The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

17 Mar 2017

Can we upgrade “living in the CBD” to a proper living arrangement?

Well, I’ve left the building. I’m now living in the ’burbs. Like normal people.

Apartments. Somewhere.

Those apartments go by a lot of nicknames. Shoe boxes. Rabbit hunches. Chicken coops. Something in me says that these are not compliments.

Now, let me be clear: those apartments themselves aren’t that bad. OK, there’s some corner cutting value engineering going on, but nothing life-ruining. Except for one thing — the deaded paper thin walls. In that case, my condolences. But anyway, that’s not the point.

And let’s not forget the advantages of city living. For one thing, having lots of stuff very closeby. The stereotypical example along urban geeks is restaurants, and yes, there’s a lot of choice withing a short walk. The same goes for jobs, there’s a lot of them within an half-hour walk. (Don’t laugh, a lot of people living in the suburbs spend way longer than that in their car.) If you value that advantage it may be worth it to suck it up for a bit longer.

No, the problem is the context, the area around these apartments. In the end living in the city centre just doesn’t feel like a normal and dignified way of living. It’s this crappy, temporary living arrangement you’ll get out of as soon as you can afford it.

Which is really a shame.

It’s all about streets

Streets are a city’s most important public space. It’s where you are every time you leave home, and every time you come back home. It’s where you may bump into familiar faces. It’s where your kids will walk if they want to hang out with some friends. This is a city centre, there’s no driving to someone else’s house with a backyard. There’s walking to the park. There’s also walking to the grocery store, the cinema or the restaurant. You’ll spend quite some time on those streets.

So, with all those people living here…

What about some open space?

D’oh!

And you’re going to be in that environment every time you leave the house. Fun.

Imagine what a miserable existence it must be for kids. Who’s going to let their kids walk along these streets? It’s kind of OK to lock up kids in a house with a backyard (which is how it works in suburbs), but imagine being confined to a 40 m² apartment. What can I say. Poor kids.

“Pedestrians Please Use Other Side”

Same with the traffic lights. Understanding Hobson Street traffic is easy. There are 2 modes of operation:

  1. the PM peak, with the big queue of cars waiting to go onto the motorway.
  2. everything else, when there’s almost as much traffic from tumbleweeds as from cars.

It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science (or traffic engineering) to figure out that neither of these needs the cut-throat maximal amount of green time for Hobson Street.

The noise, same story again. What’s there to gain from tolerating boy racing at night? Some people find sleeping with the window closed unpleasant. I can assure you that’s a lot more unpleasant in a 40 m² apartment.

All these things add up to an overwhelming impression that normal people were never meant to live there.

Wasted potential

Program traffic lights. Enforce exhaust noise limits. Stop being so subservient to the convenience of cars. Many of these things are so easy to fix, yet so unthinkable.

And then we’re wondering why people hate apartments so much. Gee, what a mystery.

This needs to be fixed. We can start with maintaining the footpaths to the same standard as the roadway.

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