Lisa Prager: No Laughing Matter

"A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money." W.C. Fields.

It was lunchtime at the bottom of Garnet Road when the sound of chain saws drifted over to me from below Rawene Avenue.

I felt a familiar old dis-ease, then spotted a large bulldozer on the beach which further raised my blood pressure. Trudging across the muddy bay to spy on the unusual activities armed with only my iPhone, I was slipping and sliding on the smooth exposed stone submerged in the tainted harbour mud.

I had made this journey a few months earlier and witnessed that the pohutukawa trees clinging to the cliff edge had been hard pruned for a massive new development. The new owners paid $23 million to the director of Shrek for his house, then promptly demolished it. As I approached, the digger was clawing at the bed rock stripping away the cliff; it sounded like fingernails on a chalk board. This time the workmen were not happy with me photographing them, “Oi! What are you up to? This is private property." I was shocked, angry, then sad that money can buy you anything. It can buy a resource consent to reshape the coastline, it can buy you an extra hundred cubic metres of land and allow you to plunder the natural environment.

Why do crazy things keep happening in our town? Why do we allow our little local retail villages to be ravaged? Queen Street and Broadway to be turned into ghost towns? Why do we allow vital parking to be removed and public assets sold below value? Why? In this moment of existential crisis, standing in the watery ooze, a cloudless blue sky above, I realised the system is not only broken, I feel it has fractured into a thousand shards. We are inheriting a broken city, smashed and wilfully destroyed by the very institutions set up to protect our collective assets. The elected councillors have failed us, compromising their stand on no more cycleways in order to get their pet projects over the line. Arrogant council officers think they know best and CCO executives ride rough shod over common sense.

As a tsunami-sized recession sweeps in, retailers like Huckleberry (Harvest) Whole Foods in West Lynn have closed. They never recovered from Covid or the loss of 11 carparks thanks to the cycleway debacle. Smith & Caugheys will soon shut its doors as Queen Street descends into a state of drunk and disorderliness. Only Auckland Transport's spin doctors believe that following the misguided Master Plan is a real fix. Meanwhile, Westfield Malls triumph and Broadway Newmarket is moth balled, becoming a beggar's bed. Landlords will sell to foreign investors and what ever existing heritage is left will probably turn to dust as profits over people win the day.

I want to be wrong about all of this. I want to say we can reverse this and restore our city to the lovely, liveable place it was, but the train has left the station, the platform is deserted, people’s troubles are packed up in their old kit bags and they smile, smile, smile. (Lisa Prager)

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