Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Unitary Plan debate - where baby boomers heckle the young

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Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey

At least there was one good headline for Auckland this week, with news of a third placing in a list of "the world's most liveable city".

The outgoing - in both senses of the word - mayor Len Brown, has long trumpeted the ambition of making Auckland the world's "most liveable city", so well done him. But scanning the list of the most liveable cities, as compiled by a recruitment agency, it seems clear that their (secret) criteria for "liveability" do not include being interesting. Or, to put it another way, Frankfurt comes in at number seven, New York at 44.

But quibbles aside, hurrah - third most liveable city in the world! Whatever it actually means, it's worth celebrating; if only because the more conspicuous Auckland news this week, as encapsulated in a seven-hour extraordinary council meeting, suggests we've got a good shot at a high ranking in any list of the world's most laughable cities.

With all the enthusiasm of a child sipping cod liver oil, I dipped in and out of the meeting livestream, to witness the council splutter its way towards a 13-8 vote to withdraw some changes to the council's Unitary Plan, which would have provided for greater density in some suburbs, as submitted to the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP).

If nothing else, the painfully long meeting brought new meaning to Auckland Council's slogan "The Show that Never Stops".

It was possible to have sympathy for all sides: the affected homeowners who filled the public seating had every right to argue their case, and are quite reasonably pissed off they had not been consulted before the council delivered its "out of scope" proposal. It is unfair, too, to cast these property owners as avaricious - their underlying motivation, it seems to me, concerns conserving a neighbourhood status quo, rather than further swelling property values.

I even felt for the council. A bit. They say the out-of-scope up-zoning was necessitated by new information showing the Unitary Plan as it stood would leave Auckland tens of thousands of houses short of what is required to cope with the ballooning population. They say they may now not be able to appear before the statutory IHP at all, and that the panel could even decide upon much greater intensification.

But it is possible to feel utterly appalled by the lot of them for a colossal, collective failure. Bernard Hickey, the journalist and Herald columnist who, bless him, endured the meeting in its entirety, summed it up: "I'm watching an utterly dysfunctional group of people deciding not to solve a core problem at the heart of NZ's economy and social fabric." Put in those terms, it is hard not to conclude: a plague on all their houses, especially the half-empty inner-suburb mansions.

One exception to that: the young people from Generation Zero and the Youth Advisory Panel, who told the meeting they and their peers despair at the prospect of a sprawling Auckland in which home ownership is a pipe dream. Whether or not you agree with their analysis, we've arrived somewhere pretty dismal when property-owning baby boomers reckon it's okay to publicly mock young people who disagree with them.

When 24-year-old Youth Advisory Panel member Flora Apulu told the meeting she felt "the weight of our generation" on her shoulders, she was given a sarcastic welcome by some of those in the room. "Aw!" they jeered. "Poor thing!" So much for "young people these days".

At times like these, we at least have acronyms to fall back on. The most often heard is Nimby, which as everyone knows means Not In My Backyard, and captures pretty neatly the perception of the well-heeled, vocal majority at that meeting. Whether or not they oppose intensification, the Nimbys don't want it in their neighbourhood.

That characterisation - true of some but not all - has spawned a range of offspring familiar to town planners. Among them is the Banana, used to describe those who wish to Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything, its sibling Fruit, or Fear of Revitalisation Urban-Infill and Towers, and Sobby, or Some Other Bugger's Backyard.

If only to stave off the existential torpor brought on by much of that meeting on Wednesday, I convened a seven-hour extraordinary meeting at the Auckland Acronym Recognition Guild Headquarters (Aargh) to consider what other phenomena might warrant abbreviation.

A Baboxysm could work to describe a hyperbolic outburst intended to frame the debate as generational warfare in which Baby Boomers are pitched against generations X and Y and Shallow Millennials. (I don't really think Millennials are shallow but the S has to stand for something.)

Those who conjure images of vertiginous grey tower-blocks in the proposed mixed-zone areas, as opposed to much less terrifying three-storey townhouses envisaged, are Wilfully Exaggerating the Scale of Proposals, and therefore Wesps.

If you wish to accuse ratepayers of exploiting the process issues in order to pursue a wider Nimbyist agenda, you regard them to be Nimbys Using Process Pretext for Extraordinary Targets - Nuppets.

Councillors who thought they could quietly submit the changes to zoning without sparking a great big row were Determined Out Of Scope Homeowners would Be Amenable. Gently! Shhhhh! Which provides us with Dooshbags.

Baby boomers who dismiss the complaints of younger Aucklanders by saying they had to work really hard to buy their house back in the day shall henceforth be known as Grampys, or Genuinely Riveting Audition for the Monty Python Yorkshireman Sketch. (You know the one: "You were lucky to have a lake! There were 160 of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.")

Grampys are not to be confused with the Gracks, Generation-Rent Aucklanders Checking their KiwiSaver, or the Grambips, Generation-Rent Aucklanders Moving Back In with Parents. Nor, given the fact that this whole process is overseen by central government, who would rather not take the heat for the great big planning clusterscrum, the Grampakans, ie Getting Really Anxious Member of Parliament, AKA Nick Smith.

Finally, and there are lots of these, comes Leder, which is anyone for whom nervous calculations about their prospects at the approaching Local Elections Define Every Response.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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