Why do YOU live here?
If Hamilton was only a sea of grey roofed houses, joined by grey tar sealed roads, hiding a grey network of pipes, would you live here?
In 470BC Socrates said "By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to pan and beautify cities and human communities." And how could I disagree?
I think a lot about cities. What makes a city great to live in? What makes Hamilton fabulous? How do we tap into the wisdom and experience of the people who live here to make our communities thrive?
As we come to the end of another year of politics at city hall, I've been reflecting. I've also been looking ahead.
2018 was a tough year and 2019 won't be a walk in the park either. But here are some of the challenges and highlights.
What makes a great city?
This year was all about the Long Term Plan, about growth and housing, rates (ouch!) and fees, roads and cycle ways, theatres and libraries and community.
The decisions were tough and the debate at times grueling.
Housing is one of the community's main concerns. We do need a diverse range of affordable homes. The crisis is real but very complex. Land prices remain high, infrastructure is eye-wateringly expensive, and development depends on developers. What's more is that income increases are not keeping pace with growing costs. More houses are coming. But will it be enough? How many will be truly affordable? I'll be watching this in 2019.
But let's be real - a city needs more than houses, roads, and pipes. We need special spaces and places that focus on people and their well-being . We need to take care of existing facilities, not let them run down until they are too expensive to fix or not suitable. Example: the sad demise of Founders Theatre (enough said?).
In 2017 I was dismayed to see the state of Waterworld with its 40-year-old filters and pipes, rotting floor and no acoustic tiles (they had fallen off). I pushed for better for us. And now we have a pool that can host national and international swim events, has sparkling water, a wonderful new cafe, and staff dedicated to solving issues and creating a great experience. I count this as a big win for the city.
We've had some real wins in 2018
Another win: the re-opening of the Central City Library. To me, libraries are a vital part of the city, a place for history, learning, enjoyment and meeting. I think you'll like what's planned for 2018 - watch this space!
Another shining star continues to be the Hamilton Gardens. The whole place is looking stunning, and hats off to all of the Friends of the Garden, the funders, the Trust, and HCC staff.
Cities are about people connecting, families playing and enjoying special places. So I'm delighted to see 2 lovely new playgrounds in north Hamilton and some older play areas refreshed. In the new year the focus is, and must be, older suburbs like Hillcrest getting some much needed attention. I love the top notch 'Destination Playgrounds' - they're great! But surely we need to strengthen local communities also? Have play spaces that families or children can walk, or cycle to? I'll keep pushing for those.
As for Founders Theatre, the decision was made to build a new theatre. In general I support that. It's sad to see the old Founders in its current state, and in 2019 its final fate will be determined. Personally, I hope some kind of new life will come to that wonderful space in that lovely green belt of Hamilton. And I look forward to a new theatre (supported by huge amounts of private funding) becoming a shining example of excellence on the riverside.
What I didn't support was the purchase of private property (at well above market value) alongside Victoria on the River to expand a "Central City" park. This was not part of the original River Plan.
Don't get me wrong - I support riverside development and would like to see a focus on opening the back of the Museum building up to the river, which would bring more people into one of our key attractions. If you haven't been there recently, do.
I've had some amazing experiences this year at the Waikato Museum and my favourite would be the Topp Twins exhibition. Still on so check it out! Thanks Friends of the Museum for your excellent support.
This year the fate our our iSite has been discussed, delayed, and discussed again. And I can't believe that there is still talk of closing it! The poor staff must feel like they are working under a guillotine. In 2019 I'll continue to debate against this. It's short sighted and takes no view of the value of brand ambassadors and the need to grow tourism in our city. And most of us are pretty smart but I do not agree that smart phones will, or even could, take over the place of powerful personal contact.
Here's what I think and what I'll keep pushing for.
Back to my point about cities! What would Hamilton be like to live in without arty spaces, green spaces, play spaces, meeting places, quiet places, fun time places (louder places)? What kind of no-fun place would we be without public events, concerts, sports?
A concrete jungle? A paved paradise?
Hamilton will grow bigger. There's no way to stop that. But in 2019 we need to focus on building a quality city within our means. In 2018 I believe we "over-reached" (purchased some nice to haves) and the rates burden was too far, too fast. Rates are needed for cities, but we must remain affordable so that residents have enough money to buy the new homes being built.
In 2019 we need to let developers develop good ideas because many are so good at that. We need to work with funders and we need to support communities and volunteers better to do the great work they are doing. Who is caring for our gullies? Planting Lake Waiwhakareke? Running so many excellent activities in our community houses? These things matter. The roots of a city are good when our "grassroots organisations" are in good health.
I thank you all, staff, public, business and community. You are the vital elements of our city, which is already a great city and will get better.
Be safe on the roads and have a lovely holiday season.