My Auckland: Mt Eden

Dave Watson tells Elisabeth Easther what he loves about living in Mt Eden - and asks not just what his community can do for him, but what he can do for it

Dave Watson on top of Mt Eden in Auckland this morning. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Dave Watson on top of Mt Eden in Auckland this morning. Photo / Sarah Ivey

We used to live in Kingsland, but it was hard to find a family sized house with a bit of land there. So when we moved to Mt Eden, it felt like we were moving out to the 'burbs, like there was going to be a commute.

But it was that stage of life where you start a family and your life changes, so we opted for the quarter acre pavlova paradise - although it's more martini than pavlova. Mt Eden itself is a classic village and, hopefully, it won't change too much with the unitary plan. There are lots of local business that've been able to sustain themselves in the face of the mall invasion.

Down at the Balmoral end of things, it's an ethnic extravaganza, with restaurants and Asian businesses - and down towards Sandringham it's more Indian, a very interesting hood all round.

I used to be an art director in the film industry, mainly working on TV commercials. I saw that in a world of declining resources and increasing demands, things were starting to get pinched and needed to change. So I decided I wanted to work in an area that promoted sustainability. I went and got my first "real job" as an energy consultant, advising people how to make their houses more energy efficient.

And now I'm studying sustainable practices.

I recently initiated a street-level community engagement project, encouraging streets to get together and create more resilient communities. The project is called Super Hood and it started when our neighbours on both sides started to share quite a bit. Once a week, one family would cook a meal for the other two families, so one night a week you wouldn't need to worry about cooking. Then we started sharing resources like lawnmowers, then we talked about how to extend that to the street.

And I saw an opportunity - I surveyed our street and found out what people were interested in doing, at what level they were prepared to connect and share, what their energy and food habits were, and looked into issues surrounding transport, water, waste, all those key things.

One thing was clear: everyone was interested in having a party. We had a Neighbours' Day party and about 100 people turned up, there was a band and a bouncy castle. Two people on the street had lived there for 30 and 39 years respectively - and they met for the first time at that party. We've now got bees in two properties through the community project. Two houses have chickens, there's a school walking bus set up off the back of this, and street barbecues. People love it.

My view is, if things start to get harder, we'll need to rely on each other much more. We're looking at more audacious initiatives, maybe a shared garden, possible localised energy production. Now we know each other, we can have those conversations. We even do "cow pooling", going shares in a beast.

I think of Maungawhau/Mt Eden as my mountain. I get up at 5.30am at least three days a week and start the day by running up there. Doesn't matter if it's stormy or sunshiny, it's magical to get up there and see Auckland waking up. And there are so many ways to go up it - there are lots of little bush walks around Mt Eden. There are plenty of little playgrounds scattered about too. Centennial Park is our closest, a tucked away neighbourhood park. There are about three tennis clubs within cooee of here. Another great resource is the Mt Eden Village Community Centre. It was an old church but its congregation was shrinking, so they were going to demolish it and put in shops; but a joint effort between church, community and council saw the building saved and restored. It still operates as a church and is a thriving community centre used for all sorts of things.

There's the Clip 'N Climb and The Candy Man. Time Out Books is great for kids and adults, it's a fantastic independent book store with a cat on the counter. They have a great kids' section, and the most amazing staff.

The Sandringham Farmers' Market is held once a month at the Sandringham Community Centre. The Capitol Cinema is amazing, it's the old Charlie Grey's, and so much better than the mass theatres, and is a great place for a beer or a coffee even if you're not seeing a movie.

There are heaps of ethnic restaurants; you can even do food tours, Gourmet Joy is doing a Chinatown one today. The Essential Deli on Mt Eden road is fantastic, artisan bakery. Wild Wheat is also amazing. There is so much here.

I could live elsewhere, I could live on a classic 10-acre block, but for now we've decided to use the resources we've got and be part of the solution, not the problem.

Dave's suggestions

Time Out Books: 432 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden. Ph (09) 630 3331.

Capitol Cinema: 610 Dominion Rd, Balmoral. Ph (09) 623 200.

Mt Eden Village Community Centre: 449 Mt Eden Rd Mt Eden. Ph (09) 631 0678.

Essential Deli: 455 Mt Eden Rd Mt Eden. Ph (09) 630 6793

Joy's Gourmet Tours:

Dave's project for sustainable practice:

- NZ Herald

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