The Gentrification of Tauranga

 

As a privileged middle class white boy it was seemingly my god given right to grow up to be a dollar juggling, money spending capitalist - owning this town and using the poor as my servants. Right now it should be I waving my figurative check book around buying land and houses from those of lesser wealth in areas that were previously thought undesirable. But instead of gathering my fellow trust fund, Vegan, fixie riding, wide rimmed glasses wearing, beard grooming, people for the people, community minded, earth conscious, young professional friends to move into long established areas filled with culture and history in order to open up an organic cafe that does bicycle assembling workshops on Sunday mornings - I have instead faced a bigger problem. Strange people have been moving into my neighbourhood, people I have never seen before. People with nicer cars than mine, people better groomed than I, people who carry themselves like they are more learned/traveled/cultured and worldly than I. People who look like me but are unlike me. People who think they are better than me but will never say so even if their wry smiles belie the real truth. What happened to my neighbourhood? It got gentrified and I am the whining casualty......

 

I've lived in Tauranga the majority of my life. I keep trying to leave but due to a lethal mix of apathy, poverty, responsibility and general ineptitude I have remained. This is beyond better judgement perhaps but for better or worse Tauranga is home and the town for which I choose to live in. However with each passing year it becomes more apparent that while I may wish to remain, Tauranga with its perpetually rising cost of living and demographic shift really doesn't want me here anymore.

 

Due to it's warm climate and close proximity to water Tauranga has long been a haven for those riding the downhill derby to decrepitude. However far from invading my neighbourhood these wrinkled prune juice drinking prunes have kept to themselves in various retirement condominiums scattering the outer suburbs, venturing out only to voluntarily offer a plastic bag for your purchase of a travel bag at an op shop near you. Their large numbers and constant wheezing breathed complaints have over the years helped Tauranga to keep it's village like feel. With a strong, obstinate resistance to change the elderly folk of Tauranga have managed to malign and prohibit the cities inevitable  development . While only a few years back I would have argued that this was to the detriment of this city I know say 'thank you' to the elderly for helping to keep Tauranga - Tauranga. But their war is a losing war.....

 

Families have also long seen Tauranga as a child rearing oasis reminiscent of their own hometowns and fuzzy upbringings. My parents had this same ideal in 1987 when they moved here from Wellington. However dreams of quarter acre sections, streets free of candy extending strangers and well run schools with low enrollments are a distant memory. They still come in droves however, inhabiting the houses my friends and their families used to reside in and for that I cannot harbour resentment. Well, less resentment...

 

However it is a new migrant to these borders which has me filled with disgust at the prospect of becoming a stranger in my hometown. You know the type, in fact you are probably that type. Dammit I might even be that type. 

 

Tauranga had a certain reputation when I was growing up. 'Ten dollar Tauranga' was the term bandied about to describe the pay level that one could hope to reach if they were oh so lucky. Fulfilling life affirming jobs included; roadworker, wharfie, builder, electrician, plumber, petrol shop attendant, fast food service worker or something of that non thinking, low qualification ilk. Those who considered themselves of greater intelligence or with a far broader skill set would dismiss Tauranga as a two bit town not befitting of their superior blood vessel popping, head too big to wear hats, bulging brains. Sure there were a few educated anomalies working here much to their own chagrin like a scientist out posted to the Antarctic to make detailed daily temperature reports but they were few and far between. Those seeking jobs on the higher pay scale would relocate at a young age to Auckland/Wellington/Christchurch or even overseas, freshly inked Degree in hand. Turning not even to wave goodbye to the sandy dust bowl that was their former home. 

 

Perceptions have seemingly shifted over these past few years. Yes, 18 year olds still clear out en mass upon the end of the secondary school education as our University is still a non existent soon/maybe/one day project but upon completing their 3 years of hard partying, couch burning and promiscuous sex many are making the choice to come back to Tauranga or to even move here to make a new home for themselves. But with their fancy big city diplomas, and metropolitan ideas comes a new breed of Tauranga resident - one who isn't content with low pay, fast food dinner dates, a social life based around the local pubs 'Happy hour' and a wardrobe consisting of the latest in high vis fashion.  

 

Over the past 3-5 years Tauranga has slowly undertaken a makeover of sorts. With the migration of many Aucklanders, returning expats and the quicker social development of a younger generation: Tauranga's citizens have demanded and received much of what cities our size have and should receive.  Previously we were a city suffering from a lack of entertainment options but due to a lot of public initiative and a little council funding we now have a plethora of options to fill a weekend for the more discerning type.  From boutique markets like the Little Big Markets, public open air movie screenings from Night Owl Cinemas, various music festivals like One Love, Sundaise, food festivals like the upcoming Vegan Vibes or craft beer tasting days like On The Lawn. 

 

The landscape hasn't just changed in terms of events however. The sweeping changes can be clearly seen in avenues such as the hospitality industry with many cafes presenting themselves with a more exclusive, contemporary style and catering to dietary requirements that would have been laughed at as faddish and pretentious only years prior. Find a cafe now that doesn't offer gluten free, Raw, vegan, paleo options on their menu and I will give you some activated almond milk in return. Bars have also been affected with the classic 'working mans'  corner pub being replaced by dainty craft beer drinking micro breweries frequented by men in polo shirts and woman with casually elegant formal/yet informal wear. 

 

Tauranga now has 3 stores that cater to selling used Vinyl. Greerton alone has 10 op shops - all picked apart by hoards of cat fighting hipsters. By my count there are 3 organic grocers with many more smaller health stores scattering the city borders. We have a Nosh. And TANK. You can charge your electric vehicle at Bayfair. Everyone owns dogs that would be considered Hamsters by normal definitions.  People have nice hair cuts. Good fashion sense. And generally seem to be pleasant and amiable in the company of strangers. This is not the Tauranga I know. 

 

Many would say that this is for the better. With a better class or calibre of people coming together to make Tauranga a city of vibrancy and culture it has created an area that people wish to visit or even move to. Problem is now too many want to move here.... 

 

With Auckland house prices now hitting an average value of one million dollars many are starting to leave their overpriced homes in favour of other more affordable cities/towns. Tauranga is victim numero uno - with a size, population, urban sprawl and enough growing traffic problems to starve off feelings of homesickness, Jaffas are bringing their high salary savings (which couldn't have even bought an ex state house in Manukau) to our coastline. Competing with current Tauranga residents other migrants and Bob Clarksons has led to a property boom for which many life long residents can no longer contest. A year ago I could have bought  a nice house for 350k, now I couldn't even afford the deposit on the worst house in Merevale. With my lack of facts and or substantiation, do I blame the Aucklanders? Yes, but only because blaming overseas buyers is labelled racist and I'm the laziest of journalists.....

 

Auckland-yuppie-a-phobic transgressions aside my breed is a dying type. I cannot afford to live here - due to the population explosion  rental prices have increased at an exponential rate, salaries however remain at a lower average scale than other cities of comparable size, the job market itself has been squeezed tight for skilled positions and we can't all eat organic raw linseed crackers with walnut hummus as the dehydrators just aren't big enough. 

 

But would I want to live here? The Tauranga I know has been raped/pillaged then raped again. I get and understand growth - things cannot stay the same forever but the landscape of this town is changing at such a rapid pace that buildings, parks, houses, roads are being completely rebuilt every decade. Like the buildings themselves my memory of a sleepier, quieter city are also being turned to dust. Areas that were once farmland now have sweeping subdivisions that I cannot navigate without a compass, map of the stars and overnight camping provisions. The houses of my youth have been replaced by gaudy multi story townhouses - not that I could afford to live in them anyway. There are new chain store filled, shopping centres popping up seemingly within the week in every suburb to further suffocate the last remnants of life in the soon to be bloated corpse of the CBD. The areas which were seen as unsafe or undesirable like Merevale or Gate Pa are slowly being transformed into bourgeois family driven suburbs - these god damn Aucklanders are even taking my 'hey check out these slums' punchlines. And fuck, I detest craft beer pubs and everyone that frequents them - you bunch of pretentious twats, beer is beer and you don't drink it because it 'tastes good' you drink it to forget your miserable lives which you could have done at the same pub for half the price back when it was a dive bar called Brewers. Vinyl was and is redundant. You fat fucks stop pretending that on Sunday mornings you are a health conscious, gluten free, paleo, raw vegan when we all know that you are going to go home and have a microwaved Mince n Cheese pie for dinner. Spandex with sweat stains doesn't delude anyone but yourself into thinking you are fit. You can go for a run around your block if you want to get fit, no one told you to drive 26km to head to the Mount to be seen for the exact same results. Same applies for the gym, do some press ups in the morning you pumped up show pony.  Stop pretending that you are better than me and your life means so much more than mine because I work with my hands, do some thing practical, wear a high vis while you suffocate on someone else's germs in an air conditioned office entering numbers into a computer for slightly more dollars than I. Fuck your Starbucks. Shop at your local green grocer not Nosh because your fellow Soccer Mum club members do. A market should consist of only 11 stalls of old ladies selling a mixture of used books and potted plants and have the prefix 'Flea' in front of it. All that protein powder is retarding your sperm. And fuck Harambe memes just cause....

 

Sad as it is - I miss old Tauranga. Maybe I'm a contrarian - never satisfied with the cards I am dealt. But despite its flaws - Tauranga used to have it's own identity. Granted it was also Hamilton and New Plymouths identities but dammit I miss the bogans, boy racers, rugby meatsacks, crackwhores and surly street toughs that gave this place a little piece of fucktard spasmodic charm. 

 

The soloution? One could leave, head to a smaller town where the rent is lower and start again but then I/we are no better than the conquers of Tauranga. It would be us stealing jobs from the locals, boosting house prices and inflicting our big city ways upon them. We could adapt and assimilate to blend in with the new leaders of Tauranga but the prospect of growing a bushy beard and collecting vinyl gives me hives. We could start a class war, gather the pitch forks and run the invaders out of town - but our numbers have diminished, we are weak, we are old now, we cannot fight much longer..... Or we just capitulate, stay in Tauranga, pay a little extra for our rent, start avoiding certain areas of town, realise that change is inevitable and that most people welcome it, save our bitter rants for every second Thursday at counselling and take the good that has come and not glorify the past that really was far from utopic. 

 

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