This book is a product of an ongoing research project by Otago University’s Centre for Sustainable Cities, based in Wellington. It is part of a series of research findings on urban change in New Zealand, which appear to be in equally attractive books. This seems to be a rare example of applied social science research, which has depth and accessibility for the non-fiction reader. It is also a very topical project, given the challenges facing all the major cities, but particularly Auckland and Christchurch.
The main text of the book is based on interviews with experts, local government planners and politicians, and some involved in the policy-making process for central government agencies. There are also 18 case studies within the book, which involve a page or two on a particular urban topic, and reflect some new research undertaken by post-graduate students. Besides chapters on the main cities, there is an extra chapter called ‘sentiments about cities’, which is based on an on-line opinion poll. And, of course, there are a number of figures and tables that provide a lot of statistics as well.
There is something in Drivers of Urban Change for anyone living in the main urban centres, who is interested in policy issues. I think that the main text reflects the particular political context of the time that it was written, and most chapters refer to government Ministers frequently. Perhaps this is a strength and weakness. I seems to suggest that central government could and should be the key driver of urban change. Then again, there is certainly critical reflection on the current government’s attitude, which seems to favour urban property developers, or ‘the market’. As a social scientist I would have liked to see a bit more on the role of public housing, with a comparative aspect. In terms of publishing, some of the figures appear a bit fuzzy, and there is no index.
I believe that I actually took part in the Horizon online poll that forms the basis of chapter 7 in Drivers of Urban Change. This was particularly interesting, especially to see the results of other people’s views on social inequality. But there were also some specific questions on housing density and cities, and this is a critical issue now. As someone who does live in an apartment (for at least part of the week), I don’t recommend it for most people, and it is certainly not a panacea for urban issues, but a partial solution at best. Including the views of people on the ground, as opposed to policy-makers, is always a challenge, but this book is a very useful starting point.
Reviewed by Simon Boyce
Drivers of Urban Change
Edited by Philippa Howden-Chapman
Published by Steele Roberts