City Living by Trevor Plumbly
Having recently moved from a relatively small city to the largest in the country, I’m still a bit bemused by the difference in the social aspects. Dunedin is a somewhat staid city, rightly proud of its university, heritage and secure lifestyle, while Auckland is a melting pot of cultures, commerce and race. Auckland currently houses almost a quarter of the country’s population and continues to grow at a pace it simply isn’t capable of absorbing: put simply the place can only embrace so many before real problems present themselves. The buzz-word in Auckland is ‘sustainability’; it’s an odd word really covering a multitude of the problems facing most major cities. As the population increases the options shrink: urban sprawl or high rise tenement living? Either way something has to be sacrificed to maintain acceptable services and amenities.
With urban expansion you run the risk of creating semi-élite suburbs, which in turn put an added strain on the already overburdened traffic and transport system, while high rise living, except for luxury apartments, creates more social problems than it solves. Either way you’ve created a ‘them and us’ scenario; overcrowding forced by economics produces an unacceptably large number of city dwellers who require a bigger slice of the city’s basic structures, such as health, housing, schooling and police. There’s obviously no magic potion to solve social and educational balance but we could be doing something a bit more positive like questioning the public value of ‘vanity’ projects such as ‘world’ events and building the facilities they seem to need to showcase the events and us as a nation. Surely an environment-friendly efficient transport system would be a better investment than high maintenance, under-utilised sports arenas? By giving preferential funding to public transport, the inner city would become more people friendly. Sure, there are green areas and open squares now, but you need either patience or cunning to enjoy the space and suck up the pollution created by the virtual racetrack that surrounds them, so why not start by making car-pooling a reality by requiring solo drivers to keep to the slow lanes on motorways when entering or leaving the wider city area and making the cost of bringing a car into the central city a bit more prohibitive?.
What about the People?
Like any major city, Auckland is a bit of a magnet for immigrants, understandably so really as there are well established ethnic societies, places of worship and in some cases almost separate residential areas. All those reasons may well be valid but not exactly conducive to positive assimilation. Why not lower the immigration bar for skilled immigrants prepared to work for a set period in rural areas where a professional or trade shortage exists? I guarantee that after spending a few years in a small community, any immigrant family would know and feel more a part of the country than their Auckland counterparts. Finally, let’s clean up the streets a bit by sending young offenders out of the city area for community sentences or parole; why not fund a form of Marae justice for all? It would be easier to police, do more good in supplying free labour in areas that need it and, best of all, take them out of a negative environment.