Speaker by Various Artists

Fixing a city

by Mark Graham

This wasn’t going to be about John Banks. But it is, so sorry if he doesn’t hit your radar screen. He looms rather large in mine - mostly as a result of my passion for living in Auckland and the negative impact he has had on the city.

I often plunge into a pool of bracing autumn air that appears at the bottom of West End Rd in the middle of Cox’s Bay, while riding to work early in the morning on my Vespa. My Citroen blew up last year and while the scooter fits my politics, it helps me deal to Auckland’s traffic in a very efficient manner. It always surprises me and focuses my attention on the immediate, rather than the many issues I happen to be grappling with at the time.

However, I’ve usually forgotten it by the time I hit Jervois Rd where I have to deal with fume-belching 4-wheel drives and half asleep people in questionable control of semi-guided vehicular missiles (everyone is an enemy on the road when you ride a scooter). There, issues resurface to compete for attention with Stagecoach buses that will squash a slow-moving impudent Vespa rider, given half a chance (not that I’m slow-moving). The bigger questions always get forced to the rear by buses and crises I’m in the middle of solving.

In my personal life, work is booming but there’s the constant fear that I’ll fail to master the challenge I’ve recently undertaken - to turn around an underperforming magazine - yet I’m relishing the task which presents issues to solve on a daily (sometimes half-hourly) basis and I’m feeling at the top of my game.

There’s an inevitable house extension in the planning if children are to eventuate (a 60m² ex-State duplex is not a viable option - and I don’t care if they do it in other countries), which will stretch budgets but also brings excitement and creative expression at an intensely personal level - into my nest, my retreat, my HOME!

The prospect of producing offspring, apart from the immediate and (we’re anticipating) shattering change in lifestyle, is full of the expectation of joy, but I experience anxiety attacks about losing my dog - how the hell am I going to live with the possibility of losing my child?

Age is bringing a noticeable decline in physical robustness and resilience, yet I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin (flabbier as it is) and more in control of my life.

And, something I never thought I’d ever admit, I almost agreed with a reported comment made by John Banks yesterday morning.

The Mayor told the National Party conference that if they fix Auckland’s problems, they’d fix the nation’s (and their own).

But what are those problems? Everyone is bemoaning the traffic and its cost to the economy (get a scooter). However, I have yet to visit any city of a size comparable to Auckland that doesn’t suffer from this problem. Of the two cities I know who are tackling the issue with creative solutions - London and Portland - London’s approach has only just been introduced and Christine Fletcher was pushing for Portland’s, which inevitably means the current council won’t. And while taxes are always an easy option, more motorways for poorly maintained Stagecoach buses remains the focus of Banks et al.

Auckland has suffered from years of insufficient investment in infrastructure. So has the rest of the country. But is that a central government role or a result of poor governance at a local government level? In Auckland’s case, at least, I would suggest the latter. I know a consultant to the City Council who now refuses to let his children swim in the harbour. Bollocks to the old ‘No Poo in Piha’ campaign - how about ‘No heavy metals at Mission Bay’?

Pollution, then? Sorry - can’t see the party of free enterprise worrying about poorly tuned Japanese imports and SUVs (American for 4-wheel drives) spewing diesel and petrol fumes into the atmosphere. There’s bound to be a market solution there somewhere (and the Segway won’t be it as no-one will be able to afford it here and who wants to ride one when it rains in Auckland, anyway?).

The only other real issue I can think of is Poverty (other than too much poor coffee being served). Here, at least, is an issue that can be addressed by central government (Poverty not coffee, tho they may have a better chance of success with the java issue).

However, the National party’s response (seemingly, along with ACT’s, and perhaps this is part of the problem) - reduce taxes and get businesses working better and everyone will be better off, begs the question - why didn’t it work last time, fellas?

It just doesn’t seem likely that addressing poor education, poor health and crime effectively - each one the progeny of poverty - is to be sourced from the party that has exacerbated the problem so much over the past 20 years.

So, as with most comments made by the Mayor, it’s pretty much a load of bollocks under close examination. He may be keeping a lower profile these days - no-one has been jailed for speaking at a Council meeting lately - but there are those of us who have not forgotten.