OPINION: If you think of a better, future Auckland as an omelette, then road cones and barriers would be the eggs that have been broken in order to make it.
Struggling with that analogy? Then spare a thought for Auckland Council executives who are working out how to sell construction disruption as good news.
Focus groups, quarterly opinion surveys and an all-encompassing brand, “Auckland’s Future in Progress” (AFIP) are apparently already persuading Aucklanders that work approaching “peak disruption” in the city centre and waterfront has a pay-off at the end worth waiting for.
Even those words – ‘Future’ and ‘Progress’ – have been bounced off focus groupies to see what buttons they push.
* Auckland City Rail Link: Hardship fund for disrupted businesses
* Road to the Cup: Auckland’s multi-billion dollar downtown waterfront makeover
* Auckland’s Quay St makeover sees $13m budget blowout over rain gardens
* Auckland Transport: More than 260 roadworks jobs as city in biggest ever growth period
As you read this, the council’s panel of three advertising agencies are pitching to take the good news story to another level.
Something approaching $300,000-$400,000 is likely to be spent this year getting the campaign underway, and that could rise further depending on what level of promotion is decided appropriate in future years.
Don’t get me wrong, getting Aucklanders to see beyond today’s construction detour is important – and not because they might think more kindly about their council.
Some $6 billion of public money is being spent over five years on projects ranging from the America’s Cup village, to a more people-friendly Quay St and Karangahape Rd, to public space between Princes and Queens Wharves – to name but a few of the eight major ones.
Research by the council involving 1000 Aucklanders in November 2019 found that even after being shown pictures, while 74 per cent were aware of the $4.4 billion City Rail Link (CRL) project, only 36 per cent were aware of the long-standing plan to “green” Victoria St.
More than 50 per cent supported all eight city centre projects, ranging from 68 per cent for CRL down to 52 per cent for the still-to-commence Victoria St work.
As an excitement generator, the Ferry Basin redevelopment, including the new public space, topped the list at 60 per cent, followed by CRL on 57 per cent.
Of course, there’s already a website with a map that’s drawn interest from the London borough of Southwark, which is struggling to sell its own upgrades.
But increasingly, expect to find construction site fences dressed up with giant hoardings in AFIP’s yellow and black hues with portrayals of what the finished project will look like.
Activities and events near some locations might be staged to provide some buzz about what’s ahead.
One brand, one story, regardless of which of the council’s family of agencies and joint ventures is leading the work.
It is easy to bristle at council spending on public relations. However, public support is critical if politicians are to continue signing off on important and transformative improvements.
Radio hosts may threaten to leave town and talkback radio callers are welcome to air their views on disruption, but public opinion needs to be based on a good understanding of what is happening and why.
Hopefully the council will go beyond advertising and seize opportunities to give Aucklanders a taste of what is to come – for example, by closing city centre roads for events to give a real taste of what a transformed city centre might feel like.
In the short-term, disruption will be irritating whether you are a motorist or a pedestrian.