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We need to protect and preserve what we have, writes Liz Breslin.
So, a few weeks ago the majority of the specially elected people at the Queenstown Lakes District Council put their hands up for a special plan to make a special housing area near a special place called Hawea. The dice of public opinion were stacked against that decision, especially if you take the real estate agent submissions out of the equation. They've got a special interest.
I totally understand that more people would want to live here, especially if the housing is affordable; the special definition of which must've been dreamed up from a very special dictionary. Driving into town to work, your car tanked on especially expensive petrol, (perhaps on the way to fill your reusable produce bag with especially exorbitant avocados; well, we can all dream), there is no shortage of special houses to arrest the eye. Technically they're not all deemed special housing areas, but this is Wanaka. You feel special just being here.
Of course, there have to be rules. To keep life special. I heard a terrible, vicious rumour that you're not allowed to mow your lawns at Northlake (Live Your Wanaka Lifestyle) with your top off in case you ruin the special character of the place. After reading all the fine print I can find on their website and downloadables, I'm relieved to realise that's not the case. You're not allowed to have visible rubbish bins, a caravan, any variance on your landscaping plan or a public opinion on any variance of any of the developers' plans. But topless mowing's a go, girls. In stubbies and gumboots would be best. Keeping it special.
People come here for the special. Special lake. Special skiing. Single special tree. Special tracks abound, with special signage, showing you where to take photos and why. They are especially absurd, these signs, telling you which views should hold your gaze. Because it's mostly all so special, our outdoors, it leaves me lost for breath and words. Special routes. Special access. Sticky forest, not-so-secret-special; hundreds of people turned up to a public meeting about its future last year. The wheels are churning and I hold my breath and cross my fingers asking after the latest news because some days I think I'm going to blink and it's going to be another mini-Milton-Keynes-meets-Pegasus in high-spec ticky tacky boxes and once it's gone we can't ever get it back. Any of it. This game of casting the building net wider has irreversible ends.
And actually, we're not that special at all in those terms. Everybody else, everywhere else, seems to be playing a similar game. My friends up the east coast are up in arms about the special, important roading people using their special emergency powers to put a special cycle way and car park with a useful sea wall slap bang in the path of the Mangamaunu surf break. Once it's wrecked, it's wrecked. It's not like money can build you another one. We need to protect and preserve what we have. I understand it's a dangerous game getting into privileging some things over others, so, just to be clear, I'm not saying cyclists are lesser individuals than surfers. Or that people shouldn't have affordable housing. I like bikes. And properly affordable housing. And the topless mowing thing. I think they're fundamental to society, actually.
Fundamental, also is that our elected leaders listen to, and act in the interests of, the community; the people whose motivation is to preserve the special characters of the special places any of us call home. Fortunate as we are to have homes. Because doesn't the current state of affairs go to show how tenuous the idea of ownership really is? You can place your stake in the ground but don't think your opinion counts for anything when the bulldozers come. There have to be more intelligent, inclusive solutions out there. The definition of affordable is we can't afford to go on like this, no matter how special we think we are.