I’d only been back from Europe three days when I encountered that deadening, debilitating negativism that infects Aucklanders when we talk about our city.
I’d been enthusiastic about the innovative and exciting architecture I had seen in Glasgow, around Leith and in Liverpool when my friend said, “Well, nothing like that’s going to happen around here.”
The way he said it, so flat and certain, was just depressing.
But in the past few weeks as I have realigned my compass with what is happening -- and not -- with this “Super City” scheme I’m starting to adopt that dull default position myself.
Auckland’s people deserve better, and a better city. But they have been conditioned to expect second best (if anything at all) and have to make do with platitudes about “a world class city”.
Next time I hear that old shibboleth offered up unquestioned I might reach for a handgun.
Could we please ask people who say such blather to define their terms. Or maybe answer these questions: Is Venice a world class city (it smells in summer). Is Buenos Aires (you mean you didn’t see the poverty-blighted areas when you went over for a week of tango lessons?). Is Los Angeles (ever ridden a bus there?).
We were just leaving for Europe when that idea for something on Princes Wharf was mooted, by John Key if I remember correctly (a man who seems driven to be involved in everything from a schoolboy rugby fight, some uncalled-for trans-Tasman cabinet meeting and now standing in as a “celebrity” columnist in the Herald on Sunday).
Key’s idea was something to do with the Rugby World Cup as I recall and just having a venue where people could congregate and . .. Well, drink and watch the games on a big screen I guess.
As if you can’t, and won’t be able to, do that in a lot of places by that time.
I dunno, it just seemed so trite and knee-jerk.
My idea for Princes Wharf is very simple and enormously expensive. It goes like this.
Let’s forget the cruise ship terminal.
Yes, we definitely need one there but why not be realistic: cruise ship people spend no time at all in a terminal (about as much time as you do in an airport check-in) so their needs are actually quite minimal: give over space in a new building that is clean, functional, sells whatever tourists might need (stuffed kiwi bears made from possum, All Black badges etc) but think big and lateral.
Why not a gallery of contemporary art right there on maybe one whole massive floor? Or two?
Here’s my thinking: cultural tourism is a money spinner. People don’t go to Edinburgh to see Murrayfield, they go to the Castle and so on. People go to London, Paris, New York etc for the culture, the galleries, the whole exciting experience. They rarely go there just for a sporting encounter -- and even if they do they engage with the other part.
So let’s seriously take sport/stadia etc out of the picture and think along more inventive, long-term lines.
A gallery of contemporary art from around the Pacific rim, with special spaces for Maori, Pacific and New Zealand artists of whatever cultural background, would be a real earner. And because there are no winners or losers unlike the Rugby World Cup et al then it has a longer natural, self-generating life.
And frankly I wouldn’t care if an Australian designed this eye-catching, innovative, multi-purpose building which also includes cinemas, smaller galleries and museums and with restaurants and bars along the harbour side.
If we have an international competition (and we should) and someone of the foreign persuasion comes up with the best design, isn’t that just fine? Their eyes may see us as we can never do. It would seem more likely an international architectural team would serve us best.
And who is going to pay for this? Well, we are aren’t we? Just as we are going to be paying for the 2011 Rugby World Cup long after the event. (Anybody yet heard how Eden Park will be filled and pay its way when the tumult and the shouts of “awww ref” have died?)
And can we forget a Commonwealth or Olympic Games bid for a wee while until we get this harbourside thing sorted?
This of course would just be Phase One.
But culture pulls crowds every day, sport just when it is happening. Remember how few of the Barmy Army actually turned up as opposed to how many we were promised would come?
Anyone done the maths on how many returned as we were told they would?
My Auckland of the future would have vibrant and exciting architecture that complemented the old and enhanced the available space.
My city would have a long-running, multi-culti, Pacific rim arts festival where musicians and artists from Okinawa and the Solomons would be exhibiting and working alongside our own people and those from South America, Hawaii, Oregon and Alaska.
Hundreds then thousands would come to an arts festival like that, just as they flock to the Venice Biennale and the like. And that would be just part of a whole lot of other integrated arts/sports/cultural events.
My city would have electric trains, a good bus service, and road works that were done during the night and finished in weeks rather than months. It would have a mayor who is visionary and not held captive to the forces already pulling at his or her coattail.
And I would expect to pay for this. It seems I’m paying for a lot of things now that I’m not getting or am likely to get.
But you know what? “Nothing like that is going to happen around here.“ Is it?
And for that I think we have only ourselves to blame. We set such low expectations we can’t imagine there to be any higher.
Shame, it’s a nice city and I was glad to be back. For three days anyway.
But in more cheerful news. Some of you may know that the complete Beatles catalogue has been remastered and is being released on 09/090/09.
Based on being in Abbey Road and hearing some of this music (and what of it I have heard subsequently) I have written a piece for this week’s Listener -- but also these other articles here and here which add some other dimensions to the remastering/reissue. Thrilling music which sounds even better.
Also at the ever expanding Music From Elsewhere this week are about a dozen new albums reviewed, among them the trippy new one from The Clean, the Verlaines and Jordan Reyne -- as well as terrific stuff that is wide-screen pop, New Orleans jazz, alt.country and so much more.
Have a look and a listen. I am also reviewing every major Paul McCartney solo album in his four decade-long career. Why? Well, I have no inside running that he’s ill or anything, but he is the most successful composer of our time so that’s got to be worth our attention.
And I farewelled the late Willy DeVille with an Essential Elsewhere album too.
Lots to read/hear and look at. Enjoy
(By the way, the reason for my only occasional appearances here lately has to do with my new travel book The Idiot Boy Who Flew -- through Public Address Books -- which is due "to drop" [as the kids say] any day now. More on that when it happens.)