The black-rimmed, super-clean city state
Len Brown's new super-city is now in the throes of inflating its super ego. Auckland has always been a somewhat stroppy city. I lived there on and off through the late 70s and 80s.
The attitude is arrogant and young, but without the maturity to give it any real confidence. So its attitude operates mainly on a gung-ho bluff and brazen approach to life. What you get is slick shallowness. Sydney at least, by far the older brother, is brazen and something of a slut of a city, as has been noted, I think, by the great Australian novelist Patrick White.
Such a distinction amuses the denizens of that great metropolis. They shrug it off, which attests to overly confident bravado - so much so that it becomes the very thing it aspires to: a power-driven, swaggering colossus, with a deep, chesty chuckle. The place is bulletproof.
Auckland, on the other hand, turns negative criticism into an overly emphatic dress sense. Look at the social pages, for instance; count the poseurs. Count the males with black horn-rimmed spectacles - at least one in every leering photo shot. I guess that is what social "cool" boils down to - presenting yourself as an overdressed fashion aficionado signifying nothing. One wonders if these social butterflies actually blink, staring intently at the camera as they do.
Now, Len Brown, mayor of Auckland, is no social butterfly it must be said. He is a down-to-earth pragmatist. That is a good thing in a civic leader. No-frills Len. And he is at the centre of boutiquing Auckland's image.
The latest hoopla concerns sex workers in South Auckland. Prostitution is legal in this country. Legal, if for the only reason that as a social activity it cannot be stopped. The high-paid hooker will operate from an inner-city apartment for the wealthy business sector. These ladies would not refer to themselves as prostitutes - maybe call girls would be a generic term best suited to the up-market services such females provide.
The point of focus at present is South Auckland, and the sex workers who work the streets in that area. Apparently, residents, or more likely councillors, are targeting the sex industry here in order to get them off the streets. The NZ Prostitutes Collective is fighting tooth-and-nail against council ruminations to "move them on" or "re-zone" them. So what the Auckland City Council wants to do is shunt them into the industrial areas around South Auckland, away from the contested residential areas. Len Brown wants to create, not so much a "super-city" as a super "clean" city. This is all about building the alter-ego of the city. Giving it a confident focus. Giving the city a pair of super trendy black-rimmed frames. A designer city.
The usual arguments are thrown up against the presence of streetworkers - that their very existence encourages drug dealing and gang activity.
This is probably, to some extent, true. However, this can be mitigated by installation of CCTV in select areas. Prostitutes are not, from what I gather, permitted to operate without licence from their homes, which in most cases would be rentals.
Once upon a time, prostitution was considered not such much an acceptable activity as an accepted activity - in the 19th century, on the docks, for instance.
Dockside taverns where "Dockside Suzie" held sway and drank a tankard with the roistering sailors who sang songs of the "Golden Rivet: by the tallow lit candles of a smoke-filled tavern, where men were men and women appreciated them for it."
I would like to see the Sunday tabloids give over a section to the sex industry, (and bring back the page 3 bikini girl!) where one sex worker is featured every week. Her back story. A profile complete with picture and, if possible, interviews with clients who are "game" enough to be interviewed. A pan-social response to one of the more dismissed or publicly frowned upon occupations that has been with us, as the cliche has it, since time immemorial. This occupation is celebrated in our arts; in novels, film, poetry and across the board in our arts in every society that lays claim to the term civilisation.
If Auckland wishes to symbolically assume the "designer spec" role, then let it strut forward into an egalitarian future with the street worker. Maybe the billsticker industry historically associated with the underclass can come to the fore with a "Celebrate the Street Worker" campaign. They do, after all, share the same patch.
Stephen Oliver is the author of 16 volumes of poetry. He lived in Australia for 20 years and now resides in the King Country, and is a freelance writer and voice artist.