Auckland is a city approaching one million in population celebrating in1990 one hundred and fifty years of partnership between indigenous Maorisand settlers from Europe as well as other Pacific Islands. The 'City of Sails'Auckland has a fine harbour and Its urban areas are all within reach of thesea. A pleasant climate, combined with employment opportunities, has madethe city an attractive focus for immigration. The predominant housing mode is low density, detached housing reflectingthe abundance of land and the wide use of private vehicles. The dominantculture is European and the style of government 'Westminster' yet thecountry borders the Pacific and over ten percent of citizens are ofPolynesian origin.This paper has three aims:(i) Introduce readers to the city by means of suburban prototyping basedon census data(ii) extend awareness of the quality of life differences by a focus on healthparameters in South Auckland(ill) draw attention to the need for greater flexibility in housing policy tomeet a wider range cultural and economic needs in the communityThere are many ways to begin to understand a city . Through the soles ofones' feet to hovering in a helicopter , each approach gives insights of greatvalue tro understanding the complex processes of urban life.One way of coming to grips with the apparent chaos is by composition e.g.isolating small units and then finding a pattern in their distribution.In the first section of the paper , 'Characterisation of Urban Auckland1976', population census data gathered in 1976 Is used to establish thebuilding blocks of which the city seems to be composed.Because traditional census tabulations hinder rather than helpunderstanding, some further transformation of data Is required. In themethodology described in the paper, data on the 168 census area units(CAU) of the city is related to a standard, e.g. total population , ranked andmapped. Items which are patently part of the quality of life are used to testthe similarity of any suburb (CAU) to each of eight prototype locations.This methodology produced a preliminary listing of the extent andcomposition of areas of similar character in Auckland.Section 2 Is more finely focussed on South Auckland, one of four submetropolitan of urban Auckland. The character analysis described above isuseful preparation for the discussion in this section of the health status,1986-88, of the area . Health is of course only one of many factors whichreflect the quality of life and life chances of residents, but It is clearly ofprimary importance in the interpretation of any built environment. The extent to which health related parameters differ from one suburb toanother Is marked in South Auckland. The picture shows a distressingconcentration of problems In localities where there is a high proportion ofunemployed, small children , overcrowding etc. From the characterisationanalysis it can also be established that the same locations have high levels ofstate rental housing occupied largely Maori and Pacific Island tenants.The long term implications of this set of conditions are highly disturbing andwarrant urgent policy reappraisal both in the fields of social welfare andhousing. The final section of the paper looks briefely at the problems of'tenant for life' families unable and perhaps increasingly unwilling to movethe 'steps' between the main forms of housing tenure are too high. The caseis made for housing policy changes which will break the debilitating effectsof well-meaning but inappropriate controls; increase self-reliance; andintroduce opportunities for 'sweat squity' capital formation. Neighbourhoodpriority setting, cooperative administration as well as cultural sensivityare additional elements in the chalenging exercise of transforming thecurrently impassable 'steps' into an enriching 'incline'.