New York, New Zealand, Same Old Problems!

Spot the difference – it’s not as obvious as you’d think…

Spot the difference – it’s not as obvious as you’d think…

Split Enz were wrong – History repeats all the time.

Most gallingly, it always seems to be the worst aspects that repeat most often.

Scientists have spent centuries testing the attentions spans of dogs, goldfish and other animals, but the species that does the testing seems to have such a deficit of mental storage that we keep doing the same stupid things over and over again.

Of course, it doesn’t always repeat in the same place. But the advancement of communication technology now allows us to see what has happened – and indeed IS happening, AS it happens – across the globe, so you would think our new global awareness would lessen the chances of bad aspects of history repeating.

But it doesn’t.

Over summer, Mrs in Frame and I spent several evenings watching a quite remarkable documentary series on the history of New York City. From its discovery and settlement, through to the 2001 terrorist attacks it covered wondrous highs, terrible lows, heroes, villains, and all the flotsam and jetsam that make up what has become one of the greatest cities in the world.

Throughout the series – 17 ½ hours viewing in total – I kept having a form of Deja-vu – that I had seen or been through all this before. I had – just not in New York City, but here in New Zealand and in Napier.

Because at the same time as we were watching this HISTORICAL series similar scenarios were being played out daily in out papers, news programmes and online.

Of particular current topical interest in the documentary was New York’s development in the early to mid-1800’s

Immigration was a massive issue as millions of Europeans flooded into New York City seeking a new life in the “New World” of America. They were not always welcome and faced injustice, persecution, racism and were often forced to live in terrible conditions.

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses..”) was inscribed upon the base of the Statue of Liberty that stood as a beacon of hope and a slightly warmer welcome to those entering New York Harbour.

210 years later and little has changed.

Racism is still prevalent across the globe and here in New Zealand we still face the same problems New York faced two centuries ago.

Debates over refugee quotas and boat loads of poor foreigners seeking asylum and a new, better life in our own country feature in the news often. As do attacks on working immigrants and claim Auckland’s appalling house prices are the result of foreigners, apparently, buying them all.

From the mid-1800’s until the turn of the century, the gap between New York’s rich and poor exploded as industrialist “Robber Barons” made millions, while those working for them on the lowest levels struggled to make ends meet.

Corruption became rife, especially at government levels, where graft, cronyism and all sorts of un-sporting political and social nastiness exacerbated the plight of those with the least, while feathering the nests of those with the most.

In New Zealand today the wealth gap continues to exist and indeed grow – making us one of the least equal countries in the western world. This not only harms our economy, but also social structure.

And while it may not seem as obviously prevalent as back then, skulduggery amongst those in power certainly still seems to exist, while the poor public pay for their power struggles and multi-million dollar follies.

Jump forward 50-plus years and New York is almost unrecognisable post-World War Two. The city had literally and figuratively reached for the sky. The city’s landscape goes vertical with the development of skyscrapers, while new bridges, tunnels and a new-fangled invention called the “highway” cross the city and open up between Manhattan Island and the surrounding mainland.

The point of these highways was to ease congestion on New York’s city streets, but all it did was encourage more people to buy and use cars, further clogging an already jam-packed system.

That certainly sounds very familiar to present day Auckland traffic congestion and our government’s rather short-sighted transport policy, doesn’t it?

Leading the charge on most of New York’s civil projects was city planner Robert Moses. While many of his early works were lauded and welcomed, he started to lose favour with the city’s citizens when he started ploughing great swathes – usually through the heart of poorer urban neighbourhoods for more of his expressways. But because he was not an elected official, the public could do essentially nothing to unseat him.

Don’t you think that sounds similar to the creation and project management of a grand, artistic Napier edifice in recent years?

Around the 1940’s and 50’s housing New York’s poor – especially those uprooted from neighbourhoods demolished for highways and other features – became a pressing issue. While local and national governments assisted with the creation of “Projects” – they also attempted to encourage the private sector to construct affordable homes. This was not always successful and New York real estate prices reached staggeringly high levels – “affordability” suddenly becoming “utterly unobtainable”.

Today in New Zealand “affordable housing” – especially in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch is becoming a thing of the past with prices reaching up to and beyond New York levels.

And while in New York they BUILT housing for the poor, in New Zealand, our government SELLS OFF EXISTING STATE HOUSING TO PRIVATE DEVELOPERS!

When will the madness end?

When will we learn?

When will history stop repeating?

We deserve much better than to go through this all over again!

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