Auckland is a city that raised me. I grew up here – playing soccer on these fields, stealing sour bears out of the supermarket bins, catching those never-on-time buses to school.
I am an Aucklander.
Yet every year I come back to this city and become more disenchanted. There are a few new restaurants, a few refurbished parks, maybe a new stadium. The city is being given love. It’s improving. But for some reason it feels emptier every time.
After visiting a bunch of cities across the globe, I have to say it:
Auckland might be one of the most disappointing cities in the world.
If you took a stroll through this city, you’d probably be impressed. Living in Auckland gives you everything. Countless beaches, in every direction. Weekend markets. Clean. Endless good cafes and restaurants to try. A big stadium for Adele to come and sing. All the nature you could want. Four seasons. Admittedly the wifi is barely fast enough to load a 1992 web page, but everything else is pretty close to perfect.
So why is it so uninspiring? Why is everyone in such a bad mood? Why do so many people leave?
A little while ago, I found the answer. I was in Rotorua for the weekend. It was late, dark, I needed some dinner. I rolled up to the Pak N Save, bought myself a chicken, some yoghurt (you tried that Raglan yoghurt yet? Pretty good stuff), a couple of Up N Go’s for the following morning.
As I unloaded the basket, the checkout girl started talking.
“Heeey. How’s your night going?!!”
I pulled back with shock. Not because she was talking to me – that happens everywhere. It was the energy. This was actually a proper How’s your night going. Not a they-told-me-to-say-this-at-training-or-I’ll-get-fired How’s your night going.
“Uhh…yeah. It’s going good. How’s your night going?”
“Good! Almost time to close up. I’m soooo tired oh my goshh.”
“Yeah can’t be fun working this late.”
“I know right! Hey are these Up N Go things any good? I always mean to try them.”
She let out a hearty laugh.
I walked out of that supermarket totally bemused. You might be thinking that sounds like a pretty normal conversation, but that just doesn’t happen in Auckland supermarkets.
And that was the final piece of the puzzle. After a short 2.5 decades, I finally figured it out.
It’s not Auckland that’s the problem.
It’s the people.
Yeah, Aucklanders. It’s you.
Take a walk around Auckland city on and given night and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re not even in New Zealand. The streets are mostly empty, and the ones who are out and about are foreigners.
Because they’re the only people who actually make an effort to enjoy this city.
Everyone else is at home. They’re watching The Bachelor. Nobody wants to see new things. Nobody wants to meet new people. Aucklanders live in a bubble. Them and their little circle. No strangers allowed.
This is not new to the world. It’s a pretty normal big city mentality. You’ll see it in Tokyo, Paris, LA. But here’s the catch. Auckland isn’t a big city. It’s not even a medium city. It’s barely even a small city (about the size of Porto, or Cincinnati, if that helps).
Yet everybody seems to be rocking a New York ego. These PWC Tower dwellers walk around like they’re on Wall Street. As if Queen Street is the new Manhattan.
You know that guy – he works in the mailroom, did a couple of touch typing courses, now he swags around the office like he’s the CEO?
If he were a city, he’d be Auckland.
I drove through the city the other day. I noticed all these new little community areas with benches and whatever. Beautiful summer night. It was all empty. I went to an open mic night. There were seven people there. Thinking it might be an off night, I went to another one a couple of days later. There were four people there. Because why would anyone in Auckland want to go see their fellow citizens play music? The Bachelor’s on, man. And they got a big New York life to live tomorrow.
Auckland is my home. I grew up here. I left. I’ll come back. But I want to see this city blossom. When people ask me about my hometown, I shrug and tell them it’s alright. When people ask me how many days they should spend in Auckland, I wince and tell them the truth. One. Maybe two. Probably zero. How can I tell them to fly 18,000km to the bottom of the world to visit a city of couch kumaras?
Most great cities around the world polarise people. They have lovers and haters in equal measure. Oh my gosh, London is amazing! No it’s not, it sucks balls. New York is awesome woop! Pfft, New York? More like Poo York.
But Auckland has neither. No one loves it, no one hates it. It’s just there, like a pound cake. No icing. No gooey centre. Have you ever heard somebody say, “OMG, Auckland totes amazing!”
Don’t lie, you haven’t.
But you also haven’t heard them say, “Auckland, totes shithole.”
(Am I using totes correctly here? Tryin to stay hip).
And this is a problem, because the worst thing isn’t love or hate. It’s indifference. And that’s where Auckland is. This city makes me feel nothing. It’s flat. Boring. So when people ask me about my city, I have to say it’s just alright. That’s the truth.
But I don’t want to say that. I want to be proud of my city. I want to tell them we have the coolest, funnest, friendliest people in the world. I want to tell them to be careful about visiting, because they may never leave. I want to tell them our energy is going to blow them away. I want to talk about this city the way I talk about the other magical cities I’ve seen. I want to rave about it. I want to tell them Auckland is one of the greatest cities in the world. But I can’t say that. Not with a straight face. Can you?
The sad thing is: We can be one of those great cities. We have everything here. Our beaches would make us the envy of any world metropolis. Our summer sun is perfect. Our beach parties could be legendary. We have every exotic cuisine you can think of, made three times better with our famous New Zealand produce. Our morning air is minty crisp, like an Oddfellow. We have the space, the infrastructure, the stability, the chic factor. And we have blood from every corner of the planet here. Pacific Islanders, Chinese, Africans, Middle Easterns, Chileans, Southeast Asians, Europeans, Brazilians, Brits, Americans. Imagine if we brought all that energy together. If we actually became the melting pot we always claim to be (even though all we do is ignore each other). We could be the new-age happening city that people fawn over. The next Berlin, the new Barcelona. The clean green version. The Kiwi version. We could have cities around the world trying to be the next Auckland.
Yeah, you’re laughing right? That’s our problem right there. Nobody sees it. Nobody wants to see it. But I’m telling you, this city has all the potential in the world.
How do we make a better Auckland?
There’s really only two reasons you try to befriend someone new in Auckland. You think they can get you a new job, or…you think they can get you a new job (which is why everyone in Auckland keeps changing jobs). Aucklanders don’t know each other. If you ask any Aucklander about their social life, they’re still hanging out with their friends from high school. They haven’t made any new friends since they were 16. Except for maybe their workmates, since they have to see them every day.
How do you change this? I have no idea. People just need to stop being dickheads, I guess.
Two things Aucklanders complain about at least six times a day: Housing and Traffic. Honestly, these two things wouldn’t even matter if we had a decent transport system. The reason everybody needs to live so central is so they don’t need to wake up at 4am to get to
Wall Street work on time. It shouldn’t take two hours to get from eastern suburbs to the North Shore. In any other city you’d jump on a subway and cover that distance in twenty minutes. This is probably the reason the city is so segregated. Nobody is going to drive for an hour to see some pop-up market across town, especially when petrol costs half a testicle and parking is $300 per minute.
So here’s what we should do. Someone tell the mayor to stop building new roads (you hear that Phil? Stop building new roads). Build a bloody transport system instead. Make the cost of registering a car $5,000. Why not make it $10,000. Watch how fast your rush hour disappears. Then use all that money to
build more stupid monuments around town subsidise public transport so we can whiz across town for one gold coin.
There! I just solved Auckland’s traffic problem. (I know it’s not that easy but it probably is actually that easy).
I will admit the city does an okay job at this. If you jump on Eventfinda there’s actually a lot of cool shit to do. The new night markets was the kind of thing the city was missing, and the Silo markets and movies in the park and the dance floor thing in Aotea Square – all pretty cool.
The only problem is, nobody shows up.
Auckland city is a ghost town 5 nights per week. We need to un-sanitise the place. Our sidewalks are huge and empty. Bring back the food carts and the street performers and the buskers and the street sellers. I’d love to buy a sausage sizzle on the street (with overcooked onions) and watch some dude play the saxophone. Make the city fun again.
Of course, the second part of the equation is getting Auckland’s people moving. What can we do to get people out of their homes and make this place great? I know the Bachelor is cool watching these girls fart and all, but we got a great city out here to enjoy. What can we do to get people out there? I darno bro. Tell me.
Honestly, if Auckland didn’t have an airport most tourists wouldn’t even come here. It’s expensive and difficult to get around, and then you get to the city and there’s nothing to do. But tourists are great things to have, because they bring energy, curiosity, activity, and money. That means we need some real tourist shit. We need a backpacker zone (Fort Street doesn’t count). Some free walking tours. Food tours. More cycle lanes or something. I don’t know, I’m just mental diarrhoea’ing here.
And finally. Can we all just stop being so
fucking snobby anti-social? If you’re going to the bar tomorrow can you actually, I don’t know, say hello to somebody, instead of sitting there on your stool talking to the same people you’ve been hanging out with every single day for the last six governments? What is wrong with Auckland? We go to school, make our friends, and then we just live in that little bubble all the way until our Kiwisaver gets released. JAFAness is real. I didn’t notice it growing up here, but I definitely notice it coming home. And I’m not sure where the clique factor comes from, because when you do meet someone here, they’re usually pretty cool. But everyone seems to have their curtains drawn. It’s as if people like the city this way.
Is that it? Do Aucklanders actually like their city this way? Why am I the only one ranting about this (at 3am on a Thursday in my underwear?) I’ll admit, I never said hi to anyone last time I went out either. But at least I thought about it. How about we all start thinking about it. Maybe then we’ll become known as more than just a city with shit traffic and nice coffee and boats that nobody uses. Now wouldn’t that be cool.
Go Blues ✌️
Photo credit: russellstreet