Thursday, May 12, 2011

Growing up.

I've a friend who's at school doing a Masters degree in town planning at the moment. Every so often, it results in really interesting conversations. Recently, one of these started off with a discussion about heritage values and ended up in a talk about New Zealanders general apathy regarding the political process and both the local and national level. When New Zealand was first colonized by europeans, a lot of the colonists were people seeking, funnily enough, a better life for themselves and their families. The escape they made influenced several of what came to be classic New Zealand traits. Things like the no. 8 wire mentality, being influenced by settlers who were probably poor and from rural communities that already had the knack of making do with what they had available.

One of the more interesting traits, apparently comes from the fact that a lot of settlers came so that they could own some land. A lot of the English settlers were apparently renters, so coming to a new country was an opportunity to escape from under the thumb of English landlords, own a bit of property and have a bit of security. This in turn influenced some of our attitudes towards property, one of which has apparently been the bane of town planners for some time now. That is, we generally consider that a property owner has or should have the right to do whatever they damn well want to on the confines of their private property. Specifically, this causes problems for heritage planners as private property owners and developers get a little pissed when they get told they can't do certain things and then tend to argue that the public should be paying for the upkeep of any building that is deemed important. I can cope with the argument that the public purse could be used to assist in the upkeep of certain buildings but no more than that.

The problem with the attitude of being able to do anything you want within the confines of private property, is that private property doesn't exist in isolation. Maybe in the back blocks of Taranaki, but certainly not in urban areas. Any property/building has at least one aspect (the outside) that is essentially it's face towards the community, making it part of the community, part of the public sphere. While the owner should probably have a significant say in what happens to this, I don't see that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. And people have the opportunity to influence the public voice, when district plans are created, when local body and national politicians are elected. There is something to be said for it being difficult to find the information and how to have a say, but I don't exactly see crowds of people clawing at the doors of local authorities demanding easier access. So we sit apathetically by and wait for everything to be all right. And then moan when it isn't. I'm probably being a tad harsh at the moment but I can't help but see this conceit that the individuals rights are paramount as symptom of immaturity. As much as a I hate broad generalizations, large swathes of our population give me the impression that they don't really care what happens, as long as they themselves are all right. I'm quite happy for individuals who want to be self absorbed to go live in the back of beyond. Urban dwellers though are part of a community, part of their life can be behind closed doors but not all of it.

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