Anthony Grant: Welcome to the City of Cells - lagging behind everyone else

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Anthony Grant. Photo / Supplied
Anthony Grant. Photo / Supplied

Many people will have seen an aesthetic eyesore rising from the grounds of Mt Eden Prison.

It's a high rise prison. It's about as ugly a building as you could imagine and it's being built literally within spitting distance of the busiest section of the country's roading system. About 165,000 vehicles will pass it each day. Most of the tourists who travel between the airport and the CBD will pass beneath the shadow of this ugly tower block.

The windows don't have any bars at present but this will change and it will be obvious to everyone that this is a huge prison. When tourists realise this, what will they think? That the "City of Sails" is actually the "City of Crime"? That while every other country tries to hide its prisons here we're so proud of them that we put them at the places of greatest prominence. That the "Clean, Green" country is so full of crime we have to build high rise buildings to house all its criminals? Prisons are ugly utilitarian buildings which are associated with unpleasantness and it was no doubt for this reason that the existing prison has been hidden from view by screens.

The mayor may hold it was a government decision to build a larger prison on land that it owns and that he's powerless to stop it.

The city council will say that the building complies with its rules for building - and anyway, what's wrong with it? It was, after all, the city council that built the ugliest building in Auckland (its own office building), the bland and unimaginative Aotea Centre, and which has approved the construction of so many featureless and uninspiring buildings. Its credentials for assessing the architectural merit of buildings are close to zero.

The Minister of Tourism will say it was a decision of the previous government and although he doesn't like the building, and recognises the harm it is likely to cause to both Auckland's and the country's reputation, it is too expensive to stop the project.

Is this what we expect of our leaders?

A true leader of Auckland would not tolerate this development. Robbie (Sir Dove-Myer Robinson) was the last mayor of Auckland who had a passion for the city and who was willing to fight the battles that matter - and this is surely one of them.

If John Banks wants to show his credentials as a deserving candidate for the super city mayoralty he should prove it and find a way to stop this development.

Fortunately, the Minister of Tourism is also the Prime Minister and he has the power to stop this project. If he doesn't, he will be sending a message to the world that all the attractions of the country can't hide the truth that it has so much crime we have to build a high rise building, alongside the busiest road in the country, to contain all the criminals.

Auckland has had a succession of leaders who seem to care more for power and prestige than they do for the city they serve. We need leaders who have a passion for the city. People who understand that buildings, and the impression they make, matter.

If this building is allowed to be completed, we will be mocked. The authorities in Sydney built the Opera House, those in Melbourne built Federation Square. What do they do here? They are so culturally bereft that they build as one of Auckland's major landmarks, a high rise monolithic prison from which it is likely that the prisoners will try to spit on the tourists and citizens who travel below.

Anthony Grant is an Auckland City resident and ratepayer.

- NZ Herald

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