Richard Moore: City needs to look after its young

By Richard Moore

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So Tauranga is going to be an age-friendly city - the first one in the land.

That's great news. But what does it mean?

Is it for young people? The middle-aged? Or the elderly? Which age are we talking about?

Well, after a bit of research, it seems it refers to the old, so it should be aged-friendly.

But despite the vagaries of the title, the aims are good: to provide opportunities for older people to participate fully in city life and live independently for as long as possible in their own home and community.

And both really are important for the health of a city, as society needs to keep our elderly as fit and active as possible, for as long as possible, to not only reduce health and residential care costs but also to keep them living enjoyable and fun lives.

On my beach walks, I regularly see troops of grey-haired folk strolling off down the sands, having a great time of getting some fresh air and the company of others.

And on my irregular struggles up the Mount, I marvel at the old folk who zoom by me like Nairo Quintana on the mountain stages of the Tour de France.

Within three years there will be more old folk in Tauranga than younger people, and by 2031 fully a quarter of the population will be 65 years plus.

The whole population demographic is interesting for this city, because we are badly skewed in the age stakes.

Lots of oldies, lots of families, but fewer and fewer working adults in the 20-40 age group. Many of them have left the city, looking for better opportunities elsewhere - either work in Auckland or in Australia, or cheaper housing in other parts of the country.

That leaves a massive hole in our society where the bulk of those with lots of discretionary money have gone, taking their spending power with them.

Monetary matters aside, there is another group in this city we need to add to the age-friendly basket - and that is teenagers.

Yes, I know they can be noisy and obnoxious, but you can understand their frustration in a city that doesn't cater for their needs. There are too few events for teens going on in Tauranga and, if something is happening, it is hard for them to get to it by public transport.

We need to create a couple of hubs in our town for youth, and two that come to mind are the Historic Village and the old Cosmopolitan Club near Blake Park.

I can see the Historic Village as being a great place for bands, a supervised skateboard park, possibly a big outdoors movie screen so young folk can have a great time while being supervised.

The Cossie Club could be a great indoors venue with music, DJ, pool tables, food, ping-pong tables, foam machine, smoke machine. Drinks but not alcohol. Nearby could be a climbing wall.

Both venues could have youth drop-in centres to help those who ask for it.

These needn't be expensive to set up and run but do require a bit of political will and, of course, community buy-in.

Safety for those attending would be of major importance and police would need to be part of the planning.

We all know that there are stupid people about who like to cause trouble. If they don't behave, or major trouble gets caused, then the whole idea would need to be looked at.

I'm sure if the council got together with churches, which do a terrific job with young people, things could happen quickly, safely and well.

It would also mean organising with bus companies to run more regular weekend services - say every half hour - and take in places such as the Cossie Club, Tect Arena and the Historic Village.

The buses would also have to run late, so teens could go out and then get home again.

Subsidies may be in order, but these things can be worked on for the betterment of our youth.

They are a very much neglected part of this city, and yet are such an important element to the soul and vibrancy of Tauranga.

Young people don't tend to vote and so get ignored by politicians, who will aim any unmarked dollars towards keeping electors happy.

Those in our society who are in contact with youth need to get them signing on to the electoral roll, so they can stand up and say: "Here we are. We have a voice and we want to be listened to." And a city with active, happy and included young people will be such a better place to live.

richard@richardmoore.com

Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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