I am a post-war baby boomer- that is, I am part of the population bulge that were born between 1946 and 1964 as our parents set about rebuilding following World War II. Market researchers know all about who we are, where we've come from and are heavily into speculating about where we're going.
We're the generation who grew up with the Beatles and television. We banned six o'clock closing and introduced decimal currency. We have been characterised with sexual freedom, competitiveness, resourcefulness, self-reliance and hard work.
According to the researchers, we have a high home ownership rate, accumulated wealth and spending power. We make responsible choices, spend heavily on health and well-being; we look out for our grandchildren and the environment. And - we have a love affair with our cars.
Our generation walked, biked or bussed to school and we tended to be single income and single car families. We learned to drive on metal roads or in empty paddocks and we got our drivers licence as soon as we could. We didn't have too much real practice before we were let loose on our roads and the road toll in the 60s and 70s is probably testament to that. But we came of age at the wheel.
Now this population bulge is aged 55 to 73 where the oldest of us is two years away from the expiry of our every-10-year drivers licence renewal period. Almost half of us are well into retirement or at least thinking about it. Age issues are catching up with us and we are being questioned about our ability to drive. We are even being encouraged to get back on the bikes we left 50 odd years ago, or take public transport as we head into the city.
It's true that, as we get older we have issues with our vision, our hearing, our reaction times and general flexibility in our joints. We do try to keep active and fit, limit our driving at night, tend not to drink and drive and are more cautious behind the wheel.
The car for us is our sense of independence and security. It's our ability to travel, go shopping, visit friends and family and then to arrive home safely to the double garage that we have yet to down-size from. Asking us to get out of our cars and get on to the bus or bike is a big call, and one that we need a whole lot of convincing about.
Whangārei City is compacted into the bottom of a valley and built alongside the harbour from which it was reclaimed. We're told there is a limited ability to build more roads and car parks. But all the future action is in the CBD and Town Basin.
The next few years will see Hundertwasser, a new hotel/conference centre, a new civic centre as well as a new park and children's playground. Put these alongside our fabled Hatea Loop with the new shared pathways emptying into it and we will have a magnificent city centre to enjoy.
All that is great, but our ageing baby boomer cohort will likely want to take their cars to walk the loop, or visit the library and new civic centre, or to shop in the CBD. Public transport will not cut it in comparison to the convenience our cars afford us, and we will want to conveniently park not too far from where we want to go.
We have an interesting dichotomy in Whangārei District. We, over 70s, qualify for free public parking. As well, we, Gold Card holders, get free public transport in off-peak hours. There's a balance there that we need to preserve and meet the evolving needs of our whole population. Let's see parking more prominent in our plans.
■ John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.