Nickie Muir: Are we boxing below our weight?

By Nickie Muir

Many mayoral candidates have made the Hundertwasser their campaign issue.
Many mayoral candidates have made the Hundertwasser their campaign issue.

It's odd that anyone would hail a toilet block as the economic saviour or inspiration of an entire town.

It may be a sign of the cultural poverty we feel, evident in town planning within Northland, that we would turn to an Austrian painter and redesign one town around his ideas and hang our hopes on him in another.

It's all the more surprising because we are not culturally or artistically poor. Northland is one of the richest creative centres that I have lived in and, for a country that is short on Pakeha history - the story starts right here. From a Maori perspective (and for obvious reasons I don't have one), I have never understood why Northland's flashy cuz down the road, Rotovegas, gets all the limelight.

Perhaps it's the lack of public buildings here that hold a genuine conversation with the communities that hold them; a place for visitors to enter the cultural dialogue and feel a part of it all. It is true that our civic and national leaders have deigned to build ever bigger police stations, court houses and jails in the 10 years I've been in the North, but I'm not sure that these are architectural conversations with community that young people or visitors really enjoy being a part of.

The one building which is phenomenally successful is our local library. Librarians took part in the design decisions and there is a clear sense that open and genuine consultation with the people prevailed.

"The architects", said one librarian, "asked what we and the public wanted because they really wanted to know - it wasn't a box ticking, give a submission and we'll ignore it exercise - our ideas ended up in the design."

Good public design done well and a genuine asset, not a maintenance liability. I don't believe graffiti is an issue where buildings are beautiful, loved and wanted.

While many mayoral candidates have made the Hundertwasser their campaign issue - and there is a validity in this given it has come to represent dysfunctional process - it is not the whole story.

When a businessman whose prime business is construction sends 500 emails endorsing a candidate who has been vocal in supporting the Hundertwasser it raises the question whether that company will tender for the contract should that candidate win. We're back to old school Northland politics rather than a genuine open debate, or even a discussion of alternatives like the Hihiaua arts project.

These local elections, two big issues underpin everything connected to real world growth and responsible development. One is water. Its use. Our waterways. Its potential abuse.

It underpins every single aspect of our economic and social well-being and therefore our future. The other is outlined in the Unicef plan to get all cities and their leaders to sign up to the guidelines that will give their community "Child and Youth friendly" status. The numbers tells us that unless we engage and support our youth into constructive futures - we are, as a community, toast.

I still haven't voted. I'm still trying to work out who is going to provide functional leadership around those two key development issues. If we get the right leadership on those tough nuts - negotiating the right arts centre for our community will be a piece of cake.

- Northern Advocate

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