Thursday, March 28, 2013

Moral outrage? That'll be $600

Another report this week about prostitution in South Auckland, specifically young teens turning tricks in Otara, Papatoetoe and Otahuhu. According to the Herald's report, girls as young as 13 are making $600 per night. This moral outrage has been faithfully reported by NZ First MP, Asenati Lole-Taylor. And the proposed solution from NZ First is to move sex work 'off the street completely'.

Right. That'll work. I mean, it used to work, right? And it works everywhere else.

Hmm, maybe not. But first, there's a couple of things about the report that seem odd. For a start, Ms Lole-Taylor alleges she spoke to the young women in question, and the problem is that teenagers pretty much tell you what they think you want to hear. And they like to shock grown-ups. In other words, it's possible the testimony of a 13 year old talking to an authority figure might not be reliable. Then there's the $600 a night. Given that South Auckland is apparently awash in teen hookers, the laws of supply and demand suggest this figure is overstated.
Hunters Corner: Home of the rocking-est footware
 But the idea that the problem will go away just by banning street prostitution is naive if not dangerous.

There's been street prostitution in Hunters Corner and the surrounding suburbs for years. It's not a new problem although it ebbs and flows according to the state of the economy and the availability of more family-friendly work. Interestingly, one of the local constabulary reckons the number of hookers has gone up by about a third (and we're talking very small numbers) since the onset of the recession in 2009. So that suggests we're not seeing a sudden surge in the number of sex workers.

The other issue this moral panic conveniently overlooks is the severe housing crisis in South Auckland. Talk to almost any social worker and they'll have stories of teens getting thrown out of home because there's no room. Grandma and Grandad get to stay because they get pension income, teens get nothing so they're a-gonna. So we're seeing more homeless teens than perhaps was the case a few years ago. 

Then there's the teens that leave violent or abusive situations, preferring instead to live on the street. There's no halfway housing for them - all emergency accommodation is being used by families.

No matter what brave face these kids are putting on, streetwalking 13 year olds is a sign of desperation. And it's not just young women that are being victimised. A high proportion of Hunter's Corners' prostitutes are male.

The number of teenage hookers dropped off in the 2000s when the economy was bubblier than it is now. They didn't disappear, but there was a noticeable reduction. Teenage prostitution is not about moving hookers off the streets or the moral decline of Western civilisation. It's about economic desperation and a lack of housing. If we want those kids off the streets, that's what we need to be getting right first.

The same paddock

Nick and Len in the same paddock. What can this mean?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Not overly complicated

 Do you ever get the feeling that some words are just waiting in the wings to come back and bite their speakers in the rear end?

We feel a bit like that about Dame Susan Devoy's remarks about her appointment as Race Relations Conciliator. [Oops - Commissioner] Us lesser mortals could be forgiven for thinking the job of Race Relations Commissioner would be challenging (and require rather more diplomatic skills than anyone in our house possesses). New Zealand is a multi-cultural society, and a society with an indigenous population which has fared, um...not so well as a result of colonisation. Posters of Chairman Mao that may or may not be offensive, the disconcerting-ness or not of women wearing burqas, whether it's Whanganui or Wanganui: these are all complex issues and a bit of circumspection might be in order.

Or not. In an interview with Radio NZ, the newly appointed Commissioner was quoted as admitting she didn't have a wealth of experience but didn't think the job would be "overly complicated". 

"I think what I can bring to this organisation is a very common sense approach. I don't it will make it any more difficult than just dealing with any other issues. I mean, you know there's all [sic] under the Chief Human Rights Commission so therefore whether it's disability or gender or employment or race, you know, the issues are not dissimilar. And this is just about making it right for everybody in New Zealand. I'm not going to have any premature ideas about the role yet and the issues and what I have to do because today is my first day."   

Oh dear. When in doubt, invoke "common sense". That'll see off all those namby pamby bleeding hearts with their Treaty grievances, their politically correct pronunciation and tapa cloth wall hangings.

Defending her choice of Commissioner on Morning Report this morning, Justice Minister Judith Collins had a rare instance of playing the wo/man not the ball. To Mana Movement President Annette Sykes' questioning of Dame Susan's commitment to Treaty education and her understanding of international relations, as well as broader questions around the process by which Dame Susan was appointed, Ms Collins' responded that "Annette Sykes is a stupid person and I don't take any notice of what she says." That should deal with anyone's reservations in a common sense sort of way.

Well, good luck with that not overly complicated thing, Dame Susan. You might only just be getting a foretaste of how complicated some of this stuff can be.

Monday, March 18, 2013

You know, fair enough

The photo below popped into my inbox today. In the interests of fair play and so as not mislead you, gentle reader, I did go and check the interview (with Mike Hosking) and this is - alarmingly - a true and correct transcript. It's not excerpts and nothing has been added in.

Spider and I are going for a walk, and will leave you to draw your own conclusions. Enjoy!

Thanks to the anonymous transcriber and to Tony for forwarding this.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The amazing role of parents

One of the legacies of the last Labour government was that, in order to distract from the fact they weren't really doing anything to restore the living standards of those at the bottom, they got various government departments to print glossy propaganda telling us Good Stuff Was Happening. National has continued this practice, recognising that when you're running the country for the benefit of a few it's important to pretend otherwise.

One such rag is the Ministry of Social Development's Rise (left). The latest edition of this taxpayer-funded misinformation features an article on the back telling parents to 'treasure our children'. Presumably parents need to be told this or they'd forget. There's a little blurb about how children are a gift, then under the heading [caps locks in original] THE AMAZING ROLE OF PARENTING, parents who have made it this far are told they are doing 'the most important job in the world'.

Who knew? Recent changes to welfare have all assumed parents on benefits are totally unable and/or unwilling to care for their children and need the loving hand of the nanny state to prompt them to - how does the article put it? - make sure 'kids have the things they need'. Now I'd bet dollars to donuts that making sure 'kids have the things they need' in no way shape or form will involve the aforementioned nanny state increasing benefit payments for sole parents or improving levels of family assistance for the low-paid. On the contrary, Working for Families has been cut back and in what looked like a rich man's in-joke, the minimum wage was raised by 25c a couple of weeks ago. Then there's all the kids with parents who have lost jobs or are living in cars or other inadequate housing, or the most needy about to have their state schools gutted by Catherine Issac's Great Charter School Experiment. In fact, the White Paper on Vulnerable Children released late last year hardly mentions poverty and entirely ignores the fact that many children are already missing out on 'things they need', preferring instead to focus on snooping and reporting on families.

All this suggests that it's not parents who need to be told to treasure our children, it's a government wedded to cutting social services, telling the poor how to look after their children, and monitoring and tracking citizens. Most parents already do an amazing job. The Ministry of Social Development and its minister should butt out. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pedestrian safety in Mangere

Yesterday a 9 year old boy was hit by a car in Mangere and suffered serious injuries. As serious walkers, Spider and I wondered how such a thing could happen in the world's most liveable city. Wouldn't TWMLC be pedestrian friendly, especially when it came to the safety of young pedestrians? The initial news reports noted that the incident had happened on Mangere Rd between Robertson and Buckland Roads. This isn't a million miles from our place so we thought we'd check it out.

Mangere Road is a key arterial road that runs smack through the middle of a suburb with a high concentration of children and young people (ie the people least likely to be aware of traffic). It shunts traffic from Otahuhu through to the airport. Running perpendicular, thus necessitating numerous motorway interchanges in Mangere, is State Highway 20, running between Somewhere Out West and the airport. It would be logical to assume that over the years traffic and road planners have become more aware of things such as the demographic make up of the region's suburbs, but alas, this does not seem to be the case. 

We started on the corner of Buckland Rd and Mangere Rd. It's 4.30 so the traffic is building up - it's already pretty busy. On one corner is a park, the other corners are all houses.

Here, the pedestrian curbs are placed diagonally into the footpath - not very convenient or safe for the visually impaired or anyone on a scooter or wheelchair. The crossings are all with the traffic (no Barnes dances for these residents) with one side not having a crossing phase at all (photo below). So to get from one side of Mangere Rd (where this photo was taken) to the other (where the bike is) requires crossing the other three sides of the intersection or crossing against the traffic (as Spider and I did).

One other thing: beware the free left turns. There are no crossings or any other indications to motorists that they need to be cognisant of pedestrians.

Moving down Mangere Rd about 75 metres we come to a side street close to a bus stop. There is no way to get from the south side of Mangere Rd to the bus stop on the other side legally except by walking down to the Buckland Rd intersection then crossing three sides of the intersection and doubling back down the north side. Or cross against the traffic. It should be noted here that there is not, in any section of this block, even the slightest hint of a pedestrian traffic island. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Next we come to the David Lange Rest Home. It's on another corner with no pedestrain amenities. No wonder you don't see any oldies out having a rage on their scooters and zimmer frames.

Some 500-600 metres down the road we come to the Robertson Rd intersection. This is slightly better set up, probably because there is a school up the road so they had to give some thought to the Differently Abled. There's those little yellow raised dot thingies for the walking stick set, and the curb cuttings actually face the direction people would be expected to cross. Plus, there's pedestrian crossings on ALL FOUR SIDES!

There's still the problem of not having a pedestrian crossing on the free turns, and no indication to motorists to give way to pedestrians.

But the kicker here is that this intersection is about 100 metres away from a motorway interchange. Up to Robertson Rd (traveling east) the road is two lanes wide. At Robertson Rd the two lanes merge into one: it's a shitfight and there's always turds racing up the inside lane to try to gain a cars length before the traffic becomes one lane. The reports into the child's injuries talked about him being hit by a car passing on the left and we're speculating that this is why. Here's two lanes of cars revving their engines waiting to steal a march on the car next to them (lane three turns right):

Here's the shops the boy was trying to get to. They're great; you can by a pink singlet with a picture of (maybe?) Britney Spears and a bag of red onions from the same shop. Being so close to the intersection they (the shops, not the singlets and onions) mess with the traffic flow as cars slow down to turn into the carpark.

As an aside, there's no cycle lane anywhere through here, either. The cyclists we saw were riding on the footpath. 

All this might not be so bad if this was a one-off and could be easily remedied. But whole tracts of South Auckland are clusterfucks like this. The question isn't why do 9 year olds get hit by motor vehicles, it's why don't more get hit? Sorry, but becoming TWMLC means more than putting in a few cute amenities in the nice parts of town. It means attending to the needs of all Aucklanders, even the poor young ones.

But to finish on a lighter note: New Zealanders love Big Things. Mangere is no different. Atop this insalubrious block of shops in one of the poorest parts of town, we find the world's biggest snapper (no reference, I'm just making it up). 

And we hope the kid that's a victim of this slipshod pedestrian planning recovers soon.

Young princesses

Where we live it's impossible to avoid children, and we have had a number visit/been fed/been helped with their homework/almost move in over the years. In recent years they've done what all kids do and grown up, leaving us - I thought - to eke out our dotage in relative peace.

Not so fast, palagis. Here's the next generation of princesses hanging out in  the back yard having checked out the chooks, scared off the cats, and now patting the dogs. They're neat kids, and we wish them all the best in an increasingly uncertain world.

Geno makes a friend:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Auckland. Not London. Not even Wellington

The government has finally publicly released the so-called Auckland liveability report commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MoBIE to its friends) and the Auckland Council. In fact the report is part of a larger review of New Zealand's competitiveness, something we got our first report on way back in 1991. (A critique of that report by Brian Easton is here.) It is truly disheartening that after all this time we're still paying overseas experts to tell us what is blindingly obvious to anyone who is paying even a wee bit of attention. 

As noted by the Herald's Bernard Orsman, the liveability report (correctly in our view) unkindly points out that Auckland is not the most liveable city in the world, or even New Zealand.
The Auckland Plan, p30, brought to you by the Auckland Council PR department. Available
According to the Enright report (p3), Auckland's top priorities should include limiting urban sprawl: "Maintain or reduce the urban footprint. An overall denser Auckland will be more sustainable, vibrant and liveable...A larger population should be accommodated by "going vertical" not "horizontal". 

This collides directly with central government's desire to open up more rural land in the Auckland region for development, ostensibly to make housing more affordable. No one has produced any evidence to support this, and my spies tell me even the Property Council doesn't believe it (we'll put a link in if we can find it). However, it not housing and sprawl that are the subject today. Of more interest is the report's comment on transport:

"Mass transit, particularly the current rail plans would be the first priority. Mass transit is key to making Auckland more liveable, more sustainable, more productive, and more capable as an international gateway. Without such a transit system Auckland will never reach its potential."

No wonder Steven "roads of national significance" Joyce made sure MoBIE's website has this well out of public view. This government's hostility to mass transit as a means for Aucklanders to get around is not limited to not funding the CBD rail loop. But what about the Auckland Council itself, our guides on the journey to making Auckland the world's most liveable city? 

Transport is covered in Chapter 13 of the Auckland Plan. It has pictures of trains and cyclists but none of traffic jams. An inspection of the actual projects that have been prioritised shows that Auckland's Council and transport planners are living in a parallel universe where cars still look like rocket ships, gas is 50c a litre and the only person in the household who works and drives a car is Dad. While the CBD rail loop tops the list, next comes the Western Ring Route, (a motorway), then AMETI, another motorway and presently designed so the traffic logjam will move from Panmure to GI (in much the same way SH20 presently clogs up Maioro Street and the surrounding areas). But tacked onto AMETI, with no public consultation and not even the shadow of a business case, is something called the East-West link. This is another motorway, running from SH20 in Onehunga to SH1. What problem is it going to solve? You'll have to wait and find out like the rest of us. Then there's the Puhoi-Wellsford holiday highway, another motorway with a business case so weak NZTA basically had to redesign its cost benefit analyses to get it out of the starting gate. 

If you look at the fine print at the back, there are plenty of unfunded public transport projects and the plan only envisages 70% of the regional cycling network being completed by 2020. Does this seem 'transformational', to use the Plan's own terminology? Does any of this make you feel like Auckland is entering an era of awesome mass transit projects and easy commuting by bike? No, of course not. It's more of the same old same old.

Transformational London.
Which brings us to Boris. Now I have to confess I have a soft spot for Boris. Anyone who can get into trouble by parking his bike in someone else's stand (as I recall a paper describing it) and survive politically, all the while sporting a hairdo Peter Dunne secretly wishes he had the guts to wear, inspires a sort of grudging admiration. As London's Lord Mayor, Boris has evidently given some thought to London's transport and come up with something that is - unlike our pretentious nonsense - genuinely transformational. 

It is a cycling plan for London. Not a couple of cycleways painted on the road  but a big expensive (about 900 million pounds) plan that includes a crossrail for bikes, "mini-Hollands" in the suburbs, a network of cycle lanes and much much more. Where is our visionary transport leadership? We've ended up with a mayor who won't even take the government on about its ridiculous holiday highway. If you were a cynic you'd think slimey deals had been cut that are leaving Auckland ratepayers out of pocket. Numerous surveys and the council's own research have shown time and time again that Aucklanders want investment in public transport, and that they would ride bikes if it was safer. What we have is yet another road-building programme with a rail project cherry on top. 

We love you Boris! Please come and park your bike outside our town hall for a while. And if anyone from the Auckland Council reads this: go away and think about what transformational means, what you could offer Auckland, and what you're intending to actually deliver.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Greenways Project

It's no secret that getting around South Auckland by any means other than a large SUV is dodgy: the former Manukau City Council was car-obsessed and the region is full of roads with narrow carriageways and 60kph speed limits; there's no cycle lanes to speak of; pedestrian facilities are almost non-existent in some places, especially around Manukau City; and the public transport system is cruddy. There might be a bus service but how would you know?

Shining like a small beacon in this darkness is a proposal from an outfit called the Greenways Project to put in an off-road cycleway from Otara to Point England. The project uses some existing routes and envisages the upgrading/installation of others. Spider and I think it's a brilliant idea (you can see the details on their website), especially as we'd be able to use it. And we support it for a bunch of other reasons - getting people out of cars and providing them somewhere safe to ride, helping them get some exercise, bikes don't contribute to our air pollution problem, and any plantings alongside would improve the water quality of the Tamaki Estuary, an important stop for migratory birds. And we know from the Western Cycleway and the cycleway alongside SH20 that if cycling facilities are built, they are well used and not just by the lycra-clad set.

The route covers three local board areas including Otara-Papatoetoe, Mangere-Otahuhu and Maungakiekie-Tāmaki. 

Two of these boards have been supportive, and we're not sure what happened with the presentation to the Otara-Papatoetoe board.

We're uncertain about the cost, but as the city looks for ways to fund multi-billion dollar roading projects of dubious value, it is likely any cost would be relatively modest. It might mean Auckland Transport has to divert money from A Big Sexy Road but so what?

If you live in any of the wards or are just a cycling enthusiast who wants to increase the choice of off-road rides available in Auckland, write to any or all of the boards so they know they have some public support. They're finding it difficult to get money to even put basic amenities in for public transport users so there will undoubtedly need to be a bit of a push for this. Here's links to the contact details for the Boards. Get typing.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Urban design weirdness

Tamaki Drive has recently undergone some upgrading coincidental with Auckland Transport taking out parking spaces around Kelly Tarlton corner faster than you can say 'dead cyclist'.

Part of the upgrade has been the appearance of these rather odd urban design features between Mission Bay and Okahu Bay. Not that we mind funky urban design features, and God knows Auckland needs more not less. But these aren't funky, they're not functional and, one suspects, cost the ratepayer a fortune.

Behold! White marble cobbles set into the road with an ever-so-slightly elevated piece of tarmac between them. At first we speculated it was a traffic calming device but the cobbles are almost flush with the road so there is evidently no intention of slowing down anyones BMW.

 Next, we thought they might be pedestrian amenities, albeit not very safe ones. But if you look at photo 1, you'll notice there's no footpath, and photo 2 shows one side has a raised garden presumably to specifically deter pedestrians from even thinking about walking anywhere not approved by Auckland's car-centric traffic planners.

But, obviously mindful of cyclists' safety following the death of Jane Bishop, the designers have made some provision for cyclists in their little oddities. If you look closely at photo 2 you'll see the cycle lane goes behind the little raised garden and pops out the other side. It's all but invisible when you're on a bike and I have never seen a single cyclist use this amazing safety feature.

On the other side (photo 3) the cycle lane just stops. It's a bit strange, and one wonders what the planners had been smoking before they signed this off. 

Auckland Transport's priorities do not include the rapid upgrade and installation of cycle lanes. Yet the modest cost of $200 million to complete the regional cycling network is a drop in the bucket when cost of the (mostly roading) projects that have been prioritised in the Auckland Plan runs into billions. Getting people out of cars and onto bikes will be a big part of making Auckland the most liveable city in the world. And the experts agree (NB We'll put up link to the report up when it is released). Tamaki Drive is the region's single most used piece of road for cycling. Time for Auckland Transport to stop doing cute stuff with white cobblestones and address the serious safety issues still outstanding on this stretch of road.

Double trouble

A few months ago we got some young chooks. Among them were two Sicilian Buttercups. One escaped from her holding pen within hours (finding a hole none of the others have managed to find) and the other escaped a few days later. 

They've now been let into the bigger chook run which has been fenced off by a slightly inadequate fence that's a big metre high. Within days one had escaped and was found wandering vacantly around the carport, and a couple of days later her sister was found rampaging on the grass verge along the fenceline.

They're small and light, and very fast - you don't so much catch them as squish them into a corner from which there is no escape. And, following in the wake of their much older and bigger sister they have now learned to fly over the fence. Here they are showing off their new-found skill at escaping from their enclosure.