Be brave, walk the blue line

STEPPING OUT: The new blue lines on Bridge St.
STEPPING OUT: The new blue lines on Bridge St.

If ever there was a sign that life in Nelson can't be all bad, it was the public reaction last week to the painting of blue lines on Bridge St.

If the resulting outrage is to be believed, the biggest problem facing the city is not child poverty, the sluggish economy or the state of the environment, it's stripes on a sidewalk.

Part of $214,000 worth of improvements to the street, Nelson's infamous blue lines resulted in 112 comments on the Nelson Mail's Facebook page, most of them from people apparently furious that the city might try to do something a little different. For people who are a little shy at times, New Zealanders have no problems expressing their feelings online, especially if those feelings are ones of anger.

Glen Kelling felt "totally disgusted", Cat Hill screamed "absolute rubbish!" and Owen English wants everyone at Nelson City Council fired. Sally McMellon is "so bloody angry" while Matthew Sangster thinks it's time for councillors to "put up or piss off". Nicky Williams says the lines are "an embarrassment," Anna Burns thinks they're "retarded," Stevie Robb thinks they're "crap" and Jessie O'Brien thinks they're "gay".

On Radio New Zealand National's The Panel Jim Mora and Kevin Milne laughed at them and Nelson Mail columnist Russell Harding gave them a good kicking too. Later, on Checkpoint, a vox pop of Nelsonians gave them the collective thumbs down before the lead designer on the project, Canopy's Luke Porter, added context by explaining that paint is increasingly used around the world as an affordable way to make a big impact on streetscapes.

I also ended up on Checkpoint to tell the nation that the lines are part of a series of additions to Bridge St and to suggest that sometimes it takes time to get used to new things and to appreciate them. I thought about mentioning the way Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower and Aussies loathed the Sydney Opera House but imagined the headline, "Councillor likens blue lines to world famous buildings", and decided against it.

So why would a fledgling politician stick his neck out for something that most people are apparently appalled by? Well, for starters, Nelson City councillors are ultimately the ones responsible for the lines being there. The Bridge St facelift may have been a project of the previous council but we're the ones who finally gave it the green light.

I remember thinking that the blue paint would give the street a Braveheart look and that some people wouldn't like it. I backed the project because I could see that it would add colour to a part of town in dire need of it and because people had told us they wanted Bridge St smartened up. I'm also sticking up for the people behind it because if we always respond to anything different with knee-jerk negativity, Nelson will become a dull and predictable town rather than a colourful and interesting one.

Immediately shooting down people who want to try new things creates a chilling effect. It makes people afraid to try or even suggest new ways of doing things and can leave council officers and councillors so risk-adverse they become deaf to good ideas. Before you know it, you're on the road to mediocrity. And while some of the spleen venting has been unpleasant cool things have come out of the controversy.

For one thing, Bridge St has been the talk of the town and people have been heading down for a look. For another, it has scored Nelson national media coverage for doing something colourful and different. It might have even opened a few people's minds to new possibilities.

Not surprisingly most of the lines' supporters have been members of the younger generation. People like Matt Jones who, commenting on The Nelson Mail's website, wrote: "As a young person living in Nelson I think it's great to see something a bit edgy happening in the city! If we keep reproducing the same old stuff the town would forever be stuck in a time warp." Matt, if you're reading, I like the way you think.

  • Matt Lawrey is a Nelson City councillor and wrote this opinion piece as acting chair of works and infrastructure.

The Nelson Mail