Judy McDonald is the co-ordinator of Living Streets Hamilton, a pedestrian advocacy group. She celebrates the demise of the V8s, and makes some suggestions for our city’s – and our region’s – future.
Halleluiah, we’ve finally got rid of one of Hamilton’s worst mistakes. The V8s are about to become a sorry part of Hamilton’s history. Even if it was finally done by the Australian organisers and forced upon us, at least our elected representatives had the collective sense (by a narrow margin) to agree to the termination.
Shame about the appalling lack of compensation, but at least the money haemorrhage has had a tourniquet applied, and Frankton may be able to crawl out of the mire it has been driven into – much longer and there would be nothing left to rescue.
At this point, as many of us wipe our brows in relief at no longer being associated with one of the most unsustainable, ecologically and financially disastrous events any city could hope to take on, could we pause to consider what might happen next?
The city is poised on the brink of bankruptcy, thanks to the efforts of previous CEOs and mayors. We are faced with appalling cuts being imposed on everything that makes a city a good place to live. The threat is that we will lose a great deal from every creative and restorative aspect of the place we live in: the museum and the libraries stand in the line of fire, along with our magnificent parks and gardens, and even basic maintenance of public amenities such as toilets.
There is even the prospect of Hamiltonians having to pay to visit their own Hamilton Gardens – one of the very few free havens available to all at present.
We need a rethink, urgently. Big-ticket “events” and edifices (stadiums, Arenas, V8s) have proven universally disastrous for us. We need to make Hamilton a good place to live in, not somewhere to go to once a year to watch pieces of metal fly round city streets, or to attend a conference.
Good cities are ones that make people want to live in them. They have public art, interesting places, attractive parks, quirky shops, day-to-day attractiveness, and are places where people can safely walk and cycle. That doesn’t necessarily require huge amounts of money. It requires thought, and consultation with the people who live there.
Let’s start with something small as an example. If we can’t afford to maintain our street verges, let’s get the people who live in them to take an interest instead. Many cities in Australia have council-run competitions for the best verge gardens. That takes a few thousand dollars in prizes and promotion, not a few hundred thousand or a few million, and there are plenty of shining examples to prove it works, all over the world.
So if we want to save Hamilton, let’s think sideways. Let’s not sack the staff at the museum and the library, or our parks and gardens team. We desperately need what they have to offer. Try sacking the lunatic planners in the back rooms of the city council who signed off the atrocities that have got us to this point, and make sure we never go down that track again.
Our best hope may be to become a true “garden city”, a haven in a mad world. Perhaps we could even offer some of our vast collection of empty shops at minimal rents to the beleaguered business people of Christchurch who are at their wits’ end, with no resolution of their problems yet in sight. The whole of the Arts Centre in Christchurch, with all its skilled inhabitants, needs a place to go. Some of them might like to come here. That might really start to put us on the map.