Architects, planners, the bureaucrats who issue permits, developers and even new people moving into an old street all have one thing in common, suggests Tony Watkins. They are outsiders.
Outsiders have a different world-view from insiders so that misunderstandings and conflict between them are inevitable.
Outsiders not only put up a flagpole, hoist a flag and declare that this “new” country they have found, or street they would like to move into, belongs to them. They also establish laws and administrative systems to ensure that any discussion is carried out on their terms. To say that what they do is legal rather misses the point that newcomers have the audacity to make laws which enshrine their own world-view.
Outsiders discuss architectural style, density, or their concept of liveability. Insiders get on with life and are dismayed that no one notices the old peach tree, or the log where Mavis always takes a rest on her daily walk. Residents are invited by those in power to take part in a discussion about the built environment which is not their discussion. We might call this architectural colonialism.
The aborigines in Australia demonstrated their ability to lead a sustainable life style by getting on with it, for 100,000 years or so. The newcomers not only brought new ideas and new values but also a new definition of sustainability. It was concerned with double-glazing or insulation, which the aborigines had never realised they needed. In the twinkling of an eye one of the greatest civilisations the world has known had been destroyed and 100,000 years worth of knowledge had been lost. When the Queensland Premier this week dismissed the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef as just an unfortunate by-product of getting rich it felt like end-game.
We need to remember that the Spaniards destroyed whole civilisations in South America so that they might become one of the richest nations in the world. Now Spanish bankers are hoping that all will be forgiven and forgotten, and the Germans will bale them out. The lessons are there for us all to learn, if only we bothered to take a cursory look at the history of economics.
The pattern is much the same at the small scale.The locals know where the birds nest, and that the tuis will turn up when the kahikatea berries are ripe. The locals know how the storms come and go, with tales of the big one fifty years ago. They remember the sign which used to exist but was stolen twenty years ago to be melted down for scrap metal and never replaced by the council. They value the place where the now-famous yachtsman first learned to sail. An immense amount of local knowledge is enshrined in the whakapapa of place.
Outsiders never talk about any of these things because local stories are not part of their built environment memory. Most Aucklanders have never met any of the anonymous planners who run their lives and tell them how to live. No planner has ever visited their street. No one from council ever comes to the local parties. Why would anyone invite them when they are strangers? Architects come and go, and you never see them again. Developers at best leave behind a trail of destruction and take away everyone’s gold in their galleons. To fight back against council bureaucrats is hopeless when they have the guns and the police to go with them.