Wednesday, August 26, 2020

I despair for Wellington

 I have a lot of affection for Wellington. I spent most of my working life there. Two of my children were born there. Many of my oldest and closest friends live there still.

It’s a place full of pleasant memories for me. I enjoyed my first non-European meal at the Shanghai restaurant in Manners St. I had my first under-age beer in the infamous Bistro Bar at the Royal Oak Hotel. I met the woman who became my wife in The Beachcomber at Oriental Bay. I knew most of Wellington’s pubs and I played in bands in its bars, cabarets and dance halls. In later years I spent many pleasurable hours exploring the city’s nooks and crannies on my mountain bike or on foot with our dog.

The climate was lousy but it was a city full of character and charm. It was true that you couldn’t beat Wellington on a good day. But when I go to Wellington these days, as I often do, it’s hard to avoid a feeling of despondency at what’s happening to the place.

Wellington feels dead in the water. Public buildings that formed a crucial part of the city’s identity are out of bounds and likely to remain so indefinitely. Engineers and city bureaucrats who are either incompetent or paralysingly risk-averse (or both) appear to be doing their best to suck the life out of a once-vibrant town that rejoiced in the slogan Absolutely Positively Wellington.  

The city is run by a fractious council dominated by leftist ideologues, presided over by a well-meaning but ineffectual mayor whose only claim to the job was his dogged longevity (he’s been on the council since 1992). The forward momentum created in the 1980s and 90s under a succession of energetic, visionary mayors – Fran Wilde, Mark Blumsky, Kerry Prendergast – is a distant memory. Under Celia Wade-Brown, Justin Lester and now the colourless Andy Foster, it has been supplanted by a sense of civic sclerosis. 

The city’s stasis is exemplified by the dismal stalemate over the development of Shelly Bay, potentially a jewel in Wellington’s crown but mired in endless disagreement and acrimony. And let’s not forget the optimistically named Let’s Get Wellington Moving, which has come to sound like a cruel, ironic joke.  

Wellington even looks tired and unkempt. The grungy look that was once confined to Cuba St, long celebrated for its Bohemian charm, has spread in all directions. But rather than being shabby chic, which might be tolerable, it’s just plain shabby. It’s a hotch-potch, gimcrack city that sends out conflicting signals: endlessly disrupted by unsightly street works and construction projects, yet not making any discernible progress.

But hey, don’t worry that the city’s water and sewage infrastructure is buggered, or that a bloated and inept regional council did its best to sabotage the once nationally admired public transport system, or that drunken brawls are turning the increasingly squalid Courtenay Place entertainment precinct into a no-go zone, or that the central library is operating out of a tent on a weed-infested vacant construction site (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration), or that private-sector employers are having trouble attracting workers to what was previously dubbed the world’s coolest capital, or that the bells in the carillon in the National War Memorial can’t be rung for fear that the supposedly strengthened tower will collapse, or that the city council is floundering financially, or that shops are empty and the city’s acclaimed hospitality sector is struggling to survive.

No, we can all relax, because Wellington’s woke councillors are on the case. Two of them, Jill Day and Tamatha Paul, have boldly tackled the city’s problems head-on by recommending that iwi representatives be given seats on council committees – paid representatives, that is, with full voting rights. Day says they would bring “knowledge and insight” on how the council should tackle issues such as (you guessed it) climate change.  They wouldn’t be elected by popular vote, of course, and they wouldn’t be accountable to the people who pay them, but that’s okay because democratic principles are presumably a legacy of colonialism and a tool of white privilege.

I despair for Wellington. It deserves better than this.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

The loss of the library was devastating. And what is to become of the beautiful old Wellington Town Hall? The budget on that keeps blowing out.

Odysseus said...

I have lived in Wellington for 50 years, with occasional stints overseas for my job but always returning here. I share your memories Karl of the Shanghai Restaurant ("Chop Suey with a side of bread and butter") and the Bistro Bar. I have never felt such despair for this city, for all the reasons you eloquently point out. Its decline gathers pace with every passing day. As for the Council, they are beyond useless. It's somehow fitting that they now seem intent on adding a layer of race-based unaccountability to their increasingly inane deliberations.

Brendan McNeill said...

Civilisations, cultures and the cities they build are an expression of the common identity, beliefs and values that are shared by their citizens. When the social order predicated on these values disintegrates, as it is most certainly doing at present, then the resulting decay will be manifest in our music, artwork, our social cohesion and our cities.

This is perhaps best observed in the USA. Anyone been to San Fransisco, or Seattle in recent years, or even Denver since they legalised pot? I first visited the states in 1980 - and many times since my last visit a couple of years ago where the growing social dysfunction was very noticeable.

We spent five years in Wellington from 1978-83 and two of our children were born there. We made lifelong friendships during our sojourn. While I worked in the corporate world, it was very much a city of government employees. On subsequent visits, it appeared to have improved considerably, however I haven’t been back for years, and I’m sorry to hear of its decline.

Most city councils are dominated by the political left. There is a fascinating sociological study awaiting a bright Phd student right there. Why is that? It is instructive that the cities in the USA experiencing the most substantial decline, and lawlessness, where the ‘mainly peaceful’ protests take place are run by Democrats. Governance from the left.

The political left consists of those who are most abstracted from our civilisational roots, who are most likely to espouse ‘progressive’ ideas and causes that are ideological, and predicated on a utopian understanding of the human condition. They are predispositioned for failure.

And yet, we keep electing them, which brings me back to my first point.

David George said...

Thanks Karl, but a lot of the really important stuff, vital infrastructure is being done and done well. You forgot to mention the gay rainbow pedestrian crossings.

Dan said...

I've lived in Auckland since I was 12 years old, but have always considered myself a Wellingtonian; I was born in St Helen's, the world's first state-run maternity hospital.
I've not visited 'home' for a few years now, so this account of her current state really makes me sad; I despair with you, Karl.

Doug Longmire said...

I also lived 30 years of my adult life in Wellington, and still have family there.
Your article says it all Karl.
The progressive degradation of what was once a beautiful, colourful, exciting city is very obvious to us all. Closing down the library that was once a trail-blazer in NZ. Followed up by the Left Council and weak mayor.
Just tragic, and now we have unelected, racially based Councillors.

Scott said...

Well that's what you get when you educate people to become leftists, essentially Marxist in their thinking. Marxism or communism or socialism degrades everything. It destroys the past for the sake of a utopian future which never arrives.

The demise of Christian thinking means that the vacuum has been filled by revolutionaries. In the past we had people who believed in – beauty, goodness and truth. Now we have revolutionaries who are filled with the opposite, who do not even believe in beauty. So we have ugly modern buildings. We have a decline in social order. And we have a contempt for the past.

Even here in the Wairarapa we see that councils do try and preserve some of the beauty of the past. If you go to Greytown the buildings have been preserved and refurbished but everything is on a human scale.

This will be unpopular but I actually think what we need is a religious revival. Tepid liberalism and post-modern radicalism will not save us.

Hilary Taylor said...

My own 'Glidetime' years (late 70s) were spent in the old Defence building ...all (p)asses must be shown, snigger...and after 7 months in the LTO, after my high school years in AK, I woke up to forsaking men in cardis for heading to Vic to get a meal-ticket...spending the hols back there earning dosh. So Wellington is another in my collection of 'hometowns'. Still have family connections there. Depressing reading Karl, Must ask the bro still there if he concurs.

hughvane said...

@kiwidave - love it!

I've not been to Wellington since my mother's funeral in 1998, but there are similarities between what you, Karl, say the capital city now is, and my once home city of Christchurch.

A Council of (too many) spineless Lefties, headed by a failed labour politician, paying grossly inflated salaries to management staff, all at the expense of long-suffering ratepayers. My father used to say that "a baboon on a bicycle" would be elected in (local body) ChCh - as long as it was under a Labour banner. Thus ChCh must continue to suffer. Wellington too?

David George said...

Well said (as usual) Brendan.
I recommend, for those that haven't seen it already, this brilliant essay by Yoram Hazony: The Challenge of Marxism.
Discusses how the Liberal consensus (“liberal” in the classical sense of devotion to human liberty, with a private sphere protected by natural rights, the equal moral dignity of individuals, freedom of conscience, and a limited state) is being marginalised, obliterated by an ascendant culture predicated on the Marxist critique.

Excerpt: "How will they do this? As in the universities and the media, they will use their presence within liberal institutions to force liberals to break the bonds of mutual legitimacy that bind them to conservatives—and therefore to two-party democracy. They will not demand the delegitimization of just President Trump, but of all conservatives. We’ve already seen this in the efforts to delegitimize the views of Senators Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Tim Scott, as well as the media personality Tucker Carlson and others. Then they will move on to delegitimizing liberals who treat conservative views as legitimate, such as James Bennet, Bari Weiss, and Andrew Sullivan. As was the case in the universities and media, many liberals will accommodate these Marxist tactics in the belief that by delegitimizing conservatives they can appease the Marxists and turn them into strategic allies.

But the Marxists will not be appeased because what they’re after is the conquest of liberalism itself"

David George said...

Oops. Link for the Yoram Hazony essay The Challenge of Marxism:

Andy Espersen said...

kiwidave - Spot on. I also was really taken with that article. It is the most thought-provoking essay I have met with for a long time. Commentor “Scott” above wants a “religious” revival. I understand where he is coming from – but that is an unfortunate word.. I rather think we need a liberal awakening, an intellectual awakening, a scientifically enlightened awakening. Martin Luther is generally regarded as a “religious” reformer. He was that - but fundamentally he was a political reformer. The reformation in the 16th century finally elevated the individual person and his/her freedom (before God) - to where it is today.

Martin Luther represented the very beginning of the great European Enlightenment.

Doug Longmire said...

And I see today that Sean Rush has been bullied into grovellingly apologizing for turning his back on an impromptu song being sung at the Wgtn City Council.
This is the kind up unrighteous aggression which is now common from the woke Left wing, which cries out for "diversity", but attacks diversity savagely when it does not fit their rigid pre-conceived notions.

Unknown said...

It all comes down to complacencies and lack of fighting back.
How many times have you heard, “not worth voting for that lot?”
The Woke left know this a get their act together over a plate of Mung beans and a bottle of cheap cider.
Rod Page
Island Bay

paul scott said...

Once you live overseas Karl that's how all New Zealand looks, because it is. A Socialist pathetic failure.

Doug Longmire said...

Agree Totally Scott !!