A hard look in the mirror

The end of the local election is in sight. Candidates have put their everything into it, and whether or not you agree with their ideas, one has to respect their Mahi, and their courage, especially when fronting a hostile crowd. To all the hecklers, and sh*t stirrers, please go home, you’re not helping the debate moving forward. Whether they are successful or not, all of the candidates who threw themselves in the arena will probably sigh of relief on the night of the 8th of October and treat themselves to a good cuppa.

To the upcoming Council, a huge task lies ahead: to restore trust and bring closer the polar opposites and take the city on a journey. Fellow Wellingtonians, we are in for lots of changes, big changes. And while we need the captain to bring us respectfully on board, isn’t it time to look at our own shortcomings? Why is it so hard to understand and accept we have a shared interest in tackling together the mega-challenges ahead?

The answer, I’m afraid, is not pleasant to look at in a crude light. It takes its roots in our individualism and our inability to accept a change for the greater good. It starts with car drivers who take offence at a bit of asphalt and some dollars conceded to cyclists and their safety, as well as for easier traffic for everyone. But it also falls on the cyclists for ignoring the fact that some people do need their cars, that in some cases it is a viable transport option, that drivers’ concerns can’t be brushed off, and that they need to be listened to if only to take them on the journey.

It continues with the landlords who have left their renters in third-world accommodations, squeezing every dollar of the housing crisis, alien to the tiniest drop of decency and empathy. Homeowners, too, for attempting to block their suburbs to some level of up-zoning, making room for today’s first home-buyers and tomorrow’s young adults looking for a place in this wonderful city. The land owners who have rebuked the Special Natural Areas (SNAs), once in a generation opportunity to make a portion of their land useful for biodiversity, and everyone else consequently. The office buildings owners, in our CBD, who’ve seen the housing crisis worsening from behind the mirror glass of their towers, and chose to not repurpose even a fraction of their huge asset portfolio in homes, thus helping to solve the housing, transport and climate crisis, all at the same time! Finally, the renters, first home buyers and pro-intensification, who instantly labelled NIMBY anyone who shared their concerns about densification, or who were putting forward other solutions to the housing crisis: some (most?) of them have worked hard to create a nest for themselves, to call Wellington home, and they too, deserved to be heard.

Should we talk about the airport? What greater sense of entitlement from an organisation claiming to be the best neighbour, all the while expanding in a climate emergency, bringing its unbearable nuisances closer to vulnerable suburbs? When other airports in the world take decisive actions against climate change (Amsterdam, Paris, etc), Wellington airport keeps refusing to control its expansion with a cap on its emissions (including the airlines). Should we talk about Ian Cassels? I think we get the point.

Our local politics and debates have become more and more polarized. Some politicians, tired of being used as punching balls, or short of patience to explain their ideas, have fallen into the trap, thus polarising the debates even more. It seems we are so entrenched in our individualism that it’s become very hard to see the greater picture outside of the “what’s-in-it-for-me” lens. Local elected members, for their proximity to the community and its specific concerns, have the delicate responsibility to lead us out of our fears. It’ll take extreme leadership and patience from our next Council to bring us back together at the table, and goodwill from all of us to accept the necessary compromises. Failing that, we run the risk of rolling down the dangerous path of drifting further in polarization.