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Ditch the intergenerational housing blame game, and focus on some home truths

Editorial.

What we don’t need is sloppy statistics kindling an intergenerational stoush that does no one any good.

I was getting myself worked up about the state of our bathroom a few weeks ago, a home improvement niggle which wasn’t helped when the shower fitting sheared off and had to be stuck back together with silver duct tape.

Not that I was worked up enough to go to Plumbing World or do anything useful; I just flicked through Your Home & Garden magazines and felt annoyed about other people’s sparkly bathrooms with their Villeroy & Boch basins and fancy shower heads.

Then deputy editor Joanna Wane delivered her cover story Safe as Houses, and I felt like a selfish twit. Her feature opens with a description of the Whalley family of Matatā and the home they built 25 years ago; a property they may have to abandon now their little coastal community has been designated too high-risk for human habitation. Nothing in Ken Downie’s accompanying photos suggests a danger zone; from the Whalleys’ white-painted verandah, a broad stretch of marram grass and spinifex unfolds to shimmering sea. It looks like a slice of the Kiwi dream.

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But the fate of the settlements and its 30-plus property owners will be repeated around the country as nature, turbo-charged by climate change, evicts us from land vulnerable to flooding and mudslides, earthquakes and fire. The “hazard maps” included in her article, modelled using information from multiple agencies, show few parts of the country get off risk-free. Ironically, Hamilton – the butt of so many bogan and cow-town jokes – emerges as one of the safest places to live.

And yet, as 2019 kicks off, I feel privileged to live in this little island country in the southwestern Pacific. I say this from relatively high ground in Auckland, where the prospect of a volcanic eruption, though real, carries none of the frisson of living on Christchurch’s fault line, South Dunedin’s flood zone or stretches of our coast being gnawed away by rising seas.

I also consider myself one of the lucky generation. I know, this generation game – silent, baby boomers, gen X, millennials etc – is largely an OECD and recent-history construct; I doubt anyone in South Sudan stops to ponder their spot in the lucky dip of life. Still, if you do an internet search for “the luckiest generation”, you get broad agreement that the winners are those born from around 1946 to the early 60s – the baby boomers of the West. We missed the great wars and Depression of the 20th century, grew up in the most stable, peaceful, wealthiest societies of human history and will largely leave our children and grandchildren to solve the pressing problems of climate change, inequality and rising totalitarianism.

Of course, we boomers haven’t been entirely useless and hedonistic: even now there are plenty of over-55s working in science, health and technology fields, government and diplomacy, trying to find answers to eco-degeneration as well as our social and political predicaments. And not every baby boomer has had it easy. Most didn’t go to university in tertiary education’s halcyon, fee-free days; many didn’t buy property or accumulate assets and are caught in the same low-wage, high-rent and -real estate bind as their kids. What we don’t need is sloppy statistics kindling an intergenerational stoush that does no one any good.

Next to those working on carbon sequestration or electric vehicle engineering, journalists rate fairly low on the public good scale, but quality journalism and analysis have never been more important in this age of fake news and social media fraud – the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal still reverberating in tech, media and government circles. If you’re unconvinced, read Jenny Nicholls’ Nerd Nation column Misinfodemic.

Our little North & South editorial team is mostly of boomer vintage, and we head into this new year still intent on doing our bit for truth and transparency. We hope you come with us.

Wishing both you and your families a healthy, happy – and hazard-free – 2019. 

This editorial was first published in North & South's January edition.