiable need for their approval and admiration. Thus, the narcissist finds themselves in the not-so-enviable position of “holding in contempt and perhaps feeling threatened by the very individuals upon whom he or she is dependent for positive regard and affirmation” (p. 647). Finally, narcissism is also associated with high levels of anxiety. Research demonstrates that narcissists suffer from feelings of dejection, worthlessness, hypochondria, despair, emptiness, fragility, and hypersensitivity. While anxiety itself is not an ego-defence, it is what the above ego-defence mechanisms seek to ameliorate....
Of most significance to this research is how individual narcissism at the highest level - be it Board of Directors or Elected Councillors and CEO - might or would affect organisational behaviour. Grant and Mcghee write:
Some authors have argued that leader role modelling is the most critical factor determining ethical culture (Dickson , Smith , Grojean , & Ehrhart 2001 ; Morgan, 1993; Murphy & Enderle, 1995; Nielsen, 1989; Schein, 1992; Sims & Brinkmann, 2002). Jackall (1988) suggested that ethical behaviour in organisations is often reduced to adulating and imitating one’s superiors. Lord and Brown (2001) claim that leaders provide a ‘natural source of values’ for their employees while Bandura (1977), in discussions of socialization and social learning theory, suggests that employees imitate the values stemming from their leaders. Hood (2003), who looked specifically at the relationship between the CEO’s leadership style, values and the ethical practices of the organisation, found that leadership styles do influence ethical practices in the organisation. Brown, et al. (2005) considered managers to be a key source of guidance for ethical behaviour. Given this strong relationship between leadership and moral identity, we argue that if the management-control nexus exhibits narcissism, then it is probable that the individuals and the organisation as a whole will reflect these narcissistic tendencies.

So, what does a narcissistic organisation look like? Duchon and Drake (2008) have argued that an organisation’s identity operates as an analogy to an individual’s personality and essentially determines its moral behaviour. They even go so far as to claim that an extreme narcissistic organisation cannot behave properly because it does not have a moral identity. This is because the organisation’s identity does not contain a predisposition to act virtuously and so it is morally flawed.

Narcissistic organisations use ego-defence mechanisms to protect the integrity of its personality even at the expense of sacrificing the morality of its actions (Ketola, 2006). They become self-obsessed and use a sense of entitlement, self-aggrandizement, denial, and rationalisations to justify anything they do (Duchon & Drake, 2008). In such organisations, individuals and groups may be responsible for making decisions but those decisions will tend to be consistent with the larger system’s moral identity (G. R. Weaver, 2006) and so unethical behaviour can emerge unintentionally. This may explain how in the (New Zealand corporate) cases individual decision makers in senior positions did not question blatantly unethical behaviour
What is a NarciCity?

Let's take the narcissistic organisational characteristics identified by Grant and McGhee: denial, rationalisation, self-aggrandisement, attributional egoism, entitlement, and anxiety, and consider how Auckland City fares as a case study, just looking at sewage.


Trait

NarciCity

EthicalCity
DenialNobody gets sick from combined sewer discharges into the Viaduct. The Waitemata Harbour is a beautiful shade of blue. People (maori) eat snapper from it. Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to collect, transport and treat human excrement away from areas of human habitation or play.
RationalisationBecause stormwater dilutes the sewage when it rains, and nobody swims in the Viaduct when it's raining anyway, there are no health effects.Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to collect, transport and treat human excrement away areas of human habitation or play.
Self-aggrandisementAuckland shares top billing in most global indicators for liveability. New Zealand is known by its brand as 100% pure. The sky is blue. The sea is blue. The grass is green. The people always smile.We know that human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. We know Auckland's sewer systems are old, decrepit and leak. It is top priority to remedy this.
Attributional egoism"The harbour’s deep navigable channels and sheltered bays helped to determine the choice of a site for New Zealand’s capital in 1840.... Spotlight on beach water quality. ...beach water quality for the Waitematā harbour ... web based and accessible by the public .... this model will help inform the public of the associated health risk when swimming at beaches within the harbour...."Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to collect, transport and treat human excrement away from areas of human habitation or play.
Entitlement"OF THE NINE BATHING BEACHES TESTED DURING SUMMER 2013/14 95% passed RECREATIONAL BACTERIA GUIDELINES"
. Spotlight on beach water quality. "...grades represent an average of the results from the individual sites. Individual site results will vary and localised issues may not be represented by the overall grades....."
Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to collect, transport and treat human excrement away from areas of human habitation or play.
AnxietyWhat if our worst localised sewage overflow issues were featured on the front page of the The News of the World, The Wall Street Journal, People's Daily, The Sydney Morning Herald? Better to measure less and headline good news statistics.Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to identify major sources, contain leaks, publicise detailed information, budget repairs.

I have chosen wastewater here. But I could just as easily have chosen rates, roading, rubbish, debt, public space, green space, you name it. And I haven't even begun to write about equity, fairness and democracy.

Urban issues make big and easy targets. But what really matters is something far more profound and important. When we design our cities, when we design policies for our cities, we are building a city culture that shapes and nurtures our children (who have no choice where they are born). The city culture will also attract visitors (who generally choose the city that meets their needs).

Wisdom and wise decisions build wise cities that produce, instill and attract wisdom.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Diagnosis and Prescription for Auckland’s Dis-ease

The waterfront bull-rush battle amongst Ports of Auckland (POAL), Auckland Council (and its family of Council-Controlled Organisations), property investors, and advocates for public space and sustainable transport, is the latest chapter in Auckland’s long history of public planning battles mocked as “the Auckland disease”: a symptom of severe growing pains, vigorous vested interests, and increasingly de-regulated public institutions.

The battle goal has remained the same: control over economic or social benefits from waterfront land reclaimed from the seabed over the last one hundred years.

By 1973 Ports of Auckland’s predecessor, Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) had reclaimed 160 hectares of Waitemata Harbour seabed adjacent to Auckland’s burgeoning central business district. Today POAL operates Auckland’s port on about 55 hectares of this land and much of the rest has been vested to Auckland City Council for public roads and streets, and to utility operators for public works like railways, bus and train stations, the central post office and gasworks.

Such uses of reclaimed seabed appear to be strongly in the public interest, however other transactions have principally benefited AHB. As Roland O’Regan, Chairman of Wellington’s Harbour Board in 1974 observed: “..some Harbour Boards seeking to protect themselves against sudden falls in income…have vested large areas of seabed in themselves so they have the power to create income earning land...”. Auckland Harbour Board persuaded Parliament to grant it some 5,000 acres of seabed in 1875, while a few years later Wellington Harbour Board only gained rights to specific seabed areas relating to specific works. O’Regan went on, “Auckland Harbour Board not only has large areas of seabed vested in it but receives $1,000,000/annum from residential rents.”

Sour grapes perhaps, but this is the basis of much of the Auckland disease, and also why Wellington’s redeveloped waterfront is much more successful as a public attraction than Auckland’s central waterfront is today, and is shaping up to be in future.

From the mid-1970’s Wellington Harbour Board and Wellington City Council entered binding agreements and generally worked together “to implement the Concept Plan to the fullest extent in its provision of open spaces and recreational facilities for the use and enjoyment of the public which would not otherwise be achievable.”

Auckland Harbour Board’s behaviour stands in stark contrast. In 1965, increasing rent potential to more than $1.4 million/annum, AHB doubled ground floor area entitlements in its plans for the Auckland Downtown site. This led to the controversial 20 storey tower now known as the HSBC building and to an unsuccessful public space named Queen Elizabeth Square. And since 1997 POAL has pocketed more than $250 million from the sale of Queens Wharf, Princes Wharf leases, Viaduct Harbour land and Wynyard Quarter.

Accounts setting out revenues that publicly-owned POAL earns from its waterfront real estate business, let alone from importing cars, and the extent to which these revenues subsidise its container handling charges, are all hidden from public scrutiny.

Things might have been different if Auckland City Council had stood up to Auckland Harbour Board when it had the opportunity, and might still be different if Auckland Council accorded proper weight to its Local Government Act duties to ratepayers. Instead both institutions stand guilty of being bought off. Auckland City Council opposed the dominating POAL supported Hilton Hotel development on Princes Wharf until it was promised a rate revenue stream from activities that would be located outside its jurisdiction above the seabed. One might have expected Auckland Council to replace Queen Elizabeth Square with equivalent green space within the city fabric, but instead wants the silver on offer to compensate Precinct for carparks lost by the CRL tunnel; is attracted by the promise of development levies and rate revenues from expanded commercial development; has made vague unbudgeted promises to free up Queens Wharf and lengthen Captain Cook for cruise ships; and offers the public a cheap deal “letting us have access” to streets and wharf spaces that we already own!

This cheap public land swap deal is especially cheap because any public money that might be paid to POAL can immediately be translated into a dividend so the Council gets its money back.

Combined with POAL’s noisy claims it can built wharf extensions to Bledisloe and demolish part of Marsden Wharf all without public notification the casual and unconsulted sale of Queen Elizabeth Square simply add insult to past public injuries.

Wellington’s waterfront development has not all been plain sailing however. Controversially its Regional Council granted consent for a Hilton Hotel on Wellington’s Queens Wharf which was challenged in the Environment Court by the Wellington Civic Trust and Wellington Waterfront Watchdog. The judge ruled that the adverse effects on the public enjoyment of wharf space adjacent to the hotel should not be permitted. The hotel has not been built and the status and quality of Wellington waterfront public spaces and amenities has been further protected and upheld. Auckland sorely needs the same sort of coordinated, principled and organized civic unrest to hold Ports of Auckland and Auckland Council institutions to account.

The remarkable link between intrinsic human qualities such as behavior, conduct, and demeanor - and the external built environment has been recognized for years. Cities shape their citizens. Yet, this link is given little consideration in the design of Auckland’s redeveloping waterfront. The plans we see have public spaces that are shared with buses, cars and a light-rail line; spaces that are partly under private control and subject to surveillance; instead of public spaces that act simply as locations for urban interaction.

Places which are only “accessible” to citizens rather than controlled by them through use, are not truly public places.

Auckland has the opportunity now to design and create its own particular waterfront city form. One that is the shaping environment for people who grow and live here. One which actively addresses urban relationships that are overdue for repair including the city’s relationship with the Waitemata Harbour, sea and its ecosystems; the city’s relationship and engagement with Maori and Pacific culture; the built city’s relationship with shaded and leafy green spaces; the central city’s public relationship with its own citizens.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

QE Square as it used to be


Anyone remember this? Looking south east across Queen Elizabeth Square showing the Coutts Fountain, the corner of Customs Street, the South Pacific Hotel (far right), the Central Post Office (centre), Endeans building (far left).

"Please acknowledge 'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1021-531' when re-using this image." The period is 1980-89.

Looks like an Urban Designer in Auckland City Council tried hard for a while. Even then it was hard to get rid of the cars. They seem to have rights in Auckland that would never be tolerated in other first world cities. In Auckland we celebrate when we share space between pedestrians and cars (like on Princes Wharf and on Queens Wharf and on Queen Elizabeth Square). In Wellington cars were banned from waterfront public spaces almost two decades ago.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ports Expansion Protest on Queens Wharf

Great weather for a hastily organised protest that I only found out about because I was on the ferry with some protestors. Architects, Landscape Architects, Devonport Heritage, Local Board Members (from Devonport/Takapuna and Waitemata) and at least a couple of Auckland Councillors (Chris Darby and Wayne Walker).
Margot McCrae speaks out, while noted architect Julian Mitchell holds the megaphone.
Later, Cllr Darby addressed the crowd. Tip of the iceberg of public concern. Great to see this being organised by Auckland's urban design professionals.
This pic shows what the fight is over. Behind the protestors you can see the entrance to Waitemata Harbour - framed to the right by the end of Bledisloe Wharf reclamation - and to the left by North Head at Devonport. The draped banner shows the seaview that would be blocked by POAL's proposed B2 and B3 wharf expansions (each about 100 metres long and 30 metres wide), which POAL has indicated it would want to infill between in future.
Any POAL talk that "you can see under the B2 and B3 wharf structures" is disingenuous to say the least.
This was an excellent opportunity to gain some media attention before the Notice of Motion meeting tomorrow of the Auckland Development Committee of Auckland Council. This meeting will re-consider its recent "decision" to weaken its stance from "reclamation is non-complying" to "reclamation is discretionary".
The Notice of Motion ahs been signed by 9 councillors after hard work by Cllr Chris Darby. The NOM meeting is timed for 1:30pm tomorrow - Thursday - at the usual meeting venue old Auckland Council Building on Queens Street. There is confusion about whether public will be allowed to address that meeting - there is talk that it might be held "in confidential".

This is all legal dancing on the head of a pin stuff by Council officers. Sure the Unitary Plan needs to be sorted out, and property rights need to be protected and legal positions agreed behind closed doors. But this matter - the matter that POAL be permitted by its Auckland Council owner to act in its own interests and expand its reclaimed land holdings - that matter is a Local Government Act matter. Legitimate for you to consider that matter in public. And where is the second stage port study anyway?

In my view Council should be taking public soundings right now, as Mayor Blumsky did when public lost confidence there in Wellington Council's handling of waterfront issues, and call for a moratorium on all waterfront development. Pending engagement with the public and Auckland's design community over the whole waterfront redevelopment from Custom Street, Downtown, Quay Street, Light Rail, Buses, Queens Wharf, Captain Cook, Marsden, and Ports. And a funded and staged Masterplan. Instead of the present ad hoc arrangements.

Ask the people what they think.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Comparing Wellington & Auckland Waterfront Planning

Auckland Council had a big meeting covering a number of issues of interest to me on Thursday, 12th February. These included Queen Elizabeth Square, Central Wharves Strategy, and Expansion of Ports. I asked for and obtained speaking rights and was granted the opportunity of a 5 minute slot. This has been captured on Council's excellent live news feed from the meeting - and you can see the actual presentation - and questions here on video demand. These are the slides I presented (with one exception). I introduced the presentation by explaining that the work was some of the fruit from PhD research I am enrolled to do at School of Architecture and Planning at University of Auckland. The PhD is a planning study which compares approaches to waterfront urban regeneration at Auckland and Wellington.

Because my major objective in much of the work I am dedicated to in Auckland relates to the provision of effective public space and amenity, I began with this quote from a NZ Herald Editorial thirteen years ago. It argues for more green public space in Auckland's downtown waterfront area. There has been a wonderful little addition since that time - and that is Takutai Square in Britomart Precinct. 
What is often forgotten as Council and Councillors grapple with Auckland's waterfront, is that this is the latest set of issues in a long history that stretches back more than 100 years, and where Auckland Harbour Board has played a critical and highly influential role. Learning from this history is important because Ports of Auckland (which was created from Auckland Harbour Board) continues to exert an excessive influence on the form and nature of Auckland's city waterfront. For example this diagram shows AHB plans from the 1960's which depict an urban form which would have delivered the sort of city form called for in the NZ Herald. You can see the low rise tower that was planned then across Quay Street from the Ferry Building. You can see an expansive Queen Elizabeth Square and significant planting. In my view this plan misses the opportunity of providing a large green space like Takutai Square, and it disrupts the linkage and urban form of Queen Street which - in my view - should continue past the CPO, across Quay Street and onto Queens Wharf. Nevertheless. AHB ditched this plan in favour of one which resulted in an enormous increase in commercial floor area, and corresponding loss in good quality public space. Public space has never been a priority for AHB or POAL. Nor should it be. Their objectives - especially POAL - are for it to be "a successful business". Public space however was a priority for Auckland City Council and still needs to be for amalgamated Auckland Council - which owns POAL. (This slide was not in my Council presentation for reasons of time pressure.)

This diagram shows some of the transactions that have occurred as AHB and POAL have changed the uses of various parts of the land that AHB has reclaimed over the years. AHB and POAL have pocketed large capital sums, and continue to extract significant rental revenues from reclaimed land assets. I have sought information about the proportion of POAL revenues that derive from its real estate business. But this information has been denied, because, apparently, it is not provided to its owner.
Over the years AHB reclaimed 162 hectares of the seabed in proximity to the central city - this is shown here as land to the north of the red line which in part is the site of Custom Street. Over the years much of this land - which was vested in AHB - has changed in use as summarised in the slide. In round numbers POAL now occupies about a third of what was reclaimed, streets and public amenities and publicly owned buildings (like the CPO) occupy another third, and the remaining third has been sold for private development.
The situation in Wellington is significantly different. You can read here a tiny part of my research findings. The quote from the Chairman of Wellington Harbour Board was the start of a process where the whole of Lambton Harbour and reclamations back to Jervois Quay was shifted from port use to civic use and development. Unlike the ad hoc approach that has been deployed by AHB and POAL. The 1986 quote is an extract from a legally binding agreement entered into between WHB and Wellington City Council which clearly commits both parties to working together to deliver open spaces, recreational facilities and suchlike for enjoyment by the public which would not otherwise be achievable.

My research interest was triggered in Auckland by Princes Wharf. I still find it extraordinary that Auckland authorities have not had the gumption to conduct a thorough enquiry into the Princes Wharf fiasco. The public is faced with a wall of silence. Reflection is an important part of good planning. Wisdom comes from checking what went according to plan and what didn't. Reputations all over the city would not be ruined with a useful dose of truth-seeking, but would help us all learn and not repeat the same planning mistakes. Which I see too clearly happening again now downtown. The artist's picture shows a Prince Wharf concept with huge amounts of public amenity that was published and attracted public support. The other photo shows what is there today. And it should be noted that the RMA plans called for 35% of Princes Wharf to be public space. The same sorts of quantitative promises are being made right now by Auckland Council over what will replace Queen Elizabeth Square. It's not about quantity guys, it's about quality. We have 35% public space all right - but how good it is?

For example these two images show what was promised for the public space within the Princes Wharf development - and what you see now if you are ever attracted to go down there. Talk about a phalanx of grey, and where public space is 100% "shared" with cars.
We need to learn from the past behaviours of AHB and POAL. But this learning should not be taken up by Auckland Council as its own raison d'etre. Which is what seems to be happening. This interesting observation (in the slide) from the previous Chairman of Wellington Harbour Board explains the bind we have been in, here in Auckland. It explains the motivations behind POAL and AHB behaviours. It explains their rationale. We need to understand it for what it is, and work around it and against it in the broader public interest. This is not to say that Auckland's port should move somewhere else, but it is to say that it needs to be contained and controlled. Because they won't control themselves. They are not incentivised to curb their expansionist behaviours or to use their land efficiently for port purposes only. They are motivated to act like a seaside property speculator. Council has the duty, powers and responsibility to control POAL.

The Wellington story is not a fairytale. It is littered with problems, issues and famous public confrontations. My research has brought to light stories that raged in local newspapers and on the ground. One was the ham-fisted effort to build a Retail and Events Centre on its Queens Wharf. Another related to plans pushed by Wellington's Waterfront Development Agency for a waterfront tower. These and other issues culminated in a public meeting attended by a 1,000.
Wellington City Council recognised it had an issue, and took action which was strongly and effectively led by Mayor Blumsky.
This slide lists a few of the actions that resulted. Interestingly, at the Auckland meeting where I made this presentation, Committee Chair Penny Hulse - to her credit - saw the value in the idea of a Community Consultation Committee for Auckland
This slide lists major findings of the community consultation committee. It is important to note that this committee was made up of members of the great and the good. It was not a rabble of grumpy yachties for example. It was supported by Wellington City Council's urban design unit and staff. The reports that were produced, the way the Council acted and supported the committee, the reports it received, and the decisions it then took are exemplary and show a much sounder based way forward for Auckland Council than its present ad hoc and pragmatic approach.
One of the most significant outputs and outcomes of the community process was the production of the Lambton Harbour Open Space Master Plan. This was prepared with the Consultation Committee, Wellington City Council - and by a grouping of New Zealand's leading architects and landscape architects (Athfields, Megan Wraight and others). The image here is one part of it. Those who have been to Wellington will recognise that much of what you see there today, was envisaged in this plan - which significantly provides for at least 5 separate green spaces. Any building or commercial development is shown in outline, and how they might relate to the public spaces. But it is the public space design which sets the context for built development. Not the other way round as we see at present in Auckland CBD waterfront planning, where public space has become the poor cousin in urban planning and urban design. 

My final slide summarised to the Auckland Development Committee what I think it can learn from its own history and from the more civic minded approach that has delivered to Wellington the waterfront that it now enjoys.

Observations: Auckland Development Ctte Meeting 12 Feb

There was a lot going on at the Auckland Development Committee meeting on Thursday 12th Feb. (By the way - this pic wasn't taken at the time - - just here for illustrative purposes).

This blog contains my big picture view of where Council is going with: Downtown development; Queens Wharf; Central wharves strategy; and Ports Expansion. These matters were all dealt with at this meeting - but in separate, seemingly ad hoc items.

The blog also contains my more detailed observations of three interesting moments (out of many).

First of all, I generally think it's a good idea to make a double cruise ship terminal on Captain Cook Wharf lengthened by about 100 metres, in order to free up Queens Wharf so it can genuinely become a people's wharf, and to better provide for cruise ships in Auckland. However, until this is funded, and until a discussion is had about why POAL shouldn't run that facility (after all POAL pockets berthage fees, and doesn't POWL run Wellington's cruise ship terminal?). I am also persuaded by landscape architects of the significance of the Queen Street through and onto to Queens Wharf alignment as a design driver for downtown development. However that should not be at the expense of public space options which are threatened, for example, with the loss of Queen Elizabeth Square, and nor should we be blind to the loss of public open space in Lower Queen Street that is envisaged with buses circulating around Endean Building and Mercure Building and hence onto Lower Queen Street and with a fast frequent light rail service that is now being considered.

However, given Auckland's history of promising all sorts of public benefits to smooth the way for private developments, I am increasingly concerned that history may be repeating itself right now. Call me cynical maybe, but I could not help but see Thursday's meeting as being primarily about getting the Precinct Development and CRL enabling works underway. A significant log-jam in that project is Queen Elizabeth Square and Auckland Council's need to compensate Precinct properties for the loss of carparks in its high rise project that will be caused by the Central Rail Link (CRL) Tunnel passing directly beneath. The price oif compensation has never been revealed but it appears to be around $25,000,000 to $30,000,000. The freehold sale price of QE Square has also not been revealed - understandeable as a commercial transaction - but it has been estimated at around $60,000,000. A problem for Council is its variously stated commitments and obligations to provide commensurate public space nearby (though what "nearby" means is a challenge). Council would like to effectively trade QE Square away and get the CRL tunnel works underway, but it must also provide "commensurate" public space. Solving that conundrum is Council's priority.

I'm afraid I see all this talk of opening up Queens Wharf (to the public) and Captain Cook Wharf (mostly to cruise and sometimes to the public) as an unfunded and "jam tomorrow" trade for the loss of QE Square public space. Much the same promises were made when AHB built its headquarter building on Quay Street, and when POAL signed its lease deal for the Princes Wharf development. Promised public spaces and amenities never eventuated. It wasn't even "jam tomorrow" in those cases. And not to be outdone in all this the committee also had to deal with POAL with its plan to lengthen Bledisloe to enable it to accommodate Queen Elizabeth and other cruise ships, and its push for more reclamation. My take on the day is on 1ZB Larry Williams show (see slideshow version)....



and here on Stuff.

Now for the three moments:

There were some memorable Q&A sessions which really should be edited from the live webcast and presented as stand-alone clips. Cllr Wayne Walker was insistent and competent in asking Rick Walden of Centre Centre Integration (CCI) and Clive Fuhr of Auckland Council Property Ltd (ACPL) respectively about how Lower Queen Street would work as a public space without QE Square and with planned bus and light rail movements, and about whether Council would retain more control over how QE Square developed if it sold a leasehold interest and not a freehold interest. This latter question was a fascinating insight because it is widely known around the table that Waterfront Auckland has been able to achieve all sorts of environmental and social benefits from developers by virtue of leasehold arrangements. Cllr Walker persisted with Clive Fuhr, getting fobbed off and deflected, and finally asked Clive the perfect question: "Would Council have more control over what happened on QE Square land if it was a leasehold sale?" Clive would have known the answer. Instead he turned his head and said ,"I think Mr Watts an provide the asnwer to that." He was referring to Tim Watts who is an urban planner and urgan designer for Auckland Council. He is not a part of Council's Property CCO. The fact that Cllr Walker had to persist with this line of questioning, and the fact that those who know the facts will not state them in a meeting makes the meeting a farce.

The second memorable moment came when Cllr Chris Darby was handed a POAL Q&A paper which contained information about POAL's freshly and non-notified consents for B2 and B3 extensions to Bledisloe Wharf. He wanted to know how much Rick Walden knew about the POAL plans when Rick had responsibility for preparing the plans and options consideration for the Captain Cook cruise ship terminal extensions. Cllr Darby was first able to establish that what POAL was proposing would affect the ability of Captain Cook to handle crusie ships. Rick Walden was clearly uncomfortable about the questioning, but, like Clive tried to bat the questions away, rather than honestly answer them. Very bad public look. Finally Cllr Darby asked the hard question, "When did you know about POAL's consented plans to lengthen Beldisloe Wharf?" (Doesn't this sound like the sort of thing you might expect in court? How the hell has it got to this? Why are councillors being denied relevant information? How can they make good decisions when relevant history, facts etc are being kep from the?) At least Rick Walden answered this one. He said, if my memory serves me right, "I heard on Sunday night." Which was about 4 days before the meeting. This raises another question. How can the manager if city centre integration do his job if he's being kept in the dark about what other parts of the council "family" are doing and deciding? (Cllr Fletcher generously observed that "there was a glitch in the system" and went on to more honestly describe it as a "toxic environment").

The third memorable moment came from Cllr Brewer. He had sat stewing for hours in the earlier parts of the meeting. Saying little but becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Late in the day he made a number of observations which are important. One of these was to the effect that: "we talk about having a waterfront masterplan but we don't really. Instead we have a number of separate plans, and even when we did the waterfront masterplan the port was left out. That's clearly a problem..." and he also spoke about the port company itself, "....with all the money the port has been paid for land why isn't it paying for the lengthening of Captain Cook Wharf...?" His frustration was telling.

Good planning is about good argument nothing hidden. Bad planning resorts to pragmatism and power. That's what we are seeing here. Unless Council fixes itself, there will be a steady decline in public confidence, and necessary resort to the courts for resolution because recent Council decisions are not in compliance with either the Resource Management Act or the Local Government Act.

QE Square - Recent Historic Photo

Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, has this photo of Queen Elizabeth Square Auckland, in an article entitled: "Story: City public spaces, Part of page 6 – Protecting public spaces"....:

Which reads: "In the late 20th century some cities tried to provide more public spaces. Auckland’s Queen Elizabeth Square, at the bottom of Queen Street, opened in 1980. Overshadowed by skyscrapers and lacking street life, it remains more a place to walk through than to linger. This arresting stainless steel ‘Wind tree’ sculpture, designed by Michio Ihara, is shown here in 2000. It was removed and put into storage when the square was remodelled in the early 2000s...."

The remodelling included Kauri tree planting, removal of these seating and planted areas, and the conversion of the space into a bus interchange.

QE Square is a sad neglected carpark

I know QE Square is not perfect. Shops don't front onto it. The Kauri plantation is misconceived.

But you can see here how sunny Queen Elizabeth is most of the mornings throughout summer. Which is great. The coffee bars buzz, people walk through, and they'd sit and chat if they could. It would make a great Takutai Square. The prevailing Sou'westers don't get in there.....

If it's sold outright it won't be qualitatively replaced with paved space on the waterfront - breastworks or wharves - because those spaces are different in character and physical layout (quite apart from the fact they are already in public ownership). Wellington understood the need to have green spaces set back a little from the waterfront for other purposes. Whether it's for a child's playground (such as you see now at Wynyard Quarter), or whether it's to plant a shade tree with grass beneath (such as you also see at Wynyard back from the waterfront along Daldy Street). A few years ago there was the WindTree sculpture but that's gone.

What you see in this image is a measure of the extent to which Auckland Council devalues public space like this. Sure it's technically road reserve - but does it have to be left unattended for drivers and courier vans to park at their leisure? Council continues to try hard with Aotea Square - which is essentially a paved carpark - but the main reason it's unsuccesful is because the buildings don't address the square at a human scale. QE Square - when Precinct have their carparks beneath - will also be a paved carpark (complete with rail tunnel) just like Aotea Square from an urban infrastructure point of view. Why not work with Precinct to design a City Square that does integrate with its built edge and has the same success factors as are exhibited in these world class civic square examples?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Narcissism builds a NarciCity that grows Narcissists

It isn't a new thought that the culture, ideas and values that go into building and shaping a city establish an urban form that instills the same culture, ideas and values in the citizens that grow there.

Aristotle wrote about it thousands of years ago as he considered how different urban designs shaped cities as well as the people who lived in them. He was interested in relations between culture, urban design and civilisation, he wanted cities built to produce what he considered to be the best Greek society. He prized and valued equality and fairness and democracy.

Not every person prioritises those values. What happens to a city that is built according to other values? And what effect do different city types, cities with different personalities if you like, different morphologies, have on the people who develop and grow up in them?

Many cities have big egos. Maybe they care more about the way they look from the outside, rather than how they feel for those living on the inside.

Imagine a city that is shaped by a culture of narcissism.

What is Narcissism?

The term narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. These advances eventually led Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus "lay gazing enraptured into the pool, hour after hour," and finally changed into a flower that bears his name, the narcissus. While mirrors are a superficial part of this story, the parable and ideas are much deeper.

A book by David Thomas, (Narcissism: Behind the Mask), describes the narcissistic character traits of individuals who he describes as "power-hungry". Not everybody who gets elected to govern a city has the ideals of Aristotle. It is not unknown for the men and women who are elected to positions of power to be "power-hungry". According to Mr Thomas the personality traits of a "power-hungry" narcissist are:
  • An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
  • Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
  • A lack of psychological awareness
  • Difficulty with empathy
  • Problems distinguishing the self from others
  • Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults
  • Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
  • Haughty body language
  • Flattery towards people who admire and affirm them
  • Detesting those who do not admire them
  • Using other people without considering the cost of doing so
  • Pretending to be more important than they really are
  • Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements
  • Claiming to be an "expert" at many things
  • Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
  • Denial of remorse and gratitude
These are the traits of a narcissistic individual. But unless that person has the power of - say - Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Margaret Thatcher (famous politicians with narcissistic personalities) - then it is unlikely they will influence a city or world history - beyond their own families. But is it that simple?

Dr Leon Seltzer rather cynically oberves,"Narcissist politicians don't serve the people; they serve themselves" in an article he uses to explore "why narcissism is so rampant in politics". The more substantial quotes below from Dr Seltzer (who is a psychologist) give a flavour of what he thinks motivates the narcissist politician:
....what typically drives them is a lust for power, prestige, status, and authority. These (let's call them) "objects of admiration" not only gratify their need for self-aggrandizement by feeding their oversized ego. They also provide them with compelling evidence to confirm their sense of superiority to others—probably their most coveted need of all.... There's little question that politicians—wield vastly more power and control than the average citizen.

Even before winning office, these individuals may have been inclined toward such "entitled thinking." But there's little question that once elected their newly elevated status promotes further exaggeration of this tendency—which, ultimately, must be seen as anti-social. As politician the whole city has become one huge "narcissistic supply" for them. That is, the ego gratifications available simply from residing in City Council are truly extraordinary: such an unusually prestigious role can't but pump up their self-esteem to levels that further confirm their bloated sense of self. Whereas before they put themselves on a pedestal, now the whole city obligingly seems to follow suit. Moreover, once ensconced in office they may well feel accountable to no one but themselves—free to play their competitive power games with impunity (and frankly, the public be damned).

Beyond such pragmatics, implicitly believing that it's better to receive than give, narcissist-politicians' immense appetite for flattery, praise, and adulation is also abundantly gratified. Quite independent of professional achievement, they expect to be treated as superior. Their fragile psyche demands being admired and looked up to—and unquestionably holding high office almost guarantees that this ego requirement will be amply met. Such an enormous "fringe benefit," helps explain why so many of them become "career politicians," holding onto such psychological blessings as long as possible. In such instances, the chief reason for remaining an incumbent isn't to fulfill any idealistic aspirations. It's to "secure" their inflated self-regard.

But while they may delude themselves that their city sorely requires their unique talents and skills, they experience little motivation to serve the citizenry as such. They've won their position primarily to serve themselves—and they can do so almost obsessively. The saying "Promises are made to be broken" rings particularly true for them. It's become almost a joke that the devout pledges they make on the campaign trail bear only trifling resemblance to what they do once in office. The ability to convince voters that they'll best represent their interests is what defines their success. Actually implementing what they avowed they'd tirelessly work for isn't really an essential part of their agenda—which is typically well-hidden from constituents (and many times from their conscious selves as well). In short, their campaigns measure how well they can dupe the public, not how well they'll fulfill their responsibilities once declared victorious.

Notorious for being empathy-challenged (though they may be extremely adept at masking this deficit), narcissist-politicians are frequently tone deaf as regards how some of their private, "entitled" actions can affect public opinion. Compartmentalizing their lives, they suffer from a peculiar moral myopia and lack of imagination, unable to anticipate how their sexual infidelities, or other behaviours, might be held against them. In this sense, their exaggerated sense of privilege frequently undermines their better judgment. As cold-hearted and calculating as they can be—for they see others as essentially objects to manipulate for personal gain—they're strangely naive (or even unconscious) about how their unprincipled acts could be negatively interpreted by others, who don't necessarily assume such behaviors as "entitled" at all.

Frankly incapable of emotionally identifying with others' distress, the wrong they may have done them remains forever out of their focus. What is in focus for them is the deeply felt assault to their self-image that comes from being charged with wrongdoing. And, so threatened, their push-back reactions are self-righteously contrived to reclaim both their personal and ideological superiority over their attacker. Flagrantly falsifying facts and details beyond reason, they vehemently proclaim the moral high ground.

Sound familiar? I know it's over-written and exaggerated stuff, but I've included it here to flesh out the overall argument I am making.

Organisational Narcissism

A number of academics are considering what might make an organisation behave in a narcissistic manner. For example Grant and McGhee of AUT's Faculty of Business have looked at the "personality" of failed finance institutions in New Zealand. They write about organisational narcissism. Their analysis of narcissism, based on an extensive literature search, starts like this:
In modern parlance, yet still rooted in this ancient myth, narcissism “generally connotes a person who possesses an extreme love of the self, a grandiose sense of self-importance, and a powerful sense of entitlement” (Duchon and Drake, 2008, p. 303). While useful, this definition needs further unpacking. Brown (1997), while noting the divergent conceptions of narcissism, summarised much of the extant literature into six broad behavioural/psychological characteristics. Denial, the first of these, has the narcissistic individual “disclaiming awareness, knowledge, or responsibility for faults that might otherwise attach to them” (p. 646). Rationalisation is the narcissist’s attempt at justifying unacceptable behaviours or attitudes and presenting them in a socially acceptable form. Self-aggrandisement refers to the tendency to overestimate one’s abilities or achievements. The narcissistic personality, imbued with these beliefs, is often accompanied by “extreme self-absorption, a tendency toward exhibitionism, claims to uniqueness, and a sense of invulnerability” (p. 646). In addition to these characteristics, and to further self-enhancement, the narcissist also distorts reality through selective perception. This fourth one, attributional egotism, is the tendency to explain events in a self-serving manner and to attribute positive outcomes to causes internal to the self and negative outcomes to external factors. The psychoanalytic literature generally accepts that narcissists use self-serving behaviour to preserve and/or enhance self-esteem. A narcissist bolstered by the above characteristics, also has a strong sense of entitlement. This, in turn, is associated with “a strong belief in his/her right to exploit others and an inability to empathize with the feelings of others” (p. 647). Unfortunately, for him or her, this lack of feelings towards others matches an insatiable need for their approval and admiration. Thus, the narcissist finds themselves in the not-so-enviable position of “holding in contempt and perhaps feeling threatened by the very individuals upon whom he or she is dependent for positive regard and affirmation” (p. 647). Finally, narcissism is also associated with high levels of anxiety. Research demonstrates that narcissists suffer from feelings of dejection, worthlessness, hypochondria, despair, emptiness, fragility, and hypersensitivity. While anxiety itself is not an ego-defence, it is what the above ego-defence mechanisms seek to ameliorate....
Of most significance to this research is how individual narcissism at the highest level - be it Board of Directors or Elected Councillors and CEO - might or would affect organisational behaviour. Grant and Mcghee write:
Some authors have argued that leader role modelling is the most critical factor determining ethical culture (Dickson , Smith , Grojean , & Ehrhart 2001 ; Morgan, 1993; Murphy & Enderle, 1995; Nielsen, 1989; Schein, 1992; Sims & Brinkmann, 2002). Jackall (1988) suggested that ethical behaviour in organisations is often reduced to adulating and imitating one’s superiors. Lord and Brown (2001) claim that leaders provide a ‘natural source of values’ for their employees while Bandura (1977), in discussions of socialization and social learning theory, suggests that employees imitate the values stemming from their leaders. Hood (2003), who looked specifically at the relationship between the CEO’s leadership style, values and the ethical practices of the organisation, found that leadership styles do influence ethical practices in the organisation. Brown, et al. (2005) considered managers to be a key source of guidance for ethical behaviour. Given this strong relationship between leadership and moral identity, we argue that if the management-control nexus exhibits narcissism, then it is probable that the individuals and the organisation as a whole will reflect these narcissistic tendencies.

So, what does a narcissistic organisation look like? Duchon and Drake (2008) have argued that an organisation’s identity operates as an analogy to an individual’s personality and essentially determines its moral behaviour. They even go so far as to claim that an extreme narcissistic organisation cannot behave properly because it does not have a moral identity. This is because the organisation’s identity does not contain a predisposition to act virtuously and so it is morally flawed.

Narcissistic organisations use ego-defence mechanisms to protect the integrity of its personality even at the expense of sacrificing the morality of its actions (Ketola, 2006). They become self-obsessed and use a sense of entitlement, self-aggrandizement, denial, and rationalisations to justify anything they do (Duchon & Drake, 2008). In such organisations, individuals and groups may be responsible for making decisions but those decisions will tend to be consistent with the larger system’s moral identity (G. R. Weaver, 2006) and so unethical behaviour can emerge unintentionally. This may explain how in the (New Zealand corporate) cases individual decision makers in senior positions did not question blatantly unethical behaviour
What is a NarciCity?

Let's take the narcissistic organisational characteristics identified by Grant and McGhee: denial, rationalisation, self-aggrandisement, attributional egoism, entitlement, and anxiety, and consider how Auckland City fares as a case study, just looking at sewage.


Trait

NarciCity

EthicalCity
DenialNobody gets sick from combined sewer discharges into the Viaduct. The Waitemata Harbour is a beautiful shade of blue. People (maori) eat snapper from it. Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to collect, transport and treat human excrement away from areas of human habitation or play.
RationalisationBecause stormwater dilutes the sewage when it rains, and nobody swims in the Viaduct when it's raining anyway, there are no health effects.Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to collect, transport and treat human excrement away areas of human habitation or play.
Self-aggrandisementAuckland shares top billing in most global indicators for liveability. New Zealand is known by its brand as 100% pure. The sky is blue. The sea is blue. The grass is green. The people always smile.We know that human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. We know Auckland's sewer systems are old, decrepit and leak. It is top priority to remedy this.
Attributional egoism"The harbour’s deep navigable channels and sheltered bays helped to determine the choice of a site for New Zealand’s capital in 1840.... Spotlight on beach water quality. ...beach water quality for the Waitematā harbour ... web based and accessible by the public .... this model will help inform the public of the associated health risk when swimming at beaches within the harbour...."Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to collect, transport and treat human excrement away from areas of human habitation or play.
Entitlement"OF THE NINE BATHING BEACHES TESTED DURING SUMMER 2013/14 95% passed RECREATIONAL BACTERIA GUIDELINES"
. Spotlight on beach water quality. "...grades represent an average of the results from the individual sites. Individual site results will vary and localised issues may not be represented by the overall grades....."
Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to collect, transport and treat human excrement away from areas of human habitation or play.
AnxietyWhat if our worst localised sewage overflow issues were featured on the front page of the The News of the World, The Wall Street Journal, People's Daily, The Sydney Morning Herald? Better to measure less and headline good news statistics.Human excrement contains microbial contaminants that cause ill health. It is top priority to identify major sources, contain leaks, publicise detailed information, budget repairs.

I have chosen wastewater here. But I could just as easily have chosen rates, roading, rubbish, debt, public space, green space, you name it. And I haven't even begun to write about equity, fairness and democracy.

Urban issues make big and easy targets. But what really matters is something far more profound and important. When we design our cities, when we design policies for our cities, we are building a city culture that shapes and nurtures our children (who have no choice where they are born). The city culture will also attract visitors (who generally choose the city that meets their needs).

Wisdom and wise decisions build wise cities that produce, instill and attract wisdom.