OPINION: The past 20 years have not been kind to Auckland. The 1989 reforms of Michael Bassett, as local government minister, did not go far enough and the council kingdoms that survived got stronger, warring with each other, stealing business over the borders, ganging up and never talking about joint rating, licensing, fencing or dog control.
Although the mayors got on fairly well, it was a situation that Macbeth would have thrived on. The central city died and was abandoned as the suburbs grew stronger. It was inevitable someone would try to sort out the mess and the Labour government did, setting up the royal commission.
Rodney Hide seized the moment and, like him or loathe him, he sure did stick with it, bending and twisting the local councils into submission. It wasn't nice to be part of but it was the only way forward. I personally felt a great deal of grief, believing Waitakere was the one city that had a genuine sense of pride, place and progress. But things had to change. Auckland needed a wrecking ball, good leadership and a new vision.
It got all three when the new super-city came into being in October 2010. Initially a great deal of suspicion and distrust existed, but the Rugby World Cup gave us the chance to experience a sense of celebration that we'd never had before. It pulled communities together and, in three months, it gave us a real sense of who we could be and what we might look like. The key was the waterfront. The controversial "Party Zone" transformed easily into the "Fanzone" and the Cloud, beautifully lit at night, stopped people in their tracks. Families from the suburbs came into the heart of Auckland, if not to Queen St, then to the wharfs and the experience was a huge and pleasant surprise. South Aucklanders suddenly starting thinking of themselves as being part of the same city as people from the North Shore and vice versa. The atmosphere was explosively positive. Watching from the ferry buildings, I saw Samoans hugging in competitive joy, young Asians and Somalis hongi-ing Maori waka paddlers. I knew then that Auckland had found not only its heart, but its soul.
The cup gave us the chance to lift pride and spirit and unite the communities of Auckland into a single body. But it could not have happened if we still had the moribund old councils. The new spirit of togetherness continues today.
Although the future will be bumpy, we feel refreshed and no longer envious of the rest of the country. We used to travel in disguise. You try having a beer anywhere else in New Zealand and saying you are from Auckland. You'd rather say you were Aussie. Now we don't care how we're perceived by the rest of New Zealand. We have shrugged off our guilt to take our rightful place as a leading city of the South Pacific.
The council has boldly established a 10-year plan that makes enormous visionary sense. Previously we didn't even finish the motorways. Now, for the first time in 150 years, we can see the future clearly and are committed to it.
The old rivalries between councils are buried in rest homes. The public don't want to hear councillors crowing around council table about the way things used to be.
The cup is over, but people are still returning to the city and the wharfs. Streets have become user-friendly, shared spaces are proving popular and Auckland is looking better than it has in years.
Now it's Wellington's turn to rethink its role in the 21st century. I am cheering "get on". It's like bungy jumping. It's great when you have done it. Get rid of the nervousness and seize the moment. Leap into the future with energy and a purpose and think big. Sweep up all the cities and think all the way to Wairarapa. Go as far as Taupo if you want and don't grieve or complain. You will need to find leadership and the energy and a council with vision to make it work. I think it is possible. Carpe Diem.
Bob Harvey is the former mayor of Waitakere City and now chairman of Waterfront Auckland.
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