INSIGHT – Launching Rod Oram’s Three Cities: seeking hope in the Anthropocene

6 September 2016

A new book by one of New Zealand’s leading thinkers on sustainable economics describes how we can transform urban living. SBN CEO Rachel Brown reviews what this could mean for city dwellers here.  

Rod has been a champion for sustainability here in NZ for many years now. He’s one of the commentators I have looked to for hope and thought leadership. He’s also worked with many of the influencer groups in New Zealand’s sustainability movement. 

A couple of years ago Rod said he had lost some of his mojo. He felt the need to recharge. He wanted to check out what was going on in cities around the world and bring back some hope.  

He travelled to Beijing, London and Chicago. I read the resulting book recently while backpacking in the Philippines. The journey and book made me reflect on the enormity of the challenges our global community faces.  

The way Rod writes is very personal. I felt like I was travelling with him. I finished the trip, and the book, with a greater appreciation of the enormity of the task ahead. I felt even more frustration at the lack of leadership from our government. But I had a greater determination to drive the change here in my home town.

Last week I joined the speakers’ panel for the book launch. I was honoured to sit with Auckland’s Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse and Generation Zero’s Dr Sudhvir Singh. The audience included a very impressive mix of prominent academics. They included Dame Anne Salmond, Prof Jane Kelsey, Prof Ian Shirley, and others. There were also business leaders like Phillip Mills, Malcolm Rands and John Ringer. We were joined by a smattering of local politicians and passionate community leaders. Such is the credibility that Rod has built over the years. 

In line with the book’s aims we talked about the future of Auckland. We discussed the critical need to act bravely for a new future that doesn’t rob future generations of the quality of life we enjoy. 

The new City Plan has now been adopted. It’s great, but the council will need significant support from its community and local businesses to achieve its aims. The lesson from the book and the launch discussion is that we have to deal with huge social issues now. We must be bold and future focused. And we must push the national government to let us get on with it. 

We have to value and restore our waterways. We must shift to smart transport systems. We have to embrace cultural diversity and population growth. And we have to link all this progress in with the health of the people. 

Reading this book redoubled my belief that New Zealand must build its future economic success on creating solutions for a world in need. I have less hope in our national political leaders’ ability to see this, let alone pull it off. We, business, community and local politicians, will just have to do it without them. 

As Rod points out, cities are where it’s at.