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Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Necessary maintenance Print E-mail

ImageThe concept of maintenance has become the victim of a double standard.



In our materialistic, consumer and object focused society maintenance is taken to mean maintaining materialistic objects. People take it for granted that their houses need to be maintained, even if that means nothing more than cleaning the leaves out of the gutters. A strong selling point in a consumer society is for objects which are “maintenance free”. You buy into the materialism without buying into the commitment, so that you will have time left over to watch TV.

Once upon a time before we were consumed by materialism New Zealanders took maintenance for granted. You had a workshop and when anything needed to be repaired or fixed you simply got on with the job. Everything had a long life.

Interestingly people tend to assume that gardens need to be maintained. Weeds are taken out, and fertilizer is added in. Maintaining the garden is regarded as a pleasure not a chore. The flowers are more beautiful than they would otherwise have been.

Council bureaucrats assume that gabion walling will need to be maintained. With a life span of perhaps twenty years before gabion walling deteriorates into a pile of offensive junk and an ecological disaster, a commitment is normally made to maintaining gabion walling every five years. This is a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable rather a logical design approach. Leaky buildings are not a problem when compared to gabion walling.

It is really peculiar then that Council bureaucrats assume that nature never needs maintenance.

Probably this is because nature always heals and produces no waste. A tree reaches the end of its life and decays away to become nutrient to support the growth of a new tree. A forest is a balanced “sustainable” ecosystem. So is a beach. Even our bodies heal so that all a doctor can do is to create the ideal environment within which healing can take place.

Our immune system rejects any artificial intrusion in the same way that a beach rejects gabion walling.

Ecosystems are stable until people get involved. People upset the delicate natural balance through greed, selfishness, egos, insecurity, fear and the lust for power. Climate change is the result of human attitudes more than human activity. We are destroying the planet.

When people break the natural rhythm of ecosystems nature does need maintenance.

Left to their own resources the cockle beds at Karaka Bay would have gone on providing material for sand for the next thousand years, just as they have done for the last thousand years. When the cockle beds die however we need to ask what we have done, and we need to take responsibility for our actions.

Doctors understand only too well that they cannot achieve the impossible. If someone has an unhealthy lifestyle, an unhealthy diet, and an unhealthy house, a doctor can help them to stagger on with the aid of antibiotics, but this is not the same as restoring them to health.

If we pour toxic stormwater into the Tamaki the consequences will be inevitable. If we pour silt into the Tamaki so that shellfish cannot breathe they will die. If we kill the shellfish the birds will go away. If we kill the birds we need to read the signs that we are really killing ourselves. When nature gives us life, killing nature is suicide by any other name. Death by a thousand cuts. No one putting in gabion walling sets out to kill our children’s children, but the consequences are inevitable.

What we need at Karaka Bay are a few decent doctors who understand something about health. Ideally they might be doctors who had taken the Hippocratic Oath to protect life. If we had this all our problems would be over because the focus of the Bay would shift from violence and anger to healing and peace.

It takes a little time and effort to keep healthy. We need to think about our lifestyle, our diet, and of course we need to live in healthy houses. We need to get enough exercise. We need to avoid the stress generated by neighbours wanting to smother the world in gabion walling. We do not need a coroner’s report, when it all too late, explaining the reasons why Karaka Bay died.

The rewards of being healthy are enormous. We will be able to see more clearly and to think more clearly. We will be able to experience the natural world with increased awareness and sensitivity. We will be able to laugh at the foolish people who lock themselves away inside unhealthy buildings making foolish decisions about other people’s lives.

Healthy ecosystems are self-maintaining. We enjoy going to beaches because they are natural. With the sand between our toes, and the sound of the waves, beaches restore our sanity in an insane world. Beaches heal us. We in our turn need to do our bit to allow beaches to heal themselves.

It is critical to recognise whether a photograph shows erosion or simply poor maintenance.


Not erosion, just lousy maintenance.

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