We recently talked to Nigel Jones, a Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics.
He is proud that John Street is now world famous for its innovations, its strong sense of family and community, and removal of most cars.
Jones asked those of us long enough in the tooth to remember the 2020 John Street. It was narrow, with traffic racing through to West Lynn and beyond. It had very little parking, and cars parked half on the narrow street and half on the footpath. Emergency vehicles could not get through at all times. Several council attempts to improve the street had been unsuccessful. Tragedy struck just after Nigel Jones left for Oxford. A young boy was seriously injured by an SUV racing through the street.
Since then John Street has been transformed. First the street was turned into a pedestrian mall. Footpaths were done away with, and cars discouraged from using the street at all. Speed was limited to 10kph. Children were safer, the street was quieter, and neighbours began gathering on the street for barbecues and parties. Each time Nigel returns to Auckland he sees further improvement.
The street has recently bought six AVs (autonomous vehicles) which John Street residents share. They can hail one and go off down town to a show. There are also three co-owned EVs which residents can hire. Nigel’s parents, now in their 80s, still live in John Street, and Nigel is full of praise for the community spirit which exists, looking out for old and young in the street. Bob Jones is also an enthusiastic gardener.
One recent innovation is a grid of solar panels along the road which gives residents almost total energy sufficiency. Earlier, four huge pavilions were erected over the road for solar panels, and for community use, covered for shelter from the rain.
When John Street had fixed the roading problem, they started on community gardens, with Nigel’s parents among the instigators. Nigel remembers a National Radio story about a couple on one acre (about 4000sqm) growing all sorts of produce.
Nigel boasts that his family were, and still are, growing about as much on 400sqm. All home owners were trained in layered and vertical fruit and vegetable growing. Some specialised in a few veggies and swapped with neighbours who grew something else.
John Street is now virtually self sufficient in fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, Nigel told us proudly. Most residents have become vegetarian, or close to it. Fruit trees adorn the street, and most residents have planted native trees to attract birds which now flock around the street. John Street is now a caring, sharing community, once torn by cars, and virtually inaccessible to emergency vehicles.
Nigel told us about his father receiving a DMVC (John Street) last year. That is a Distinguished Member of the Volunteer Club of John Street. This volunteer club has helped foster a wonderful sense of community in John Street. Bob Jones helped set up the Community Tools group.
The street owns and shares tools like lawnmowers, chain saws, ladders and all manner of household and garden needs. It saves every household having to own every tool. Bob and his committee even do many of the odd jobs for fellow neighbours, saving them many dollars. John Street has another committee called Community Care.
This group does wee chores for neighbours, especially the more elderly among them. They might pick up prescriptions from the chemists, do a pile of ironing, fix a light fitting, replace a tap washer, or other small, household chores. This assistance has helped retain elderly residents in the street. “They just need a little help from time to time,” Nigel told us, “particularly those with no relatives living close by. Many of the children
A group of John Street tech experts help those not so good with computers and technology in general to use Skype and Messenger to connect with family overseas.
Nigel Jones has an old university friend who lives in Devonport, where she was brought up. On a recent visit she reminded Nigel how long it used to take her to get to and from Auckland University each day – an hour each way, she reckoned. Now her two sons hail a water taxi, cross the harbour in five minutes and stroll up to university.
Nigel Jones told us how impressed he is with the transformed use of our Waitemata Harbour, with ferries, autonomous vehicles and hydrofoil taxis plying to and fro.
Some people still have cars, including Nigel’s parents who have an old beach cottage up north, but cars get little use. Bob and Mary Jones go north by train, picking up an AV in Whangarei to take them out to the coast.
Nigel Jones told us that reduced pollution and eradication of pests and poisonous chemicals are the most significant changes in the last 30 years.
The continued development of home gardens is impressive. Most John Street residents have little need to go out daily to shop. They grow and eat fresh from their own gardens, and they compost everything they can. Zero waste to landfill! The rubbish truck has no need to go down John Street every week because there is nothing to collect. A recycling bin at the Lincoln Street end takes all recyclables away. Residents pride themselves on how little they accumulate and how little they waste.
There has also been a renewed effort to preserve heritage buildings in Auckland too, which impresses Nigel Jones. “We’re way ahead of London,” he says proudly. (JOHN ELLIOTT)
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