Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jafa wars

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.


At 11:28 am, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rod Drury cites WLG's smallness as an advantage:


Aren't the same things said about San Fran, particularly in comparison with, say L.A.?

At 12:04 pm, August 15, 2007, Blogger s. said...

In the 12, 13 years Ive known him, Damian Christie has never been known to not make an unsufferable twat of himself at every possible opportunity.

He reads Sunday Star Times. That in itself should tell you enough about him to render his "opinion" piece -- based mostly on the opinions of other idiots -- worthless and inconsequential.

1. The weather sucks? The weather sucks in AK, too, and sucks worse. It always too hot, humid as fuck, or a freezing wind is blowing off one of the harbours bringing the next rainstorm. And that happens 5 to 10 times a day.
2. It takes forever to get down Cuba St? Don't stop and talk to everyone, you vapid bore.
3. You see your date's ex in a bar? Nod and smile politely, like a fucking adult.
4. Courtenay Place is overrun with drunk fools at night? And uh.. it's any BETTER in a big city? Bridge and tunnel, bridge and tunnel...
5. Gemma Gracewood appears to be the only person in Wellington who has ever had trouble getting a crowd of "somebodies" to an event.
6. Bureaurocrats turn up at nine and go away at five, leaving important work unfinished? Uh, no. They don't. Dick.
7. Fly My Pretties suck? Yes, they do. So what. So do The Bleeders, Elemeno P, and innumerable other AK bands.

and so on, and so on, and so on...

At 3:01 pm, August 15, 2007, Blogger buddy said...

Didn't mention: the bypass, the intractible and quite useless councils, the stupidly out of place apartments, the state of public transport, the clinical public design aesthetic, the service in bars and restaurants, a tendency to say "Wellington" when one means "Te Aro and the waterfront" at the exclusion of the remaining three cities and everything south of the Basin Reserve, the over-reliance on Peter Jackson as a cultural marker, and the rest? the stuff he quotes sounds like soft poop, compared to what the hell is actually wrong with the place. Stuff that you know...needs fixing, as opposed to stuff you don't actually like. Damn, man, it's just not your dream lifestyle? Well that's too bad. Auckland is nice. I like Auckland. Stay there and enjoy it.

At 3:21 pm, August 15, 2007, Blogger Baz said...

The problem with Wellington is that it made Auckland an experiment in sprawl and poor planning, resulting in today's infrastructural issues. If I had to drive everywhere in their traffic I'd probably invent reasons to despise the capital...

At 6:50 pm, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo Tom....

At 8:41 pm, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the whole notion of anonymity is really fiction. I went to university in a city of nearly 1 million. By the end of 5 years I couldn't wait to get out of what felt like a small town where I was always running into people I knew. I moved to a city with a population of 4 million, and part of a metro area of 8 million. After 5 years I started running into people I knew everywhere. I moved from there to New Zealand, and just recently while on holiday to another big city I ran into one of my old neighbors from years before.

Runnning into people you know happens everywhere. The people you know are all conditioned to go to the same places you do, like similar things, we just don't realize it.

At 11:14 pm, August 15, 2007, Blogger Off-Black said...

Speaking of cliches, it was nice to see some obligatory Hutt bashing.
WTF is up with that? Lived there most of my life, don't see why it is supposedly worse than any other large suburban area nationwide.

If the article isn't satire, it is unwitting propaganda to ensure that Metro reading Aucklanders are seen as wankers. So we don't have celebs. Who cares?

At 8:45 pm, August 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact that you bump into people you know is one of the things I like best about Wellington. Having moved here 6 months ago from Melbourne, people always ask why I moved this way when so many people move the other way. I think Wellington is a great city and very under appreciated.

At 11:27 pm, August 16, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

"a tendency to say "Wellington" when one means "Te Aro and the waterfront" at the exclusion of the remaining three cities and everything south of the Basin Reserve"

But the other three cities aren't Wellington, and if Jenny Brash had her way neither would Tawa, Johnsonville, Khandalla/Ngaio, and Crofton Downs.

Lower/Upper Hutt and Porirua are welcome to cede to Wellington rule anytime (in which case the other cities will be Wellington too, and therefore automatically better places to live).

On the topic of Auckland tho, great place for a city, shame about the planning, but it's getting better.

At 10:42 am, August 17, 2007, Blogger s. said...

Heh, yeah.. and by the same "logic" it would be ok to say that Auckland is a dump because of Henderson and Otara.

Characteristically poor writing, again.

At 12:02 pm, August 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you've posted your bile in a couple of places, Stephen, I should do you the honour of cut 'n' pasting my response in kind:

"First of all, drinks-after-worker aka Stephen Clover aka whatever you want to call yourself, I don’t quite know where you get the line “In the 12, 13 years Ive known him”.

After making a phone call, I found out that you know someone I know, but aside from possibly meeting you at a party a decade or so ago, I don’t think can claim to know me at all, buddy, much as you’d like to. It obviously gives you quite the thrill to say you’ve known me for years and you think I’m a twat. Sorry to disappoint. I might be a twat, sure, but you don’t know me, and never have.

I’ve obviously had some serious effect on you though, given the on-line string of bile you’ve directed at me over the years. Did I not give you a cuddle when we met in the early 90s or something? Sorry about that, buddy."

At 2:49 pm, August 27, 2007, Blogger buddy said...

thinking about all of this, about the mayor of P-town making expansion overtures, I think, being under the jurisdiction of the wellington city council is the opposite of a treat. All I'm sayin' is, Jenny Brash, if you read this - please put a claim in on the Aro Valley as well. We could do with some...you know...whatever it is that councils are supposed to do, I'm not even sure I rememeber any more. Something to do with Peter Jackson, I think?

At 9:21 pm, October 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From someone from otara ... Fuck Stephan and your bullshit comments. Seen your profile pic.. if i see u round these parts ima slap u with my cock
Wellington bitch


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