Save our suburbs

by Bill Ralston / 28 January, 2012
Bill Ralston worries that planners are intent on doing for inner-city Auckland what quakes did for Christchurch.

It’s slowly dawning on me that I’m about to lose the suburb I live in. Over the next decade or so, many of the heritage buildings will go and the Victorian villas that make up the majority of homes in the neighbourhood will be torn down.

It’s a tragedy that Christchurch has already lost hundreds of its inner-city heritage sites, city blocks yawn emptily and entire long-established suburbs are on death row — but that has been brought about by natural calamity. In Auckland we are about to achieve the same desolate effect by a demented act of will.

In a couple of months the Auckland Draft Plan will be completed, and in the name of reducing urban sprawl, it seems it will declare that 75% of new dwellings must be built within existing city boundaries and only 25% constructed in “greenfields” environments in the countryside. In one of those glorious euphemisms employed by local bodies and the military, it is called “housing intensification”.

What it really means for my suburb of Freemans Bay is the charming three-bedroom villas will fairly rapidly be destroyed and replaced by modern multi-unit developments and tower blocks to maximise available inner-city space for many more people to “dwell” in. I note the planners have replaced the warm word “home” with the clinically cold “dwelling”. I don’t want to be a dweller on the 17th floor of a high-rise.

It’s not just Freemans Bay that would go. Ponsonby, St Mary’s Bay, into Herne Bay, presumably out through Grey Lynn to the furtherest extent of the Western Bays, these graceful old suburbs will suffer the same fate. Similarly, the harbourside suburbs of the North Shore and many old established suburbs to the south will suffer high-rise “intensification”. In my case, our local community, as I know it, will be destroyed.

Mine is a street where many people know their neighbours. The local coffee shop, Agnes Curran, is like the Rovers Return in Coronation Street, a place where we meet, pick up the local gossip and occasionally rally for some fit of community action. For some odd reason the street takes pride in festooning virtually every house with a deluge of lights every Christmas and many thousands of Aucklanders come to enjoy the sight. When the old two-storey brick hotel at the bottom of the street was threatened by the construction of a motorway tunnel, the community rallied and helped ensure the pub didn’t just move up the hill to avoid disaster but was moved back to its landmark position at the bottom.

There have been a few new houses built in the area, but as three- or four-bedroom homes, they largely fit in with the character of those around them. Now, as land values increase, Auckland Council seems determined to allow the demolition of homes that have sat on their sites for 120 years or more and their replacement by modernistic carbuncles. Still, at least they are homes and not “dwellings”.

My elderly neighbour, Violet, lived in the suburb all her life and had been in the house next to us for more than 70 years. She once explained how during the war our place was a house of ill repute, rendering great service to much of the US Marine Corps. She died recently and her rather rundown old house is on the market. The value of the land on which it sits is such that I have nightmares of someone putting a bulldozer through the house and, in the spirit of “intensification”, plopping a multi-unit carbuncle on the site.

Freemans Bay was originally a working-class suburb on the city fringe. Over the years parts of it deteriorated into a slum with sly-groggers and illegal brothels, but despite this, or perhaps because of it, it has always had a strong community spirit. In the 1960s some urban planner decided a council-run slum clearance project was required and around Wellington St the bulldozers moved in, the residents were evicted with poor compensation, and blocks of landscaped modern units built.

They’ve proved to be nice homes. But if the council had waited only 10 years more it would have seen the area regenerate, as did the rest of Freemans Bay, when young couples moved into the dilapidated villas and renovated them. It would have spared the residents of the area and the ratepayers of Auckland a lot of grief and cash had the council held off its well-meaning “slum clearance”, for the slum cleared itself.

The council is again headed for a well-meaning disaster. In my dotage I’m to be condemned to living in a 17th-floor rabbit hutch. If I wanted to live in Hong Kong, I would have moved there. When is the next local body election?
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Why it's time for a female Doctor Who
77083 2017-07-27 09:12:33Z Social issues

Why it's time for a female Doctor Who

by The Listener

Gender equality is lamentably slow-dawning in many endeavours, but TV and film help normalise desirable social trends. However it does cuts both ways.

Read more
Five great places in Auckland for gluten-free eats
77081 2017-07-27 09:09:05Z Auckland Eats

Five great places in Auckland for gluten-free eats…

by Paperboy

Auckland has a whole swag of places where you can eat well gluten-free - here are five of the best.

Read more
Te Papa’s tribute a real Dagg
71078 2017-07-27 00:00:00Z Profiles

Te Papa’s tribute a real Dagg

by Russell Baillie

The late John Clarke left some big boots to fill. Now you can go see them at Te Papa.

Read more
Manawatu Gorge: Simon Bridges hints at big bucks alternative
76903 2017-07-27 00:00:00Z Economy

Manawatu Gorge: Simon Bridges hints at big bucks a…

by Pattrick Smellie

Years of avoiding the question of an alternative road appear to be over.

Read more
How to overcome comfort eating
76877 2017-07-27 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How to overcome comfort eating

by Jennifer Bowden

Cutting back on chocolate and other indulgences calls for breaking a vicious cycle of comfort eating. Here’s how.

Read more
Baby Driver's Ansel Elgort on the making of this must-see film
77071 2017-07-26 17:42:03Z Movies

Baby Driver's Ansel Elgort on the making of this m…

by India Hendrikse

Actor Ansel Elgort talks to Paperboy about starring in the hit film Baby Driver, doing stunts, and his contribution to the incredible soundtrack.

Read more
How to stop wasting food: These Aucklanders show us how
77051 2017-07-26 16:04:01Z Social issues

How to stop wasting food: These Aucklanders show u…

by Leisha Jones

Meet some of the Auckland champs turning food destined for the bin into three-course dinners and inventive dishes.

Read more
Jesse Mulligan is giving Mike Hosking a run for his money
77043 2017-07-26 15:40:00Z Profiles

Jesse Mulligan is giving Mike Hosking a run for hi…

by Julie Hill

The Project host talks about government underfunding of DoC, being told to cheer up by Maggie Barry, and wanting to crush Hosking.

Read more