New Perspectives

Hello, old friend. I know I’ve been absent for a while – nearly six whole months, in fact. Where does the time go?

Truth be told, the last few months of 2016 seemed to disappear in a flash. “Is it really October already?” I thought. “November? December? 2017?!”

I kept meaning to come back here, and write a blog post – or five. My absence has not been for lack of inspiration. But when life is rattling along at a breakneck pace, the easiest commitments to drop first are those I keep solely for my own enjoyment, and blogging sits squarely in that basket.

That’s not to say my life was passing swiftly by without me. When I look back over the past year, I can see I filled my time with things I love and that are important to me – dancing; hanging out with family and friends; learning Te Reo Māori; rediscovering downtime; finding a new home with my husband; moving to a place that helps me to live more in line with my values…

It’s those last two points I’d like to elaborate on now. Moving to a new home brought about several changes in my attempts to tread lightly on the earth, for better and for worse.

Ginger cat sitting on footpath at intersection

The neighbourhood cat

Unfortunately, I found the process of moving to a new neighbourhood rather disruptive to my nascent zero-waste habits. I’d spent months finding local shops and suppliers that enabled me to reduce household packaging, and now I was back at square one. Not only that, but the stress of moving into and setting up a new home took its toll and I found myself growing lax about buying plastic-packaged food. I’ve started to establish new waste-minimising routines here, but getting back on the zero-waste bandwagon is definitely a work in progress.

This was the first time my husband and I moved into a completely unfurnished home, so we had to acquire a number of new-to-us items. Some of these items we did have to buy brand new, either because we needed them urgently or because it’s the only way to source apartment-sized furniture and whiteware in New Zealand. But we also found a lot of the things we needed secondhand, in op shops, online, or donated by relatives. 

One of the things we acquired was a car. It’s the first time I’ve officially owned a car, and I have very conflicted feelings about it. Car travel is far more damaging to the environment and to local communities than going by foot or public transport, but I must admit that it’s so darn convenient to own a car in Auckland. In the past I’ve always been able to access a parent’s car for those trips I couldn’t make by bus or train. At our new house, my husband and I don’t need a car for any of our day-to-day work, study, shopping or recreational trips. But when it comes to visiting far-flung friends and family (or bulk bin stores) there really isn’t a good alternative to the car.

On the other hand, I love the location of my new home because it means I don’t need to use the car very often. I can walk to work in less than an hour; the nearest supermarket is just five minutes away by foot, as are op shops and whole foods stores. I can go to dance and yoga classes with a fifteen-minute walk. The local bus route runs every five minutes all day and every ten minutes late into the evening and on weekends, and the train line is also nearby. As far as Auckland locations go, it’s pretty much perfect for (almost) car-free living. Ultimately, being able to access such a variety of destinations on foot gives me a sense of freedom and autonomy. I love that walking can legitimately be the easiest and fastest way for me to get where I’m going, and I love being able to get a regular dose of exercise as part of my commute.

On balance, the move to a small, central apartment has made me feel like I’m living more in keeping with my values. I can drive less, walk more, spend less time commuting and cleaning, and more time enjoying my home. And I can access the people and places I want to visit more easily, so I’m looking forward to another year filled with the things I love. 

Jacaranda tree in bloom

Jacaranda tree in bloom

P.S. I’d love to end on that positive note, but as we dive headlong into the second month of 2017 I feel the need to somehow acknowledge the darkness clouding the world at this time. I’m feeling pretty powerless down here at the bottom of the planet though. While I don’t have the capacity to engage with the issues in a meaningful way right now, I promise: I am here, I am awake, I am watching, I am listening. 

While the light lasts I shall remember, and in the darkness I shall not forget.

Auckland: Fixing Transport and Saving Libraries

Auckland Council is currently consulting on their 10-year budget (you can have your say at www.shapeauckland.co.nz). Two of the key issues Auckland Council are asking about are transport and rates. It’s an important opportunity for all Aucklanders to have a say, because the decisions made as a result of the consultation will affect everyone — all those who use the transport network to get around, and all those who pay rates (whether directly or via rent).

I’d like to briefly talk about two aspects of the consultation, transport and libraries.

Transport

Transport one of the biggest issues Auckland is facing. In the 10-year budget, the Council presents us with just two options:

  1. Basic Transport Network – The projects in the Basic Transport Network can be funded from the existing rates budget, but it won’t support our growing demand for transport so we’ll end up with exacerbated congestion and poor alternatives to car-based travel.
  2. Auckland Plan Transport Network – The Auckland Plan includes a long list of all the projects inherited from the previous city councils in the region, but doesn’t attempt to prioritise between them. As a result the proposed investment is expensive and requires alternative revenue streams.

However, these two options offer a false choice. While Auckland Council is taking an all-or-nothing approach, Generation Zero have come up with a third option: the Essential Transport Budget. In a nutshell, the Essential Budget includes all the projects of the Basic Transport Network, plus investment in key public transport, walking and cycling projects that will provide Aucklanders with congestion-free alternatives for getting around the city. By prioritising spending in these areas, the Essential Budget ends up significantly cheaper than the Auckland Plan Network.

Gen Zero have written a series of posts about the Essential Budget on TransportBlog, and more detail is also available at www.fixourcity.co.nz. If you want to submit in support of the Essential Budget you can do so here.

Libraries

The second issue that concerns me in the 10-year budget consultation is presented as a single sentence buried deep within the Local Board Priorities section.

A Council-led proposal to “reduce and standardise library opening hours” means that many areas will either see reduced opening hours or require top-up funding from local boards to maintain existing opening hours.

I know the Council is concerned about tight budgets right now, but as someone who has a great love and respect for libraries and librarians, and who believes library opening hours are already too short, I’m horrified that the Council is proposing to cut library hours. The savings are minimal and the costs are too great.

Libraries provide life-lines for people who are out of work, who may have limited computer literacy or no access to the internet at home.

Libraries are community spaces, safe havens. They give everyone equal access to information, and they come with librarians who can help us find the useful information.

Libraries give us free things and then let us return them when we no longer need them.

Being able to read — and to read for pleasure — gives children better prospects for their future. Not only are communication and the written word increasingly important for jobs in the modern world, but low literacy is correlated with a higher likelihood of going to prison.

Reading fiction in particular helps to foster empathy, imagination and innovation.

Neil Gaiman gave an excellent speech a couple of years ago that covers all these points and so much more; I suggest you have a read.

 

But back to the issue at hand: Consultation on Auckland’s 10-year budget is only open for another week, so get in quick at www.shapeauckland.co.nz!