Wednesday, 14 September 2022

The Bad Guys Are Winning.

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.

7 comments:

Odysseus said...

Simply brilliant! Message to Millennials, "be careful what you wish for". These ugly apartment blocks will not make housing more affordable because they will bid up the price of land which is the main barrier to affordability. A key driver behind Labour's thinking is climate alarmism. Politicians of the Left are hostile to opening up more land beyond existing city limits because of fears this will increase emissions and congestion due to commuting. They fail to appreciate the role of cities is rapidly changing, that the CBD is dead and that the devolution made possible by technology and accelerated by the pandemic (think "working from home") is the future which is knocking on the door right now.

John Hurley said...

I have to wonder about Sean Plunket. Interviewing Acts Brooke Van... on immigration policy he said he hadn't heard any argument to the contrary ie when we are short of workers we import migrants. When you call him he flushes the toilet if you are calling about migration policy.
He said to one texter: "where did that bit of xenophobia come from?"
We are where we are because the skilled migrant policy means wealthy migrants stimulate the economy creating a demand for skilled migrants.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwlj7iWZVEw&t=871s

Gary Peters said...

I think the primary driver here is to attempt to avoid spending money on infrastructure. Odysseus thinks "the climate" is the issue but I think they are too stupid to see that we need infrastructure, especially if we want to import low wage workers.

The problem in New Zealand has never been capacity to build it is that we are still a low wage country with a poorly educated work force. Rather than solve the problem of general undereducation and lack of infrastructure labour intend to reinforce it's electoral base by importing immigrants prepared to work for peanuts and build ghettos to house them.

Imagine if, as a countyry, we took all the funding that has been poured into separatist health care, language and mahutacorp and redirected it to "remedial teacher training" to eliminate the problem of kids leaving school illerate and zero interest loans to councils to upgrade and extend sewerage and water reticulation.

Those two simple steps would, over a short time, upskill our workforce, probably reduce unemployment and crime plus allow expansion of our cities rather than infill and still overload our already strained cities.

In my opinion. 😎

David George said...

Chris: "This Labour Government hates the poor!"

Jacinda & Co need to ask the question: "Hans, are we the Baddies": https://youtu.be/hn1VxaMEjRU

John Hurley said...

What a pity that .... No, no it's fun!
https://twitter.com/oscaroverflow/status/1554991052943400961?s=20&t=wlhugznljXiwtWcORl2Blw

https://twitter.com/oscaroverflow/status/1556050991119990784

John Hurley said...

You mean Peter Siddell’s painting’s Chris?

Guyon Espiner asked John Key why he wouldn’t consider doing what Singapore does. Key brushed it aside. - Cut out the middleman?

A Nation of Public Housing (1/2)

Neal Peirce / Jun 30 2012

For Release Sunday, July 1, 2012
© 2012 Washington Post Writers Group

SINGAPORE — If you hate government, want it out of your hair and held at bay, Singapore should be pure hell.

One government agency manages 80 percent of the housing stock — all called public housing. It checks your age and whether you’re married to decide whether and when you’re eligible for an apartment. It decides what you’ll pay to occupy your flat, which local services will (or won’t) be provided. It even checks your ethnicity — every housing area has a set balance among the leading local ancestries — Chinese, Malay and Indian.

So unless you’re affluent enough to own a private home — and few Singaporeans are — the government’s Housing and Development Board is your all-powerful landlord. Ignore its rules and you’re out in the cold.

Sounds oppressive?

Well, consider the bargain that’s offered — a clear path to personal financial solvency if you’re a citizen of Singapore and play the game as the government wishes.

Given specific entry rules, you’re entitled to an apartment.

There are hurdles. First, you have to have been employed continuously for at least one year — call it public housing if you will, but no freeloaders welcome here!

Second, you have to be 21 or older and forming a “family nucleus” — already be married, or plan to marry. Wedlock and flat acquisition seem to go hand-in-hand. (Are gay couples eligible Unambiguously no, even though one hears Singapore does have its own gay community.)

Single men or women can apply for the housing, even in groups — but not until they’re 35 or older.

Plus, there’s a moderate income ceiling and a strict rule: you can’t own any private housing.

What’s notable is that once you agree to this social engineering, and you’re “in” — you’ve made a down payment, signed what amounts to a mortgage agreement — you have a choice of different apartment sizes. You’re actually an owner. The monthly payments are a modest 20 percent of your family income. And as you build value, you can actually sell your apartment and move to a higher-grade unit.

John Hurley said...

2/2
When Singapore won its independence in 1960, subsistence hut-like buildings housed most of the people. Today, across the crowded citistate, one sees arrays of high-rise public housing towers, symbols of nationhood and rootedness won by conscious, consistent effort. Singapore has every right to boast that it’s “the only country in the world to achieve almost full homeownership status” — no slums, no squatter communities. And “not just public housing, but homes people can be proud of.”

Plus there’s a constant pattern of demolishing older apartment complexes, replacing them with new. To undergird community solidarity, residents are invited to move en bloc with their neighbors to brand new apartments.

It’s easy for outsiders to say there’s government-enforced conformity in Singapore. And indeed, a nationwide set of government-underwritten social clubs provides constant recreation and educational activities, targeted at age groups ranging from little children to elders on canes. The conformity and government sponsorship might concern Americans. But the delivered, year-in, year-out services, clearly enriching Singaporeans’ peoples’ lives, far outshine those in all but the most affluent most U.S. communities.

Plus, Singapore is redefining public housing design in a dramatic fashion. Standing at ground level, one gasps with amazement at the height and drama of the new Pinnacle housing project, opened in 2009 on a prime center-city piece of land.

And why? Soaring upward from ground level are no less than seven 50-story apartment towers. And “not just towers” — the seven as actually linked, made a single community and project, because they’re connected by skybridges. One, on the 26th floor, offers residents a children’s playground, an outdoor gym, and a quite amazing 800-meter long jogging track. And on the 50th floor, there’s a sky garden and 360-degree viewing deck.

It’s in the nature of high-rises to be far more impersonal than communities of more human scale. But of one plans high-rises with care — social as well as physical — the results can be highly positive. And as the world — Asia a prime example — adds billions more people, attractive and livable high rises can make a dramatic difference.

Touring the Pinnacle, noting kids at play, joggers on the run, classrooms and varieties of stores, enjoying the spectacular views and sense of safety, I suddenly had a flashback. I recalled the ugly and forbidding, ultimately high crime zones of America’s post-World War II public housing. I remembered visiting the ghastly Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis before it was abandoned, blasts of dynamite reducing it to rubble.

So it’s obvious: government can make dire mistakes — as we Americans indeed proved with our callous placement of public housing in isolated neighborhoods, deprived of connections and services. But as Singapore illustrates, government can perform social and physical miracles too. Ultimately the issue’s not government — it is us.
http://citiwire.net/columns/a-nation-of-public-housing/ [old link]