18 September 2020

See the journey not just the destination

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Gez Johns / gez@nwkcom.co.nz

We’ve undoubtedly taken some significant strides forward in the way we plan and build our major new infrastructure projects here in New Zealand, notably in recognising Te Ao Māori and the spectre of climate change.

But where I think we still don’t quite get it is through the construction period, where the onus remains very much on mitigating impact.

You only need take a walk through Auckland today to see how ready we are to sacrifice the present to build the future.

Too often we try to engineer a way to get by; to provide a shallow version of the past – a narrowed footpath, or stop/go traffic management for our most precious inner city cars – until the future, beautiful as it may be, is ready. And then it becomes almost the sole focus of the communications and engagement team to promote this mitigation.

However, I don’t believe that engagement should be viewed as a means to an end. Rather it should be seen as an opportunity, afforded by progress, to build stronger relationships, enhance reputations and, importantly, inspire and empower communities to love where they live or work.

Major infrastructure projects can take years to deliver – and so for many, the time spent experiencing change, as children or adults, will define their relationship with that area. Bringing delight to disruption is therefore integral to a region’s reputation and ongoing social and economic viability. And so this should be the engagement priority … celebrating the journey, not just the destination.

All this starts with shifting the dial. From apologising for disruption, to celebrating it.

Major construction will invariably alter the existing physical space around it, defining the present as different from the past and the future. So why not treat it differently? Why not use this period to create memorable experiences, interactive pop-up spaces, themed walkways, night markets … things that enable the city to keep breathing, rather than to hold its breath.

Major project teams are often challenged to create a legacy. This doesn’t have to be delivered in built form. Indeed a project’s greatest legacy can be how its delivery is remembered, rather than how it’s received on completion.