Radical rethink of our cities will improve urban wellbeing

A crowd gathers to examine E Amio Haere Ana te Ao I Te Ra | Circling The Sun – Revolution Cycle installation part of Te Mana o Te Ra | The Power of the Sun solar-power, zero-carbon energy workshops and installation at the Auckland City Library, Ngā Pātaka Kōrero o Tāmaki Makaurau. Photo: Amanda Yates.

New Zealand could be positioned to lead the world by developing a first-ever Mauri ora or “all-of-life” urban wellbeing data tool and framework, according to the latest findings from Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities (BBHTC) He Kāinga Whakamana Tangata, Whakamana Taiao National Science Challenge.

As high energy users and generators of planet-warming carbon emissions, cities are well-placed to take a lead in strategising for and implementing zero-carbon transitions that utilise existing technologies.

“For Māori, ora is wellbeing and Mauri is the integrative life force that connects it all – the rocks, rivers, trees, people, etc. We need to develop our cities in ways where humans are viewed as part of the environment – one where climate, biodiversity, transport, and housing infrastructure are all working in harmony to take care of ecological wellbeing,” explains lead researcher of the Mauri ora and urban wellbeing project, Dr Amanda Yates from Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

“As a framework, wellbeing’s value and the need to take an ‘all of life’ approach becomes clear in the face of the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis.”

The research shows an effective way to do this would be to change the way we power our cities and transport systems by using individual household electricity generation. Using this model, home owners would generate enough power from their suburban homes to meet their needs for housing and transport, as well as potentially feed back into a local urban system at times of peak demand.

“Housing, local energy generation and storage, and electric vehicles can create a zero-carbon, circular eco-system. To roll this out requires a radical rethink of the way we deliver energy, housing, and transport infrastructures in our cities,” says Dr Yates.

The research proves New Zealand cities are ripe for climate collaborations, where communities and local government come together to roll out small-scale, tactical interventions, such as edible urban gardens and solar power generation.

To show how these collaborations could work, the research team carried out solar-power and biodiversity events and activations at Auckland libraries, an AUT Co-Design Mauri Ora Urban Wellbeing Studio with Auckland Council, and hui with key Māori urban regeneration professionals.

“As well as climate and biodiversity failures, humans are also increasingly becoming more lonely, unhealthy, and overweight. Many more than ever before are struggling to find a home,” says Dr Jessica Hutchings, BBHTC’s Tumu Whakarae.

“Wellbeing registers are influencing national, regional, and urban governance, policy, and design with potentially transformative effects on how we think and do urbanism. Indigenous knowledge is naturally placed to lead the way.”

Publications available from the Mauri ora and urban wellbeing research team:

Yates, A.M. (2019). Whanake mai te mauri ora: Think piece – an expanded wellbeing framework and urban science data tool for integrated wellbeing governance. Report for Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities: Mauri ora and urban wellbeing. Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland: BBHTC.
Yates, A.M., Nair, N. & Renwick, J. (2019). Whanake Mai Te Ara Hiko: Think piece – Wellbeing-led, home-based energy infrastructures and low emissions transport. Report for Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities: Mauri ora and urban wellbeing. Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland: BBHTC.
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Date posted: 15 August 2019