Your once and future Auckland

The Auckland I grew up with doesn’t exist anymore.

It was already on the way out when we moved to Wellington five years ago, and now, house prices being what they are, it’s more memory than reality.

Four children, climbing a fence line, on the way to raid a neighbour’s loquat tree, plum tree, blackberry bush, grape vine, fejoa tree. Grey Lynn has something to offer in any season.

Barefoot in the park eating a blackforest icecream scooped from the dairy, or maybe a cream bun from the bakery at the shops.

Living in Pt Chev, driving past Western Springs, rain on the harakeke, pūkeko stalking in the muddy grass, everything is so green. Dad has a t-shirt that says Pasifika 1995, and we remember before it was crowded and we could run off and explore the stalls, and the same is true for Grey Lynn fair.

On the bus to school, in an AGGS uniform, an old lady tells me that she went to AGGS when she was a girl, there were trams along this route then.

Mt Eden, climbing in the crater and sliding down on cardboard, of course that was before everyone realised it was probably not a good idea to destroy an important geological feature and cultural site.

Bastion Point, flying kites, dad telling us about the protests before we were born, how he came in solidarity, asked some of the old guys what Pākehā fellas could do to help, got told that when he had kids he should make them learn te reo.

Karekare, the black sand stretching forever, my brother and I darting in and out and of the waves like oyster catchers; then a bit older, surfing on our body boards.

A school camp at Huia, swimming in the river first thing in the morning.

Long Bay, there was a flying fox there but it’s gone now (safety), it was the best flying fox – or was the best one at One Tree Hill? They were both pretty awesome.

In the Auckland of my childhood memory, we’d sometimes drive to my mum’s aunt in Clevedon, and we saw it as a visit to the country.

My husband and I, before we were proper grownups, too cheap for a cab, walking from the King’s Arms back to his parents’ house in Three Kings at 3am, chatting about how maybe when we were lawyers not students we’d buy in Sandringham, halfway between his stomping ground of Roskill/Three Kings and my stomping ground of Grey Lynn/Pt Chev.

Moving to Wellington, hearing snide comments about Auckland all the time, openly scathing of the scale and the buzz, feeling like Wellington is soooooo white and soooooo middle class; loving the compact geography, missing the warm beaches, missing the summer nights, missing the diversity. Thinking one day we might go back home. Writing this.

But when we visit now, well, even if we could afford to buy something in the suburbs we know, they’re no longer the diverse, mixed-income, mixed-background examples of city life that we loved. Primary schools that were decile three are now decile nine.

I love living in Newtown though. We’ve found Wellington’s mini version of central Auckland in the 90s, there’s even a dairy that does scoop icecream and a bakery that does cream buns.

When I was at home with the little dude on my last stint of maternity leave, I felt like I was stranded. We lived down a whole lot of stairs from the road, and there was a steep hill between our house and the nearest shops. I thought at the time about urban planning issues and small children, and I read this piece  and thought hmmm, yes. A fulltime caregiver has a very different perspective on planning issues compared to a commuter.

Yesterday I was pushing my buggy along the street and passed a woman pushing her buggy in the other direction, and we gave each other the “hello fellow mother” smile of acknowledgement. She was a stranger, but I’ll probably see her again, which is a nice thought. I love that, walking the streets with the buggy on a weekday and seeing people. Popping out to a cafe just down the road. Taking the double pushchair out sometimes, the one we got of trade me, a bit rickety but perfect for a quick jaunt. Perfect for when the little dude is sick and we need to go to the doctor.

We don’t often use the car. The supermarket is walking distance. The library is walking distance. It has children’s books in lots of different languages, reflecting the multicultural community.

We can bus to the beach, I did that last week with the two kiddies and it was pretty successful.

We can go to the park with bub in the buggy, and if the weather packs in we can go to the library instead. Living in a dense suburb means you can go to one place on foot, bail, and go to a different place still on foot.

I remember when I went overseas to a city with good public transport for the first time, and realised that there are places where you don’t need to memorise the bus timetable, because busses come all the time. A brilliant result of a lot of people in a small space.

One Monday a few weeks back, I got the bus into town and went to yoga while my dad looked after bub in his lunch break, then I picked the little dude up from creche on my way home, still on the bus. Being able to go out without a car is great when you have a baby and a toddler. They’re not like adults or older children, who just sit  down in their seats and wait for the car to reach the destination. It’s a major logistical battle getting them both into the car. I have lot more flexibility without the car. It doesn’t matter if bub is asleep or awake, just pop him in the buggy and we’re golden. Little dude can meander along looking at things on the street or looking out the window of the bus, it’s easy breezy.

This level of density and service by public transport is really rare in New Zealand. There are only a handful of suburbs as dense as this. While Auckland is in the midst of a fullblown housing shambles, prices in Wellington are rising fast now too. Going “further out” is viable for house hunters in Wellington because the prices on the outskirts aren’t too bad yet and the train system is good. But, whether inner city or outskirts, living somewhere with a proper dense community hub is FANTASTIC. It is making this year a hundred times better than my first year of maternity leave. Our house is not an island.

In discussions around the Unitary Plan, there’s a well publicised resistance to higher density “ohhhhh, it’s going to wreck the place”, “ahhhh! I’ll have to look at a highrise!” And, like, that’s not, I mean, that’s not what it says in the plan. No-one is going to build Hobson Street style apartments plonked randomly among the stately villas of Mt Eden. But how great would it be if that big stretch of road along Arch Hill was given over to three storey units, instead of all the car dealerships? Unobtrusive, well designed townhouses like the ones in the new development down the road from us near the zoo, places for young families to live.

By all means, build more townhouses in my suburb, welcome, welcome. More people means better use of amenities. More frequent busses, bigger libraries, better supermarkets, all the good stuff. And please build more in Auckland, higher density is necessary, the city can’t keep going out, because no matter where you draw the line on the map, at some point it turns into Hamilton.

I’m hopeful for Auckland now, the Unitary Plan looks pretty good. I tipu ake au i Tāmaki Makaurau; nō reira, ā tōna wā ka hoki au, ākene pea.

 

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3 thoughts on “Your once and future Auckland

  1. God, I couldn’t agree with you more! I’m a mature student in the middle of an Urban Planning degree, and lived in the UK for nearly 14 years before having my kids, and you are SO RIGHT about the fact that increasing density doesn’t need to mean the doom to any detached houses, but that there is so much land that could be given over to nice, small, 3-4 storey apartment buildings – you know, like EVERY OTHER CITY IN THE DEVELOPED WORLD. It really frustrates me when NIMBYs and baby boomers act like their houses are going to be seized from under them and replaced with slum housing. I can’t imagine how my children will afford to live in Auckland in 20 years time if this place doesn’t wake up to the fact that a proper city actually has a range of housing for different incomes and stages of life, and that it’s normal to graduate through them: one/two bedroom flat, then a terraced house, then – maybe – a detached house if you’re exceptionally lucky. Too many older Aucklanders, in particular, want to live like they’re in a small town, but with the perks of being 20 minutes’ drive to the CBD. It’s totally unrealistic and unsustainable, and it doesn’t provide a good standard of living for anybody. Personally, I want to see a lot of development in places like Takapuna – how cool would it be if the shops on Hurstmere Road (which are very cool now – Takapuna is taking off, big style) all had a couple of floors of nice apartment above them, so people in their mid-20s could actually afford to live in town like that? With bars, cafes, and the beach right there? It would be awesome!

    And I am delighted to report that there is still a flying fox at Long Bay: my au pair takes my three year old twins there on a regular basis, and they love it.

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  2. It’s bizarre, makes me so sad and infuriated – Auckland is a great city waiting to happen and is hampered by this idea of endless suburbia which is clearly not working!

    Like

  3. I’m so interested in how and why we’ve ended up with a sprawled city that I’m seriously considering staying on to do my PhD one day and researching that very question! If we don’t understand why it happened in the first place (and it can’t just be because there were lots of motorways built – after all, people still made a conscious choice to move to the new suburbs, rather than, say, building terraced housing close to town), I don’t fancy our chances of remedying it. And there is no Australasian research on suburban development and neighbourhood design, which is very frustrating when you’re trying to evaluate the local situation for course work, using academic writing that is 50 years old and contextually irrelevant… [/RANT] 🙂

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