The one change that strikes me most about Auckland since being back is the traffic.
Granted, it may not have necessarily happened in the last six months. I’ve been working in the suburbs for a while so it’s been about three years since I regularly commuted into the CBD every day. Either way, our roads are getting more and more congested and unless change is initiated from the top down, things aren’t going to improve
The single frustration I have right now with work is the commute. I don’t mind spending more money and time on the bus. I quite enjoy working in the middle of town again – it’s buzzy, inspiring, and a lunchtime run along the harbour is the kind of thing that makes you pinch yourself in joy.
But getting there in the morning is sheer insanity. At least once or twice a week traffic holds us up and doubles the journey time. It can take anywhere between 45 to 90 minutes – and the bad days are totally random. Much as I hate getting up early, I think I’m going to have to suck it up and just make a habit of getting the early bus. I’ve noticed – and so have others I know – that nowadays it’s the people who live in the suburbs furthest out who make out the best. They get express buses that whiz along the motorway, while those of us who live a little more central inch up the clogged arterial roads minute by painful minute. Until all these main roads have bus lanes, uninterrupted by traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and intersections, we are screwed
It’s probably not a coincidence, then, that I’m noticing a hell of a lot more people cycling to town in the mornings – and that’s awesome. It’s still not that many, though, and I can’t blame them. You have to be pretty brave to jump on a bike around here. Even if I wasn’t horribly uncoordinated, and even if the weather here wasn’t as fickle as a hyperactive toddler, there is no way I would dare to bike to work. I think back to the time we spent cycling through small town Germany and how unbelievably terrified I was through it all – even though I honestly can’t think of anywhere safer and less crowded to cycle. At one point when we got into a village I was thisclose to bursting into tears, hopping off and walking the bike along, so panicked was I about being on a road with actual cars occasionally passing by. No way could I handle it in Auckland.
I complain a lot about Auckland … but I don’t think my writing here accurately reflects my true feelings for this city. If you’ve been reading for awhile you’ll know I’ve concluded there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather live – there is no perfect city. We’re an understated lot here. I’m also a pessimist at heart. Yet while I know I can’t have it all, I DO – I want absolutely everything, the whole package.
Auckland is good. I can’t believe I used to complain about the weather so much – it’s freaking sweet, I just didn’t know how extreme the seasons were in most of the rest of the world until I left and experienced it myself. The weather can swing in an instant and it rains a little too much, but it’s stunning when it’s not. It’s never too hot. Winter is too chilly for my liking, admittedly but I’m a wuss – it doesn’t even get cold enough to snow. If that ever becomes a thing, I’m getting the hell outta Dodge. Climate-wise, we live in a little microcosm of paradise here. And of course, it’s relatively clean, safe, and close to every kind of landscape/environment you could wish for. (Proximity – it’s one of our top selling points as an entire country, as I’ve learned.) All the good ingredients that money alone can’t buy – environmental, social, cultural, political – are in place here, in my opinion. We are blessed.
But it could be great. It really could. We’re getting there – Auckland’s grown in leaps and bounds just in the last, oh, five years? There are so many great new eateries popping up, new public spaces, and cool developments have sprung up on the waterfront, in Ponsonby Central, at Cityworks Depot and more. We might even get bona fide Mexican food at some point. That’d be the day…!
Sadly, there’s more to do. Our two major pressing concerns are housing and transport. Both are fixable, of course. We have to tackle the standard of our housing, which is shocking on a world scale. And we need to reverse the unaffordability problem. At the same time, we have to invest in public transport. No way are we going to get people out of their cars in rush hour when buses and trains suck so badly. I’m not even particularly hopeful for an awesome, comprehensive city-wise network in this lifetime; I imagine this is always going to be a city where you’ll want a car to be able to hop in on the weekend and head out to the bush or beach – but surely we can sort out weekday peak time public transport. There are people with vision and ideas - we just need action.
Our population is growing, our land is narrow and limited – the city is changing. Like other cities around the world, we’re growing up. Whether this is a good thing or not – whether we should be encouraging growth in other parts of the country instead, that have the space for it but where fewer people want to live – isn’t something that really interests me. Other people can get into that debate.
What rights does being a local afford you? I’m not sure locals are entitled to anything more than newcomers to a city, but personally I think all residents deserve the bare basics. I don’t think growing up in Auckland entitles me to a mansion, but I don’t think a warm, dry, affordable place to live is an outrageous thing to hope for. (I don’t think that I’m entitled to home ownership, either, but given how terrible the rental market is, the traditional option certainly seems the lesser of the evils.)
Despite the twin issues of transport and property – which admittedly are not small ones – people continue to gravitate here, and I can definitely understand why. But if we really want to claw our way up from third to first most liveable city in the world, we can’t stop striving for improvement. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling our leadership isn’t moving fast enough.
I love Auckland – not blindly, but with eyes wide open. I want to live here for the rest of my life, barring some monumental change in fortune that would enable me to spend half my time travelling. I want this city to reach its full potential. I really hope it will.
What are the biggest issues facing your city?