Speaker by Various Artists

Paradise reconsidered

by Mark Broatch

Tourism Waikato's Lynda Keene is clearly from the philosophical school of marketing.

"There's a lot of Kiwis out there who do whinge about a whole bunch of things, but they need to take their glasses off - we live in paradise here. My guess is that most people who are unhappy with New Zealand haven't travelled around the world that much."

Keene was responding to a Waikato Times enquiry about why we came 15th in a four-yearly survey that analyses happiness levels in 65 countries.

I have to disagree with Ms Keene. My theory is that some of the people least happy with New Zealand are those who have seen what the rest of the world offers and wonder why we can't have some of that good stuff.

While I spent half my holiday, a 10-city romp through the bars and restaurants and trains of Europe and New York, singing the praises of these pleasant isles, the other half was taken up getting mildly pissed off at what we haven't got - and debating Darkiegate. We finally have something to thank Holmes for: a new term of mock abuse.

The jetlag is still fogging my head, along with a cold bug picked up on that last painful leg from LA, but the questions are ringing in my ears like tinnitus.

Fact is, we do live in a paradise. Of sorts. The general quality of life is good. We're blessed with a beautiful natural environment. We have enough milk fat to afford a decent health system, some social support, clean public toilets. We have no real slums. There are thankfully no suicide bombers, few beggars (though the down-and-outs in France and Spain often either have better musical skill or the cutest families of dogs and cats), no overpopulation, reasonable race relations, foreshore aside (though it's perturbing to hear a to-the-core aging greenie drumming up support of anti-GM signatures in, of all places, Bath say "Gosh, aren't there a lot of Asians in Auckland now?")

Perhaps we need to be slightly more like Australia, as Russell Brown's correspondent suggests, but I'd rather our cities borrowed more from Europe. Truth is, it's often the boring, petty, everyday irritations that decide whether we are personally happy or grumpy.

1. Why has Auckland no underground train system?

2. Or night buses?

3. Why do we have a third-world train system that doesn't go many places we would want or run on Sundays?

4. Why must people pay to walk over the harbour bridge, and there's no cycle or train link across it?

5. Ring roads are a mixed blessing, but when will ours be finished?

6. How, when Auckland is busting at the seams, can the motorway link between Albany and Puhoi have dropped down the list of roading priorities?

7. Why wasn't a train track laid next to it?

8. Why is urban parkland in places like New York and Paris so aggressively protected and expanded? (Central Park 341 hectares, One Tree Hill, Cornwall Park, Domain 200 hectares)

9. Where are all our public urban spaces, and just where does that subdivision reserves levy go? (A Regional Open Space Strategy has just been published. Say hello to ROSS before December 19 here.)

10. Where is all our public art?

11. How come you can buy a fixed-price lunch in Spain for $15 that includes bread, two proper courses and wine?

12. Why do people not want to have a permanent job as a waiter?

13. Why are there no more drunks in Paris than NZ cities when you can buy (admittedly bad) wine for $1.50 a bottle?

14. Speaking of which, why can young Europeans just sit on one beer or wine for ages?

15. Why doesn't Auckland institute a siesta regime in the summer?

16. Why did it surprise me that it cost no more to buy a high couture shirt in Europe for the same price than a serious NZ brand shirt?

17. Why, when there are six in Australia, is there no Ikea here, or, given its 1000 shops, a Zara or two?

18. Why have we allowed so many of our large companies to be owned by foreigners?

19. Why are our newspapers and TV still so lame?

20. Is northern Europe becoming so expensive that the traditional OE will die as young professionals refuse to live like students?