Tuesday 14 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.
The weather forecast for today, and for the next three days is pretty dismal, rain intermingled with showers and high wind. It wasn’t raining when I got up so I chose to get out early and hopefully miss the worst of the weather coming later. It is now 6pm and it still hasn’t rained, I got hot and sweaty power walking in a coat for nothing, slightly better than getting soaked I guess.
I try to find myself a walking mission to do each day, one that gets me at least two hours out of the flat exercising, so far so good, and I am losing some excess flab which is a bonus. Yesterday I walked to Vermont St in Ponsonby to look at a house that is available for short term rent. It is more than we would like to pay, but it is available and we (I) have finally accepted the reality of property being ludicrously expensive, especially if we want to live somewhere nice and close to the city. I liked the look of it and I had a good walk as well as picking up groceries on the way back. I didn’t take a camera so there are no pictures from that outing, but it was a good one.
Over lunch Eleanor and I got in touch with the real estate agent who had the Ponsonby property about a second listing she had. This new one is a newish two bedroom apartment just outside the city centre and most important it’s available for a short-term let. After a couple of chats with the agent it was sounding positive so my mission today was to do a walk-by and see if I like the location and the look of the building. In lockdown level 4 we cannot view the inside, which has added to the hassle of finding somewhere to live. I just assume all city apartments are going to be noisy, and rule most out just by their location when they could be amazing.
Eleanor had a video meeting at 10:30 so I was out the door before it kicked off, wrapped as previously mentioned for the pending heavy rain and wind. I took the big camera as I wanted to take a few photos in downtown Auckland while there were so few people about. With heavy rain due and with the city in lockdown it should be almost deserted, just how I like it.
If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know my views on the centre of Auckland City and that I pretty much hate the place, which I find quite depressing as I love the broader city; especially the parks, hills and beaches and even some of the suburbs. I have long thought the centre to be insipid, uninspiring, suffering from a lack of vision and leadership, poor planning and a vast amount of developer greed. My view has not changed after today’s walk. It is verging on criminal what has happened to this city over the past 40 years. Sitting on the edge of a lovely harbour, with a long main street that rises up a valley with a park on either side it should be the crown jewels of New Zealand urban landscape and design. It is just a mess, hideous and soul-less. Yes, I know it is lockdown and the centre is devoid of life but it looks and feels just as shit when it is full (mainly of cars and trucks) every other time I have visited.
The Skyworld Entertainment Centre was opened in 2000, just 21 years ago, as THE centre for entertainment in Auckland, with its giant Imax screen and futuristic layout and lighting and the much loved rocket lift it was modern and innovative and looked amazing. I think it is closed now, leaking and falling apart, too expensive to run. An apt symbol of the decay and thoughtlessness let run riot in the city centre. Mismatched and poorly designed buildings, made on the cheap and barely meeting the extremely low building standards of the time, yet construction continues at pace and the skyline is littered with cranes.
I walk past the back of the derelict St James Theatre, between it and the library. The library forecourt is a small homeless village, though I am assuming (hoping) the library is still functioning. As I was taking this photo a guy out walking stopped and we talked about the state of development across Auckland, he was as unhappy as I was. I went to the cinema at the St James in the 70s, it was the fancy theatre in a block of three, the other two are long gone now, one just a hole in the ground. At some stage in the last 20 years the St James became a music venue, holding 2000-3000 people at a guess. I went to some fantastic gigs there and it was the best mid-size venue in Auckland. The land was sold for flats, there was a mysterious fire sometime over 10 years ago and the place is being left to rot while developers and authorities argue its future. Auckland really doesn’t need another 34 story residential building over a revitalised cultural centre. Auckland needs more housing absolutely, but this is not the solution. And yes I am bitter about what has happened over 40 years to what was my home town.
There are few people on the street, and about half seem to be homeless or street drinkers, some unenthusiastically attempting to beg from the very few pedestrians taking exercise or escaping their tiny box-like studio apartment. I didn’t feel unsafe in the slightest, but it was grim and there was an air of unhappiness and resignation. Walking down Queen St was not pleasant, there are a number of deserted shops in the mid section of the street; these do not look like Covid closed places, these look like the premises of someone who has given up and moved their business to someone newer and less dispirited. Queen St should be Auckland’s premier street, this is where we invite tourists into the country, cruise liners dock not far from where the street used to end by the harbour. It used to the place to go when I was young, but no more.
The bottom end of Queen St is much more upmarket, perhaps this is as far as the cruise liner day trippers want to walk; as far up the street as the Dior and other fancy overseas shops go. Perish the thought that overseas tourists are shown anything from New Zealand, other than some plastic tat, tea-towels and placemats in an overprices souvenir shop. I guess they ‘Buy New Zealand’ on one of the other, less urban day stops.
I cross over to what used to be lower Queen St, and past the being redeveloped Britomart train station. Across the square is the Downtown Mall, perhaps it has another name now? This is also being redeveloped, and the posh foreign shops are moving here. There is a sign on the hoardings round the building site for Commercial Bay – ‘Auckland’s most exciting fashion, hospitality and business precinct…’
This completely sums up why Auckland City Centre is in such a terrible state. Rather than fix the problems we have; fix the issues with rent that means businesses cannot afford to be on Queen St; fix the issue that means so many are homeless, begging, sniffing glue and drinking in the city centre and encourage the arts and culture back, we just give greedy developers permissions to build a new centre, slightly away from the last. In 20 years this will happen again and this new ‘precinct’ will be as run down and rubbish as the one it is trying to replace.
I move on to walk past this apartment we are interested, ironically less than a kilometre from here, a place I so obviously dislike. The apartment is on the fringe of the centre, opposite Victoria Park; walking distance to cafes and restaurants, but with none in the immediate vicinity (I think) that will create a lot of night time noise. It is less than a 15 minute walk to Eleanor’s office as well, one of the reasons we chose it. I liked it, being near and having a view of a park will be nicer than having a view into someone else’s living space.
I meandered my way back up town, avoiding getting any further depressed by Queen St. I liked this piece of street art hidden away by the side of a bike-path off Upper Queen St. One thing that has improved since I have been away has been the increase in safe cycling in the city centre. More needs to be done to remove cars, but cycling looks to be much safe than when I used to occasionally cycle to work.
The path lead me to a side entrance of Symonds St Cemetery, which has long been a late night goth hangout. I took a couple of pictures as I pass, though the need for a loo stop was building and the public toilets all seem to be closed in lockdown so I was forced to carry on home. I will come back and take some photos here another day.
Once back at the Air BnB I rang the agent to advise that we liked the look of the flat and was given a number to call for the previous tenant who lived there for a few months while working in Auckland. He advised the flat was pretty quiet with the door to the deck closed and that it did look as nice as the photos suggested, just what I wanted to hear. The flat comes fully furnished and even includes bedding, towels and everything we would need to move in and start living normally. This will save us some hassle and a lot of money.
The upshot of all this is, we now have somewhere to live to the end of Feb, and we move next Saturday, the 25 Sep. There is a clause in the contract that allows us 48 hours from when Auckland goes to Level 3 to view that flat and withdraw at no cost if for whatever reason we don’t like it. I will post some photos once we have settled in.
10 more sleeps here, if I can stand it that long. I dislike the neighbours here so much it almost hurts.