You are not in Waimoana now Dr. Ropata

“Why don’t you come and live up here in Whangarei?” I said. “It’s a great little town – out of the rat-race but close enough to a big city – great beaches and huge helpings of nature – plenty of sea-food – it’s really a great place to live.” I stopped myself as I had started to sound like the Grey Lynn type ‘morena ’ spouting folk of Waimoana – in the new series ‘This is not My Life’. I was freaking myself out. Any moment now I might remove a tracking device from my carefully coiffed hairpiece and attach it to him. “Why then is Whangarei so badly planned, so ugly it could make Soviet Kazakhstan look cherry and, well (he wasn’t pulling any punches now) such a hole?” I was devastated. “But it’s not – the people are amazing… it has a great heart… there are beautiful rock formations…” I stammered but I was no longer making sense even to myself. I stared at him in baleful disbelief – he’d ripped off my taped on rose coloured glasses and stomped all over them. “The people might have great hearts,” he sallied on, ‘but the town just doesn’t.” Which was why, he and his partner had set their sights on Taranaki. Great coastal walkways – the town made sense from a design perspective and therefore worked in terms of sufficient population density and cohesion to allow all the great networking to take place that eventually makes a place hum – which in turn creates great job and business opportunities. Until now I hadn’t known how deep and fascinating the science of town planning and urban design actually is and how little I know about it. I also hadn’t realised, being an ‘outsider’ how much I actually love this town in the same way that you love a dear but slightly deranged relative and can see all their faults in the privacy of your own home but will defend their honour to the death if anyone else points them out. If I was going to be brutally honest however I had to admit he had a point. I also felt the need to point out that Taranaki didn’t get a fantastic Coastal walkway or great international events or even fabulous botanical gardens by accident. It was only a few decades ago that New Plymouth was the last place anyone went for a holiday and was known more for its incessant freezing rain and gumboots than for its scintillating cultural activities which now draw thousands to the region who then end up staying longer and enjoying all the natural attractions once they get there. Taranaki’s fabulosity was planned. There was a vision for it and subsequent Mayors and councils have acted on that vision to bring it to fruition. In contrast the North has suffered from the cowboy frontier syndrome experienced in places like Townsville and Florida where there has been development by default. Councils – rather than steadily paddling their own waka towards some pre-agreed destination, have been given 5 different outboard motors by a handful of property developers and the result has been a lot of smoke and noise and a decidedly random route where the crew seem intent on abandoning ship and the rest of the rate-payers who end up subsidising the ride, finish feeling fleeced and seasick. Such things as coastal and wetland protection – sources of great potential tourist income if they are managed well, end up washed up and abandoned on some sandbank along with all the other cultural and artistic attractions that are of no immediate or inherent use to big, quick turnaround property developers. Whangarei rate-payers have public land that could be used for great community initiatives that would make the North an even better place to live rather than the short sighted use of flicking them off to balance the ledger a little. We have one job to do this week and that is: Vote. Vote now. Vote for someone who is going to have a great vision for your part of Northland. Oh. And if someone could take a crow bar to the outboard motors on the back so that the elected navigator can have a go for once, I’ll shout them a round at the pub.

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