Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown
Things will be great when you’re downtown
No finer place for sure, downtown
Everything’s waiting for you
I changed jobs a couple of months ago. Major change. In many ways. Probably the biggest change is that after three years out in the wilds of East Tamaki and a 30km commute to the office, I am now back in Downtown Auckland. After a few days of wandering around, mouth agape, feeling like a country cousin in the big smoke, I have a few observations! Here are the top 7 things I’ve discovered about going downtown.
7. Pedestrian friendly. There are a lot of cross walks – lights phased so that you can cross diagonally or any other way and all the traffic is stopped. Also there are lots of shared streets – pedestrians and vehicles share cobbled streets. This makes the city centre much more welcoming than I remember it being.
6. Public transport is a LOT better than the last time I was regularly catching it. There is a train every 15 minutes throughout the day. Trains seem to be mostly on time (occasionally early) are clean and although crowded at rush hour, are significantly cheaper than parking in the city.
5. Downtown is apparently a high class area. Check out these stores, all of which are a 1 minute walk from my new office. (there’s a Swarovski store in there somewhere too).
4. The city is a LOT busier than I remember. Streams and flows of people on the pavements all the time. I guess they managed to revitalise the city and draw the crowds back!
3. There are a lot of unusual and very nice shops. Here’s Queen’s Arcade, right near me. You won’t see any of these shops in a suburban mall, and for the bonus point, there’s a games shop buried in there! And every couple of weeks, this group of women meet to knit. In the middle of the arcade. With their cups of tea and bikkies. It’s very cool!
2. There are all sorts of informative engraved stone plaques on the pavements. I don’t know if anyone else ever reads them, but they’re fascinating! Sometimes it’s street names, sometimes it’s a bit of information about the street or feature. Sometimes it’s a plaque on a small plinth. It adds flavour, although can make navigating the flow of people difficult at times.
- The buildings. The buildings are awesome. You have old school buildings, like the one we’re in which is Victorian and ornate on the outside and all steel and wood converted industrial on the inside. Right next to those are modern glass extravaganzas. And then there’s the graffiti-laden backs and carparks in behind the glamorous facades. it’s a fabulous place to work if you like looking at architecture.
The only thing that makes me sad about being back in the city is the prevalence of homeless people. I love the buskers and some of them are incredibly talented, but for every one of them, there are two people obviously sleeping rough. There’s the guy with the dog. The man with the bushy hair and the bare feet. And the man with the rat. And the fairly clean and tidy person who looks like a backpacker down on his luck. There are those who sleep right by the McDonald’s and those who must come in from somewhere each day who have their carefully hand lettered signs telling a story. It reminds me that everything else is superficial and this is the real detail of Downtown Auckland we should be looking at critically, and doing something about.
Confronted with the homeless people, I don’t know quite what to do. Should I give money? Food? Can I do that every day? One day I bought some strawberries and gave them to someone homeless – was that a good thing? Did it make a difference? I don’t know their stories, but I’m sure there are very few people who would choose to be homeless. Fortunately for me, there are agencies out there trying to make a difference – go visit them and see what you can do. I’m going to.