|Our Dark Future: It’s a class war, masquerading as an intergenerational struggle, dressed up as a battle for the poor folks living in cars and motels. A class war fuelled by envy and rage.|
THERE WAS A TIME when property developers were very definitely the bad guys. Back in the 1980s, especially, when they came to stand for all that was wrong with the brash new society Roger Douglas was letting them build. They had friends in the council bureaucracy, friends in the media, friends in the government. Yeah, property developers had it made – easy for them.
Which is why the first most people heard about their “developments” was when the lovely old villa next door was bulldozed flat and some ghastly excuse for a human dwelling took its place. No more weatherboard. No more eaves, No more window-sills. Just flat planes of beige. Hideous.
The walls surrounding these monstrosities were apt symbols of the property developer’s “art”. They looked solid, But they were hollow. Nothing but cheap cladding, made to look like solid stucco. Within a very few years they, just like the houses they surrounded, were leaking, rotting, disintegrating. Not that the property developers cared. They were long gone. Laughing all the way to the bank – or bankruptcy.
Definitely the bad guys.
Not anymore. To read Hayden Donnell’s “The Character Protection Racket” (Metro No. 435 Winter 2022) is to be introduced to the Property Developer as urban super-hero. A sort of caped-crusader swooping in to level the “character housing” suburbs that are all that now remains of what used to be one of the most beautiful cities in Australasia. What the developers’ wrecking-balls did to the magnificent public and commercial buildings of Auckland in the 1980s, their children’s bulldozers will soon be doing to the century-plus-old homes that the people responsible for all that style and beauty built and lived in.
Suburb-smashers as super-heroes? Doesn’t that sound just the teeniest bit upside-down and back-to-front? Not at all. Because, you see, out of all that Kauri and stained-glass ruin, will rise the multi-storied, can’t-swing-a-cat-in-‘em – but affordable – apartments that Donnell and his generation have been longing for ever since the “FIRE” (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) brigade drove the humble Kiwi bungalow out of the entitled precariat’s price-range.
It’s a class war, masquerading as an intergenerational struggle, dressed up as a battle for the poor folks living in cars and motels. A class war fuelled by envy and rage.
Since the homes of the inner-city suburbs are gracious and spacious, shaded by leafy exotics, and superbly situated among sweeping, well-manicured lawns, it should come as no real surprise that only the very rich can afford them. What’s more, in a country with no Capital Gains Tax and no Inheritance Tax, these homes can be kept “in the family”. Deferred gratification not being the millennial generations’ strong suit, it would seem that they have decided that if they can’t have the sort of homes depicted in Peter Stillwell’s paintings (which, with exquisite irony, Metro chose to illustrate Donnell’s article) then nobody can. Bowl the lot!
Apparently, like Milton’s Lucifer, Donnell’s generation prefers to rule in architectural Hell, than serve in Auckland’s leafy Heaven. The same people who weep for a natural environment fast succumbing to climate change, haven’t the slightest compunction in laying waste the fragile urban ecologies that preserve cities as both living places and liveable spaces. The cityscape bequeathed to us by these hell-raisers will look nothing like Stillwell’s paintings. It will resemble the dark urban jungles of Japanese manga comics. A world run by ruthless corporations, corrupt politicians, and gangsters – with the blank, angular, and essentially soulless architecture to match.
Which, if one is able to put aside the sick horror of the image, is actually a perfect reflection of the forces driving the demolition of Old Auckland. Remember the description of the 1980s property developer as someone with friends in the council bureaucracy, friends in the media, friends in the government? Well, isn’t that a pretty good description of the people who are out to destroy the “character protection racket”?
Donnell’s allies aren’t the members of grass-roots pressure groups (the pressure-groups are all fighting to preserve the inner suburbs!) they are ambitious council bureaucrats, journalists employed by a mainstream media utterly dependent upon the advertising of the FIRE brigade, and members of a Labour Government eerily possessed by the spirit of the Eighties. A neoliberal decade that laid waste one of the most decent societies on earth – a society whose only tangible legacy are the homes its people used to be able to afford.
How strange that this is where we’ve ended up. With a government of property developers, by property developers, for property developers. A government which has actually made it illegal to protect character housing.
Not because this Labour Government wants to build the sort of Auckland envisaged 80 years ago by the Housing Division of the Ministry of Works. An Auckland of public housing for the poor, and the young, and families saving for a home of their own. No.
When the character housing suburbs Donnell so despises are flattened, what rises from the ruins will not be for the poor, it will be for the ten-percent. The professionals and managers whose mission it is to keep the world safe for the one-percent. The super-rich who will, long since, have abandoned the doomed leafy suburbs for vast penthouses at the summit of Auckland’s proudest towers. Or sprawling mansions in the countryside, up long driveways, safe from prying eyes – and clawing hands.
No, this Labour Government isn’t building houses for the poor. This Labour Government hates the poor! Why else would it leave them to rot in mouldy houses, squalid motels, and cheap imported cars? No, this Labour Government is building boxes – tool boxes – for its ever-helpful mouthpieces and apologists.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this Labour Government is building houses for people like Hayden Donnell.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 9 September 2022.