Embracing urban sustainability and liveability

23 February 2012
Transforming Cities: Innovations for Sustainable Futures
Transforming Cities: Innovations for Sustainable Futures

“It is essential that New Zealanders start dealing much more actively with urban issues,” asserts Professor Harvey Perkins, recently appointed Director of Transforming Cities: Innovations for Sustainable Futures (formerly Transforming Auckland) and Professor of Planning.

“We need to embrace the ideas of ‘urban sustainability and liveability’,” . A notion he explores as co-author of Place, Identity and Everyday Life in a Globalizing World.This work followed a series of jointly published articles with colleagues at Lincoln University and the University of Auckland critically examining the ways in which sustainability thinking has been interpreted and incorporated in urban planning in New Zealand.

Harvey brings extensive urban research expertise and national and international networks to the directorship of Transforming Cities, one of the University’s three thematic research initiatives (TRIs). In addition to his roles at Auckland, he holds adjunct positions at Lincoln and Canterbury universities in the disciplines of human geography and sociology. His broad research scope encompasses interests in urban, peri-urban and rural social, economic and environmental change.

Much of Harvey’s work is interdisciplinary in nature, resulting from collaborations with sociologists, geographers, landscape architects, psychologists, planners, ecologists and environmental managers. This is a considerable asset to the Transforming Cities TRI, which aims to support and promote interdisciplinary urban research on questions of major socioeconomic and environmental importance.

Harvey has experienced first-hand the recent Christchurch earthquakes, witnessing a city and residents undergoing traumatic transformation. “Christchurch has highlighted the dynamism of natural systems and the fragility and vulnerability of our human urban arrangements.” He has also been heartened by the tremendous recovery response of the authorities and community members. Harvey’s contribution has been to act in an advisory capacity to Christchurch City Council staff working on the Central City Plan and to speak at community meetings on aspects of earthquake recovery. Those experiences have convinced him of the need to create opportunities for community resilience in the face of rapid social, economic and environmental change – “a task more easily talked about than implemented”.

Recent meetings with Auckland Council staff in the Sustainability Team underline that Auckland is not exempt from the types of challenges that confront Christchurch. A general observation is that there is a disconnection between what we know about the risks associated with climate change and natural disasters, and the great difficulty of acting on that knowledge early enough – for a wide variety of political, social and economic reasons.

“Auckland is a very interesting site for research into urban issues. It is culturally diverse, and is faced by the need to deal with matters such as continuing population growth, residential intensification, climate change, water use, transport efficiency, economic development, green infrastructure, and the provision of adequate social and recreational services and facilities,” explains Harvey.

Addressing social inequality is a major concern if we are to attain the reputation of ‘the world’s most liveable city’. “Some areas of Auckland are well resourced while others are not. There are social justice issues confronting Auckland, including housing affordability and access to services like health and transport.”

These are among the many urban challenges that Transforming Cities: Innovations for Sustainable Futures intends to address. This will build on 18 months of work that University researchers have engaged in under the auspices of Transforming Auckland. One of the key roles of the Director is to galvanise staff from across the University to work together on interdisciplinary urban research. Building on internal research capability, Harvey envisages further opportunities: “Then if we can link The University of Auckland with other research institutions and stakeholders both in New Zealand and globally, we can create a network to address urban sustainability and liveability questions and critical societal needs.”

Researchers interested in the Transforming Cities TRI are encouraged to contact Professor Harvey Perkins (h.perkins@auckland.ac.nz)

You should also register online for the Research College: www.transformingcities.auckland.ac.nz.