Bertie’s Buses Budget Burden Bulges

For all those who don’t receive or read the Hawke’s Bay Today, this is the original, unabridged version of my letter that appears in today’s (Monday 29 July) “Letters to the Editor”:

“I was shocked and stunned the other day. I saw one of Napier City Council’s controversial Art Deco “Bertie’s Buses” with a passenger on board. Yes, an actual passenger!

Since their arrival they have been a bit of a joke around town. With Marine Parade closed due to the stormwater system upgrade, they were forced to trundle along Hastings Street devoid of passengers time after time. The poor drivers must have been beside themselves, because no-one else was!

A Council spokesman said he expected passenger numbers to increase with the reopening of Marine Parade. Yeah, right. It appears, however, that my shock was caused by fares on the buses being reduced by up to 50 percent for the school holidays.

Finally, Napier’s ratepayers may get some money back on the buses they got no say in purchasing and the subsequent $165,000 repair bill (those were some very expensive loose wires and belts that needed fixing, CEO Taylor) to get them roadworthy, you may say. Alas, no.

A quiet rebranding exercise had taken place at the Council. Gone was any trace of the word, voice or image of “Bertie” in relation to the buses. The website had to be revised, hundreds of tickets had to be redesigned and printed and even the taped commentary that narrates the buses’ journey (the drivers have to stick to the same route and speed to make sure the commentary matches the scenery, even when they are constantly and completely passenger-less) voiced by “Bertie” had to be re-recorded. Everything now strictly refers to the service as the “Deco City Discoverer”. It almost sounds like something out of George Orwell’s “1984”, with the Ministry of Truth revising history, doesn’t it?

The reason for all the revisions and even more expense on the buses? “Bertie” is standing for mayor. It was thought it could be seen as influencing voters if his image was pasted everywhere other than on official election hoardings. Then again, he could just be trying to increase his chances of election by distancing himself from these wheeled albatrosses (‘turkeys’?) around the council’s neck. (This is the part they abridged)

That might be a bit of a tough task for any incumbent Napier City Councilor wishing to stand again in this year’s election. As the publicly available council minutes would indicate all current councilors had a say in their purchase and all the troubles that followed.

Use you votes wisely, Napier. You deserve far better!”

Give HB Youth a Chance!

It often feels like anyone in Napier under the age of 40 gets ignored. Baby-boomers rule and everyone else can just fend for themselves.

As a result, we annually lose generations of our bright and talented youth to other parts of New Zealand and the world. A few return in later life with their families, most never do. This creates not only a great gulf in the age bracket, earning Hawke’s Bay it’s sunny ‘Retirement village’ image, but also major cultural and economic holes in the region.

Local organisations and authorities do little to help the situation, or empower youth as I wrote in my second Napier in Frame blog post.

When it comes to looking after Napier youth’s needs or allocating them some form of infrastructure, N.C.C.’s solution to date has been “build a skate-park!” Ho-hum! Where are the events, concerts, expos and exhibitions? When was the last time a Mission Concert featured an act that was at the top of the music charts during the lifetime of an average 25 year old?

Napier City Council’s recent “Big Picture” plan to turn Marine Parade (which they completely ignored for the past 20 years) into a “Kids’ Capital” featured some ideas with merit, like the wave park, but others like the cable-ski facility (cable ski = lots of metal. Lots of metal + salty sea air = big, continuous repair bills) were doomed from conception. Besides, tourist attractions and children’s playgrounds won’t keep our school-leavers in Napier.

This is a problem that has been nagging at me for years. I never left Hawke’s Bay for university, a career or global migration after high school. I stayed here, living and working in what I still consider one of the best places in the world. It has had its advantages, but also some major disadvantages.

Over the past decade the major drawbacks have been few career opportunities within the region and poor pay. Hawke’s Bay’s economy has suffered because of these factors and the poor economy has depressed wages and career opportunities even more. We need to break this cycle.

Paul Dutch and Rod Drury had a good exchange on keeping our school leavers in Hawke’s Bay in the comments section of an item on the wave park development over at the Fruitbowl website.

Paul had some good ideas on keeping Hawke’s Bay youth empowered, employed and engaged in Hawke’s Bay. While I respect Rod and all his achievements with Xero, I feel some of his comments encapsulated what it wrong with a lot of Hawke’s Bay businesses and older people’s attitude to the region’s “Lost Generations” of 20-somethings:

“It’s really hard to keep people in their 20’s in the Bay. Be great if we could, but there are easier places to focus where we swim with the tide.”

“The growth from targeting these segments (parents, high value call centres, food and agriculture and retirees) will create opportunities for those in their 20’s. But personally I think that’s hard and we should focus on attracting our diaspora later in their careers after they’ve had their world wide experiences.”

I don’t consider continuing to put this problem in the “too hard basket” and hoping Hawke’s Bay’s bright and talented young one day return to be an option any longer. Somebody needs to take a stand and do something about it. But who?

Certainly not Tukituki MP and Minister of Commerce Craig Foss, who doesn’t seem to mind that his region has some of the lowest wages, and fewest high value job opportunities in New Zealand, as he seems to think living in Hawke’s Bay makes up for it all. Um, no. Would Mr Foss be so happy with the situation if any of his children chose to stay in the Bay, rather than go to university or travel and end up stuck in a low paying retail or café job? I don’t imagine so.

Rod Drury’s Xero is a successful, global company. But one thing Mr Drury fears (I read this in a special CEO lift-out in the Herald this week) was his company losing its “start-up feel”. Start-ups are often skin-of-the-teeth operations. Someone starts with an idea and builds a business from it. People using their raw talent and skills – often without tertiary qualifications. I really admire people who can do that – I’m not sure I could.

The technology industry is one of the main benefactors and biggest earners of start-up thinking and business. Just look at Facebook. Typically, modern start-ups are often begun by people in their late teens and early twenties, just the segment Hawke’s Bay is missing out on!

We need to target these high-value tech companies and foster such start-ups to set up operations in Hawke’s Bay. Especially with web-based content, where global work can be done from pretty much anywhere in the world, so why not Napier?

With our youth being so tech-savvy (can’t figure out how to use your new phone or computer? Just ask any 10 year old) school-leavers would be ideal employment candidates. Pay them more than the local retail of hospitality industry (it shouldn’t be too hard), provide some on the job training and boom, instant workforce and all-round benefits to Hawke’s Bay’s economy!

This isn’t asking for preferential treatment for Hawke’s Bay’s school leavers and 20-somethings. This is about giving them the opportunity to stay in their home towns if they want to and at the same time creating real, well paying career opportunities and boosting our regions flagging economy. Doing nothing is no longer an option. It’s time we did something about it.

‘For Lease’, But Who the Hell Would Want it?

Napier’s central city has yet another shame. No, not another pre-earthquake building being demolished. Although in all honesty they may as well bring in the bulldozers and put this place out of its misery. Mid City Plaza has to be the biggest, most vacant, saddest example of inner-city property currently going to waste in Napier.

Running from Emerson Street through to Dickens Street, Mid City Plaza was for years filled with bustle and shoppers. A café, bakery, magazine store, toyshop, hairdressers, beauty salons, clothing stores, computer stores, furniture, rubber and plastic stores all filled the mall. Now it is cavernously empty. Inside, the glass windows and doors of the formerly thriving shops provide a bleak vista of bare, vacant shops. Giant sheets of plywood block the internal walkway between the CBD streets and the view of further emptiness beyond.

An anonymous British investor (rumoured to be an English aristocrat – a member of the ‘landed gentry’) bought the complex in 2008 for $5 million. The investor was introduced to the property by Bayleys Property Services in Auckland and bought a number of other commercial investments in New Zealand.

Talking to past tenants (and there are quite a few of them) revealed a major lack of communication between this new owner and tenants. Unrealistic rent rises in hard times and leases not being renewed in favour of planned (but never eventuated) chain stores were major factors in their leaving. Sound familiar? The mall has been almost totally empty like this for years. Where are all these other keen tenants waiting in the wings now?

The Dominion Post reported that the Plaza as producing net rental income of $421,000 in 2008. This was when there were only two vacant, small shops in the mall. Once leased, they would have increased the potential rental income to $444,000. The anonymous Briton also bought two adjoining Emerson St shops, at the time home to Nectar Body Shop and Beattie & Forbes bookshop, for $955,000. Both locally owned and operated businesses and neither of them remained there for long – replaced, yet again, with chain stores.

Unless Mid City Plaza’s owners are charging what few temporary “pop-up-shop” retailers come and go some very serious coinage, there is surely no way any value is been returned from the Brit-with-the-bucks almost $6 million purchase, with over ¾ of their purchase empty, boarded up and decaying.
You have to ask: How is it better to have empty shops with high rents rather than charging less rent, but with loyal tenants filling your shops with people, activity and giving you continual income? To me, it surely isn’t rocket science. But, hey, I can’t afford to buy a shopping mall!

This is not a good look for Napier’s main shopping street. It’s past time some action was taken. But what? A ‘name and shame’ campaign, perhaps? How about putting the heat on landlords who have increased their rents unintelligently. This might be an effective way of outing over-zealous landlords and commission-hungry agents and give the public a factual account of just how much is being asked for rents in the central city. But it won’t get shops filled any faster.

Isn’t it way past time (over 3 years and counting) Napier City Council and / or Napier Inner City Marketing took a big step up? According to its Strategic Plan, NICM is mandated to provide a vibrant inner city environment; support inner city business prosperity and development, marketing Napier inner city as a destination for tourists and locals to enjoy; and, influence political, community and commercial leaders in the interests of stakeholders. How much impact has NICM had on this former mall and current disgrace? What have they done about it?

Surfing the net today I see Mid City Plaza (or at least a part of it) has been allegedly leased out by Colliers NZ. That’s such a shame. I was just about to call the agent and offer them $5 for the whole place.

I do hope this new lease doesn’t merely refer to the fly-by-night carpet rug sale people currently occupying one of the empty shops.

How long will it take for the extensive structural work still needed to make at least half the plaza habitable to be completed? How long until a decent new tenant occupies a major portion of the site and brings customers and other retailers back to the mall? And how long until Mid City Plaza’s owner wakes up to the disgrace their purchase has become?

Inner-city Napier deserves better!

*Portions of this post are once again from a similar blog I wrote for BayBuzz over two years ago.
Why does so little change in our City?

But Not Building a Better Taradale

Taradale’s shopping centre upgrade may have had a higher cost than the $3.5m price tag with parking meters scaring customers & retailers away.

I went for a walk through the Taradale Shopping Centre a couple of weeks ago and was quite disappointed with what I saw – Twelve empty shops – yup, a whole dozen.

From what I’ve been told, a mixture of parking meters scaring off potential shoppers and, like in Napier’s CBD, landlords jacking up rents and leases to coincide with the redevelopment have scared off a large number of businesses.

Very few people were around at the time I visited. This was, admittedly, on a Monday or Tuesday afternoon, so perhaps not peak-hour, but still far less activity than I would have expected. In fact, the busiest business I saw was the new funeral home, which had faced a great deal of criticism on opening, but given Taradale’s older demographic I thought was a stroke of business genius on the behalf of its owners.

It reminded me of a column I wrote for Baybuzz over two years ago:

“..The range of shops has sadly shrunken dramatically. Like Napier’s CBD in the late 90’s, going cappuccino crazy following the trends of Parnell and Ponsonby, Taradale has now followed after central Napier. There are around twenty cafés, takeaways, restaurants and bars in the town centre.

Quite a staggering number for such a small area. The only place which out-foods Taradale is neighbouring Greenmeadows shopping centre, whose almost total purpose has become servicing the stomachs of surrounding suburbia.

I have often wondered, considering Taradale’s affluent image, if naming one of its coffee houses “Café Rich” wasn’t a bit of a piss-take. It’s not like you see a “Café DPB” in less well-off shopping areas.

Often viewed as a bit of a retirement village hub, this new fastidious focus on food and frappuccinos makes me think Taradale might be trying to regress into teenage-hood.

Women’s clothing stores, beauty and hair salons are not too far behind Taradale’s massive majority of eateries, making it no longer the most guy-friendly of shopping centres. Once you’ve finished your lunch you will never be short of somewhere to get clipped, waxed, coloured, curled, dressed and varnished. Yes, Taradale is becoming a teenaged girl!

One of the more controversial aspects of Taradale’s redevelopment has been the introduction of parking meters. This is the first time you have ever had to pay for parking in Taradale, but it is one aspect I don’t mind – as the people who shop and park in Taradale the most will be the ones helping pay for the redevelopment. Where the new meters aren’t ruling the roadside roost, a parking warden has been tasked to the town centre to ticket those who out stay their hour-long parking limits. I’m not sure how effective this will be, though. As unless you’re having an extra-long lunch or marathon makeover, its compact size makes spending more than an hour doing what you need to do in Taradale quite hard to do. Or that could just be a guy thing.

With all the additions and changes that have been made to Taradale, one important, legal, part is missing: There are no longer any marked pedestrian crossings over Gloucester Street in the town centre, only raised ‘courtesy crossings’.

My mother-in-law, who regularly shops there, rang up the Napier City Council to query the crossing secession and was told that having the combination of (official) pedestrian and (unofficial) ‘courtesy’ crossings, as Taradale’s former layout did, was too confusing and dangerous for drivers and pedestrians alike (can you say ‘Road Code’?) The raised ‘courtesy’ crossings made cars slow down anyway, so the official ‘zebra lines’ and orange light that legally translate to: “Oi! You in the big, wheeled, powered, metal thing – let the soft, easily squished biped go first” were abolished in the town centre. I emailed the council on this matter, hoping they’d reply and refute or confirm these details, but like a Napier pedestrian attempting to cross an official (or otherwise) pedestrian crossing, I’m still waiting.

Considering the large proportion of families with small children and elderly people who daily shop in Taradale and have to cross the road that bisects the shopping precinct, this has become a major safety concern for many. The Taradale retailers I have spoken to are bearing the brunt of some incensed questioning over this issue.

Despite the fact Taradale’s two ward councillors were re-elected without a single vote in their favour (or candidate standing against them), perhaps this is a matter they should put their locality-based positions to good use for, take notice of their constituents and do something before these crossings end up being accompanied by a cross of a different nature.”

It’s truly amazing how little things have changed in two years. Do you think the council and its representatives have done enough for their ward? Taking a stroll through the heart of their domain, I wouldn’t think so.

Building a Better Napier

Napier’s pre-1931 earthquake Commercial Hotel, Now no more than a hole in the ground 🙁

We all know the architectural style that has made Napier famous. But it seems to have fostered more than just a little ‘architectural elitism’.

I have a confession to make: I don’t actually mind Napier’s Art Deco architecture. In a way I can’t help but. I’ve lived here all my life, so I have grown up surrounded by it (well, not entirely – until the mid-late 1980’s it was almost all covered up). The thing I detest about it is the imperialism with which the Deco theme, mind-set and all its proponents have smothered practically everything else about the city over the past two decades. I feel Napier’s image, promotion and the central city’s momentum have gone backwards as a result.

Our departing mayor had her heart set on getting “World Heritage Status” for the Art Deco buildings in Napier’s CBD. She was unsuccessful. Had she got it, there would have much back-slapping and bathing in the glory of such an accolade in the Napier City Council chambers. But if the English “Listed Building” system is anything to go by, NCC’s short-sighted success would have seen anyone owning or occupying one of these buildings facing a massive financial and legal struggle if they wanted to do anything more than change a light bulb in said structure.

As it stands, with current earthquake strength guidelines and insurance premiums, many of Napier’s iconic Art Deco buildings face either major renovations to strengthen them or even, heaven forbid, demolition. Many businesses either have relocated or are facing relocation while improvements are made to their current sites and I can’t see their rents / leases going down as a result. This will not help keeping tenants in our CBD, something it has struggled with over recent years.

Now we can’t blame the council solely for this situation. As it’s the building owners and landlords who have been milking their cash-cows for all they’re worth. Major lease and rent increases intended to catch up on the elapsed property boom and cover the recent massive increases in insuring properties have been badly timed to coincide with a major drop in sales and spending, forcing many businesses out of the CBD, or out of business altogether.

Napier has lost a lot of its unique locally-owned and family-run stores as a result of these increased costs. All too often their place gets taken by yet another Australasian chain store, giving people the impression that Emerson Street has become an open-air Westfield’s mall.

While it’s a case of “all hands to the pumps” when it comes to buildings erected immediately after the 1931 earthquake, like the effort put into saving the Art Deco frontages of the buildings that were osmosed into the modern glass and concrete behemoth that is Napier’s new Farmers department store (I do think this made the building look a bit “hodgepodge”, though), pre-1931 buildings like the Commercial Hotel (to be replaced by a modern Art Deco-esque, single storey block of shops) and the 1913 Williams Buildings (which is apparently to be demolished and also turned into a single storey shopping block, but with a carpark on top ffs!) have either fallen to, or are set for the wrecking ball without so much as the blink of an eye, or an “Aww” from our local authority. Oh dear, too expensive, never mind.

Once again, the deterioration of these buildings is the fault of their owners, not the council, but when they put so much money, effort and promotion into saving Art Deco buildings, it seems utter madness, arrogance or ignorance not to try their best to protect or save central Napier buildings, erected before 1931, that actually survived the earthquake!

If you look at the likes of central Wellington or Auckland, you will see an eclectic mix of old and new buildings. Century-old masonry sits happily alongside modern glass and aluminium. Georgian and Gothic low-rise frontages seamlessly mould into modern glass and metal multi-storey office blocks. If the Auckland and Wellington City Councils and the owners of those buildings can preserve the old and integrate it with the new on such major scales, why can’t the Napier City Council and local building owners do the same on a smaller scale?

Why must Napier lose 100 year old heritage buildings, only for poor modern-day interpretations (with roof-top car parks – what a ghastly thought) of an overpowering architectural style 20 years its junior to take their place? It doesn’t seem fair.

Napier City Council must try harder.

Educating Isn’t Working

I’ve written about this before elsewhere, but the topic just won’t seem to go away and because “Concrete11” called it “An accurate and because of that rare article” here I go again:

Mark Twain once said, “I never let my education get in the way of my learning.” Some of the world’s richest and most successful business men (Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson to name two) dropped out of tertiary study and earned their millions through practical experience. So why are New Zealand’s youth, after up to 13 years of institutional education, still encouraged (or railroaded?) into pursuing tertiary education and burdening themselves with often crippling levels of debt?

For the record I have never been to university. I don’t have a degree, or a student loan. My highest qualification is a Diploma in Marketing (one year’s full time study) from the Eastern Institute of Technology in Napier, from which I have not gained a single ‘marketable’ job from in the 15 years since I achieved it (I have, however, managed to pay off the student loan I took out to take the course). Whether this makes my opinions more or less valid (or biased) I don’t know, but here goes.

When I finished high school in 1995, the only thing I wanted to do was become a radio announcer, and I was, part-time and on-the-job-trained, for all of six months. But I was in the minority. Virtually every other member of my seventh form year went off to university; it was just what you did (and what you still do?), primary, intermediate, high school, university, work. But I didn’t know what I would do at university. The one thing I did know was that I didn’t want to spend three years studying something I wasn’t committed to and be burdened with a $30,000+ debt, to find at the end of those three years I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, or the job I had worked towards wasn’t there.

New Zealand’s media industry is a great example of where those being trained for a specific profession are being failed by the system. Every year hundreds of young people with dreams of becoming the next Jay Jay, Mike, or Dom go to broadcasting schools around the country. With such a small employment base, as simulcast national radio networks employ a minimum number of announcers for a maximum amount of profit, very few can achieve their dream. That’s a hell of a waste of talent, not to mention a waste of thousands of dollars in student loans all for nought.

There have been dozens of news items over the last year showing little has changed in 18 years. Hundreds of tertiary graduates leave New Zealand each year because the jobs they trained for just aren’t there. One focus was on teaching, where far more students were studying the ‘glamour subjects’ of Physical Education or English (who had to go overseas to find work) and too few were studying to teach Maths and Physics.
How much influence do universities, polytechnics and institutes of technology like EIT have on the courses they provide versus the jobs that are currently, or foreseeably available in the near future (most big businesses plan finances and projects 3-5 years in the future, so it can’t be too hard). Currently it appears they could be a lot more responsible in identifying workforce needs and setting subjects and class sizes accordingly. But I don’t see them being too willing to turn down the $30,000+ cash(cow) injection per student.

And where does the on-going qualification versus experience debate currently stand? When I was job-hunting many years ago, qualifications far outweighed experience. More recently, practical experience has become far more attractive in potential employees, but you can’t get experience without a job, and all too often you can’t get that job without a qualification.

I don’t like debt. If I owe anyone anything, from money to favours, I like to pay it back as soon as possible. So I’m inclined to draw a link between the readiness with which our young people have come to continue their education supported by student loans and a reliance on credit cards, overdrafts and other forms of debt later in life often jeopardising their ability to save money, or affecting their ability to purchase their own home. High levels of personal debt have become endemic in our economy (and world’s) and it puts us in the current economic state we face.

I would like to see a major increase in the number of schools, tertiary institutions and businesses offering apprentice-style, on-the-job training. Regions like Hawke’s Bay shouldn’t have to lose all their talented young people each year to the bigger centres (and overseas) for training and / or work. Our younger generations deserve a chance to stay in their hometowns where a good, skilled, well paying job, unlike the current low-paying retail and hospitality options, would be a real possibility.

1931 – The Exhibit?

Many years ago (sometime around 2001) I was working at Dymocks Booksellers in Napier during Art Deco Weekend when I met a very interesting customer. He worked for Weta Workshops in the design side of things and was visiting Napier for the event.

We got talking about the 1931 Napier Earthquake, as the excellent book “Quake” by Matthew Wright had just been released. In particular we discussed the physics behind the earthquake.

AWESOME Fact: The force produced when the fault let go causing the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake was equivalent to setting off 40,000 Hiroshima “Little Boy” sized nuclear bombs 20km below Waipatiki Beach, just north of Napier, with the exception that Waipatiki Beach now doesn’t glow in the dark!

Purely pipe-dreaming, with his design background and my local history and earthquake knowledge we discussed the concept of some sort of audio-visual / CGI / 4D interactive presentation / movie / show where people could get a reasonable accurate representation of, or experience of what it would have been like to be in Napier on that day in 1931 (without the risk of being hit by falling masonry etc.).

I recalled this meeting and our concepts recently with the permanent closure of Marineland, temporary closure of Napier’s museum (and excellent earthquake exhibit) for redevelopment and Napier City Council’s far-too-overdue “Big Picture” plan to turn Marine Parade into a “Kids’ Capital”.

With the wondrous advances in technology that Weta have harnessed, I wonder if there is some way of creating a worthy memorial, or “earthquake attraction” combining local knowledge and Weta’s digital and workshop wizardry, for future Napier residents and visitors to commemorate the event that shaped modern Napier.

My vision for the project has a number of concepts and ideas running through it:

1/ Scale Models
To the best of my knowledge there has never been a scale model of Napier pre or immediately post-earthquake / rebuild. There is a marvellous set of three photos (pre-quake, immediately post-quake, and the city rebuilt) taken from the same place on Napier Hill that has always mesmerised me and there are lots of photos of varying vintage depicting different parts of Napier pre-earthquake, but I would love to be able to look at a hard copy of how the city looked before February 1 1931 – the buildings, architecture, trams, streets and environment.

2/ Then and Now
On a similar thought-path, it would be great to be able to take a virtual walk / tour through Napier’s pre February 3 1931 streets. As a movie or a/v display the buildings could morph from present to past and back again.

3/ Visual Earthquake
While we’re at this stage and with so many pictures of the damage from so many angles, would it be possible to recreate, visually at least, the event? Like I’ve said previously – to be there without threat to personal safety.

4/ Virtual Earthquake
Many years ago there was an “earthquake simulator” (merely pneumatic rams thrusting the theatre seats forwards and backwards) and an audio visual display on the 1931 earthquake at a museum called “The Stables” in Napier, but that is long since gone. With eyewitness accounts, seismic recordings and research, combined with modern special effects and engineering*, could we recreate the event physically? Not just side to side, but up and down etc. One of the things that stand out from survivors’ stories was the sudden upward jolt during the quake that eventuated in so much of Napier’s surrounding swampland at the time rising to inhabitable and usable levels.
(*On an episode of Mythbusters I saw recently, they created just such a “shake table” to simulate a major earthquake.)

5/ Visual thrill-ride
A “visual thrill-ride” like those at Te Papa was another idea. Starting off either as the view a satellite would have had (give or take 30 years) zooming in on Napier’s main street on the morning of 3 February 1931 with life going on as normal, then rocketing through the sky to Waipatiki Beach and down through the earth to the fault to see it move and give (kind of like a geological CSI) before up and on a return flight path, just ahead of the seismic shockwave, into town again to see the city and the effects of the quake as in point 3.

6/ 1931 – The Movie
There has never been a Napier earthquake movie! I wonder if the people at Weta happen to know anyone influential in that field….

Without Marineland and all its old attractions, Napier has become a bit sad and quiet and I fear the Art Deco theme and associated festival (which has been going for over 21 years now) must start to wear out sometime soon.

Not only would my plan be an attraction to tourists, but also a touchstone and reference point to locals as well as an interactive memorial to the most significant event of Napier’s past.

Like I said, for the moment, these are purely my ideas mixed with a bit of pipe dreaming. I don’t know how feasible they are or, ultimately, what developing them into reality would likely cost. But as an attraction or historical viewpoint, I think they’re pretty cool.

What do you think?

TV One is currently screening the series “Descent From Disaster” on Tuesday nights from 9:30pm. One episode is to be about the 1931 earthquake. It’s just a pity Gary McCormack is hosting it 🙁

Abraham Lincoln for NCC!

87 years after America’s Declaration of Independence, in a Pennsylvanian field, a tall man in a tall hat stood before a gathering and began a speech which, at the time went barely noticed. It began:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

We’ve all heard of the Gettysburg Address, or at least its first few sentences. But how many of you have heard or read those first few words and promptly tuned out? I have, until now.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Pretty amazing, huh? The first time I read those next two paragraphs, I damn near cried. It has to be one of the best, most humble, yet powerful political speeches of all time. When was the last time you heard any politician, never mind the President of the United States, talk themselves down and talk the common man up that much and MEAN IT? Remember, this was in the middle of the American Civil War, the nation was torn in two and over half a million people died.

Reading those words it’s hard to believe that the civil war-winning, slave-freeing, vampire-hunting Lincoln was a Republican, especially when you see the sort of mind-set and policies his “Grand Old Party” have become infamous for today.

With our own local body elections coming up later this year, we have to prepare ourselves for a barrage of far less impressive political addresses. Expect the usual rhetoric, verbal promises that aren’t worth the paper they are written on and loads of “I, I, I, me, Me, ME” “Look at how much (little) we (Mayor Arnott & CEO Taylor/ Mayor Yule) have achieved” self-back-slapping. With the amalgamation debate on-going, we can also expect more of the usual Napier vs. Hastings petty parochialism that has plagued Hawke’s Bay for decades.

I sincerely hope we finally see some major changes in power in Hawke’s Bay in October. The region has been bogged down by the same people in the same positions for far too long. Hawke’s Bay needs someone more like Lincoln and a lot less like the currently entrenched bunch of beurocrats.

Hawke’s Bay deserves far better.

Eleven Score and Seventeen Years Ago

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s excellent (let’s face it EVERYTHING Bryson writes s excellent – the guy should receive whatever the literary version of being canonised is) “Made in America” – looking at what made the “US of A” what it is today, linguistically, mentally, physically and metaphorically. As with most Bryson books, you learn loads of interesting new stuff. In this book I’ve just learned about America’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the forming of the Constitution and the processes that were gone through to get there. It was quite something, considering how long ago they were written, the power of the wording and the morals behind them and that most of the people involved in their creation weren’t bureaucrats or career politicians, but regular, rather brilliant, everyday people.

With tomorrow being the 4th of July, I thought it would be apt to share a few of these words from eleven score and seventeen years ago with you:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Quite a beautiful and inspiring sentiment, isn’t it? But considering at the time it was written slavery was normal practice and women couldn’t vote (and wouldn’t be able to for more than 150 years in some states), it does take quite a chunk out of the “All men are created equal” philosophy and the associated rights.
Even today not everyone in America has the same rights (other than the Miranda variety) and equalities. Consider the fight for gay rights, or a bunch of Texan men thinking they can tell the states’ women what’s best for their bodies. Internationally, it gets far, far worse. In many parts of the world people have even less rights, still.

Despite the stupidity of those who fail to recognise, or intentionally work against such themes and content as in the Declaration’s preamble, at its heart it promotes a far better way for life and thought. We would all be far better off for living by such words.

After all, it was only by working together equally that the United States achieved its Independence.