Speaker by Various Artists


Built heritage, special places and community cultures: it's up to you

by Tina Plunkett

It was inevitable that the announcement a little while ago that Real Groovy Records' building was being demolished would be met with howls of horror from social media and music sites. Combine that in the same 48 hours with the announcement that up the road our beloved St Kevin's arcade had been sold and you got a loud chorus of "gentrification!".

The truth is Real Groovy Auckland (we hope) will find a new home. But the building that we all know and love is being demolished to make room for much-needed, but ill-thought-out and badly-planned, high-rise apartments that have nonethless been approved by our planners and Council. 

At St Kevins Arcade there is now a new owner. A new owner who is, like most other landlords, not of our community. But he is a landlord who is NOT demolishing that building – and he can't demolish that building for both heritage and easement reasons. 

I was quoted in the Herald as saying “If the worst that can happen is a coat of paint”? We have a history in our city of the gentry coming into the next “cool” area. The silver lining is that some of them have a love of old buildings, so do manage to save some of historic retail areas from demolition by property developers.

At St Kevin's, the new landlord has started moving tenants on, and Alleluya Cafe has taken the opportunity to call it a day after a hugely commendable 21 years. He has kept others – join me in a sigh of relief at The Wine Cellar's announcement it has signed a new lease.

There is a huge difference between these two projects and how they being dealt with, but they have flung open the conversation about where our city is heading.  Will we recognise it? Will we even like it? Will we have a say in it?

The shutting down of cultural institutions across Auckland to make way for towers of small, shoebox apartments  is becoming almost epidemic – but at the same time we need growth of quality, spacious, inner-city living areas.

In the past year Karangahape Road has lost every single one of her original sex shops – but is this a bad thing? The landmark Las Vegas Girl is the last to succumb to closure. K Road is definitely in the throes of switching over.

But there are shimmers of hope popping up. In recent years we’ve had additions to this strip that are community focused, culturally aware and importantly, kind. Coco's Cantina and Flying Out records are both prime examples of new businesses that are wholeheartedly embraced by our  community, and by their own cultural communities. We need to support them. By supporting them, we keep our dream alive. 

But what is next on the chopping block? The King's Arms? Whammy Bar? The Old Folks Ass?  Can they survive in a market of growing rents, amid the sound of the developers' diggers?

Matthew Crawley of the wonderful haven in Ponsonby that is Golden Dawn recently innocently questioned why the venue he and his partners built "for Auckland to come get weird, to have fun, drink interesting things you wouldn't find anywhere else, eat yum stuff, see and hear music you might otherwise not, and to hide out from the boring and scary people of the city” sometimes attracts “dicks, douches, and sleazes” in a changing Ponsonby. Was there, he wondered, anything they could or even should do?

Within hours, hundreds of people commented on Matthew's Facebook. It was swiftly picked up by media. People want to talk about this. The conversations about urban gentrification, heritage, space, community and character are current and raw and, I think, greatly misunderstood. We need change to happen in this city, we need apartments built, but we also need to answer the question of where and how that fits with our community, our culture and our heritage. 

We need to ask at what point we draw a line and stop sacrificing the culture for accommodation. The outer wings of our city highlight our relationship with heritage, history and culture.  K Road has been a haven for ideas, community, music, arts, freedom and a shitload of fun for successive generations. Are we happy to toss that aside?

What's worth more to us in Auckland? Our identity in our music, culture and arts – or six more flats?

You, me, we need to get involved.

And we can be. There are boards, trusts and committees of people in the community who sit down and plan our city: parks, events, buildings, transport, lighting, paths. I sit on some of these boards and I'm involved with other groups and I am constantly stunned at the age of the people I'm alongside. I am often considered the "youth" at these meetings. I am not that young.

There are currently hundreds of these local groups meeting, discussing and planning and sometimes even making decisions about the future of your city. They are filled with baby boomers (sorry to my hard working-great-decision-making baby boomer friends) and sometimes older. Some of these people have the greatest respect and huge skills in these areas, but what is missing is young ideas and voices.

They are sitting around tables making the decisions for your city that you will live in in the future. Get involved. Use your skills.

Want the Harbour to remain yours and not be swallowed by the council and the Ports then go help Urban Auckland!

Want heritage to stick around? Get vocal about Save the St. James Theatre Auckland or go help Friends of the Symonds Street Cemetery.

Lived overseas and came back and jumped in your car because "Auckland will never be like London"? Then start talking, look at TransportBlog or go help Generation Zero Auckland (these guys are young, gifted and getting on with it).

Don't know how you can help? Then be practical, give them money. Urban Auckland are literally a bunch of private citizens who were so horrified at what the ports and council are doing to our waterfront that they are taking on the ruling bodies themselves. They would love your $5. Or volunteer your band, or run a fundraiser. 

Most of these conversations have been happening for years, and the city's changing face is certainly not new. We have a culture and a community whose heart still yearns for The Gluepot. Who are still angered at the thought of His Majesty’s Theatre being turned into a car park. 

If we want  the council to stop actually making those decisions – or at least allowing these things to happen – then we need get really involved. Annoyingly, residents don’t get seats on local business associations, but keep an eye on them, question them and their decisions on projects.  It’s still your area  Scream bloody murder when you even sniff that the council or local board might be on the verge of allowing these decisions to be made.

Get behind groups like  City Vision, become a candidate (Well get a plan to do that) or get behind a future candidate like Wine Cellar owner Rohan Evans. He wants to be a representative of his community, not just a career-path politician. 

See a building you like that’s decrepit and run down and wonder why? Then just ask! Look up the council website,  jump on Facebook or Twitter and ask your local council and board people like Pippa Coom and Mike Lee, learn what those bodies are and follwo them on social media.

If you don't like what is happening, then call or Facebook your local MP, like Jacinda Ardern or Marama Davidson. These people are amazing and know what direction to look, and are actually really interesting to follow even in "not election time". 

I think it’s time to step up. I’m forever confident we can save the St. James Theatre, keep our cycle paths and enjoy our harbour and green spaces – all the while moving into our glorious, intelligent, liveable-city apartments with our children and growing them in a great city.

I’ll see you at the next meeting. Not gonna lie: they can be bloody boring, but you’d be surprised at what they do. You'll be surprised at what you can do.

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