Something of a turning point


    Auckland’s relationship to central government is that of a slave and slave-owner, according to Mayor Wayne Brown, which makes him Auckland’s first mayor in more than three decades to openly cavil at the weight of financial demands and tinkerings from Wellington.

    He wants the new government to get out of Auckland decision-making and treat it like a ‘regional government’ again, not a local council. Central government’s “Roads of ‘National Party’ Significance”, currently being plotted for Auckland being a case in point.

    It’s crucial that there is ongoing pressure to get the new government to treat Auckland respectfully and as the gigantic enterprise it is, he says, as Auckland planning comes under the thumb of central government’s new cabinet with, again, an ACT party cabinet minister at the helm of local government.

    The government’s cutbacks look like “a good bit of revenge politics at the moment, good on them … but there are consequences to that,” he has said. “We’re just going to have to cut out a whole lot of things, and a consequence of that will be, ‘Oh shit, where are all those buses gone?’

    “You can’t just suddenly do a motorway in Mill Rd because it got a lot of votes in Papakura, unless it works out sensibly within the rest of [the plan]. Just rushing a whole lot of people in Papakura into a traffic jam in Manukau City makes no sense at all.”

    Similar ad hoc craziness has not been lost on island residents since the late 1980s.

    We now have a finfish farm consented in the Waikato right on the once-astoundingly abundant tideline of the Firth of Thames, its marine mammals and fish stocks depleted to extinction levels.

    It seems the mayor has actually ‘got’ us out here in the gulf, our perspectives looking towards a magnificent and richly endowed city with an enviable quality of life on the horizon.

    “Auckland Council actually covers the most densely populated area in New Zealand, being the CBD, where as mayor I live, but it is also the largest rural council and includes two main islands, Waiheke and Aotea Great Barrier, so this summer break I decided to take my boat to visit these low-density outposts with my wife,” he said in February.

    “How it came about that the heavily populated CBD is in the same electorate as these two islands is a mystery. Massive vineyard estates mix with humble shacks, boat dwellers, and a curious absence of the middle class. I had a coffee with their equally curious councillor, Mike Lee, who is a friendly mix of local flavour and old-fashioned socialism.”

    It may be something of a turning point, this process of actually getting thoroughly acquainted with the ‘jewels’ of the city that officials scatter through copious report-writing as a prelude to stomping out any new presumption on the part of citizen stewardship.

    Even worse is the town planning culture which has left us with a huge percentage of empty houses and an extreme housing crisis.

    At successive public meetings and private initiatives for years now, we have been crying out for fresh thinking to stop the inevitable social engineering and churn of families driven off the island by the inexorable pressures of high rents, quite unconscionable inflation and dwindling access to property ownership.

    This isn’t the time for small thinking or a knee-jerk ideology that leaves wider citizen wellbeing (and funding) to be trampled at the feet of the great god of extractive economics: ‘The Economy’.

    It’s had its day and we need to be building better and more intelligently, using the best of experiments and structures being developed elsewhere in the world. And our own history.

    There are emerging trends overseas of inner city developments that improve the quality of life with access to their own hubs with a lot of local services, more natural ecology for reducing CO2 emissions, more economical activities and space to develop more social inclusion, culture, education and public space.

    We had it. It worked. Nobody was intentionally left behind. Public transport was not hanging in an ideological breeze. University education didn’t beggar families. Food and flowers were grown locally and taken to market by the morning train.

    And in the good news this week, on a busy afternoon sailing, I realised I was aboard the Quickcat, that first, great, happy vessel that brought the island immense comfort, 35-minute sailings and a pretty fabulous passage through the inner gulf. For decades.

    She never felt like a crowded bus on a wet day, as the crammed seating of the smaller ferries do, and delivered travellers to their destinations at either end in good order. Conversation and social interaction was well in evidence after years of chimeric sightings and gloomy rumours. Enjoy! • Liz Waters

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