Presenting Hamilton Urban Blog!

Hello, and welcome to Hamilton Urban Blog’s inaugural post.

What?
The raison d’être of Hamilton Urban Blog (HUB) is twofold: firstly, to promote an alternative dialogue on Hamilton’s future direction and encourage more participation in the planning process, outside of the narrow frame offered us by local media; and secondly, to keep a public log of development as it happens and foster debate on its merits (or otherwise!).

Who?
We are a small yet diverse group of Hamiltonians with a strong interest in Hamilton’s development – particularly the forms future development will take and how we get around our city, but also the human side of development: street life, arts, events, and other cultural aspects.

Why?
We are unanimous in our conviction that a change of tack in Hamilton is not only desirable, but inevitable. One can be forgiven for thinking that it’s just business as usual here in laid-back Hamilton, but powerful currents are right now moving our society in directions both new and old; to name but three: the global economy is still a little shaky; we’re being told we need to reduce carbon emissions and oil prices remain stubbornly high.

Yet people are not panicked about these changing conditions, and are in fact adapting their preferences and choices as they always do, often with enthusiasm. Globally, people increasingly want to live in walkable communities, are riding bicycles more and are driving less. The advent of social media is reducing the demand for mobility, most noticeably amongst younger people; Facebook is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to ‘face time’ with friends. Here in New Zealand, there is steady growth in cycling numbers (2013 census: 16% more commute by bike since 2006 census – see latter section of this article); Kiwis are also warming to urban living and we’re driving fewer Vehicle Kilometres (VKT) per capita than we were during the preceding decade, with the trend being for that decline to continue.

Of course, cars are not going to go away and neither should they. They’re too convenient a technology for most of us to forego, but we would like to see more dedicated facilities for walkers and cyclists, and less car-dependent development.

And along with the shift in lifestyles and transport preferences, we’re becoming less accepting of the human cost of the status quo, and demanding that our leaders make our cities less dangerous for everyone:

[P]eople no longer want to live, work or establish businesses in landscapes that are overwhelmed by cars. The most forward-thinking cities are following the Vision Zero model, developed by Swedes in the 1990s. They produced the road traffic equivalent of zero tolerance of crime. No death on the roads is acceptable, governments from the Netherlands to Bill de Blasio’s New York now join Sweden in saying.

Naturally, pedestrians and cyclists don’t want to be hit by cars, and drivers don’t want to feel anxious that they might harm another road user. What and how we manage development in our habitations has a crucial role to play in preventing such tragedies, and this is where it is critical to examine the forms Hamilton’s future development will take.

We know that it costs very little to cater for and encourage active transport modes, that their benefit-cost ratios are supreme, and that if we do we’ll free up the existing roading network and parking while avoiding massive ongoing expenditure in trying to build our way out of traffic congestion. It really is that simple.

Yet while there are certainly some reasons for optimism, there seems to be very little of any transformational nature on the horizon. We, both New Zealand as a nation and Hamilton as a city, continue to devote huge sums of public money to infrastructure that not only has a large opportunity cost vis a vis the changes we should be making, but also further entrenches the current paradigm. There is an apparent fear amongst most of our elected representatives to show leadership towards the changes we all know we need to make.

Hamilton’s increasing popularity shows it’s already a great place to live, but we all know it has so much untapped potential.

How?
Our aim is to provide a source for news about Hamilton’s development, to give examples of what other cities are doing and to stimulate the ensuing debate. We want you to engage with the issues, participate in our city’s democracy and be part of the next chapter in shaping Hamilton. Hopefully we’ll have fun in the process.

The Hamilton City Council Draft 2014/2015 Annual Plan is open for submissions until 2 May. That’s about one week away, so one of our first priorities will be to prepare a guide to making a submission.

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Watch this space!

3 comments on “Presenting Hamilton Urban Blog!

  1. An excellent sentiment. Have spent the week in Taupo which is embracing cycling into its urban plan. Hamilton should not follow, but be a leader in developing a safe urban environment.

  2. Cycling infrastructure is clearly a way places like Hamilton, Parmy, ChCh, even central Welly, can make a huge difference to both mobility and place quality at low expense. All are flat and have wide roads entirely given over to lavish driving and parking amenity. Easy way to show up Auckland.

  3. Awesome work guys…can’t wait to read more soon.

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