My job often takes me overseas. I’m actually writing this from Brisbane. And often when I fly back to Auckland I find a small tear forming in the corner of my eye. I’m happy not just because I get to see colleagues, friends, family, and Baby Kuku (see below). I just generally love being home in Auckland.
I also find that every time I get back to Auckland something new is happening. I stumble across new cafes, new stores, new buildings etc. Houses on my street are being renovated and painted and generally tidied up. Even if the city is not perfect, it feels like things are heading in a positive direction. It just feels good.
Recently, however, the NZ Herald has started to run a number of very negative articles about the Unitary Plan (UP). In this recent post Matt outlined a number of ways in which these articles have tended to misrepresent information about the UP in an attempt to create “bad news” stories. This concerns me.
For all its talk of “multi-storey” development, the Herald has not – as far as I know – provided any examples of what 4-6 storey buildings look like overseas. Let me assist. The photo below, for example, shows a 6 storey building (including the attic) in Amsterdam. As Maurice put it “be ye not afraid.”
Now I accept that the UP is not perfect.
But the trade-offs involved are complex. Auckland is growing (nice problem to have), development needs to happen somewhere, less development in one area means more development somewhere else, different development patterns have different implications for infrastructure costs, and so on.
Raising height limits, for example, reduces the need for greenfields sprawl, and vice versa. The UP tries to find a balance between these types of issues.
From what I can tell the Herald is having none of it. This latest article by Bernard Orsman spends a lot of time taking things to a whole new level of uninformed emotive negativity. The views of a local resident and landowner, for example, are paraphrased as follows (emphasis added):
Statements like this provide little comfort … they confirm her worst suspicions that the council is paying lip-service and acting like the Government of Cyprus to steal property rights for a bankrupt agenda.
Even when you ignore the bizarre connection to Cyprus, this comment is simply illogical.
Let’s get this clear: Raising height limits enhances property rights, because it enables landowners to develop their properties more intensively. Repeat after me: “Raising height limits enhances my property rights“. To claim that the UP proposes to “steal” property rights is, in this context, completely illogical.
What’s more frustrating than the comment itself, however, was that the journalist does not subject it to any critical examination. There was no reflection on the tension between the resident’s property rights and the rights of her neighbours, nor how they might be resolved in a manner that was fair and efficient for the city.
Hypocrisy underscores much of the emotional rhetoric. The local residents, for example, felt:
“We are the landowners. We are supposed to have ownership of that land, but we have this group of people who have come to Mt Eden and made sweeping changes …”
At this point I had to laugh. Was the journalist not tempted to point out that all the UP does is enable development rather than require it. So if all the landowners don’t want to develop their land then that’s fine. If some of them do, then they can – up to four storeys. Sweeping? Hardly.
I guess it’s just easier to encourage NIMBYs to squeal like entitled little piggies. Not good enough, in my opinion. But then the article finishes with what struck me as truly awful journalism:
Hate speech is coming to a street near you – if you live in a quiet piece of suburbia, like Poronui St in Mt Eden, and object to your neighbourhood being rezoned for apartments and infill housing. In a sign that the council is losing the battle to persuade middle-class suburban Auckland to adapt to a new way of life, it has appointed 28-year-old councillor Michael Goudie to counter more conservative views.
Not only that, but wise heads like deputy-mayor Penny Hulse are turning a blind eye while Goudie promotes an anonymous blog article, We Hate Nimbys (Not In My Back Yard) that labels a “sea of grey hair” opposing a new planning rulebook “selfish, arrogant, narrow -minded and parochial people” who should “just hurry up and die”.
In one fell swoop the article seems to be implying:
- If you object to the re-zoning proposed in the UP, then you will be subjected to hate speech.
- That the Auckland Council is, first, trying to persuade people to adapt to “new way of life” and, second, that they are losing that battle.
- Councillor Michael Goudie has been appointed by Auckland Council to promote the UP. But Goudie, sanctions hate speech and is tacitly endorsed/supported by Penny Hulse.
Weasel words like this are a red-flag for me, and they are often used by extremists like the Tea Party movement in the U.S. As Michael Higgins notes in this entertaining and impassioned debate with a Tea Party advocate, the general strategy is to “get a large crowd, whip them up, and try and discover what is their greater fear. Work on that and feed it right back and you get a frenzy” (1:05).
The greatest fear held by some of Auckland’s residents seems to be multi-storey development, and the Herald is now dutifully whipping this fear up into a frenzy.
Now I appreciate that the Herald needs to sell newspapers, and the negativity they push may achieve that end. I also understand readers of the Herald tend to be older and more conservative, which in turn is likely to be reflected in the types of articles that are pursued by Herald’s editors and journalists.
Basically, I understand that the Herald has a commercial prerogative to reflect the views of their readers.
Nonetheless, I think the Herald’s coverage of the Unitary Plan has now crossed some sort of ethical line. Their negative and imbalanced reporting on the UP is certainly not what a responsible newspaper would do, nor is it – I suspect – what decent Aucklanders want.
Most decent Aucklanders would, I think, recognise the UP is too important to be exploited for political or commercial gain. To do so would be akin to crapping in your own backyard – because your actions will, in the long run, harm the community around you (that you rely on for your business).
By not providing more balanced reporting on the Unitary Plan I think the Herald is betraying the future of our city. Emotive words perhaps, but that’s nonetheless how I feel.
At the end of the debate, Higgins suggests his Tea Party opponent should “be proud to be a decent American, rather than be just a wanker whipping up fear” (4:12). I’d like to send a similar message to the Herald.
Be proud to be decent Aucklanders, rather than just wankers whipping up fear.