Friday, March 10, 2006

Brian Rudman: Vision useless without structure to make it work

Aucklanders love to dream.

When the city council asked for our ideas on the redevelopment of the downtown Britomart block six years ago, 153 lovingly crafted designs were submitted for public display.

There were canals, replica colonial lighthouses, a Daliesque water clock, an urban pa and even a gigantic skyscraper, a monstrosity revealed to be the secret fantasy of property developer Andrew Krukziener.

A year later there were more than 30 entries for something as boring as branding our transport network. That's where MAXX came from.

So it's no surprise the visionary juices are flowing over the waterfront Tank Farm. Though some ideas do seem to be the rejected Britomart ones dusted down. But why not. It's the role of the thwarted visionary to bounce back and back and ...

Still, I fear all this visioning is breaking out a little prematurely. At the risk of repeating myself, there's not much point in dreaming great dreams, if, when you wake up, there is no structure to ensure they come true.

Earlier in the week I referred to international consultant Mercer Delta's review of 27 waterfront redevelopments, stretching from Barcelona to New York to Liverpool to the Melbourne Dockyards. One of its most "compelling findings" was "a clear recognition that a co-ordinated, multi-jurisdictional effort is needed to realise the vision for large-scale waterfront revitalisation".

This mouthful was dejargonised in the next paragraph to be "the benefits of working together".

The consultants came up with 12 "critical success factors," all of which, "in most cases", are required to achieve success.

There are no "nice to have" factors (i.e. if any are missing, the initiative's risk of failure increases significantly). They added that the best results are achieved "when there are simultaneous and co-ordinated efforts to achieve all of the success factors".

Mercer Delta advocates the necessity of a single purpose development authority, but argues that that alone "is not a sufficient condition for success".

There will always be a significant chance of failure if there's a lack of political will and commitment, if different levels of Government and their agencies don't collaborate and co-operate, if funding is inadequate or unpredictable and if the stakeholders - the public included - are not "proactively engaged".

Getting back to that list of 12 key critical success factors and how many - or few - are currently in place on the Auckland waterfront.

1. Co-ordination among public sector stakeholders: Overcoming the "silo" mentality and turf wars and "come together to support a shared vision", aligning land-use regulator role to support the waterfront vision.

2. Viable funding model: There needs to be a predictable and pragmatic funding model.

3. Control over land: Typically land has been transferred from original owners to the empowered corporation. Single ownership assists form and timing of development, provides income through leasing and facilitates borrowing

4. Comprehensive development plan: More than just a land-use plan, setting out key projects, financial strategy, timetables.

5. Long-term planning horizon: Most successes are results of decades of effort, the "long view" succeeding over short-term policy shifts.

6. Visible champion and strong leadership: An articulate leader with strong personality and long-term vision.

7. Accountability mechanisms: Planning, auditing, risk assessment, community participation etc.

8. Authority to act: Provided via enabling legislation and regulations and through land ownership.

9. Alignment between city and independent corporation: Creating an arm's-length entity to facilitate project delivery and harmonisation of land-use regulations.

10. Mechanisms to harness, but also regulate, private ownership interest: Including the public sector, encouraging private investment.

11. Time-bounded intervention: A sunset clause so that once outcomes are achieved the organisational structures are dismantled.

12. Desire for change: A broadly held view that the status quo is unacceptable, sometimes driven by the push to address a serious issue, such as the Olympics or urban blight.

When you go through this checklist, it's chastening that the last one is about the only one of these 12 critical success factors that we Aucklanders can actually tick as far as the Tank Farm is concerned. And even in these days of NCEA, that is far from a pass mark. Particularly when the consultants emphasise that "if any one of these critical success factors are missing, the initiative can be derailed".

So dream all you like of opera houses and native bird sanctuaries, but until our politicians start passing the above test, 12-storey apartment blocks and massive traffic jams is what we're likely to get.

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