Archives for posts with tag: New Brighton

So you may have noticed that I’ve been a little bit quiet on the blogging front for the last couple of weeks. I’ve got a decent excuse for that – I’ve been working to organize and stage manage the Labour Party annual conference, which was held at Wigram Air Force Museum over the weekend. Now that I’ve managed to catch up on a bit of a sleep, I’ve had a bit of time to read some of the things that were written and reported on across the weekend. The two best pieces I’ve read are Gordon Campbell’s¬†and The Civilian’s (I tried to broker a compromise deal between Ben and DC’s media minders; sadly it didn’t come off.)

The major policy announcements from the conference – KiwiAssure, 10,000 houses in 4 years, temporary housing in red zone houses, New Brighton redevelopment – are really exciting moves, that have been the product of a number of people, both in Wellington and Christchurch, working through some of the most pressing issues that face Christchurch and the East in particular. I’ve been part of that process, and I’m really proud of the outcome. The policy to build 10,000 Kiwibuild houses within 4 years shows that a Labour government would take a far more proactive stance on rehousing the people of Canterbury – but also a more hands-on role in reshaping the way a city works. Over three years after the first quake, the hands-off, laissez faire approach has led to sky-rocketing rents, people living in garages and a rebuild that has pottered along unconvincingly. I hope that this more assertive position leads to the end of the coward’s truce that “don’t politicise the rebuild” gave rise to; these are major issues about the way we live, the way we interact with each other and our environment, and they deserve to be discussed with passion and clarity by all sides in the argument.

As a child of the baby-booming middle class, I like to spend some of my holidays in places like Stewart Island. This is what I did last week. I went there for a crash course in “things that white people like: NZ edition”, which included bush walks (especially in the rain, wind and or mud), looking for and appreciating rare native birds (saddleback, yellowhead, muttonbird), calling them by their Maori names (Tieke, Mohua, Titi). Another favourite holiday activity is sitting around reading books from the odd collection that are in the bookshelf of the overpriced holiday home you’re renting. After finishing Nigel Spivey’s “How Art Made the World” (light stuff) I found Bruce Ansley’s “Gods and Little Fishes”. I found it a very enjoyable read.

Ansley writes or wrote for the Listener, and wrote another book on spending a year on a canal boat in France, so definitely has the worried, aging boomer market down pat. This book is a memoir of his life growing up in the East Christchurch suburb of New Brighton, and it lovingly details his upbringing and relationship with the community there. I have only spent a small amount of time in Brighton myself, but even this limited experience was enough for me to see that the rows of unoccupied and dilapidated buildings told a story. This is that story, and it is well told and very prescient for our city right now.

While it does trace the rise and fall of some of the prominent buildings – including the pier – what makes Ansley’s story so vivid are the characters who live in and around them. He conveys a real sense of community, one that there was only gasps of when I was growing up in the 80’s, and that you would have a hard time tracking down anywhere in Christchurch now, especially in our newer exurbs. How many people nowadays could name their butcher, grocer, tailor. How many people could even access those sort of services without getting in a car or on a bus?

This memoir may be selective and nostalgic, but I don’t doubt that it is by and large, an accurate portrayal of a mid-20th century suburb with real community. And what has happened to that community now? People still live there, sure, but the state of the businesses around there shows that the community aspect has changed. Our city isn’t designed for community anymore – and we have a chance to change that. Once the streets have been cleaned and the houses put back together, New Brighton should offer some important lessons to the people who make the decisions about Christchurch. I am not suggesting that we necessarily throw away all we have learnt in the last 50 – 60 years about urban planning, but if someone can point me towards a better portrait of a better community in this country’s urban history, then I would like to see it.