City Landscape Citizen Identity: Auckland

Words Dr. Diane Menzies

Adjunct Professor, Unitec, PHD Lincoln, MBA Canty, MBUS: Dispute Resolution Massey, DIP LA Lincoln, DIP Hort (Dist) Lincoln, Life Memeber of NZILA

Images Lauren Vincent



Cities have long been associated with their geographic location, an iconic building or a special characteristic. While some cities seem content to be, many see their survival in a global context, pacing their future against other cities competing for investment, development, visitors and residents. The emphasis of this paper is on the city as place; on townscape and nature, to discover whether the unique landscape of a city as perceived by its citizens is indeed its competitive advantage. The city considered is Auckland, a relatively small city of 1.5 million, some 1000 kilometres from the New Zealand capital of Wellington (a city less than a third of Auckland’s population) and some 2000 kilometres from its nearest global rival in Australia.

The 100% Pure New Zealand brand has been successful in attracting visitors to New Zealand who expect to see and experience natural beauty. This though leaves a gap in cities as New Zealand destinations even though cities are where over 80% of our population now live. Auckland Tourism has recognised that while travellers arrive expecting to see mountains, sheep and hobbits, there is a level of sophistication in Auckland which can provide for culture and leisure as well as capital assets such as environment and landscape. This paper considers how the cultural and landscape assets of Auckland can be promoted as visitor attractions when they are city as opposed to country based. In addition how these assets as perceived by city marketers and branders are considered, compared with the understood landscape assets identified and enjoyed by those who live in Auckland. Are we promoting culture and landscape with integrity?

Two Unitec focus groups were used as part of a pilot study to identify what Auckland residents think of their city, how they value their city and from where do they derive their identity. The views of the focus groups were compared with the understanding and promotion of Auckland landscapes by Auckland Tourism marketers. The marketers and residents views were similar, both referencing similar landscape resources, and the current shortcomings of Auckland were also noted. While urban leisure assets and events are promoted to draw visitors from other cities in New Zealand, both residents and marketers emphasised the natural landscape assets of Auckland such as the volcanic cones and lava fields, the harbours, beaches and islands in the Hauraki Gulf as being important attractions and important for residents. These landscape features fit somewhat awkwardly with the 100% Pure New Zealand brand as they are Auckland’s capital assets, yet are part of the natural as well as the cultural landscape. The paper concludes that while strap lines and branding can be used as a promotional tool, a city’s landscape and culture needs a much richer description: one which can better be conveyed by images and authentic stories. Further, that the unique combination of environmental, cultural and particularly landscape assets can indeed become the competitive advantage of a city. Landscape and culture can be the driver of a competitive city.





Cities compete for resources, strategic advantage and for people’s hearts. The focus may be attracting business, tourists or residents to the city and the competitor may be seen as another city in the same country or elsewhere. Cities compete to become the best in an often nebulous area, such as the most attractive, liveable or vibrant. Whether the city promotion is appropriately framed to identify key aspects which portray the city assets or the aspects to which citizens link their identity as residents of that city is not well explored. However city promotion in New Zealand also sits in tension with the 100% Pure New Zealand brand promoted since 1999 which attracts tourists to Auckland and other international airports in New Zealand, but emphasises the natural landscape as opposed to the assets of our cities as places to visit or live. As the Minister of Tourism and Prime Minister John Key noted to an APEC conference, 100% Pure New Zealand tells the story of how our landscapes, people and activities combine to deliver an experience that is unique.  The latest adaption of the long-running campaign is 100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand, leveraging the huge exposure New Zealand is getting around the world from the first Hobbit movie. 1
In addition, New Zealanders have a strong national focus on green space and the environmental quality of land beyond the city even though over 80% of our population of 4.2 million in 20132  are urban dwellers. National surveys repeatedly indicate that conservation, the environment and outdoor recreation are important issues for New Zealanders.3  Three in five of those surveyed in 2013 put conservation on an equal footing to education, health, law and order; and over half our population made a contribution to conservation in New Zealand in the last three years.4  With 8 in 10 New Zealanders valuing a healthy environment and recreation opportunities it seems realistic that visitor attraction in New Zealand should be closely aligned with these values and interests. This also fits with current research on tourism trends which identifies European travellers continuing to seek natural landscapes and an authentic experience.5  How then should Auckland as a city respond to this tension and reach visitor hearts and minds?

Auckland, as the largest city in New Zealand is faced with a challenge in seeking tourism and attracting business to the city in a context which seems to exclude the city from the attention of visitors. This paper examines the perception of Auckland residents and compares the factors identified by residents with the promotion of Auckland as a desirable place in which to live or visit. The emphasis is on the city as place; on townscape and nature, to discover whether the unique landscape of Auckland as perceived by its citizens is its competitive advantage.  The discussion considers the importance of landscape as a point of difference for Auckland, and notes the seeming separation of natural landscape which is a national focus for visitors, and the cities’ branding. However Auckland Tourism recognises that Auckland’s unique landscape cannot be described by a strap (or tag) line and that landscape is an experience and much more complex than a few phrases might convey. The conclusion highlights the need to target unique landscape and environmental qualities as well as cultural capital but particularly to ensure that messages carry authenticity and integrity. Perhaps it is no coincidence that authenticity and integrity are the two main qualities sought by UNESCO of World Heritage Sites.


City managers have seen opportunity for city marketing and differentiation, have coined branding slogans and compete in a variety of national and international city quality aspects such as liveable cities and garden cities6. They have targeted culture and leisure as a capital asset which can be promoted to identify points of difference for their city. However, many such branding attempts tend to plagiarize or simply repeat rather trite or bland claims for cities and few seem to have considered the need to integrate culture and leisure such as environment and landscape, with other capital assets. An international traveller for instance can readily buy an ‘I love (heart)’ and the name of many different cities, modelled on the successful ‘I love New York’ marketing. Many city leaders seem to shy away from the direct identification of particular city assets, rather than coin a name which marketers must believe has an attraction, such as Christchurch, ‘The City that Shines’. By contrast:

“Cities that have succeeded in attracting visitors, residents and businesses do so by creating a city brand that encapsulates the qualities that the city offers and generates powerful and memorable positive associations.” 7

Some cities hold focus groups, public fora and other activities to try to distil the city attractions, or future attractions into that hard to identify distinguishing feature for branding. Others build structures which become city icons such as the Eiffel Tower of Paris or the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco (or build many iconic structures as in the case Dubai and Shanghai). However, engaging citizens has been held to be necessary for sustainable environmental improvements as well as for cultural and leisure capital enhancement.

An important aspect of many leading city’s agendas is the promotion of quality of life for competitive advantage. A city which can support a claim of being ‘clean, green and safe’ say the leaders taking part in the Pricewaterhousecooper study, will have an advantage in environmental capital. The city needs to distinguish those qualities: such as attractiveness, address major pollution problems and integrate the forms of capital it has while engaging citizens in ongoing sustainable improvements. They acknowledge that this requires inspired leadership and a focus on values, behaviour and public expression of these. The same study also notes that to attract new residents, visitors and investment to a city, leaders need to have a distinctive and powerful brand.8
This overseas research resonates strongly with the 100% Pure New Zealand brand albeit with a city focus. Although most cities in New Zealand see their focus and competition in the domestic market, Auckland citizens, largely alone of New Zealand cities, have seen Auckland as a global trader and competitor from its early city foundations.9  Can Auckland and other cities attract business, visitors and residents and at the same time benefit from the promotion of New Zealand as ‘clean and green’?


As the first visitors to and discoverers or Tāmaki Makaurau or Auckland it is fitting that Māori perceptions of the landscape be considered first. There are a number of Māori traditions about the creation of the volcanoes and lava fields of Auckland.  One recounts that the volcanoes of Auckland were formed when priests used sunrays to avenge the elopement of a young woman, Hinemairangi –eloped with Tamaireia from Hūnua . Waitākere priests chanted incantations to draw down super-heated sunrays to drive back the war party which had been sent to retrieve Hinemairangi. The Hūnua priests responded, and the isthmus erupted in fire. This event is celebrated in the name Te Pakūrangarāhihi: the battle of sunrays.10  Another tradition tells how the wrath of Mataaho, the Māori deity connected with volcanic forces, ‘flowed from deep under the earth creating Auckland’s distinctive volcanic landscape.’11  The footprints of Mataaho are the name given by some local iwi to the explosion craters of the Auckland landscape.  Māori traditions explain the creation and formative aspects of Auckland’s landscape, and stories also tell of events such as the discovery and arrival of Māori into Tāmaki Makaurau. The landscape records the monumental modification Māori made to the volcanoes to express authority and identity as well as to the use the fertile volcanic soils for gardening.

As recognition of the importance of these volcanoes to local Māori, the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority, known colloquially as the Maunga Authority (consisting of local iwi representatives, Auckland Council and a Crown representative) has recently been created by Parliament12  to manage fourteen of the maunga (or volcanic cones) in order to restore a guardianship role to local Māori. This was put in place through Ngā Manawhenua o Tāmaki Makaurau Redress Act on 1 August 2014. The Act handed over fourteen volcanic cones and four islands to the thirteen iwi of Auckland, formed as the Tāmaki Collective. While much of this landscape will be managed in partnership with the Department of Conservation, a large number of areas are to be identified in future by iwi through cultural installations. In addition a proposal is underway for the Auckland volcanic landscape to be nominated as a World Heritage Site.13  
Auckland’s volcanic landscape was recognised by the two focus groups as an important asset for their city. They emphasised the place of Rangitōtō Island which is a distinctive volcano in the centre of the harbour extinct for six hundred years as a key landscape feature. It has a unique ecology which includes the largest pohutukawa forest.14  It was appropriate that Rangitōtō was the site for the ceremonial recognition following on from the enactment of the Redress Act of ownership of the volcanic and island landscape features which were rightfully theirs, on 3 September.15  Auckland Tourism agree with the importance of this island to Auckland and feature Rangitōtō in marketing images of the city. The island is also noted as a key landscape feature16  of the volcano field which was named in reference and connection to Polynesian sites and ancestors, thus linking Maori with living connections across oceans and back through time.
However, the focus groups drew attention to the apparent absence of Māori values, stories and presence in city design and identity. They saw the lack of visibility of Māori culture as a weakness of Auckland. Māori culture they said had a rich history and: “It is just tokenism now.” Auckland Tourism responded by noting that Ngati Whatua are telling their stories through Tāmaki Hikoi, guided  walks for visitors from Maungawhau (Mt Eden) which is run by Auckland Tourism. In addition there are now three ocean-going double-hulled waka (canoes) based in Auckland which take visitors on regular cruises on the harbour while telling their voyaging and celestial navigation stories. Auckland Tourism recognise that much more needs to be done to tell authentic stories of relevant Māori culture and now have a Māori Tourism Officer to address this.
Māori principles of manaakitanga - which implies a reciprocal responsibility upon a host, and an invitation to a visitor to experience the very best we have to offer, and kaitiakitanga meaning guardianship, care and protection,17  offer  relevant and useful principles for Auckland Tourism as well as for city administrators, local residents and businesses.  This offers an opportunity for the city to convey its unique qualities with more authority, as the volcanic cones and islands are given greater cultural as well as landscape recognition in Auckland. The Mayor, Len Brown noted the new legislation and management of the volcanic cones as the ‘most important’ event to occur in Auckland.18  
The focus groups and Auckland Tourism values are discussed next.


The Auckland focus groups described the landscape as an important asset for their city. The volcanic cones along with, harbours, forest-covered Waitakere Ranges, rugged West Coast beaches and large regional parks were important for them. They thought the city and harbour had many unique features such as Rangitōtō Island. A resident said: “I tell my friends overseas that I live on the side of a volcano with black sand on one side. It is like a make-believe world.” Residents also described as special the many islands in the Hauraki Gulf (an extension of the city harbour) and the city on an isthmus surrounded by three harbours with ‘hundreds’ of beaches with different characteristics. The beaches they saw as low key attractions which were not crowded, where “you could take your dog and a stick.” They questioned though whether the “low key” treatment” was enough to attract visitors. The diversity of the city in farmland, the natural ruggedness and the variety of mountains, volcanoes, natural bush including original podocarp forest as important. “You have a feeling of forest, trees and grass in Auckland” and can see mountains to “locate where you are.” The waterfront they thought, distinguishes Auckland from other cities in New Zealand. “You can fish from the wharf,” they said. Auckland was also thought to be an extremely clean city.
The focus groups thought the Central Business District had no strong definition or character, and is simply “a big office block,” which they saw as primarily an attraction for local people, not for visitors. They argued that there were few trees visible from this central business area even though this was an area where tourists visited from cruise ships. “And you pay $20.00 just to park near the waterfront, so are locked out if you have no money.”
The focus group also spoke of the people of Auckland: “they are not judgemental and allow you to do what you want and encourage you to relax, have fun and be casual, they said. (“Maybe too casual,” was a comment.) They thought the diversity of cultures and types of people are a particular attraction.
The climate of Auckland was also described as a particular asset. “A lot of our culture is about the outdoors,” one said. So you can enjoy your outdoor space and outdoor living in comfort and security.”  Another supported this asserting that the temperate weather of Auckland is “the best in the world. No monsoons and no extremes.” “In Auckland the views are prominent,” another resident said. “People are proud to say, I have a view of (somewhere).” While they described the multiplicity of recreation choices, from surfing and paddle boarding to skydiving, golf and forest walks, they admitted that some forest areas involved a long drive from some locations. Others though perceived access to farmland, beach and bush, as close as ‘ten minutes away’.
Auckland residents understood the city as fragmented with many centres. It is unconnected, new, with little thought, a young, rushed city, full of roads, they said. While there was dispute about urban sprawl and whether there was a retreat away from the city centre, to enable access to shopping in malls in the outer suburbs, there was agreement that the solution to Auckland’s transportation problems was not growth but aiming for sustainability. While a range of urban centres were perceived as peaceful environments and where people lived, a good place for families, they found transport and the city as ‘frustrating and car dominated’.  Residents were critical of city leadership and planning: “Auckland is not future-proofed and not sustainable or resilient. It is not adaptable. For thirty more years the city will be clogged with cars,” they said. “Awful things have been done to Auckland and there is copy and paste of suburbs,” said another. The residents questioned an assumption and intention to grow when, “Auckland can’t handle the current population, so it needs to fix transportation first.” However, while not a ‘Garden of Eden’, they spoke of the “nice corners of Auckland, where you can instead take the prettiest way, the scenic route home.”
There was ambivalence in the focus groups about Auckland as a destination. “People come to Auckland for a shopping trip or to see family, but you are stranded if you have no car,” they said, returning to the fraught issue of transportation and lack of city connectivity. This has also been criticized by international urban designer Jan Gehl in his report card to Auckland Council which was reported thus:19
“Significant work and effort is required for Auckland to lift the bar,” said the report to the council’s city development committee. A main emphasis was on removing street “clutter” which was called fundamental urban design strategy and closely aligned to the goals of making Auckland a more human, connected and beautiful city. Recent transport plans had very good, well-formulated intentions and principles but they needed to have a greater focus on the pedestrian environment and less on private vehicle capacity. The key challenge in Auckland is a change of mindset.”

They did not identify with Auckland and spoke of a disconnection with the city. While they acknowledged that identity is about place and they enjoyed living in Auckland: ”It doesn’t define me as identity. I do not feel like ‘an Aucklander’ and do not think about staying here forever. I need to experience other places.” They implied that Auckland was a stepping off place for the rest of the world for New Zealanders. “A lot of people pass through here. It is a collection of people.”
Their conclusion on branding was that Auckland was a city of harbours and should not be promoted as a City of Sails.The Auckland marketer [19] disagreed with criticism of the strap line City of Sails and spoke of the need to tell the story of the sailing waka coming to Auckland harbours from Polynesia 1000 years ago. He said the story is of the three harbours, of trading and commerce. This resonates with Stone’s20   argument that Auckland, as opposed to a number of other colonial cities which were developed by those with religious or ideological intent, was established by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, so has always taken a commercial and global approach to competition. However, he noted that the City of Sails strap line is no longer used by Auckland Tourism - there is no strap line for Auckland. Instead he said that it was a matter of “getting the right story about what we do”, and about the harbour and imagery and of vistas. “Histories and stories are unique for a city and need to be told by the authentic story tellers, he said”. The story must be credible.
The marketer seemed to agree that there was some ambivalence about Auckland assets. “The Rugby World Cup was the tipping point,” he said.  “People discovered that Auckland was not so bad and Auckland residents are now starting to tell their own stories.” Visitors, he said, come for a reason other than leisure now - for events, and his aim was to encourage visitors to stay longer. He noted theatre galleries and entertainment as well as the multiculturalism and variety of services: assets that do not align so well with the 100% Pure New Zealand marketing campaign. His campaign instead is, ‘The show never stops’ and the show, he said, was the volcano in the ocean, bush, dolphins, a beach at sunset or a visit to an island and wine appreciation, as well as events at night. He agreed that each city in New Zealand competed for the same weekend travel market. For business attraction though he thought that the Auckland lifestyle was the point of difference for the city, together with the views of beach and sea which he saw as ‘so much more appealing.’


How does a city attract the hearts and minds of business, residents and visitors when the multiple resources of a city are not only complex, but also rather similar to many other cities? In addition how does this sit with the successful national tourism campaign of 100% Pure New Zealand, which has been so successful but emphasises the natural, and appears to exclude cities? This is the tension that a marketer faces in trying to identify the points of difference about their cities. While the Auckland marketer thought they were fifteen years behind Wellington marketing in capturing the essence of Auckland, he may have been unnecessarily critical of Auckland’s marketing success as Auckland has only been amalgamated into one large city less than 2 years. The marketer noted that Auckland is now 70% rural and parkland, and so he needed to demonstrate how Auckland Tourism also benefitted those living in the rural areas.
The recent city amalgamations may have affected local residents’ views of the city too, although the marketer also spoke of Auckland as a young city, needing to mature. Referring to the tension between city marketing and the 100% Pure New Zealand brand, the Auckland marketer commented that while this had strongly positioned New Zealand, the challenge was now to convey the message that New Zealand is more than mountains, sheep and hobbits and there is a level of sophistication in Auckland and other centres which can provide for a variety of services. He also thought that New Zealand ‘needed an urban component to the message.’ Auckland needed to develop quality urban architecture and culture. The residents agreed and would also have it that Auckland needs to address infrastructure as a prime issue.
Auckland Tourism appreciated that the landscape and experience of it was important in attracting people (or keeping them), even though the landscape or cultural assets may not have been explicitly referenced in marketing. He asserted that the stories must be told by others and must have authenticity to attract people, be they businesses, domestic or international visitors, or future residents.
Writing last notes to this paper on a sparkling sunny day, while watching a cruising waka scrammed with tourists sail against the tide up the harbour, and observing the wharf below my inner city apartment packed with yesterday’s imports of cars, I can see the tension between celebrating and enhancing cultural diversity and city sustainability; and responding to transportation and commercial demands. I can understand the tension between promoting the natural landscape and competing in markets which are thousands of kilometres away. I recall that my great, great grandfather milled the forests of Henderson and Swanson before he and other successful Auckland businessmen, adopted wiser management, philanthropy and respect for Māori culture as important issues later in life. Even though Auckland has been a home to local people for 1000 years, is still young and brash. Quality urban living and landscape are often given little priority in a city which has cultural and environmental assets but a focus on entrepreneurship.


The natural and intertwined cultural landscape assets of a place attract people, and have done so over many, many, centuries: be it river, harbour, pleasant and productive climate, fertility, or the intangible and sacred. As cities prosper they may then compete with others close by or further away for trade and growth and the competition can benefit all the cities, or draw populations from places perceived to be less favoured. On a global scale many cities have similar assets, be they economic, environmental or cultural and the particular assets of a city must be distinguished to provide what marketers term the point of difference.
Residents of Auckland, including the first arrivals, Māori, recognise the volcanic field, the three harbours, the moderate climate and the natural qualities of beaches and landscapes as features which draw people to Auckland, and in many cases keep them there. These distinctive assets have special values to them and are a basis for their identity and their sense of place. These qualities also align with tourism marketing of ‘clean and green’ and 100% Pure New Zealand, even though many areas of Auckland have infrastructure issues and development which is in no way distinctive or valued.
Auckland Tourism accepted that the complexity of a city’s assets cannot be described in a few words and the particular character of their city needed to be somehow captured and told by the stories of others. This would then have authenticity, and credibility. Focus groups of Auckland residents held similar opinions on a number of aspects to those in marketing and the strong message that needed to conveyed was, as a resident said, ‘About the feeling of the place.’
This pilot project provided some insights but continued investigation as already is regularly undertaken by Auckland Tourism will benefit the city residents and visitors as it ‘grows together’ and enhances its landscape and cultural assets in the future. Only then are the stories likely to carry the authority of integrity and authenticity.