Random Play by Graham Reid


An aerial ballet of steel and cement

This may sound strange, but bridges are my thing. At their best they possess a magical quality; they arch across a landscape, ocean or sea; they skim low over a bayou, small islands in the Florida Keys or a desertscape to allow road-trains or railway lines to pass beneath.

I have travelled very long distances to see great bridges such as Norman Foster’s beautiful span in the south of France

Without getting all mystical, I can get slightly misty-eyed when I read a passage like this in John Berendt’s remarkable book about Venice, The City of Falling Angels.

Count Marcello inhaled deeply. “How do you see a bridge?”
“Pardon me?” I asked. “A bridge?”
“Do you see a bridge as an obstacle -- as just another set of steps to climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are links between two parts of a theatre, like changes in scenery, or like the progression from Act One of a play to Act Two. Our role changes as we go over bridges. We cross from one reality . . . to another reality. From one street . . . to another street. From one setting . . . to another setting.”

I don’t imagine too many Aucklanders feel such a poetic attachment to our Harbour Bridge -- I saw an exact replica, sans clip-ons, in Texas one day -- because for us it is just another bit of State Highway One where there is some controversy about flags from time to time, and traffic hold-ups at most other times.

It is easy to criticise those who proposed that structure about five decades ago as lacking in foresight and vision, that they didn’t see just how mobile people would be half a century later, how demanding we would be on smooth traffic flow and our right to live about 50 kilometres from our workplace -- just because we could.

This weekend on Public Address Radio on Radio Live (Saturday, 5pm) however is a man with a vision for a new harbour crossing -- and just hearing him speak for 10 minutes on the matter was inspirational.

I could envision a sweeping arc of steel, rivets and cement soaring gracefully above the beautiful Waitemata, a smooth curve from Wynyard Wharf to Onewa Road on the North Shore, a multi-modal bridge that would allow for rail, cyclists and pedestrians as well as the sacred automobile.

The man with the bold and dramatic vision is Richard Simpson, a former Auckland City transport committee chairman whose plan would also remove existing motorways from along the foreshore and allow St Mary’s Bay to have a bay once again. Almost three kilometres of existing motorway would be deconstructed under this scheme and by virtue of its direct route 100 million kms of travel would be saved annually, he says.

Since hearing him speak I have checked out what such a thing might look like. It is impressive.

And I have been wooed and won.

First ask yourself this: does anyone wax poetic about a tunnel?

Simpson’s team have a vision -- something woefully lacking in most Auckland development projects -- and I think it worth serious consideration.

Of course he says the old bridge would have to go (Where? To beside its twin in Texas, perhaps?) and I need to think about that a little more. As we saw with proposals to name a mountain after Sir Ed, people were pretty quick to discard one historic name because they didn’t know its history and go for this year’s model.

I’d prefer we think as hard about what that old bridge means to us and what alternative use it might be put to rather just bowl, or worse, let it stand until some disaster befalls it like the old Patea freezing works.

This proposal seems to have a lot going for it, and at a time when people talk of cut’n’cover (Oh, how romantic) or more slices of wide roading to again segment our already dispirit city, I think we might want to stop and think.

Let’s not see the bridge as an obstacle, it could be poetic and practical. When Simpson is on radio on Saturday I’m going to tune in again, just so that I can dream on . . .

Also: Since many of you might last have looked www.elsewhere.co.nz has had much added for your amusement: there is a new link on the homepage to Essential Elsewhere, a series of essays about albums (and the odd music DVD) which should be in any interesting record collection -- and these are albums (from Pere Ubu to Old School hip-hop to Ravi Shankar) which can provide cornerstones to build a music collection around.

New music posted this week includes an early heads-up on Welsh soul singer Duffy who harks back to Phil Spector girl groups and Motown soul, and some music from Azerbaijan -- among many others.

There are also a lot more essays and interviews under Absolute Elsewhere, and many more Images from Elsewhere and Windows on Elsewhere. Just a place to waste some time -- and hear interesting and often very different music.

It’s all right here.

In its own modest way I like to think Elsewhere is "a bridge" too.

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