Vying visions for city

When it comes to reducing emissions, students show more foresight than the Let's Get Wellington Moving initiative, say Professorial Research Fellow Brenda Vale and former Professorial Research Fellow Robert Vale from Victoria University of Wellington's School of Architecture.

The June 2018 update for the Let's Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) initiative includes the results of an online survey and of public consultation on four proposed scenarios, both of which have implications for the city in terms of New Zealand's 2050 greenhouse gas emissions target.

At the same time, third-year students on the BILD331 course in the School of Architecture at Victoria University of Wellington have just completed a project in which they were asked to produce a design for educational facilities for 2050 using the city's Swan Lane car park.

It is revealing – and dismaying – to compare the respective visions in evidence in these exercises.

In the LGWM survey, the one thing most people wanted was improved public transport. But, at the same time, slightly more people wanted to keep cars on the Golden Mile than wanted to remove them (35 per cent versus 33 per cent) and even more wanted to keep street car parks in the city centre at the same level rather than reduce them (40 per cent versus 30 per cent) – hardly a sustainable move toward meeting the 2050 emissions target.

Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity in the whole LGWM initiative is that reducing emissions was never considered important enough to be included as a goal. Fortunately, our students took a different view of life in 2050.

The first thing they did was look at the Te Aro area around Cuba St, only to discover more than 20 per cent of the land is taken up by covered and uncovered car parks.

An area designated for only parking cars is degraded land that has no other use. In a world where population is predicted to reach about 11 billion by 2050, dedicating this much valuable land to occupation by cars during limited hours of the day seems not just senseless but offensive.

The other thing the students noted was that, to meet targets set by the Paris climate change agreement, net carbon dioxide emissions in New Zealand need to be zero by 2050. But between 1990 and 2016, net greenhouse gas emissions (of which carbon forms a large part) increased by 54.2 per cent, so any plans to reduce emissions have to undo the current trend in the wrong direction.

Understanding this, in their projects students opted to go straight from cars to electric and pedal bicycles as the only means to access the city centre. Public transport would be used to get to the edges of the city centre, which would then become a truly pedestrian and cyclist environment, as is common in many European cities.

Electric vehicles (EVs) were dismissed as not answering the problem but rather creating the illusion that it is still possible to have private transport and zero carbon emissions. Along with EVs' technical limitations, research has shown people make less use of public transport and drive further because they think having an EV is not harming the environment.

But the real point of comparing our students' approach with the results from the LGWM initiative is that the students were asked to imagine and design for 2050, not just think about how what we do now might be continued.

Unless we have a vision of a future low-emissions city and work toward creating it, we will never get there.

So far, all Wellington has managed to achieve is the dubious claim of being the only 21st-century city to replace electric (trolley) buses with diesels. Thank goodness the next generation seems to have more vision than its elders.

Read the original article on Stuff.