Janet Charman: Avondale needs a good use of its last prime site

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Avondale developments have been making city planners' fillings ache and giving local body politicians memory blackouts, for the 35 years I've lived here. File photo /  Richard Robinson
Avondale developments have been making city planners' fillings ache and giving local body politicians memory blackouts, for the 35 years I've lived here. File photo / Richard Robinson

I live in the go-to suburb for "gentrification" comedy. Even a house in naff Avondale is now unaffordable. Actually, it's no laughing matter, housing intensification here could be a template for urban renewal across the Super City.

Giving serious thought to what's happening in Avondale defies decades-long institutional neglect. Avondale developments have been making city planners' fillings ache and giving local body politicians memory blackouts, for the 35 years I've lived here.

Over a decade ago they demolished the supermarket that dominated our main-street, leaving a gaping hole. Eventually the council sold this publicly-owned bombsite to an offshore developer. It remains empty. What will be built there? Nobody knows.

We hope it won't be another monstrosity like some that have been allowed to spring up around our township since its multi-unit multi-height rezoning.

About the time our public land was sold, we were "given" a joint early childhood and community centre to supplement our existing library.

These services are hugely popular with locals. We gain social cohesion from sharing them. Those of us who stay in Avondale do so precisely because of this area's vibrant social diversity.

So imagine our consternation when 15 years after its festive opening, the community centre was found to be full of toxic mould. We had been hushed into silence at the time of its construction when some of us pointed out with misgivings, its cheap materials and leak-prone roofline.

Our council representatives have told us, sadly, that the only way the Super City could afford its replacement was by selling the whole lot to a commercial developer. This would pay for the removal of our social amenities to a remnant of public land at the back of the shopping strip, with vehicle access off traffic-choked Racecourse Parade.

No room there for an early childhood education centre. And did we really need a community hall? Neither features on the spec drawing of the cramped library relocation.

The only guarantee in all this uncertainty was the sale of the last substantial piece of publicly owned land in the township. On this spacious site combined community amenities had worked brilliantly. Students stream by to their bus and rail links daily.

Right beside our central shops, this land is also at the intersection of the main roads leading to Waterview and New Lynn. And it connects the wealthy areas up on Avondale Heights with those down on the Rosebank peninsula.

Of course these features also make this site a commercial prospect for big box retail. But this would kill small businesses in the township and leach profit from the Sunday market. And there are already three other supermarkets five minutes drive away.

Is small box retail what's intended? That means more poverty-food drive-through franchises. Avondale is already saturated with those.

If multinational retailers want a bigger presence here they should buy privately. Our public land, daily rocketing in value, is a scarce resource.

If this site is commercialised an opportunity to conserve and optimise Avondale's social infrastructure will be lost forever.

The dismay the council's confused plans have evoked among some community members, new and old, seems to be causing a rethink.

Our elected representatives have, thankfully, now set aside a dedicated fund to rebuild the community centre - but where seems undecided.

We also know that an additional sum is ring-fenced for a new recreation centre in the Whau. Economies of scale therefore make it a no-brainer to combine the Whau project with the Avondale Community Centre rebuild - on the public site beside our existing library.

Avondale residents are happy to play our part in solving the housing crisis. But we are not prepared to see the so-called "gentrification" of our neighbourhoods push out the very people who give this place its welcoming character.

Central to the livability of our ever more intensively populated suburb is the sustainability of its social amenities. Their planning and quality cannot be an afterthought.

Janet Charman is an Auckland writer.

- NZ Herald

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