Dick Ayres: Critics quick to pigeon hole CBD apartment life

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The population of the CBD, which exceeds 30,000 residents and has a broad range of ethnicities, cultures, age groups and religions that probably surpasses any other area of this size in the country. Photo / Greg Bowker
The population of the CBD, which exceeds 30,000 residents and has a broad range of ethnicities, cultures, age groups and religions that probably surpasses any other area of this size in the country. Photo / Greg Bowker

Contributors to the media have been highly critical of the residential apartment buildings that have sprung up in the Auckland CBD since the mid-1990s.

In many cases, their criticisms have been justified based on poor architectural and in some cases structural practices that were applied to a few of these buildings. But they have tended to talk about Auckland CBD residents as if some form of sub-human species, who are forced to live in "shoe boxes", "rabbit hutches", "tiny concrete cells reminiscent of Eastern European and British Council housing allotments" and "vertical slums", without acknowledging the contribution that these buildings and their owners make to the economic welfare of New Zealand's largest city.

They also suggest all occupants are transient Asian students, without bothering to check the make-up of the population of the CBD, which exceeds 30,000 residents and has a broad range of ethnicities, cultures, age groups and religions that probably surpasses any other area of this size in the country.

Since the release of the draft Auckland Unitary Plan, the criticism has stepped up a gear and once again the contributors are focusing on the one or two very ugly buildings in the Auckland CBD, as if all future developments throughout the greater Auckland area, where high- and medium-rise buildings are proposed, will emulate this handful. I'm pretty sure Auckland has learned its lesson.

But let's get back to the apartment buildings that have been constructed over these past few years. They vary from large, luxurious residential apartments through to a large number of small studio units which the average suburbanite may find challenging as a residence. But, apart from those that are owned by Housing New Zealand, all others are owned on a unit title by individuals, corporations or trusts, resulting in many millions of dollars having been invested into the initial capital works.

An estimated 15,000 residential apartments within the CBD pay rates to the local council at a rate I suspect would be one of the highest dollar value rates for any other residential land throughout the country. The 11-storey building I reside in occupies 430sq m of land, yet pays in excess of $63,500 in annual rates. With a large proportion of these apartments throughout the city being rental properties, one can only imagine what the annual taxable rental income might be.

When we look at the residents, we find that they form a major contributor to the student numbers that are actively sought to attend our Auckland universities and private colleges; they are major consumers of foodstuffs and provide city retailers a customer base, while providing a large proportion of the labour force working in and around the city centre. Furthermore, they do not require 1000 buses a day spewing diesel fumes to bring them to engage in their daily activities, nor do they significantly contribute to the 160,000 cars that daily use the Auckland harbour bridge.

They do not need a $2.86 billion central rail loop to ease their commuting experience and they do not need to fill the Queen St valley with foul car exhaust emissions, because they mainly walk to and from their place of residence to their destinations. If they are employed away from the city, they are not competing with city-bound commuters, cluttering up the motorways to get to work from distant suburbs.

What's more, their council provides them with poorly maintained and rarely cleaned pedestrian access footpaths once they proceed one block from Queen St, and they don't put all their rubbish bins out along the kerbs waiting for trucks to empty them every week. They also don't have any public schools within their boundaries and the ratio of reserves and parks to people fails to match that of many greener suburbs.

But you will not hear them grumble as they go about their lives, and if they were to grumble, many would fail to understand what they were saying, due to the polyglot of languages used within the city CBD.

This article is not meant to be a whinge, just a wake-up call for all of those poorly informed objectors to the Unitary Plan that life does not have to necessarily take place in an old house in a leafy suburb to be enjoyable, safe and secure, and to ask for a little respect for those of us who choose to live in this vibrant area.

Dick Ayres is a central Auckland resident.

- NZ Herald

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