Marie Aschenbrenner

Urban Environmental Ethics on the City Edge: Making Ethical Citizens for a ‘Blue Backyard’ (Auckland) 

Once dubbed the ‘Water City of the South Pacific’ (Toy 1977), Auckland, New Zealand is a port city, with over 3,700 km of coastline. Its 1.6 million inhabitants enjoy immediate access to not one but three harbors plus the Firth of Thames and the Hauraki Gulf, itself encompassing over 4,000 km2 of sea edged by numerous islands and beaches. Aucklanders have a long and rich relation to the Hauraki Gulf. But in recent years reports of significant overfishing, pollution, sedimentation, and habitat loss have increasingly clouded this relationship. The problems are likely to intensify in the following years when population growth for the Auckland region is predicted to reach 2.5 million inhabitants in 2041.

Against this background, a group of experts coordinated the four-year participatory planning process "Sea Change - Tai Timu Tai Pari" for the Hauraki Gulf which resulted in the 2016 marine spatial plan and report of the same name. The plan’s aim is to create a healthy, attractive and more economically productive gulf for which it not only proposes a spatial planning approach but a new governance structure and code of conduct for the Gulf, backed by ethical statements and claims. At the same time, the plan can be read as a re-mapping of the city and the marine space. The report maps the city of Auckland in terms of its effects upon its edge environment, visualizing ‘city’ and ‘backyard’ as integrated and in need of responsible ethics of care. By embedding the concept of kaitiakitanga, which is often translated as guardianship or stewardship but rather describes the innate, genealogical relationship (whakapapa) of Māori to land and water leading to an ethic and practice of protection and conservation of the natural environment, as well as new co-governance structures, the question arises if Sea Change cannot just be interpreted as a re-mapping towards environmental values but towards Māori values, practices, and customs? Questions that arise and will be followed are thus: How has the process of Sea Change evolved? Who were the bargaining parties and actors? How have Māori ethics, values, and tikanga become embedded in the planning, and in a framework of guardianship and stewardship for the Gulf? As the implementation is still pending: What problems and difficulties are faced when putting the plan into practice? And what potential does the plan have to change existing structures in resource management such as resource rights and ownership?