This is a guest post from reader Robert McLachlan

On the evening of Friday November 26, 1971, viewers of the sole Wellington television channel, then called “Central Television”, could watch the 40-minute film “Notes on a New Zealand City”.

Everything about this film is spot on and, especially with the passage of time, extremely moving. The opening scenes show commuters clogging the brand new Wellington Urban Motorway to the sounds of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi (“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”) Thanks to Youtube, which seems to dissolve historical distance, Joni Mitchell sounds brand new and modern. But the cars look like some kind of retro-futurist nightmare, closer to the personal transporters in the movie Brazil than actual cars.

Virtually everything said in this film about suburban sprawl, traffic, motorways, suburban shopping malls, public transport, and the decentralization of employment, could be repeated today, 48 years later.

Director Paul Maunder, then aged 26 and fresh from the London Film School, was clearly something of an auteur – without appearing in the film, he comprehensively shapes its message that, in his words, “he was depressed to find that in urban planning Wellington was pursuing the American pattern of events, 20 or 30 years behind”. He later directed Sons for the Return Home before focussing on community theatre. He visited Grotowski at his “poor theatre” in Poland. He now lives in Blackball, where he writes and produces plays (currently Waiting for Greta, a version of Godot updated to the climate change era) and curates Mahi Tupuna – the Blackball Museum of Working Class History.

A young Ian Athfield shows off a model of the Pearce Apartments as originally envisaged. After continuous redesign for five years, a version was built and now stands at the top of Marjoribanks Street. Athfield’s vision of medium density housing bringing a greater diversity of people to the inner city? Still waiting.

There are scenes of the brand new Cuba Mall, successful then and now, and children watching the splash buckets just as they do today.

John Roberts, Professor of Public Administration and later a founder of Victoria University’s Institute of Policy Studies: “People are not progressive and they don’t like to disturb the status quo, because there’s too many interlocking agreements in it.” He argues for a regional authority for Wellington, and for reform “along the Auckland lines” while allowing Wellington City to stay in existence. Big tick, John.

The original and thoughtful Bill Sutch: “If you hack your environment about, if you cut down trees and put through rough roads,and then you make rough cuttings, and this is your pioneer way of life, you begin to think this is what the environment is like, and you begin to be numb about it, you don’t appreciate the fact that it is ugly. Now many New Zealanders look at their environment as something that is null or nil. Whether it is ugly or not ugly they don’t even notice… we should have much more understanding of the emotional aspects that our environment has on us as people.”

A few points are missed. In 1971 petrol was $0.09/l ($1.29 today), as it had been for decades. They didn’t know that very soon two oil crises would take the price to $0.60/l in mid-1982 ($3.65 today, and real incomes were half as much then). However, that didn’t stop the love affair with the car. Vehicle ownership went from about 0.30 vehicles per person in 1971 to 0.69 per person in 2000; after a short breather during the global financial crisis, it ramped up further to 0.86 per person today, about the highest in the world. We are now in the middle of the biggest splurge on cars and motorways that we have ever seen.

Pollution, already surely a concern in 1971, is not mentioned, nor road fatalities as a cost of car use. The 677 road deaths in 1971 rose to a peak of 843 in 1973.

The film closes with a voiceover, shot against a montage of city life:

“The city awakes. Another day, another cycle begins. Endlessly repeated week after week, year after year. At the same time, we evolve. We build homes, we construct roads, we fill our harbours. We create our environment. We in New Zealand are in a unique position. Being twenty or even thirty years behind the most advanced western societies, we can predict the future. We can see the pattern evolving. We are in a position to choose. But will we?”

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64 comments

  1. Wellington is such a terrible city for cars, highly constrained and with employment highly concentrated. Yet over time they have tried to hard to ruin the place to make it easier to drive around – yet still failing at that.

    Central Wellington feels overrun with cars, especially parking. Plus there’s a semi motorway along the waterfront. Very sad.

    1. I agree. Wellington City central has and always will be a non car friendly city due to compactness and topography. It is a more public transport, walking and cycling friendly.

      1. It was also a pretty neat street race, which ironically would be far easier to hold if you didn’t weren’t so reliant on vehicle traffic moving through the city centre.

      2. It has been really interesting to see how the reliance of Wellington on just a half dozen large car parking spaces has been tested over the past few years. For those of you that haven’t been to Wellington (ie probably most Aucklanders?) each entry into the city has a large display sign telling motorists whether the 4 nearest major car park buildings were open or shut, and how many spaces they had available.
        After the Quakes in 2011, 2013, 2016, we suffered a reduction in number of Car park buildings – one was completely demolished, a couple of others were slowly strengthened over the next couple of years, and the last two are still closed, completely.

        How can a city that is apparently so dependent on cars, suddenly have half the parks removed, and still function perfectly normally? Somehow, we are extremely resilient in that way.

        1. That is why there has been such an out cry over the GWRC new shambolic multi hub rapid bus network especially from the residents of the Wellington city’s southern, eastern and western suburbs.

        1. Yeah who would ever walk or cycle if the weather was bad? It’s always sunny and 20 degrees in Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

        2. No, you’re absolutely right snoozle – the weather was atrocious over the entire island. Hardly anyone moving even in cars! Just foul… good night to stay inside next to the fire and listen to music. Nothing wrong with that!

    2. It’s great we’re moving towards a non car future then…. Having the mindset of ‘needing a car’ is very much an antiquated way of living and being. It’s time to Rise Up and Wake Up. Wellington is the way forward in many ways with how they are promoting sustainable and conscious living so rapidly.

  2. Thanks Matt. Lovely to see my chosen city being featured on GA for once, and all in such a positive fashion too….

    Sigh. We’ve got an election coming up, and so far we have no candidates putting themselves forward with any clue about anything and so we’re bound to get another three years of numpties running the place. We have “Let’s Get Welly Moving” instead of a version of AT, and they have taken 4 years to write a report which recommends doing… something. No details, just do “something”. Yeah right, thanks for that helpful advice. Was that Bus transit? Or Light Rail? Tram Trains? Bendy Buses? Trackless Trams? (We made that last one up just to see if anyone was awake). The public hasn’t got a clue. The two main factions of pro-PT advocates are arguing over the route, the mode of transport, the reasons why or why not, and meanwhile, a giant new $2billion funnel of cars is heading straight towards Wellington, with nowhere to put all the cars they’re pushing our way. In a year when “Transmission Gully” is finally open, Wellington will grind to a halt even more – which will be great for pedestrians, as we will be able to walk between the parked cars on SH1.

    Happy Happy Joy Joy.

    1. After what the Greater Wellington Regional Council did to the bus system none of them deserve reelection. They should be shot with a ball of shit. (No I am not advocating physical violence, it is simply a very old insult).

        1. He was actually an American consultant, and they changed his proposal substantially but didn’t check with him to see if their revised proposal would actually work…

          Now they’ve hired the Wellingtonian that implemented Auckland’s new network to fix Wellington’s, and I hope that they’ll be listening.

        2. Just to clarify a few things. The same American consultant (Jarrett Walker, a world expert in network redesign) and the same local partner consultancy (MRCagney, a Australasian leader in the same, but declaration of interest, it’s the company I work for so I would say that!) led the network design for both Auckland and Wellington networks.

          The fact that the American was previously based in Australia for various network projects, and the fact the local company has Australian offices as well might give the impression they are all Australian, but that isn’t quite right.

          Those consultants, however, were only employed through the design phase, weren’t involved in the implementation of what was actually contracted, consulted or rolled out.

          The very talented and capable chap who managed the successful Auckland roll-out was an employee of Auckland Transport at the time. Yes he was originally from Wellington and is now back there to help sort things out.

          We don’t really acknowledge just how amazingly successful the Auckland new network has been. Compared to similar network redesigns across the rest of Australasia and North America it was a very smooth roll out and has resulted in huge increases in ridership. A huge part of that was due to that Wellingtonian chap.

        1. You don’t even get the pleasure of voting Chris Laidlaw out since he is retiring, clearly knowing he didn’t stand a chance anyway.

          Having said that we don’t get to vote anyone at AT in or out, we are stuck with them all.

        2. Waspman – I think he knew he would have been lynched if he had tried to run again. We had barrels of tar and feathers ready and waiting for him…

    2. I don’t know if that’s quite fair Guy. I think at least 3 of the WCC mayoral candidates have better approaches to cities than John Palino, John Tamihere, John Banks, and probably the two farmers who run Auckland. Even if the full policy platforms are not announced yet.
      Let’s Get Wellington Moving is a total stall I agree. It’s appalling that early deliverables are not clearly outlined, and that in our CEO’s pre-election report all he talks about is programme structure and flying in overseas experts. Especially given the early deliverables are not particularly complex.
      The lack of a regional transport body with real authority is not something that any candidate could resolve.
      My only announced transport policy at this point is light rail for our rapid transit. But there will be more. Specifically around active modes, parking and bus priority (ie. the things WCC can actually control). With regards to housing, I back scenario 2 from planning for growth (suburban density around the transit spine), I want to see rates based on land value, and I think part of Berhampore Golf Course could be better used. There is also more to come here.
      https://www.conorhill.org.nz

      1. Conor, yes, I wasn’t actually meaning you – thinking more of the GWRC. As you say, there are a couple of good thinkers in there, and the dross have decided not to seek re-election, but we are still in very dangerous territory. When are you starting doing campaign talks in public? We need some public debates to thrash out the issues, and we need to elect teams to WCC and GWRC that will get action going from day one. We’ve been pissed around with for far too long.

        1. Hi Guy –
          Yeah I mean, I feel like a lot of those GWRC councillors took the bus for the first time to get a new network press release photo last July. The failure to get integrated ticketing sorted is also grating – would love an update from NZTA on how Project NEXT is coming along.
          Debates start from the 5th of September, and I’ll update Facebook and my website with which ones I will attend. It will be as many as possible. I may do some cafe chat style sessions before then too.

          https://wellington.govt.nz/your-council/elections/local-elections-2019/community-candidate-events.

          In general my approach will be to build on things that council or LGWM have already consulted on, but to make it very clear which proposals I support and when I think they should be delivered, and what the implications of that are.

        2. Dump Project “NEXT” and use the perfectly adequate HOP card system which has cost millions and exists now. This whole reinvent the wheel process is due to the Wellington Regional Council’s parochial nonsense. Tell them we’ve got higher priorities than a new ticketing system and they will be using HOP whether they like it or not.

        3. Gonna have to disagree with you there Zippo – we have a Snapper card, which we have had before you guys up north even learned to Hop, so we can see no point in changing our system to yours. That would just be dumb.

          So: Nope.

        4. I’ve heard you can even use Snapper on other bus services now, one day it might even be rolled out to the trains.

        5. Can you use Snapper on the trains like you can with HOP? Do they have ticket machines at every rail station like they do in Auckland? Have they managed real integrated ticketing in Wellington yet? Are they still using little cardboard tickets on the trains that you have to queue up at a quaint ticket office window to buy or only sell for cash on the train? Now that is dumb, but reflects the insular mindset down there.

        6. Guy:
          Snapper’s interim anyway, going to be replaced one way or another. ProjectNEXT is just the latest example kicking the can down the road on integrated ticketing. Decades long farce…
          You’re also pretty brave declaring the wonders of Snapper on an Auckland blog given the political shenanigans they tried to pull up there.

        7. Zippo: cash & cardboard are as good as ever (i.e. poor) …
          AT Hop is generally better because fare policy choices, sod all due to tech. AT have also made poor decisions that tainted the image of Hop (particularly outside Auckland).
          Also, have AT got round to implementing proper offpeak fares yet?

        8. Lovely to stir up some Aucklanders Hopping on their bandwagon. Just like you lot get pissed off with Wellingtonians telling you what to do with your transport, we lot also get pissed off with Aucklanders telling us to stop Snappering and start Hopping, for no other reason than we had Snapper first and we don’t want to change. It’s working, which is more than be said for the rest of the city.

          I have a Snapper permanently in my pocket – and I have a 10 trip train ticket in my wallet as well. Not actually a fully integrated system, but I’m not having any issues with that system either – but then, I’m an inner-city dweller, and so mostly walk everywhere anyway. I also have a Hop in my wallet for those frequent visits to Auckland, and I’d have something for Christchurch as well if only they had invented one.

          We’ve got 99 problems down here, but Snapper ain’t one of them…

          Let’s get onto more important things, like: how to rid ourselves of a dysfunctional Regional Council that can’t control the Transport part of their responsibilities; how we manage to find intelligent and action-packed people to stand for and get elected to the Council; how we get rid of the large fleet of second-hand diesel Auckland fume-belching buses that were foisted upon us by Laidlaw before he shot himself in th head and removed himself from the equation; how we get our fleet of fully electric trolley-buses converted to battery buses, now that GWRC have given the bus licenses away to Tranzit under the PTOM; removed all the wiring just so that we now have no chance of ever getting them running again; and they have screwed NZBus who now have no inclination to help – why should they bother? We have been totally and utterly shafted by the Regional Council because of their total, absolute and utter incompetence – yes, I am bothered by all of this. See why I’m angry?

          We also have, just to cap it off, an equally incompetent City Council, headed by a man who, in 3 years, has succeeded in only one action: getting a rainbow painted on a pedestrian crossing on Cuba St. Well, pardon me if I’m not overly impressed by that striking list of accomplishments Mr Lester. We have a Town Hall that has now been sitting empty for 5 years? 7 years? We have our central Library building that was closed in an afternoon and now may take years to reopen, and meanwhile the Council does nothing, because they are incompetent and incapable of making sensible decisions. We have the Council buildings themselves, that the Council has moved out of, and they have put up a nicely painted hoarding and done nothing else.

          Time for a revolution down here! Storm the barricades!

        9. @goosoid, the key word that you use is “simple”. Metrocard is indeed a simple setup, for a simple network. It is not the smartcard that more complex networks need.

          Snapper (inaugurated 2008) and Hop are yesterday’s technology: Metrocard was advanced for its time, but it is now the day before yesterday’s (if not last week’s).

          Metrocard was a good idea at the time, but a lot better ones have emerged since.

    3. Guy M – I agree with you. Wellington has been bogged down with inaction for years. Apathy in local, regional and central government reins supreme.

  3. The depressing thing about the capital is the further entrenchment of car dependancy. After TMG & otaki to peka peka the pressure for four lanes (initially) to the planes,
    Extra lanes to the lanes (Lower hutt mayoral candidates all wanting more lanes from the Hutt into town), Melling interchange (why does urgent flood protection require bundling with a motorway interchange?) cross valley link, petone to grenada link.

    The multi billion dollar list is popular with voters. Add in the proposed new car dependant burbs at lincolnshire farms, takapu rd and the kapiti sprawl.

    Not a place I want to live anymore.

    1. Yes, well, what do you expect when a region elects someone with the intellectual brilliance that Ray Wallace has? We need a WT version of AT – we need it now. Certainly don’t need another single car making its way from the Hutt.

      1. Need to abolish all the small minded petty little local authorities with their petty little mayors and fake little city centres.

        The region only has one city centre and at least the main urbanised bit should only have one mayor and one council. Wellington local/regional government is approaching Auckland (prior to supercity) levels of disfunction.

        1. Agree 100% with that. The other centres (Upper Hutt, Middle Hutt, Lower Hutt) etc are an embarrassment even to themselves. Upper Hutt has only one building over 2 stories tall, and it is half-full. There is, virtually, no office work done in that town – everyone either trains into Wellington or travels in by car, for which there is no parking. The Hutt(s) are a great place for manufacturing – and dormitory suburbs – but as GK says, there’s nothing else there.

        2. just checking to see if you were awake. And clearly, you are.

          But if there is an Upper and a Lower, then surely there must be a Middle as well ?

      1. I’d say there’s nothing wrong with our DNA. 🙂 But there’s everything wrong with the structure of some of our organisations, that give too much power to incumbent divisions that don’t listen to evidence. From a paper I’m reading at the moment:

        “Transformative practises fundamentally reject current practises and framings, break free from entrenched ideas, develop new possibilities and invent new practises… a centralised governing body responsible for a city’s overall transport strategy has greater capacity for effective multimodal coordination and networking than diverse single mode operators responsible for strategic planning… Strategic planning fundamentally involves a break from static planning which is reliant on forecasting, objective measurability and knowing”

  4. The header photograph shows the line of utility poles, as car magnets, close to edge of The Hutt Road along the harbourside. Because the first pole, Hutt bound, after the Ngauraga intersection intercepted so many cars it was provided with a line of two additional short poles upstream as protection against car strike! The wires were important!

  5. In the simplest sense, the flood protection requires a motorway interchange because:

    * the Council wants to build the Hutt River dyke higher than the current road surface of the Melling Link bridge over the river

    * this means NZTA has to build a higher bridge to fit the dyke under, or the bridge will just be a gap in the dyke

    * NZTA cant, or won’t, build a higher bridge without adjusting how the bridge intersects with the motorway, 50m from the end of the bridge.

    * any discussion of adjusting the Melling Bridge intersection gets brigaded by political opportunists looking to garner votes by replacing the two sets of traffic lights with a big free-flowing motorway interchange, that will struggle to fit in the topography.

    Me, I’m just waiting for the Hutt Valley-Wellington cycleway, originally supposed to be complete this year, now not scheduled for 2023.

    1. The Hutt also lacks a decent mayoral candidate, they are all wanting to double down on roads. If thats actually whats popular with voters then it speaks volumes about the electorate in general.

    2. According to GWRC (see http://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=121141) the Lower Hutt Riverlink proposal with the existing Melling Bridge will improve the current 1-in-65-years flood protection to 1 in 200 years. A new bridge is needed to improve that to the 1-in-440-years standard of the rest of the Riverlink project.

      But that doesn’t necessarily mean a motorway-style interchange – particularly since the nearest motorway to Melling is SH1 at Ngauranga, some distance away.

  6. At least it appears there was some form of planning going on in 1971 albeit flawed. There had been no investment in rail there since the 50’s, suburbs abounded and it does not surprise me the car became king.

    Meanwhile in Auckland 2019 we are building extreme satellite suburbs like Huapai, Hobsonville and Whenuapai in the name of profit and growth with no alternatives to cars aside from a very few ferries in Hobsonvilles case and virtually nothing in Huapai’s. And now some mini city in Drury that will be very reliant on a currently clogged motorway system and a very undeveloped railway that needs expansion north of there years ago.

    Our leaders fail us repeatedly.

  7. Great video. Seemed the planners were lamenting that the suburbs & motorways were necessary as people loved their motor cars and politicians and the public wouldn’t accept any other progressive solution. Motorways were often put through places of interest, historical sites & natural areas.

    Also classic stuff regarding malls and Cuba St (look out for the mother smacking her 3 children one after the other for not coming when called I’m guessing as they were playing with the water feature). Then the guy talking about aesthetics & how we need to be educated on this as we don’t notice having hacked our way through the bush & put in a rough dirt track etc.

  8. I have now had time to look at the video fully.
    What a blast from the past.
    One of the things that struck me is how much New Zealand accents have changed, or is that more my own move from outer suburban Wellington to Auckland in the intervening years. Almost everybody videoed seemed to have, or be imitating middle class southern English accents apart from a few who could have provided John Clarke for inspiration.
    Wonderful thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    1. That’s an interesting point. I always assumed that it was just narrators trying to sounds like they were on the BBC, but maybe it was more than that.

  9. The Wellington region is essentially poked. It has priced itself out of the market for skilled workers and it has screwed the poor. Landlords though are doing well….

    Since 2015/16 the median rental for a two-bedroom rental has increased from around $350/week to over $450/week. That works out at over $5000/year extra being taken out of rental households pockets. That is more than this government’s interest free loans, winter energy payments and the Families Package. And it is larger than the previous governments 2009 tax cuts.

    Yet what are the local and central government politicians doing about it? Feck all. What a bunch of numpties.

    The easiest solution to this problem would be congestion charge Wellington motorways to keep them free flowing. This would encourage more and better trains (integrated ticketing is a no brainer -stop being numpties).

    Free flowing motorways would be expensive for single occupant vehicles (cars) and cheap for multiple occupant vehicles (buses). It essentially turns Wellington’s regional motorway network into a grade separated rapid transit network (yah!).

    That means greenfields like Lincolnshire Farm could be developed as higher density transit-oriented developments, where affordable housing could be built. Thus unpoking the region.

    Will Wellington do it? Probably not. Collectively Wellington’s leaders are a bunch of numpties. All those civil servants, the MPs, the local government fiefdoms…

    I have written about this before. Including with this video. The response has been underwhelming. The status quo rules…

    https://talkwellington.org.nz/2019/can-an-eco-city-solve-wellingtons-housing-crisis-part-one/
    https://talkwellington.org.nz/2019/eco-city-done-well-could-solve-housing-crisis-part-two-of-three/
    https://talkwellington.org.nz/2019/eco-city-viability-part-three/

  10. The thing that wasn’t mentioned is that in the 70’s fuel was priced by the government i.e with every budget they increased it and the same also for smokes and beer , and beer was twice the price of petrol per gallon . And the day before the budget was delivered everyone went out and spent up large to avoid the cost increases . They should bring it back again instead of having the oil companies increasing everything every time they change their undies . And at least we new were we stood .

  11. Agreed with all that, Nick, and just to clarify further: the Wellington network as implemented was based only loosely on the JW/MRC proposal.

    The contrast between Auckland’s great success and Wellington’s lack thereof is indeed amazing, and stark.

  12. The thing that I heard in the video was what the kids wanted in their community i.e dance hall , picture theatre and skate park , and what they were told by some toffey sounding official that they could go to wellington and visit an art gallery why ? . No wonder the kids wander the streets and caused problems when the powers that be don’t listen to what the younger people required , when I was that age even I wasn’t interested in going to the places that they wanted us to attend and they never listened .

  13. A few points are missed. In 1971 petrol was $0.09/l ($1.29 today), as it had been for decades. They didn’t know that very soon two oil crises would take the price to $0.60/l in mid-1982 ($3.65 today, and real incomes were half as much then). However, that didn’t stop the love affair with the car. Vehicle ownership went from about 0.30 vehicles per person in 1971 to 0.69 per person in 2000; after a short breather during the global financial crisis, it ramped up further to 0.86 per person today, about the highest in the world. We are now in the middle of the biggest splurge on cars and motorways that we have ever seen.

    One further point. Compared with today, cars were very expensive, thanks to local assembly rules and high tariffs, but this did not stop New Zealanders’ love affair with their cars (“if religion is the opiate of the people, mobility is their heroin and cocaine”, an MoT boss of the mid-80s quoted to me). And that’s an important thing to remember; people like their cars and they like using them.

    The change in the mid-80s, which allowed Japanese imports in vast numbers, lowered the real cost of motoring very significantly, and it also had this effect; the numbers of motorcycle users fell over the next few years, with some positive consequences for our road safety numbers.

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