When Auckland topped the Global Liveability Index in 2021, something seemed wrong. The report's authors had clearly never tried to buy a house in the City of Sails. Or cross the city by car during the working day.
This year's survey was more plausible. Auckland had dropped to 34th, the second-largest drop of any city. The flattering ranking last year was a pandemic-induced anomaly.
Wayne Brown has promised to address Auckland's failings. So, what should the new mayor do?
Looking down from his 27th-floor office, he might be tempted to start by tackling the city's troublesome port. On no analysis does the world's most expensive car park represent value-for-money for ratepayers.
Yet the port's poor profitability is just a fraction of what the city will lose when the Government's three-waters legislation confiscates Watercare's $10 billion balance sheet. The mayor is right to resist this.
Even then, the port and Watercare are not the city's biggest challenges. The real calamities are transport and housing.
On each problem, there is much the mayor can do.
Transport policy in Auckland has been a basket case for decades. Successive governments have played tug-of-war. Roads versus rail. Cars versus public transport. This pet project over that one.
The city desperately needs a joined-up transport plan.
To achieve this, the mayor must address the democratic deficit in transport policy. Auckland Transport's planners must no longer be allowed to use transport policy to serve their own agenda rather than the needs of Aucklanders.
The plan must be evidence-based, not ideological. It must promote all modes of transport, including cars. And it must build on what has been proven to work (like the Northern Busway).
Because transport infrastructure takes time, it must also make use of congestion pricing, which the Initiative's research has shown can provide short- and long-term solutions for congested cities.
Above all else, the plan must be subject to rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
There is more and less for the mayor to do on housing. Auckland's house prices are a scandal. Yet most of the tools for resolving the problem are to be found in Wellington.
But the mayor can champion their use.
Here too, the Initiative's research can help. Wellington must incentivise councils to facilitate new housing by changing the way local Government is funded. National planning frameworks must prioritise housing over other objectives. Import restrictions on building materials must be eased.
If the new mayor lends his voice to promoting these solutions, it will not take a global pandemic for Auckland's liveability to soar.
Wouldn't that be super?