wake up Aotea Square

On the re-opening of Aotea Square

I was expecting more. Aotea square is a large but friendly public space bounded by the Aotea centre (a world class theatre and convention centre) and the Imax movie complex, each with keen, proud frontages. On the Queen street side the town hall sits calm and formal, a matriarch in her best dress keeping a friendly eye on things. Then there is Dad. The city council office tower keeps its distance, a little to the side of the celebrations, like the stereotypical awkward kiwi male. (Stereotypically awkward, not stereotypically male, but you can make jokes about tall towers if you like)

In the middle of all this of course is Aotea Square, the city’s lounge room floor, the children of Auckland running about, and visiting relatives catching up on the couches.

Except it wasn’t that exciting.

This was the opening of what could be called the Town Square of Auckland, a place of decision making, celebrations and casual outdoor relaxation. Surely its return to service after a long time in reconstruction is something to tell the neighbours about. I only found out about this a couple of days ago, because a friend happened to be performing. It could have completely passed me by.

For such a high grade public space there was little to show this was a civic celebration, rather the fair on offer gave the feeling that the space now belonged to the entertainment sector. Three activity areas included a graffiti art demonstration with a Hip Hop /Funk soundtrack, a slightly-larger-than-a-soapbox poetry stage*, and a large covered stage that intermittently burst out opera and jazz. People in stage-like costume paraded around between the smattering of people. The few stalls consisted of two colourful distractions for children, an inexplicable gourmet sausage stand, and eventually, right at the end a car-boot coffee cart*. Apparently Aucklanders don’t love coffee as much as they think they do.

I really feel that this was a lost opportunity, Auckland.

Where were the market stalls, why were they not invited? The weekly markets of the old square brought vibrancy and colour to Auckland’s dry, work-a-day CBD. Markets not only provide entertainment, and variety, they celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit, something inherent to a creative economy.

Where was the council? Auckland’s politics may be a bit uncertain right now with the amalgamation of seven* local councils into one greater Auckland, but surely the Transition Agency could have taken this opportunity to be present, encourage voting in the current election*, and offer general information to curious passers by about how the new council will work. There has been precious little conversation with citizens about this process, but to move forward as a city we have to start this engagement somewhere. This isn’t just a PR issue. This is the place we will come to voice our concerns. A place to exercise citizenship. It should be recognised.

Is the square merely a place of local entertainment? Hardly.
We are all one city and Aotea Square is regionally significant. People from all over the region come here. The Edge (the total entertainment block) hosts international events that don’t travel to the local centres. The town hall also holds regional events. Even if up to now the Auckland City council building hasn’t been regional, it has had local importance for a huge chunk of the population.

I suspect the invisibility of the civic centre stems in part from the business focus of the city, in Auckland politics is too banal, even dismissed as too meddling, to celebrate. But citizenship is not the same thing as government, nor business. Citizenship is about acknowledging community. That is what should have been celebrated today in Aotea Square.

Ok, so the coffee cart was near the Queen Street entrance, I came from Myres Park. Refreshments should be up front and central regardless.

Eight if you count the regional council.

Aucklanders, you’ve got less than a week to post your vote. Go on, be part of history.

The poetry performances I saw were excellent. This is where the occasion came alive for me. Punchy and pertinent, a number of performers told stories of living this city, of the new hopes and old meanings that will come with the merging of all citizens into one populace. Loyalty and a sense of home are not so easily manipulated as political geography. Or are they?

More media:
central Auckland news
Photos taken today by Jon C:

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