OPINION: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times - it was last Saturday night in Hamilton and on two sides of the river there were two groups of young people doing two very different things.
In Hamilton East, in the shadow of the church on Te Aroha St a group of young people were coming together to celebrate Hamilton's first Cosplay Ball - an event designed to tie into Armageddon Expo which was on at the same time. In Hamilton West, though, a crowd of about 50 youth were running ragged next to the Hamilton Night Markets.
Two very different groups.
The group I saw in Hamilton East were an eclectic bunch - nowhere else would it seem odd to have Spider-Man dancing with the Joker, to see Deadpool hitting on Cinderella, or an array of characters from the world of Anime and Comic Books eating marshmallows and chips together while Pharrell's Happy played.
The kids I saw in Hamilton West, though, were a mess, running in front of traffic, hanging around intimidating people going to the Night Markets or Burger King or walking out of the nearby Warehouse - kids seemingly without purpose, being ignored, screaming for attention.
Looking at them both, both groups were having fun - but while one was constructive, supportive of each other's skills and efforts, the other was destructive and detrimental. For me it was an eye opener - as it was for my travelling companion that night. He's never been involved in either world but what he saw impressed him and shocked him.
At the Cosplay Ball the amount of passion on hand by people celebrating was obvious. They saw this as a chance to come together as a community, using Armageddon as a focal point. Here they were free of labels, free of Judgement and could just relax and have fun.
In town the kids were also free, but in a different way. While we were there we saw them making fun of people, trying to borrow smokes off people passing by and scatter at the first sign of trouble - which worryingly wasn't a real issue, because not once while we were there did we see any sort of authority figures.
There were no cops, no City Safe officers and no parents in sight. While we saw plenty of police during the night, they were all in the van patrolling Victoria St and we watched as two City Safe officers saw the crowd and chose to walk the opposite direction. As for parents . . . Well as a parent of kids in this general age range I was shocked. If I was to see my children causing anyone to feel intimidated the way this group was, completely unchecked, they wouldn't be leaving the house until they're in their mid 30s.
To be fair though, as a parent I also encourage my children to express themselves how they want to - and that included my daughter joining me at Armageddon dressed as the 11th Doctor, and perhaps what I was seeing was a group of youth expressing themselves. It wasn't in the socially safe or accepted way the attendees of the Cosplay Ball were doing it but they seemed to enjoy it.
This is why Hamilton needs to find way to interact with youth in a better way. It's great to see Zeal, a youth focused outreach group setting up shop in the CBD - perhaps that's what the Hamilton West youth might need to find more productive ways to spend a Saturday night. It's not the first time we've seen this sort of idea suggested - Youth Zone on Bryce St was created with a similar focus in mind in the late 1990s.
But where Youth Zone and Zeal differ is that one was seen as a peace meal gesture from the council to keep unruly kids off the street, while Zeal is being set up by people passionate about the city, its youth and they genuinely want to see our kids given the chance to have their own space and be supported in their own goals. If that means finding something for the kids of Hamilton West to get involved in, then I'm all for it, and if that means a venue for next years Cosplay Ball, then I'm all for that - because what all our youth need across the city is encouragement and leadership. Right now we can see what it's like without it. Soon we'll see how positive Hamilton can be with it.