Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

Auckland: The city that sailed

A new report bragging about how cool and grown-up the ‘new’ Auckland is doesn’t even come close to imagining how great this city could be, writes Greg Dixon.

City buildings light up Auckland's skyline. Photo / Greg Bowker
City buildings light up Auckland's skyline. Photo / Greg Bowker

My favourite urban Auckland walk begins at Grafton Station.

Instead of riding the train all the way into Britomart as I mostly do, on fine mornings I jump off at Grafton. My 3km route follows Park Rd, crosses Grafton Bridge to K Rd, goes through St Kevin's Arcade and into Myers Park before I head toward Wyndham St.

There's nothing particularly special or unique about this 40-minute walk, but its mix of sights and sounds always makes my heart sing: the lush playing fields of the Domain with a glimpse of the museum between the mature trees, the smell of coffee and baking from the little cafes and shops in Grafton, the heart-stopping views from Grafton Bridge and the white noise of the cicadas in the nearby pine trees. Across the bridge, after you've fought your way through the hipsters in K Rd, there's the sense of calm and privacy in Myers Park before you're out into the city proper for the final stroll to the office.

When I arrive at work after this ramble I always feel refreshed and optimistic. Even when it's too cold and wet to walk it, thinking about doing it makes me very happy indeed.

Actually, what it makes me is a happy and proud Aucklander - just like the 50 "leading" Aucklanders who took part in a just-published report called "AK2: The Coming of Age of a New Auckland".

These Aucklanders are fair fizzing about how utterly, completely, like, amazing, Auckland is these days. So are the 47 per cent of people surveyed for the AK2 report who said they felt "more proud" of Auckland than they did a decade ago.

So what's making everyone feel so darn upbeat about Auckland? Well, this 66-page report, put together by a former advertising guy, counts six reasons. After chatting with these 50 Aucklanders, he concludes the city's new supercalifragilisticexpialadocious-ness is because "we are emphatically multicultural"; "we are a 'doing' people"; "our style is one of 'informal excellence'"; "we have an 'open-collar' approach to work"; "we have 'indie' sensibilities" and "we face out to the world."

The trouble is, that having read AK2, the only thing I was really surprised about was how blokey and emphatically un-multicultural it is. Two-thirds of those sharing their thoughts are men, while about 90 per cent of the 50 participants appeared to be Pakeha.

They're old, too. At a guess, only two or three are under 30, and no one appears to be under 20. Meanwhile, in terms of what these people are "leading" in, there is a disproportionately high number of businesspeople (particularly in the eating and drinking business) with the rest a sprinkling of bods from the rag trade, broadcasting, journalism, the arts, politics and academia.

Now, of course, none of this is the fault of the excellent and worthy folk who talked to the ex-advertising guy about how wonderful Auckland is, though I was at a loss to explain some of their comments. For example, Sam Chapman, a bar owner, says "our restaurants are the mirror that allows us to see ourselves ... " To which I'd say "only if the restaurants have mirrors".

Then there is shoe designer Kathryn Wilson, who says: "If you live anywhere within a $10 cab ride from the city you feel like you're in the middle of everything." To which I say: that's because you are in the middle of everything; a $10 cab ride from the CBD won't get you out of the CBD.

Elsewhere, Mayor Len Brown raves, like some over-caffeinated Mussolini, that "Auckland is the coffee-making capital of the world, we have the greatest cafes making the greatest coffee". Viva il Duce!

And finally there is the chairwoman of Mighty River Power, Joan Withers, who concludes that these days, "I think people at all income levels go out [to eat at restaurants] generally. It might be to the Lone Star in Pukekohe, but people are going out." Got to love that "might", got to adore that "but".

Of course, AK2 makes no claims to be the last word on anything, not least who eats at Lone Star in Pukekohe. It has a short disclaimer saying it can't be all-encompassing, admits "Auckland has its problems" and that "this report in no way intends to ignore or marginalise these issues" before going on to mostly ignore them.

But enough nitpicking. Actually, I've been quite inspired by AK2. And, though I'm not a "leading" Aucklander, I have, during a walk into town from Grafton, formulated my own exciting ideas to make Auckland even more awesome.

For a start, we should change the city's name. "Auckland" is so dull. I think the city needs to have a name that speaks to its hopes and dreams and also means we will no longer be called Dorklanders. So I propose that instead of Auckland our city should be called Globalaspirations and our slogan be "Welcome to Globalaspirations, where striving to be noticed by people overseas never stops".

You have to agree this is impressive and groundbreaking - and so, too, is my second idea. The city of Globalaspirations should break away - quite literally - from the rest of New Zealand and float out to sea a bit so we really do "face out to the world" - and we don't have to look at the rest of New Zealand or hear them calling us Jafas.

Once we've done these two things - rename ourselves and move - we can really start making this an international city.

My next best idea is for Lorde to be made our Lorde Mayor so the world will know how cool the floating city of Globalaspirations really is. Royals should then be made the city's anthem and every child will be taught the words to all Lorde's song and have to learn how to do her weird, seizure-like dance.

Next, the city of Globalaspirations needs to tell the world about its global aspirations. So Globalaspirations Council will need a Department of Globalaspirations Propaganda, dedicated to instagramming every square inch of the city (with a sub-department to secretly "like" every photo and comment about how "#totesamazeballs" the city looks).

We need a tourist attraction other than the Sky Tower, so I think we should scrap the city rail loop and go for something more cool and tourist-friendly like a working scale model of the Raurimu Spiral - it'll be like starting the trip to Henderson on a roller coaster!

Other thoughts? Well, Len Brown and chef Al Brown should say "to hell with it" and tie the knot.

Mr and Mr Brown will finally bring together the only two types of people who apparently matter in this town: restaurateurs and those who have been caught using their business credit card to buy expensive dinners.

Speaking of dinner, I know we have a lot of places to eat in Auckland already - by my estimation there are three cafes for each Aucklander - but we need more of them because, if I read AK2 correctly, the shared plate is the new benchmark of civilisation.

Also, you can never have enough places doing Mexican foods. With this in mind, I propose that one home in every street be knocked down and replaced with a hip eating joint serving coffee, sliders, fish tacos and craft beer so that no citizen or tourist is ever further than a five-minute walk from the latest food trend.

Finally, as AK2 points out, we have an "open collar" approach to life, but we need to make the city even more laid-back and super cool than it is.

I think Globalaspirations Council should have a secret death squad to do away with anyone who looks uptight or is found wearing a suit and tie. Meanwhile, the same squad could blow up restaurants and frock shops that refuse to have exposed brick feature walls, distressed industrial interior design or outdoor seating.

These are just a few ideas to start us off. But I can assure you, as the weather comes right and I have more opportunities to walk to work from Grafton,

I will have even better ideas for the coming of age of the new city of Globalaspirations, ideas that will finally put us on the map.

- NZ Herald

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