I have not been in Auckland much over the past few years for obvious reasons. I love Auckland, and I was looking forward to a short tip there that included both business and pleasure. It is a place I know quite well from my numerous trips there.
But I fear that the city, poorly planned and with little leadership vision, is in part tipping over from glorious diverse development into urban decline.
Yes, the beautiful wooden villas, built in different times, nurtured by loving owners and now worth a swag of money, still peep out from the lavish foliage, both indigenous and exotic, on many of the streets. They are gorgeous. But there are whispers that a million dollars has been knocked off the property values of some of these places. There is talk of negative equity.
But it is the heart of the city that appears rotten. While the bottom bit of Queen Street was given over to tourists years ago, with the boring international chain stores moving in, selling, if they were lucky, a couple of Louis Vuitton handbags or watches a day, the middle part around Aotea Square always teemed with people. Numerous eateries from every corner of the globe abounded in shabby little shops.
I had not thought about how much that development was built on the international student trade, but clearly it was. I was at a hearing at the Town Hall on Friday and finding an open place to have a coffee and sandwich was a real challenge. Most of the eateries were not only shut but had huge steel grates down. Whole food courts were completely closed.
I spotted the familiar Coffee Club sign and headed towards it, only to stop after ten paces as I realised it too sported one of the ubiquitous grates over the door. A place that can’t even manage a coffee bar in the middle of the city, but where liquor stores flourish, is worrisome.
I do know, before you correct me, that the effect of people working from home is also contributing hugely to the emptying out of the city centre. It is not just due to the tourist and education industries. And it may be that it is not just a matter of re-awakening the giant, but of new and different directions for work and life in the city.
And the starting point is that, apart from the recently developed spaces around the wharves, which are highly curated and shockingly expensive, central Auckland is a mess. You can barely see that mighty harbour anywhere west of Tamaki Drive, the world-famous view interrupted by 1990s leaky monstrosities built to cash in on the prevailing free market.
So to the mayoral candidates, Wayne Brown and Efeso Collins. Wayne Brown is Mr Infrastructure Fixit and is running on his track record of running companies and achieving solutions. He says he cares about helping communities thrive and prosper, spending rates wisely and being relentless in delivering results. “Let’s fix Auckland together”. But he has no policies of collaboration.
The question that needs to be asked about him is whether a champion of development is what is required at this stage. The old times have passed and I do not not believe that Auckland can ‘develop’ its way out of the current fix. Wayne Brown sounds like a competent manager for a property development company, but not, I think, for the Mayor of troubled Auckland.
Efeso Collins has a very different approach. It is values based. The choices are stark, he says, and we need courage to face them. He touches on his webpage on climate change, housing, development and other things. He wants to be collaborative and he touts an inclusive leadership style. I have met Efeso and I like him very much as a person of values. If he is elected Mayor, his challenge is to find ways forward to a post-neoliberal Auckland. The city needs a roadmap, actually a number of roadmaps.
Efeso should be Mayor, because he has the vision thing, is inclusive and cares. Vote for him, Aucklanders, simply because more of the same is not going to be enough. Not nearly enough. Then, Efeso and his team are going to show significant courage to turn around the Auckland Titanic and make it a post-pandemic place fit for people to live well , visit and study in. This is going to be exceedingly challenging because of (a) vested interests, (b) the leaky building ongoing legal action (c) the protection of property rights, especially because “while that may be an very ugly building, it is MY very ugly building and I can see the harbour from my lounge if I peer around the corner!” (d) the future of work and especially working remotely and (e) politics, climate change and everything else. It’s not going to be a fun job, that is for sure.
One more week to vote, everyone.