If there is a sure-fire way to know that progress is being made, it's got to be the indignant cry of the nimbys. Having one's nose out of joint is seemingly a competitive sport to a certain segment of the population, especially when a project is proposed that will add value to others' lives while having little or no impact upon their own.
Like a red rag to a bull, uttering the phrase "housing crisis" is sure to bring about an attack of the nimbys, who can often sympathise with those struggling with housing insecurity in theory and from afar, but should someone suggest an innovative idea that may actually help the poor buggers who can't get into the housing market, and should that idea be located anywhere within a 50 kilometre radius of them, it will, of course, be an outrageous, stupid idea that demonstrates just how clueless everyone but themselves is these days.
One of these ideas is the Crown purchase and development of land adjacent to the Mt Albert Unitec campus to build 4000 new homes in Auckland. The announcement of the project last weekend brought about conjecture and cynicism. "It's got dump written all over it," one nimby said. "People are concerned about the change of the social character of the neighbourhood," said another.
It's time the nimbys got real. Choosing to live in Auckland in 2018 means confronting the reality that the city is growing, evolving and changing rapidly. This is not the Auckland of 1950, nor even of 2010. Our city is exploding, and that brings with it benefits and challenges. In 2018, we need to be firmly focused on navigating the challenges with a view to creating one of the world's most beautiful and liveable cities over the next 50 years.
Yes, 50. The challenges that we're facing today are a direct result of a dire lack of foresight by former city officials. Short political terms, legacy projects, money-hungry developers, bad architecture, city planning and design are just some of the factors that likely led us to the point we're at now. What's needed is a dramatic reset in thinking. Quickly.
Which is not to say that we should accept ugly, shoddily-constructed developments that will become eyesores in a decade or so. Nor that we should keep developing satellite communities on the ever-sprawling outskirts when we could instead build upwards. But it's time for us to balance the needs of our growing communities against protectionist impulses. It's time for us to step boldly into the future, keeping the big picture firmly in mind, but acting decisively in the now.
The Auckland Unitary Plan provides a decent framework to act as a guide for future generations of developers, and as the abundance of orange road cones cluttering transport routes and giant spindly cranes dotting the skyline suggest, progress is under way in many places. The biggest change that needs to be made immediately is to our mindsets. The Kiwi quarter-acre dream is over. In Auckland at least.
Those who want to keep it alive in our biggest city have two options. They can earn a bucketload of money and move to the leafier suburbs, or leave the city. There are plenty of beautiful quarter acre (and larger) sections in towns and smaller cities around the country. They're a lot cheaper than much smaller properties in Auckland. If property size is a major concern, there are options out there.
The rest of us need to embrace apartment and townhouse living. And I can testify that it's not so bad. I've spent half of my life living in apartments, both as a child and as an adult. I lived in an apartment in Rotorua until I was 6, then again from 14-16 and I've now lived in apartments in Auckland since I was 21. Between those ages, I lived variously in suburbia and in the countryside. Each had their pros and cons, but all of them felt like home.
I love apartment living. There's no lawn to mow, I live close to three parks, and I can walk into the city in 20 minutes. There are lots of positives. And I'm not only speaking from an adult's vantage point. While many of us still have a vision of a Kiwi childhood as one spent playing outside in the backyard, children living in apartments don't necessarily have to be cooped up indoors all day.
I remember walking to the park to play almost every day as a very young child, and playing outdoors at kindy and then at school. I went to the lake, the beach and the forest with my family. We're lucky in New Zealand that we have the kind of environment that provides an astounding "backyard" for us all.
It's time for Auckland to mature into the truly international city it deserves to be. That means tackling difficult and expensive issues such as infrastructure, transport and housing supply. That might mean rates rises, regional taxes and other fundraising measures (which will be necessary given that Auckland has hit its debt ceiling). It should absolutely include significant investment from central government. It should also involve a measured and respectful discussion about immigration.
We have two options. Either we can moan and whinge, or we can look at this time as a period of opportunity. We can wage a futile war against progress, or we can band together to create the kind of Auckland New Zealanders and Aucklanders alike can be proud of.
I want the gateway to our nation to be filled with parks, efficient public transport, a road system that works, housing that will cater for people at all different income levels, great venues, clean and healthy beaches and forests and infrastructure that will hold up for generations to come.
If the not in my back yard crowd don't want that, maybe they should find another backyard.