Recently Mr Hickey interviewed Wellington City Councillor Rebecca Matthews and it was disappointing for the lack of critical thinking taken on housing. I want affordable housing for everyone but government and council policy is advocating a neo-liberal laissez-faire approach to urban planning.  But the failure of laissez-faire is why urban planning began as a discipline; think of Dickens.  Suburbs were a response to try and improve the quality of peoples lives and generally they did. 

But without evidence Mr Hickey and Ms Matthews criticise people using democratic processes to protect themselves from very real impacts like loss of character,  heritage, sunlight, privacy, and green spaces.  While there are increased community costs and risks from more flooding with less green spaces, more carbon intensive new buildings because of more concrete, more plastic in new buildings such as shown in TV1 Sunday programme 7 May.  And also it’s about a loss of a New Zealand identity.

Without a strong focus on heritage/character in our cities there will be a loss of a sense of place, of what is different about this place (e.g. Wellington and New Zealand) and the stories of the lives of past residents – that connect to this or that building or place. And without that sense of something that looks different and reflects our past we won’t have a sense of where we came from, of what makes us different and therefore what makes us special.  These urban planning changes are an attack on our identity as New Zealanders. 

‘Things’, buildings, places, stories, matter to identity. It was an absolute disgrace that our colonial government systematically destroyed every fortified Pa site in New Zealand. People at the time spoke of how impressive and inspiring they were. How they admired them. The destruction was one of settler control and domination, to destroy Maori identity and pride. Fortified Pa may have come from war but the preservation of them would have been a respect for the past and the people who used them. In the same way our leafy green suburbs have many older buildings from a colonial era but the buildings are not guilty of colonial crimes.  Neither are these buildings guilty of making the affordable housing crisis. 

Mr Hickey and Ms Matthews demonstrated no awareness of or engagement with identity and quality of life issues from these urban housing changes. Suburbs successfully built to deliver a better quality of life are going to be allowed to be destroyed on an intellectual whim that it must be privileged NIMBYism. That what will come will be affordable housing.

And so saddest of all is Mr Hickey from his economist angle will know that new builds will not be cheap/affordable, because building costs are so high, except there will be a small discount if they have no direct sunlight or suffer lots of noise or lack of privacy. He knows that the driver of a lack of affordable housing was from the high investment demand that drove up house prices; because housing was a safe investment compared with building society failures or share market crashes; better income too. And high house prices mean high mortgages which are simply passed onto renters. He knows high immigration drives up housing prices, and our huge tourism industry takes housing away from the long term rental market and into the short term rental market. 

He knows all this but it’s so much easier and less complicated to slander and scapegoat ordinary people as a reason to decrease quality of life by trashing green historic suburbs. To be blind to what these suburbs mean to liveability of a city and identity. In Wellington these green leafy suburbs (Newtown, Thordon, Mt Vic, Mt Cook etc) are already high density housing that can be done up without huge amounts of plastic. They already sequester carbon. Our existing housing stock is part of the affordable housing solution as they can be cheaper than new builds and are less damaging to the planet. But Mr Hickey and Ms Matthews do not engage on these issues of substance.

p.s. I have no direct conflict of interest as I do not own a separate house. I live in an apartment. But on visits to Auckland I have enjoyed walking through green leafy suburbs with character homes. And anyone can do that. 

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