Naked In Nuhaka: Moo Loo La La Land
MOO LOO LA LA LAND
By Leo Koziol
THERE'S A GOLD RUSH GOING ON IN THIS COUNTRY. Its geographic epicentres are the exploding property prices of the Auckland isthmus, the overcrowded tourist traps of Roto-Vegas and Queenstown, and pretty much any slice of land within cooee of a half decent beach. This is the 100k plus zone; which means, for a bare section of land with basic services you're scoring a bargain if you're paying only $NZ100,000. Want a house? -- you're lucky to get anything below the high $200k's.
Here, on the East Coast of the North Island, there's a wicked split in property prices where white sand beach resorts like Mahia and Wainui have house prices in the $200k - $400k range whilst houses in Wairoa and Kaiti are lucky to sell for more than $70k (the lowest are down at $20-$35k). At the beach resorts you're lucky if you get more than a leaky, knocked together old bach. By comparison, in the depressed suburbs of the East Coast you're quite likely to geta nice, solid, leak-proof state house from the 1950s.
A recent sale at Wainui Beach topped $750,000 for a house on a beach front section. The story goes that a visiting American tourist knocked on the door, and chatted with the lady inside: "May I take you out to dinner? -- and then you can name your price!" Apparently the tourist liked her beachside garden. The American is going to visit every Christmas, and maybe one day even move here.
We are witnessing the death of the ramshackle bach, the end of affordable first housing in our bigger cities, and increasingly expanding commuter zones as people search for cheap housing that has some semblance of the kiwi quarter-acre dream. Can't afford a house in Auckland? No worries, buy one in the cheaper northern suburbs of Hamilton and drive to your job in Manukau City every day. No worries, they're building an expressway, which should be about done in about ten years time. By about which it should be completely clogged up.
I thought about the property gold rush when I went for a hui up in Tauranga two weekends ago. It was a gathering of Maori greenies, meeting to discuss some of the important issues our many hapu and whanau face. We stayed at the Wairoa marae, on the northern edge of this fast-growing polis.
Tauranga increasingly looks like a mini-Auckland. The bustling State Highway 2 roared incessantly beside the marae on a Friday afternoon as I waited for the hui to start. A giant Countdown department store was going up on the main road opposite the tiny country Four Square Bethlehem general store, the old store about 1/60th the size of the new mega-mart. A small Maori settlement sits on the bay of this biblically-named burg, as brick-and-tile sprouts up on the scarred hills and valleys beside. Contrasts couldn't be more apparent.
My son and I drove in to Tauranga the night before on the new "Route K" toll road. It cost a dollar to traverse a five mile two-lane expressway that on most days ends in a traffic snarl up on the harbour bridge to Mt. Maunganui. At night, there were only two other cars on the road. I asked for a receipt at the toll both, ostensibly for a souvenir, but mostly just to stir up the weirdness of the moment, to which the attendants replied, "Um, no, but we can probably try to get you one if you can wait." Whatever.
The urban sprawl of Tauranga is unremitting, particularly out along the sandy coast of Papamoa. I sat at McCafe on Cameron Road and read in the local BOP Times of the city's plan for a "New Town" for 30-45,000 new residents at Papamoa. The planners, I read, were significantly concerned that half the land was in Maori ownership and that this "threatened the city's ability to provide for housing needs." Those naughty Maoris! Planners are exploring options to supercede Maori wishes to keep their whenua undeveloped (starting with finding local Maori who want to develop).
Our gracious hosts at Wairoa marae shared their stories of dealing with the Tauranga City Council. With skyrocketing property prices, they found they could no longer afford to pay the rates, and were threatened with losing their traditional lands. They couldn't put in place multiple dwellings either, to house their low-income hapu members -- more because the planners and building inspectors didn't like the look of the houses than any logical rules in a plan, apparently. Now the hapu of Wairoa marae were in a new era of "partnership" whereby the Council is effecting a structure plan and plan change for the Wairoa hapu. The outcome remains uncertain. I wish them luck.
In Tauranga, I recalled a Ministry for the Environment-sponsored hui I attended at Tuahuru Marae in Mahia last year. A case study that was presented on "good partnership" between Maori and the local authorities was none other than that infamous tolled "Route K". The Tangata Whenua got their swamp restored along the new motorway, and also some of their land back to site a marae adjacent to "Route K". I was quite the stirrer, back then, I guess, when I asked: "Were the Tangata Whenua ever asked whether or not they wanted a motorway through their wetlands in the first place?" And "Were they asked if they wanted their marae to be located right next to the motorway with all its pollutants?"
The answer was, apparently not.
At the last Census, in 2001, New Zealand's population passed an important benchmark. Over half of all kiwis now live in Auckland and its three adjacent, fast-growing provinces (Northland, Waikato, and Bay of Plenty). As the tentacles of expressways and motorways spread out from Auckland and Hamilton and Tauranga they will eventually coalesce into a "Moo Loo La La Land" of lifestyle-blocked rich Waikato dairy farmland gelled together with Los Angeles-style beachside suburban subdivisions. This outward sprawl will bring cultural change as well as physical change.
Whilst cowtown luddites beg the question of whether or not Hamilton is "more than you expect", the city has flourished as Fonterra became a global Fortune 500 company, Tainui found new ways to high-roll its recently received Treaty-settled millions (casinos, stadiums, wananga etal), and cowtown's downtown got transformed with its very own cafe district and Vegas style bars, nightclubs and casino. Is milk hip, when a kiwi filmmaker decides to make a surrealistic flick about the price of it, the dairy farms boom, and your typical cow cocky likes his latte light, frothy, and organic?
Auckland Tamaki Makaurau (hereafter forever known as "ATM" for short) continues to flourish as the home of La-La land hippies, new agers, westies, and the all important nouveau riche dabblers. The "dabblers" eat organic for the complexion, and because, apparently, "An organic diet speeds recovery from plastic surgery, sweetie!" This core demographic loves to take the ferry out to Waiheke for a little bit of middle earthing in the island's hidden tunnels. They steer clear of more "trad" beach destinations like Tauranga and instead trundle out to Raglan and the "unspoilt" parts of the Coromandel (those spots with the spiritual retreats and communes adjacent). There is a recent trend of these types selling up and moving elsewhere to Nelson and Invercargill.
Moo Loos and La Las alike, they are all enveloped in a gold rush that is fast transforming the top 25% of our nation into semi-suburban, peri-urban, rural-residential sprawl. As fast as the well-intentioned planners of Auckland can sprout up another batch of New Urbanist inner-city apartments, the Moo Loos and the La Las are chopping up the coast for another 50 or so houses and the countryside for another 20 or so rural lifestyle blocks. Monumentalism through incrementalism. They all live within two hours of a good-sized, airconditioned, bright and sunny shopping mall, which they fill up on Saturdays and Sundays. They all live within an hour of a branch of The Warehouse, which they fill up pretty much any given day. They watch television and find that they can relate to it well, because it truly reflects the world around them. Including some of the New Zealand-made shows.
Their gold rush isn't just a property boom. Its the gambling boom of a nation of 4 million with pretty much the same laws as Nevada (though our prostitution rules are probably more liberal). Its the feeding frenzy of a privatised free-reign energy market with its "spot-markets," "peak pricing," and "15% early payment bonuses" (translation: 15% late payment fee). Its the rush of a market oriented education system that today makes 5,500 different tertiary qualification certificates available, a Maori educational institute that has gone from 300 to 35,000 students in five years, and seven years of consecutive double figure percentage increases of foreign full-fee paying students. Our electricity demand increases by the size of four mid-sized dams per annum, whilst we all flock to the stores to buy our dehumidifiers and gas heaters to keep our leaky homes warm and dry in a damp, rainforest, muggy South Pacific climate. Oh, and we try to do our best to save power in the latest crisis ("I promise to use the clothes dryer less!").
We've somehow forgotten that we once lived quite happily in a nation without casinos and $17 million powerballs. We've forgotten that the water that flows into the now-privatised dams are a part of the natural common estate of the people of this nation. We now think nothing when we’re forced to pay $1 each way on a new motorway (there's more on the way). And we've pretty much forgotten that our education system was established to educate, well, us?
Such is the price of progress.
Is it any wonder that our young people are all drugged out on ecstacy and crystal methamphetamines ("P", or "speed") in their spare time? Chris Trotter made a pointed observation in a speech to the NZ University Students Association recently. Discussing the increasingly stressful and frenzied work and academic environments of our nation today, he stated:
"Ever wondered why ecstasy and methamphetamine are the drugs of choice for your generation, when marijuana and LSD were the drugs of choice for mine? Well, it’s simple, grass slows everything down, while speed - as its name suggests - allows you to do more with less (less sleep, less food, less morals). LSD suggests that the workaday world is only one of many realities, while E makes the realities of the workaday world temporarily bearable. Our escape was into time, your escape is out of it."
So should we be surprised that the drug dealers of Auckland are now doing their deals with PXT capable cellphones? Its all part of the same equation, really.
A pattern of incessant change is emerging in Aotearoa New Zealand that is transforming much of the North Island, but it is a pattern of change that is improving the lot of many of our nation's citizens. Property increases will become nest eggs for retirees. Consumer products improve quality of life, enable people to get more done in each day, and provide people with jobs. However, at the same time we suffer from "Affluenza" and the effects of overconsumption and the problems of being too wealthy.
What does seem apparent is an increasing divergence between different parts of our country. I recently heard that local government leaders in the South Island were talking up a biological control border between the North and South Islands. As the top half of the North Island becomes increasingly like an American suburb, the South Island stays staunchly English village.
I think we are losing sight of a lot of the founding principles upon which our nation was based. Many of these were developed in a period of entrenched racism against Maori, but nevertheless these are principles worth revisiting in our new era of "Treaty partnership."
Such are the complex issues that face our nation. I admit that there are no easy answers.
I think back to the 1980s when PM David Lange said "We need a cup of tea." And, looking at Aotearoa NZ today, I think its time for another one. Another cup of tea, and a little bit of a slow-down on the frenzied gold rush so occupying our nation's attention.
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ABOUT NAKED IN NUHAKA Leo Koziol ( firstname.lastname@example.org) writes somewhat intermittently on identity, culture, and politics in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Nuhaka is located on the East Coast of the North Island of NZ. Mr. Koziol is glad that he has come up with something else to write about other than the second anniversary of September 11, 2001.