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This Auckland

This Auckland

The city that could and should be great, and sometimes is, but far too often isn’t.

 

Friday night a couple of weeks back, it really rained. And there was poor, hapless, heroic Keven Mealamu, the buzz-topped toad, playing his last game for the Blues, defending the goal-line with his teammates against wave after wave of inspired Highlanders, the rain sweeping into their faces like a curse. It was a battle where everyone knew that all the valour in the world would not save them. It was Game of Thrones, and there should have been a bonfire in the middle, and instead of the loyal Kevvie trudging to his assassination, they should have had the members of the Blues board all tied to stakes in the fire.

Auckland, eh. It tries the patience, doesn’t it? The next day, council “design champion” Ludo Campbell-Reid was tweeting that he couldn’t imagine driverless cars in Auckland, which was like, I bet he couldn’t imagine iPads either, not so long ago, but it doesn’t mean they won’t happen. And the roads lobby was arguing for more roads because the economy suffers when trucks get stuck in traffic, which sounds logical but isn’t.

Once more: if we build more roads they will get clogged with more cars, but when we build a proper rapid-transit network it will ease pressure on the roads, for trucks and for everyone else who needs or wants to use them. The roads lobby should be the city’s biggest champion of rapid transit, not its enemy (public transport advocate Patrick Reynolds has more on this in the new issue). And Housing Minister Nick Smith spent the day wittering about houses at Hobsonville Point, as if he really is in control of the housing crisis.

Auckland. You get up every day in this glorious city and there are always people who should know better rooting around in a mud of stupidity. But the sun shines on the harbour, the trees glow in the sun and glisten in the rain, and there’s inspiration to be found all over the place. I had stingray for dinner that night at IKA (for my review, see the new issue), and it was superb. And I had just the best time at the final of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

A near-full town hall, the crowd all incredibly excited — honestly, the arts should learn from sport and turn shows into competitions more often. The first finalist was so good I thought the others would surely struggle. Then the second stepped up, stuck her violin under her chin, gazed sharply at the conductor and went to work on Brahms.

It was like war made magnificent: beauty, bending the world to its will. She pitched herself into the long solo piece in the first movement, the magnificent APO willing her on, and reached such great lyric heights I wanted to leap to my feet, stomping and shouting. Of course, one doesn’t do that with classical music, even at a competition put on by Michael Hill. I sat happy in my seat instead.

She was like a cricketer in the zone, playing with more time than everyone else as she slid and swung and soared her way through the work. In the third movement, she even rolled her shoulders at one point, with the nonchalance of someone who totally owns it. Eunae Koh, of South Korea. How I applauded.

She didn’t win. What would I know? Our critic David Larsen, who actually does know about these things, was there, and you can read his possibly more persuasive account in the new issue. I enjoyed Michael Hill, too. In his mid-70s now, he came on stage in a rakishly open-necked white shirt and the tightest pair of black jeans I’ve ever seen on a man, and he made a speech about inspiration and goals. He went on and on. He’s not a speechmaker, really he’s not. But he’d earned the right. Hill is a great philanthropist, and he did a great thing for this city with that competition, and I applaud him too.

 

Auckland, eh. It can be good, but it isn’t good enough. There are three things to know right now.

1. By the end of 2016, even if the Auckland Housing Accord plan is fully implemented — which is not happening yet — we will be 26,500 homes short. Excess demand will keep prices rising sharply and the economy distorted badly by all the investment sucked into housing.

The only reason this is not being treated as a catastrophe is that politicians believe Auckland home-owners who can pay their mortgages will vote for them if they do nothing about it.

2. Unless we develop rapid transit — that’s the electrified underground City Rail Link, modern trams and better bus systems on some routes — it will not be long before nose-to-tail buses clog up some of the arterial routes leading into town, as well as Symonds St and other city streets like those around Britomart.

Road users — the people who want to stay in their cars — should pay a big part of the cost to fix this, because they will benefit the most.

3. The New Zealand International Film Festival starts on July 16. We’re sponsoring a film in which Colin Farrell has to decide if he wants to turn into a lobster. You want to see that, don’t you?

The film festival: it’s when you go to something that might be a bit weird because it could turn out to be bloody wonderful. At the splendid, splendid Civic (more on that, you guessed it, in the new issue).

Auckland. Worth the battle, and full of rewards.

 

This editorial appears in the July/August issue of Metro, on sale now.

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