I’ve found my heart bleeding for small retailers and hospitality businesses pretty much every time I’ve gone to the inner city in the past five years. The glacially slow rate of progress on the inner city rail link came with cones, the chain fences and interminable bus jams in streets lined with sordid plywood boardwalks and swathed in scaffolding. Foot traffic had disappeared and negotiating the wasteland to schedule was a nightmare.
In the 1990s, Oneroa’s businesses suffered a similar devastation when the then Auckland City closed their main street without notice for an unconscionable nine months while new seal was repeatedly dug up and relaid, patched, and left for a month or two, while bleak-eyed shopkeepers and restaurants starved.
Today’s motorway lights in the village remain to remind us of that debacle, the council having belatedly realised that, with the equally late-breaking surprise of undergrounding power (after the seal program was complete), there were no longer power poles to hang street lights on.
So, as posh Viaduct streetscapes got new, state of the art lights, we found ourselves with a job lot of motorway surplus.
The main trouble with centralisation of power, civic or national, is that it doesn’t get you an organism that learns from its mistakes.
There are no consequences and the shuffling off of risk (and expenditure) by a managerial bureaucracy becomes a culture in itself. It also breeds a convenient sense of powerlessness that we didn’t know until 30 years ago but which is now all that younger citizens have experienced
If it seems we are caught in a roil of uneasy currents and dissatisfactions, it may be as much a response to this intractable mess as it is to the realisation that we are no longer pulling in a comfortable team of five million and the Covid battle is not won.
We need work – in the sense of ambition and intelligence – and with local government elections coming up in the next year, we need to be searching out leaders who can think of a dozen better uses of the better part of a billion dollars than a specious and massively over-priced walk and cycle lane for our harbour bridge. Or the weird programme to get to the airport by tram which would inflict the same deadly hubris on Dominion Road that has eviscerated the CBD.
We need robust debate on groundbreaking architectural solutions to transforming brown-fields redevelopment into wholesome living environments; maybe a whole new, purpose-built satellite city (not urban sprawl) out in the south-west. With rail and infrastructure and generous liveability designed in.
A city council that’s fit for purpose would not be selling off local parks to pay corporate-sized wages, or inner city and waterfront assets as “surplus to requirements” with no eye to the future. The sale of the (increasingly horrible-looking) port is becoming a fait accompli by the sheer insistence of quasi-official say-so.
Before we elect another mayor, we could demand answers on specific ways to implement the Local Government Act as it relates to the empowerment of communities to make decisions for themselves, for the present and for the future. It’s all there. The time-worn intention gets trotted out but never makes it past the bureaucratic fine-print.
Most often because it doesn’t sit with the austerity narrative which, of course, is now out of date, in theory at least.
There is plenty around to say that whatever happens, society and the post-Covid world won’t be the same as before. Whether it is better or worse (depending on one’s viewpoint) will reflect the amount of intentionality and empowerment citizens apply to generating a fresh, more workable post-austerity framework for society, to the betterment of their small piece of it.
We now know that there is plenty of money. Banks print the stuff and Covid’s profits to the already rich have been stratospheric. Our Reserve Bank’s recent data indicates the New Zealand economy remains robust despite the ongoing impact from international border restrictions. Aggregated economic activity is above its pre-Covid level; household spending and construction activity are at high levels and continue to grow; business investment is now responding to capacity pressures and labour shortages; and measures of economic confidence continue to improve, it said.
Actually, surviving central city business owners are showing remarkable resilience dealing with the real-life pain of living in a poorly run city. By comparison, the mayor has shuffled off the mess to central government, again when we need competent action and red-blooded advocacy for ratepayer and citizen interests.
What’s not to like about making sure we even up the balance for everyone this time round. It would certainly improve our tempers. • Liz Waters