So: New Zealand has spoken, and we have a new government about to form. Aunty Helen, head of the world’s first largely women-based government administration, has been axed by the voters, and we are about to go back to a far more male oriented, traditional, white middle-class form of government under the tutelage of John Key. While I lament the lack of any signs of inspiring leadership in the election run-up, in sharp and pointed contrast to the reborn USA electoral scene, the resignation of both Clark and Cullen show that they know as much as the public seem to be saying: we’ve had enough, and it’s time for a change, even if some things in the change may not be to our advantage.
Cartoon courtesy of the fantastic Trace Hodgson
However: seeing as this is an urban blog, and not a political commentary: what then does this mean for Wellington architecture and urban life?
On the face of it, not a lot. There’s no inherent reason that Key will change the landscape more than Clarke, when it comes to building a physical presence outside the confines of Government. When each was quizzed before the election about what their favourite buildings were, Clarke said she liked the row of (former) merchant’s houses in Symonds St in Auckland, while Key voted for the Skytower. Phallic connections to the enormous upright prick that is
John Key The Skytower aside, that does also show a preference for new, big, thrusting, modern architecture in preference to the quieter, more calmly cultured heritage of the old houses. You could say that therefore there is more chance for new, modern buildings, and perhaps a doing away with some of the clunky old bits of heritage we have sitting around the place. You could also note that both sets of favourite buildings are in Auckland, and that Wellington doesn’t get a look-in. Is that symptomatic that Auckland is once again in line for more dominance than Wellington? We shouldn’t worry too much in Wellington Central – the electorate has, I think, 3 representatives, with only Stephen Franks and his gold VW missing out, so Central should still be well represented in Parliament. Only one architectural thing is sure so far: National has said that “The Architect of Labour’s 1980’s Economic Plans” (Roger Douglas, not actually an architect, nor even an architectural draughtsman) will not be in Cabinet.
Prime Minister Key has however previously made his intentions clear with a well-reported crackdown on numbers of Wellington bureaucrats likely to happen. A simple capping of bureaucrat numbers will achieve some reduction via natural attrition, but there is also a good chance that a far larger swathing cut of some departments may occur, and arguably that could be a good thing (except, of course, for those about to lose their jobs). So what may be the targets of Key’s upcoming cuts? Department of Women’s Affairs and Maori / Pacific Island Affairs could arguably be in for a nasty surprise, depending on how gender / race specific Key wants to be. Winston has gone for good, so the Minister for Courtenay Place – sorry, Minister for Wine and Food – sorry again – Minister for Racing and Foreign Affairs – look, who knows what he really did, when not fishing for donations of helicopters or backhanders to his brother’s trust fund. Anyway: do we really need a Minister for Racing? Should that be the same as a Minister for Gambling? Or Minister of Day-Trading? John Key himself could be up for that one.
My pick for the axe in a big way is the Government Department that has been around for the shortest time, and achieved the least: Building and Housing. Five hundred plus paper-pushing numpties with no apparent knowledge of the building industry nor any apparent achievements over the past 3 years, would seem to be a prime candidate for the chop if Key wanted to make big changes fast. DBH’s predecessor, the BIA, made do with less than 20 people, and achieved just as much. But certainly, the continued well-being of Wellington architectural practices may be about to reverse, if the recent continual stream of government fitout projects dries up to a trickle. Much of that has been driven by the Labour government’s desire to have all government departments in Greenstar rated buildings – if that incentive is taken away, what will happen to the current churn in office space?
On the other hand, Key’s plan is to reform the Resource Management Act fairly pronto, “within the first 100 days”, and that could have major effects on the built fabric of the city. Certainly there appears to be an interest in getting some large infrastructure projects underway (with toll roads likely, could Transmission Gully really still be in with a chance?), although the extent that the RMA is woven into every part of our national legislation may mean that winding back it’s control could take far more energy than our John has planned for.