The Unitary Plan and Future-Proofing for Auckland

With today’s decision by the Auckland Council Governing Body to sign off on the Unitary Plan, we have as a city taken a significant step forward in preparing for the city’s future. This plan sets out the foundational rules around where and how we build new homes, businesses and public infrastructure. It was a necessary challenge to overcome to unify the different plans of the former eight councils across the Auckland region, but there will still be a lot that needs to be done to see it deliver the quality outputs that present and future generations will appreciate.

For all the detail that the Unitary Plan possesses, it is not by itself enough to guarantee a good outcome for our city and its people. For that we need to have a collective vision for the city that goes beyond mere property boundaries and zoning rules. We need to be able to grasp what the city is likely to look like and what about it we want to strive for and what we want to steer clear from. To do this we need to take the groundwork laid out in the Unitary Plan, combine it with the high level aspirations of the Auckland Plan, and create a vision for the Auckland of our future that everyone can look at, understand, and talk to each other about.

Images courtesy of Auckland Council and Esri

Images courtesy of Auckland Council and Esri

Creating a model for what our city might look like under the new plans is not impossible, and the technology already exists. One example is the CityEngine software developed by Esri, which possesses the capability to take rules like those laid out in the Unitary Plan and then model how the city could look like in 10, 20 or 30 years time. These tools use modern procedural generation techniques, similar to what is used in mass-market games like No Man’s Sky, to create three-dimensional models of the city that users can then tinker with to find the most desirable outcomes.

Being able to see the possible futures for our city means that we can start to work from the target, and plan now for the future that we want. Rail, roads, pipes, parks, and shopping centres can all be planned alongside our housing developments so that we end up with the infrastructure we need, when we need them, and without having to go back and demolish previous work because we didn’t think far enough ahead. These plans can also be shared amongst the public so that individuals and communities can see what planners are proposing, giving them a better idea of what their community could look like in the future. This visibility also means that the community can explore and test alternative models themselves, to see what ideas suit them best.

Information, how we use it, and how we communicate it to others will be the key to our success as a city. I for one want to live in an Auckland where homes are truly affordable and fit to live in, where our modern architecture and our historical buildings help to create an enduring character for our city, and where our parks grant us all the sense of space and natural wonder that our country has to offer. I am glad we are advancing the Unitary Plan, but as the saying goes, “the war is not over yet” and there is still a lot of planning yet to do.