Resilient Urban Futures

With 87% of New Zealanders now living in cities and towns, planning for urban resilience is needed more than ever.  What development path should New Zealand’s cities take to ensure maximum environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits can be gained?

It’s a crucial question that is being seriously addressed by multi-disciplinary researchers brought together through the University of Otago Wellington-led Resilient Urban Futures programme.

The project research team, headed by the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, links five universities (Otago, Victoria, Auckland, Massey and Canterbury), NIWA, the Ecologic Foundation, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and the Waitī and Aria research institutes, with end users from 14 local councils, central government, Māori organisations, developers and community groups. The team is advised by a strong national and international advisory group.

Centre Director Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman says the research will deliver a comprehensive framework for considering urban futures in New Zealand: “One that accounts for cities as complex systems – emphasising for example the links between housing and transport, and urban form and water – and which is informed by case studies, to enable government, developers and Māori to have a clear idea of the broad future consequences of different urban investment decisions.”

rufResilient Urban Futures researchers: Philippa Howden-Chapman, Anaru Waa, Michael Keall, Pengjun Zhao

Integrated Land Use-Transport-Environment model

The programme has nine research strands. Among them is WILUTE, a project to create a Wellington Integrated Land Use-Transport-Environment model that can be used to consider different policy scenarios and assess resilience. Lead researcher Dr Pengjun Zhao says a model based on Wellington is useful in illustrating climate mitigation and resilience policies for other medium-sized coastal cities in New Zealand and in other countries.

“It’s vital to build resilient urban futures for coastal cities – they play such a crucial role in human social and economic development in the world, and they are more vulnerable to sea-level rise and other natural disasters,” Pengjun says. “Most global cities, such as London, New York, Sydney, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai, are coastal.”

The resilience of cities in response to natural disasters and long-term climate change is something that policymakers are starting to pay attention to, Pengjun says.  A key issue in particular is how to understand the interconnectedness of urban and natural systems.

“A resilient city reduces its ecological footprint while at the same time improving its residents’ quality of life. What we are doing with WILUTE is creating an urban model that can be used to evaluate city resilience outcomes under different policy and environmental scenarios,” Pengjun explains.

The model looks at three aspects of resilience: a city’s capacity to reduce energy and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from transportation changes; the vulnerability of a city’s land use and transport system to sea-level rise; and costs related to reducing vulnerability to a safe level with a consideration of the city’s financial capacity. In a nutshell, if the vulnerability and the costs are too high for its financial capacity, the city has low resilience.


Active travel – cycling and walking

ACTIVE is another research strand, and stands for Activating Communities to Improve Vitality and Equity. Led by UOW researcher Dr Michael Keall in collaboration with Victoria, Massey and Auckland University researchers, the study is examining whether walking and cycling, as well as attitudes and perceptions , have changed in Hastings and New Plymouth, where NZTA funded the Model Communities Programme to increase walking and cycling. The programmes – iWay in Hastings and Let’s Go in New Plymouth – included infrastructural changes such as improved walkways and cycle lanes, and information and education campaigns.

Keall says the question is: how do we effectively increase active travel in a sustainable (cost-effective) manner?

“ACTIVE is a unique opportunity to examine the effect of a combination of structural and informational strategies on cycling and walking.  We’re also looking at Masterton and Whanganui – both of which share many of the characteristics of the intervention cities, but without the additional targeted central government funding – to establish whether changes in Hastings and New Plymouth are due to the intervention programmes or part of a wider trend.

“Such programmes have rarely been robustly estimated using quasi-experimental designs in the past, so this study will make an important contribution to knowledge in this important area internationally as well as nationally. We will look at the wider public health perspective of this intervention, including potential changes in road injury rates.”


Māori involvement in urban planning and development

A further strand in the Resilient Urban Futures programme – Tāone Tupu Ora – recognises that increasing meaningful Māori participation in creating urban futures will significantly contribute to making New Zealand cities more resilient, liveable and competitive.

UOW researcher Anaru Waa says a key aspect of this is understanding catalysts for the way Māori are involved in urban development. Triggers for change include Treaty of Waitangi settlements, central government policy change and local government reform and,  of particular interest to Waa, natural disasters.

“There are really good opportunities for improved Māori participation to improve resilience through identifying potential risks before disasters happen. That might be a geographical risk, but it could also be a socio-economic risk in terms of a community that has less access to resources – either its own or auxiliary – to help recovery. Examples could be lack of employment or insurance, but the key is looking at how those issues can be resolved to improve resilience should a disaster happen.”

Post-disaster it’s about opportunities for Māori to be involved in rebuilding and the vision for a city, and recognising that Māori iwi are now key economic players in the urban economy, Waa says.

In seeking to involve Māori in urban planning and development it’s vital to recognise the diversity of Māori living in cities, Waa says.

“One of the challenges is not to treat Māori as a homogeneous group, and to recognise the range of demographics, from Mana Whenua who have traditionally occupied those areas right through to migrants who are now second and even third generation city dwellers.”

Along with his research colleagues John Ryks (Aria Research) and Keriata Stuart (Waitī Consultancy), Waa notes that urban planners are beginning to realise that the ‘Māori face of the city’ is not just decoration or tourist attraction, but an integral part of the city’s social capital. They strongly believe that, alongside this realisation, there is a growing recognition of traditional indigenous knowledge as both a part of the city’s real history, and a knowledge asset in preparing for its future.

The New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities is running the Resilient Urban Futures Programme, thanks to a 4-year grant from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment which began in October 2012.


First published in He Kitenga, University of Otago

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