Paula Bennett on the diversity of Auckland and how to handle the election year

OPINION:

I love Auckland – this city is beautiful, diverse and gutsy. It used to be quite arrogant at times but that wind has been knocked out of its sails by long Covid lockdowns and a feeling that the city is losing its vibe.

Hopefully the rest of the country hasn’t stopped reading. What happens in all parts of the country matters to the whole and Auckland, because of its relative size and contribution to the economy, matters too.

I was born here, grew up in Kinloch on the shores of Lake Taupō and returned in 1991 to start a new life with a young daughter in tow. Taupō helped shape me, the Waikato is my turangawaewae but Auckland is the place I choose to call home and it snuck into my heart. I even support the Blues.

It’s local body election year, so a good time to have a contest of ideas. No, I am not running for mayor, but that doesn’t stop me giving a damn and wanting to see dramatic improvements.

I welcomed Sir Peter Gluckman’s report this week on Auckland’s future. He is a super-brain legend and it’s refreshing to be challenged and think beyond ourselves to our next generation and what shape the city may take. But right now it feels like we have stark problems slapping us in the face daily and little motivation to address them. We lack leadership that calls it like it is and then rolls up its sleeves and gets on with it.

We are a difficult lot. We want the infrastructure and vibrancy of Melbourne but we want it from a population of 1.7 million people compared to their 5 million and we dare not have a real conversation about what we want our population to be lest we get into an argument.

I want the argument. Borders are opening and we are going to miss the opportunity to attract people to our city – we are at real risk of a mass exit of our brightest and ambitious as they look at a broken city that lacks the ability to back itself and get stuff done.

So what stuff should we get done? Finish what you’ve started. I no longer know if I am for or against the City Rail Link – I just know I sure as hell want it finished, fast. Open up our central city, stop closing and slowing down streets, listen to the people who live and work in there and trust them to get it thriving again – the council could try not being a handbrake and imposing stupid ideas so it is seen to do something and trust in the people who actually live and breathe it and let them get on with it.

Sir Peter called it “a region of integrated precincts”. I quite like that. One of the things I like most about Auckland is its extreme diversity. Each community has its own style and vibe. I’m a Westie – you weren’t going to take my identity by turning it into a SuperCity and you haven’t. So don’t treat us like a homogenised group. Celebrate our differences while recognising what bonds us, we’re all getting a bit more local due to Covid, so let’s invest in our communities and help places like Henderson, Māngere and Beach Haven to take pride in themselves and thrive.

Fix what needs to be fixed in regard to the SuperCity – i.e. our CCO’s structure and lack of accountability – but don’t take us backwards. We are so far from perfect right now but I can’t even imagine how we would get things done in the interests of the city with eight mayors and councils posturing and battling it out.

My list could go on but space doesn’t permit it. This is your year to have a say. Challenge our contenders for council positions about what they will actually do, then do what far too few do and vote.

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