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Paul Smith: Memo Royal Commission Into Auckland

Memo Royal Commission Into Auckland

By Paul Smith

Forget the Pakeha name for the place. Maori for Auckland is Tamaki Makarau - the land having a thousand lovers. So your key priority is to find out why those of us who live here and loved her as she was, are now so disenchanted.

Take a look at Auckland City's contours and you'll soon see why we first fell in love. Auckland's amphitheatre slopes gracefully from the heights of Ponsonby, Parnell and Karangahape Road to the Waitemata. And the city's architecture once bowed deferentially towards the sea with at least some respect for shared views. Not now. Grace - aesthetics if you like - has only ever been allowed to flourish briefly in Auckland. It's a boom and bust town - but never has it simultaneously boomed and busted.

For that, we can thank the generation of suited vandals who arrived in the '80s. They soon put paid to any notions of civic pride and associated nonsense like historic buildings and public spaces. What's more they had precedent on their side. Their forefathers had uprooted elegant trees and tramlines in favour of polluting buses, reclaimed half the harbour and then, were it not for Mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson, would have pumped raw sewage into Waitemata's sparkling water.

In the mid-80s Auckland was, apparently, a frump looking for a makeover. She got it - at one stage, 24 cranes hovered over her. Skyscrapers soared, none of them sympathetic to man-made or natural aesthetics; the Waterfront we once strolled on was all but privatised and out of bounds. As compensation we got the Viaduct in time to coincide with the America's Cup. Lucky us.

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There are oases to be found in the city but much of its cityscape was, and continues to be, blighted by alien apartment buildings, many blocking light and the views of neighbours alongside - but all approved by the City Council. In Auckland you see, we don't just like Big, we like Ugly - and when they come together - cheaply - it's a developer's dream. Which pretty much sums up Auckland City really.

All this is a long way from your brief which I suspect has been dusted off from the last local government amalgamations nearly 20 years ago: But here's Local Government Minister Mark Burton droning on as if all this was new:

"The issues about Auckland's future governance are complex and the Royal Commission will provide for careful and thorough investigation and consultation to identify the most appropriate long-term governance arrangements… to secure its future as an internationally competitive city and region."

When I read that my heart doesn't just sink, it shrivels. It's about as relevant to Auckland as… well… debating an issue. It's yet another view of complex social issues being examined through the now familiar economic prism. It's not about giving back Aucklanders control of their city; it's not about creating a vibrant city, civic pride or any of those more enduring touchstones. It's basically a squiz at, and a re-alignment of, power.

Has Burton ever asked Aucklanders other than the local Chamber of Commerce if they want the city to be internationally competitive, as opposed to owning and controlling their own playground? Thought not. So, dear Commissioners, be radical - put the public and its voice first - and help us remain lovers of Tamaki Makarau.


Paul Smith is a journalist, author and founder of the babyboomer website kiwiboomers.co.nz.

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