Charles Ma is a developer who’s rebuilding communities; now, he says, New Zealand as a whole needs to rebuild a society defined by unaffordable living, loneliness and alienation, homelessness, incarceration, joblessness and inaction on climate change.

The task facing US President-elect Joe Biden is Herculean. Restoring a sense of nationhood and supporting middle and lower income families in the midst of a worsening pandemic is not a job for the faint-hearted.

The Biden team will bring new frameworks and urgent approaches to collaborating and sharing – this is a situation where all hands are needed on deck; federal and state governments, private sector entities and non-government organisations.

New Zealand too will benefit from a fundamental rethink of the way our Government and productive sectors communicate and collaborate. While our borders are closed, we must not build moats. While physically we are islands, in all other ways of working we need to be connected.

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New Zealand is on a path to build a better society given our natural, social, entrepreneurial and political advantages. Our society is not seriously fractured, as our fault lines are geological rather than social or cultural.

New Zealand has been called a ‘high-trust’ society, with broad respect for our institutions, a fact best evidenced by our community’s response to the pandemic: a team of five million prepared to follow and sacrifice for the greater good of our neighbours.

But we do need to rebuild, as like so many other countries we deal with the iniquitous consequences of our previous generations’ decision-making: unaffordable living, loneliness and alienation homelessness, incarceration, joblessness and action on climate change. A home and a life of dignity should be available to all.

To effect change, we must, like President-elect Biden, fundamentally rethink the way Government, councils and private sector collaborate and communicate in order to build communities in a different, more holistic way.

Building a society that works for everyone starts from the ground up and, as a city-maker, this is a personal calling of mine. I believe in building a real inheritance, rather than transactional real estate; I believe in digging deep to nurture the roots of our common humanity, rather than exploiting our environment and subdividing our communities.

I understand readers who are sceptical of such aspirational altruism from an urban developer. People often think developers are only in it for the money, and while some are, we are, at heart, builders.

If in doubt, take a close look at the communities my team and I are building: Auranga in Drury and Rotokauri, north of Hamilton. These are projects designed to deliver housing families can afford, generate green spaces and services employment, be interconnected through rail and streets, and deliver community amenities that provide a more economically, culturally, socially and environmentally sustainable standard of living for generations to come.

Auranga, our flagship development, has 2.5 times the area committed to the public realm compared to conventional urban developments: 3.5km of coastal walkways and cycleways, more than 300,000m² of open spaces and a range of family-centric facilities (parks, playgrounds, marine infrastructure).

A primary school is due to open in 12 months, sites for a secondary school have been purchased, a dedicated village centre and a lake-centred town centre serviced by a new West Drury Rail Station will be developed, medical facilities committed and the street network has been designed so 75% of all our residents live within five minutes’ walk to the rail transport hub and/or local amenities.

When complete, Auranga will be home to 120,000 people, a significant community of scale within the metropolis of Auckland that adheres to our four pillars of creation: place, people, prosperity and purpose.

This is a new way of community building, a better way of living that meets the needs of our evolving nation and indeed the world; opportunities and hope for a life of dignity.

I’m pleased to see that many of my values are reflected in the new Government’s policies for creating a better society, intersecting with portfolios in housing, transport, urban planning, wellbeing, environment, diversity, employment and economic development. I’m looking forward to engaging with the new Government over better ways to develop our urban environments and build new communities for a better country.

The question in my mind is whether our Government is truly committed to transformative change and new ways of building our society. Or are they going to continue to tinker around the edges, ameliorating the worst impacts of poverty and unaffordability but retaining a devil-take-the-hindmost form of capitalism and its bitter fruit of a growing social underclass, poisoned waterways and air?

I believe that every individual, every relationship, every family is precious, worthy of respect and destined for love. Therefore, things must change in our cities.

To effect change, we must, like President-elect Biden, fundamentally rethink the way Government, councils and private sector collaborate and communicate in order to build communities in a different, more holistic way.

The future is in all of our hands. We just need the courage to seize this new chapter for the nation we long to become.

* Charles Ma is the founder of MADE Group (Ma Development Enterprises)

Founder and chief executive of Ma Development Enterprises, developing communities at Auranga and Rotokauri.

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