Something to learn from New Plymouth
I'm used to feeling like my city is a little inadequate whenever I visit Auckland or Wellington but I had no idea that I'd feel like Hamilton was a place behind the times after visiting New Plymouth, of all places.
This past weekend Taranaki played host to Tropfest, the largest short film competition in the world. It was the second one held in New Zealand and I was given a VIP invite.
What I found was a city that made Hamilton and the Hamilton City Council look like backwards hicks.
In areas as widely diverse as their 53,000 strong population itself, I saw New Plymouth District Council excel in areas our current council is actively pushing to kill - the arts being the most obvious.
New Plymouth is a city that is not only adorned with public art, but is part of the design of the city going forward. You can't walk a street in the bustling CBD without finding a sculpture or painting or performance place nearby and the city isn't afraid to celebrate their own with Len Lye works and tributes everywhere.
Hamiltonians, on the other hand, recently sat quietly as its council killed a public art project for the city entrance and lost their one Len Lye sculpture at the casino because they didn't know how to look after it.
On top of that, New Plymouth knows that the best way to encourage visitors to the CBD is to lump together the most popular amenities - with the library, museum, art gallery (yep, only 53,000 people and they have an art gallery and we don't) are combined with their iSite and a cafe near the beach itself. When you walk to this building you're greeted by a life size giant white shark - a ten metre behemoth that still has a jandle caught in it's teeth.
And on top of that, the city is making its biggest natural assets work for their people. The Brooklands Bowl is a perfect venue but the same park also holds a small free zoo, a lake, gardens and parks. The ocean that New Plymouth skirts is framed with a wide walkway populated with chairs, lookout points, playgrounds, car parks and even on a cold blustery day the place was packed. While here, we also visited some local hidden gems including a whale bone inspired bridge hidden by a small coastal inlet which was busy with locals playing in the summer sun.
Talking to locals it's obvious how proud they are - they talk of their home with massive smiles and the region's strategy of using world class events that are unique and community building.
The big thing I suspect New Plymouth has that Hamilton doesn't, other than an ocean beach and an art gallery, is a sense of community. Everywhere our trip took us we saw people enjoying themselves, we saw the Main Street and malls shut by four on Sundays and no one complain. We saw features like a travelling library, and a public amphitheatre off the Main Street. It feels like everyone here smiles and an is happy to be here - it doesn't feel like someone is homogenising the city with copycat malls and forced hours of operation.
Take note Hamilton. As much as I love my home town, it feels to me like more and more organisations are trying to kill what it means to be a real community - just take a visit to beautiful New Plymouth to see what I mean.