Last month, media person, sometime blogger and reluctant man-about-town Damien Christie wrote an article for Metro about everything that's wrong with Wellington. I know that's old news by now, but I've deliberately taken a while to respond here, partly because it was hard to tell how much of it was consciously "shallow Jafa" self-parody and how much was real. Besides, Che has done a good job of replying, but I thought it was time to have a go.
Apart from the usual jibes about the weather and public servants, the article mostly boiled down to the complaints that (a) you keep bumping into people you know, so it's hard to be a misanthropic slapper, and (b) we have too many intellectuals and bohemians and not enough celebrities.
On the first point, I can agree a little bit: there is something appealing about the anonymity of a really big city (though Auckland hardly counts as that, either). But is there really anything wrong with bumping into people you know when you're out for a walk or a drink? Most of us actually enjoy social contact, and relish the fact that (many) Wellington streets are functioning urban public spaces rather than just roads where we can all whiz past in the splendid isolation of our cars while going from one suburb to another. If you feel constrained by that, then either you should widen your circle of friends beyond a narrow clique of media and PR people, or take it as a hint to treat your fellow human beings with decency and respect.
But I'm certainly not going to complain about it being hard to find a bunch of publicity whores to turn up to the launch of a new car. As I wrote elsewhere about a night that was full of Wellington's equivalent of "celebs":
I spent some time talking to a certain Aucklander "in exile" who had just written a scathing article claiming that Wellington isn't a real city because it doesn't have celebrities. Maybe we don't: instead, we have people who are well-known for their talent, imagination and achievements, rather than for their busts (drugs or otherwise). Sounds like a fair swap to me.I don't actually hate Auckland: I enjoyed much of the two years that I lived there in the Nineties. But I do hate the way that it's laid out, with all the implications that that has for social disconnection and environmental destruction, and the fact that it's pretty much impossible to live there without a car. Contrary to Christie's assertion that Wellington is "a heart without a city", I've always felt that downtown Wellington feels more like the centre of a real city than Auckland does. That's confirmed by census figures that show that Wellington's CBD has more workers than Auckland's in a smaller space, and if you expand the boundaries of Wellington's CBD to include inner suburbs, it has more workers and residents than the same space in central Auckland.
So, if you're a city person, the fact that there's several times the population between Henderson, Orewa and Papakura as there is between Waikanae, Birchville and Seatoun doesn't really matter: if they're all spread out in office parks and malls then you're unlikely to bump into them on a daily basis, and they don't factor into the sense of bustle and activity that makes a city. Wellington could definitely do with more people (maybe twice the population in a similar space would be ideal), but where they live, work and shop has at least as much influence on the sense of urbanity as sheer weight of numbers does.
He also digs out the old cliché that in Wellington "You're either a bureaucrat, or someone in the private sector whose income derives from supplying bureaucrats." We could certainly do with a broader economic base, but that's a vast exaggeration: I worked in Wellington for nearly 15 years without knowing anyone who worked for the core public service. And that's a bit rich given that he works for TVNZ, which is, erm, the government-owned public broadcaster.