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Wise City Governing: Bridging the sustainability aspiration-action divide in the New Zealand mid-sized city Authority

Perhaps expecting a pragmatically emerged local government to embed the concept of sustainability as its guiding principle in 2002, may have been too big-an-ask, yet the modern city complexity demands that a greater shift toward this approach be purposively pursued in Aotearoa/New Zealand (NZ). This study searches below the symptomatic concerns of the mid-sized NZ city context, in order to explore and understand the causal features, conditions, factors and elements that currently appear to be inhibiting local integrated sustainable development success. Through this exploration, this research also strives to identify a ‘wise city governing’ model that may assist in bridging the apparent phenomenon of the sustainability aspiration-action divide. Within the background to this exploration, the study additionally considers whether the Local Government Act 2002 ‘better local government’ 2012 reforms may work to resolve this deeper problématique of local governing in NZ. This research, seated within a whole systems/social constructionist frame, utilises a broad literature review, the five city survey (offering an institutional capital perspective) and a more detailed case study of one selected city (offering a social capital perspective) to explore this context and phenomenon. From the initial literature sweep, it was found that previous research on NZ local government has tended toward seeking out the political, peak body and senior public administrative viewpoints, or been representative of the larger NZ city voices, while the every-day perspectives of mid-sized Cities and their Authorities have been under-researched to date. The survey findings evidenced that the aspiration-action divide exists across the five surveyed cities, while the presence of serious systemic weaknesses within the case study Authority are also revealed. From a whole system viewpoint, the results of this study find that the current NZ corporatised mid-sized city Authority model is hamstrung in its capacity to wisely transform its governing system. The Authority system therefore remains blind to realising the urgency presented by the critical natural and human ecological cues. Additionally, it continues to be limited in its ability to authentically engage with its full community in order to co-create flexible, innovative and adaptive solutions to meet the real city demands. The consequence of perpetuating a tokenistic but essentially unsustainable state, where the fiscal sphere persists in dominating decision-making, is an amplified risk of continuity interruption, failure or ultimate collapse. The full study results, support the research histories of Stoker’s local governing review and through the comparative literature of Naschold, Norton, Scott et al. and others, finds that the NZ transformational model is at least 20 years behind its international counterparts. Furthermore, the differences between the approaches of the overseas ecological and New Zealand’s corporatised modernisation models are accentuated. Additionally, this research bears out the concerns expressed in the Jacobs/Taylor discourse around the dangers of hybrid government manipulations, and this was found to be even more critical when a low civil engagement within a corporatise-government hybrid is present. This understanding links with Evans et al. 2006 DISCUS study, whereby an equally high institutional and social capital capacity was evidenced as being a prerequisite for attaining a greater level of localised sustainable development success – as originally expressed within Agenda 21 and Local Agenda 21. Overall it is unlikely that the current ‘better local government’ legislative changes will produce the contextual shift up the ‘wise local govern-ing’ ladder, bridging the sustainability aspiration-action divide in order to deliver ‘better’ short and long term sustainable development value.
Type of thesis
McLaren, K. J. (2013). Wise City Governing: Bridging the sustainability aspiration-action divide in the New Zealand mid-sized city Authority (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7960
University of Waikato
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