Friday, July 21, 2006

Transportation Planning in New Zealand

So my mother asked me specifically, what do you do? So it's been about a month on my job and I think I now have a better idea of what I do. But I should first brief the readers on the planning situation in New Zealand.

Back in 1991, New Zealand enacted the Resource Management Act, which took a lot of old (and outdated) legislation and wrapped it into one to "managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing and for their health and safety..."

There are a whole subset of planners who specialize in this type of NZ planning. Basically, if you do anything that is going to impact anything you have to apply for a resource consent, asking permission to impact something and include an arguement how it's not too much of an impact or that it's allowed because of some other law.

The vagueness of that last statement is a reflection of my own understanding of the law. Now let's try to apply our new found knowledge into building big highways and large scale mixed-use developments. We are in the wild west of planning now!!

The New Zealand national highway network is considered a resource worthy of protecting. This SOUNDS like environmentalism turned upside down but stay with me. So whenever a person wants to develop anything that enables a car to enter the state highway network that may negatively impact it they have to apply for a resource consent. Basically everything, though there's a lot more to it.

So when an application comes into Transit, the resource planners review it. Usually the applications are little to no impact; but when it's huge, say the size of the Pearl district redevelopment or say some huge Mall of Kiwis they pass down the 'file' to the transportation planners. We 'submit' or object to the application give a reason and open up dialog with the applicant to mutually find a solution that limits car trips.

At this point we sometimes hire transportation modelers to determine exactly what the impact is, negotiate with the developers and local township to find a solution that 'protects' the highways. If we can't find a solution we go to Environmental Court. Nothing like showing up Monday morning and going right into a meeting with lawyers.

Usually the projects that we have are highly contentious and very political. Our team building events are; if your project makes the first two pages of the national paper, you have to take the team out for morning tea. There's been a couple of billion dollars pumped into transportation, specifically in the Auckland region and we are setting the stage for what happens nationally. Mind you New Zealand isn't that big, which makes it even easier to set precedents.

Right now the Auckland region is going through a sort of regional awakening. They now have the Auckland Regional Council which is similiar to Portland's Metro. This organization is only 2 years old and is still just starting to create policies, guidelines and figuring out ways to enforce those. I get to review some of those drafts, representing Transit but hopefully I can make some constructive comments based on what I know works in Portland. I'd say they are about 15 years behind Portland in terms of strong land use policies. Though, Auckland is doing some really great work on Bus thorough fares that I think Portlanders can learn from.

Although representing the nation's roadbuilder isn't ideal, I'm starting to realize that planning is really where the rubber hits the pavement, haha. Consequently, I'm really happy with where I'm at, the projects are cool and my boss is great. It's unbelievable what a difference a good boss makes, and what a disservice my last boss was, by being a micromanager.

Bienvenido to New Zealand's wild west of planning, where the severe shortage of planners enabled me to say adios to GIS! Nary is the word GIS, though our department manager has visions of a database and he keeps looking at me, which is when I get up to uhmm... use the loo.. or something very important.


Karla Spence said...

Roberta, thank you for that very informative and interesting description of your job. I know that being your mom may make this comment seem a little biased, but I'm SO proud of you.

Roberta Robles said...

Ah, thanks mom!

Meg said...

Roberta, I'm an American married to a Kiwi and I am thinking of getting a Masters in Planning. My husband and I want to relocate to NZ one day. How was your degree received over there? Did you have to take any supplemental classes when you got there? PS I read your blog, so you do have readers!

Roberta Robles said...

Hi Meg,
Yes your master's degree will be accepted here, though it is not regarded similiarly to a Master's in NZ because you will have no 'working' knowledge of the RMA process here.

There are a lot of planners here with just a bach. in planning, but in the US there aren't a lot of bach. programs in planning so a Master's is the norm in the US.

If possible get AICP certified and it will help, though your trump card will be marrying a kiwi and easy access to a work permit.

There's such a shortage of planners, you probably would get a job if you just had some work experience in the US... Depends on how ambitious you are.

Thanks for reading the blog and would be happy to clarify or answer additional questions.