It is a well-known myth that Aotearoa New Zealand is a classless society that values egalitarianism, social mobility, and home ownership. You only need to look at Glen Innes’s welcome sign to see this idea in action: “A new opportunity every day!”
In a cluster of Auckland suburbs known as Tamaki, this dream is still alive and well. On a summer’s day, you can hear the petrol mowers growling, children laughing, and the sizzle of food on cast iron hotplates. If you close your eyes and listen, these familiar sounds unite the quiet suburbs of Tamaki and, for a second, you get the feeling that Kiwi’s really are living the dream in God’s own.
However, if you open your eyes and stroll around the suburbs of Glen Innes, Glendowie, and St Heliers you will see everything but a classless, egalitarian society. Instead, you will see one of the most extreme contrasts of wealth in New Zealand. You quickly realise that some of these suburbs are home to some the wealthiest New Zealanders while the adjacent suburbs are home to an established working class community who are trying to keep up with the challenges of living in a city that has one of the most unaffordable housing markets relative to income in the world.
In addition to the ridiculous house prices, many residents in these working class suburbs are seeing their communities transformed by a government-led development and regeneration programme that will demolish some of the classic post-WW2 statehouses, subdivide the large sections, and build infill housing to accommodate Auckland’s swelling population. These changes may or may not be welcomed by local residents, but the pace of change in these suburbs is undeniable.
Growing up in Tamaki in the late 1980s and 1990s I have seen how Glen Innes has changed. I have fond memories of shopping in Glen Innes’s Mayfair Place. Back then it wasn’t as exclusive as Monopoly’s Mayfair real estate, but there were flourishing small businesses that supplied quality goods and services at reasonable prices. There was a 3 Guys, ASB, Barker & Pollock, and a range of other stores that provided all the essentials. Occasionally we would go to Four Square to buy bulk food, pick up camping supplies from the hardware store, or visit Samuel’s if we needed second hand furniture. And, my grandparent’s dog Gonzo used to trot down to Avon’s butchery to receive his Hairy Maclary-size dog bone.
Many of these shops slowly closed in the 1990s and early 2000s. Some residents lost their manufacturing jobs in the ‘80s and ‘90s as Auckland deindustrialised and was affected by New Zealand’s structural reforms. You might wonder why the bus goes to Otahuhu, but back in the day many Tamaki residents worked at the Southdown Freezing Works and automotive assembly plants. During this period of economic decline, Mayfair Place slowly turned into a place dominated by a large Winz office (which used to be a 3 Guys), takeaways, op shops, and a Pak’nSave. A lot of people associated GI with the negative publicity it received in relation to crime and violence, which further affected its desirability as a shopping destination. It was as if op shops were the only opportunities that were trickling down to GI’s residents.
With the rising house prices and cost of land in Auckland during the economic boom of the early 2000s, new shops catering to the middle class suburbs began to appear on the edges of Glen Innes. A Nosh supermarket, pet grooming stores, and up-market cafés were signs that Tamaki’s working class suburbs were under threat from what is commonly called gentrification. Instead of seeing low-cost Toyota’s and Subaru’s lining the carparks, VW Touaregs and Porsche Cayennes can be seen driving along Apirana Ave. I even saw a young, yuppie-type taking his Ferrari 458 for a spin. I remember seeing Ferraris and Porsches in Parnell, but I never thought I would see them in GI!
The Tamaki development and regeneration programme builds on New Zealand’s egalitarian myth by promising to create ‘mixed’ communities that will have middle class and working class Aucklanders living next to each other. I have a feeling that it won’t convert Tamaki into an egalitarian utopia or create too many new opportunities. I think it is more likely that the redevelopment project could further reinforce the class divide in Tamaki. Despite these changes, I hope that Tamaki’s working class residents won’t be pushed out of their communities by a stampede of Range Rovers, Touaregs, and Cayennes.