I’m currently doing a PhD about how to create a playful city. After a few years researching what makes a city great to live in and connecting to all these awesome people advocating for more inclusive and vibrant city design, I wondered whether I could make some impact on the inside. I managed to get elected onto Auckland Council’s Waitemata Local Board in 2019 and I am the planning lead. Local councils seem to exist in the shadows a lot of the time but they have a huge role to play in our lives and we need them to ensure cities can still function with the challenges ahead.
Housing is a huge issue at the moment. Prices are crazy, but politically it is hard to push a price fall. So what to do? The answer often is ‘build more’ but where and how and what is the impact of that? What sort of housing do we need and where should it be? The urban growth agenda is government policy but when does the growth stop? We are facing a climate change crisis and a biodiversity crisis too. Construction can have a massive impact on wildlife and food security. I wanted to create a space to think about where we want to be in 2050, rather than throwing all our efforts and resources into solving one problem but then creating more. Can we live well and more sustainably at the same time? That’s what I want audiences to help me with!
You don’t have to be a trained urban planner or architect to know what sort of cities you like. What the show does is provide a link between lived experience and policy choices. There are lots of rules and rituals within the council that determine how decisions are made. Understanding how they work makes it easier to feed into the system and have an impact. Hopefully, people will be empowered by the show and want to get more involved.
It is a piece of game-theatre. If you liked the Money Show, where audiences had to decide how to spend a heap of cash (and yes, they could keep it themselves), then you might like this too. It is participatory but no one is forcibly put on the spot. We have experts each night who are leaders in their field (and present to elected members for real). They include Grant Hewitson (Low Carbon Network), Tom Irvine (CEO, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei), Emma McInnes (Women in Urbanism), Greer O’Donnell (Urban Advisory) and Antony Phillips (NZ Heritage). The audience will be able to share their views, and will also not be limited to asking questions.
It is not quite like a real council meeting (there are a few more jokes) but very similar – audience members will get a real insight into how local government works. There are terrific people inside the council and we want more good people to consider working there. Democracy works if people value it and participate from the inside and outside, feeding back and feeding forward. I will be in the audience each night and be informed by what people say. We have also promised to take what we find to a council meeting for real. I think that is probably unique.
I have to be careful in thinking about how important this show is. It is on for three days in the studio at the Basement, and only 180 or so people will see it, and the outcomes are uncertain. I would love it to tour in schools as a form of civics education. I think the discussions happening within this show are important. I have attended forums where scientists have made their case to Arts students who are asking for help communicating the seriousness of the climate crisis. Sea level rise, changes in weather systems, and social upheaval all seem inevitable within our lifetime. Can we adapt? Perhaps. We are more connected than we have ever been. If we can face the issues head-on and work together to prepare we give ourselves a chance.