In the city at the edge of everything: we launch The Spinoff Auckland
By Simon Wilson
March 7, 2017
The War for Auckland was the most exciting thing we’ve ever done, and we hated shutting it down. Now, with the support of Heart of the City, we’re launching a new full-time section dedicated to Auckland. Former Metro editor Simon Wilson, who has joined us as editor of The Spinoff Auckland, nails up his colours.
There was a full moon on February 11, and it was one of those nights when the breeze blew warm and the Waitemata was a shimmering silver blanket all the way over to North Head. If you were out and about and happened to catch someone’s eye, the chances were you’d both end up smiling. It was Auckland, folding us into itself.
That night on Queens Wharf, in full-blown finery and after no small amount of frustration, the city took the moment to express itself. The Lighthouse, Michael Parekowhai’s magnificent, confounding sculpture, was finally open to the public.
People walked down to the end of the wharf where the “two-storey state house” sat waiting, dark outside and lit like a glowing cave within. A small crowd circled the building, leaning forward, peering in. I like to think most of us – those expecting to like it no less than the doubters – were astonished.
THE PUBLIC OPENING OF MICHAEL PAREKOWHAI’S ‘THE LIGHTHOUSE’ ON AUCKLAND’S QUEEN’S WHARF ON FEBRUARY 11, 2017. PHOTO: SIMON WILSON
The building itself is painted a calming greeny blue – the colour, the artist says, of the horizon, a place that is both at the far limit of our vision and entirely imaginary, for the sky never does meet the sea. The windows are set lower than in an ordinary house, the better for children and anyone in a wheelchair to see in. The guttering is copper, the carpentry and paintwork are impeccable, the interior surfaces glow with a deep polished sheen and there are elegant tukutuku panel shutters. A “state house”, yes, rendered as a thing of beauty.
And inside, in the single double-height room, it wasn’t the much-heralded lights of Matariki (which were not yet installed) but there were all the other constellations you can think of, neon snakes wriggling across the walls and ceiling. And in that room there was a giant, seated figure, a brooding, aluminium Captain Cook. And in that room, visiting from Lyttelton, there was Marlon Williams, shoes off on the shining wooden floor, singing for us in his socks. He did the hits of his album and he did ‘Hine E Hine’ and it was as if all was melting into one: the night, the billowing warmth, the moon and the neon and the beautiful building and all of us feeling so lucky to be there, standing around, in a rapture.
Today we launch a new section: The Spinoff Auckland. We’ll cover all the things it takes to grow a great city: the people making a difference; the politics and the urban planning that make our lives easier and, all too often, not so easy; the cultures that define us, the arts and entertainment that sustain us, the business and science and sport and leisure, the ways we nurture each other and the ways we don’t, the frustrations that give us grief and the hopes that rule our hearts.
We’re especially pleased to have teamed up with our founding sponsor for this section. Heart of the City is the livewire advocate for business, culture and hospitality in downtown Auckland. Its dedication to the centre is critical to the success of the whole city, and in our experience its enthusiasm is infectious.
What will we do? We’ll bring you the debates that matter, and the protagonists. We’ll be critically engaged with events – including, this month, the Arts Festival and Four Days of Fashion. We’ll hold to account those who spend our rates, dig up our streets, have the power to thwart us or enable us. We’ll promote new thinking and give historical context to ideas. We’ll follow the money, we’ll challenge claims on costs and benefits and we’ll tell you who really benefits from public policymaking. We’ll weave a narrative of life in this city, sharing the hopes and anxieties, the anguish and the aspirations of the people who call Auckland home.
“A ‘STATE HOUSE’, YES, RENDERED AS A THING OF BEAUTY.'” MICHAEL PAREKOWHAI’S ‘THE LIGHTHOUSE’ ON AUCKLAND’S QUEEN’S WHARF. PHOTO: SIMON WILSON
And that sculpture on Queens Wharf, in its own small way, that’s Auckland right there. Such a wonder, made by us, and yet there was so much fuss, all through the stages of planning, approvals, funding and construction, and there were protests too, all accompanied by a running commentary that expects nothing good and assumes with a hideous glee that someone is always trying to rip us off.
It’s not a commentary of honest scepticism. It’s lazy cynicism and it dominates Auckland’s public discourse. Artists are playing a trick on us. Politicians and their bureaucratic minions are misusing our money and blighting our public spaces. The private company that paid for the thing is just trying to make itself look good. Art and commerce have conspired to mock the homeless.
In the event, we came and saw and were amazed. Even the protesters downed their placards, understanding, I think, that this was not an insult but was instead, among many other things, a complex, sly and loving tribute to the people of this city, now and in every earlier time. The Lighthouse is a great work of public art, quite possibly Michael Parekowhai’s greatest work, and it will be renowned. It will make the city renowned.
Not the mayor, though, he was not amazed, and it was such a pity he stayed away. That felt like a failure of civic duty and also a failure to understand what splendour may rise from the marriage of commerce and art. And because of that, a failure to realise what lies in the heart of a city.
Perhaps the cynics got to him. Perhaps he would rather we did not aim high. But aim high we must. We need to be much better at this discourse. The Lighthouse is a big, important thing but it’s not nearly as big or important as some of the other civic projects we need to talk about. New transport networks, new housing developments; we will have new buildings and parks to consider for the waterfront and we have new projects underway right now that might, or might not, transform the south.
Many will happen anyway. How well they happen will be down to our ability to hope and dream and plan, down to our skills at grasping the potential. Because before we have a city of which we can be truly proud, we must earn the right.
Why The Spinoff Auckland? That’s why. Because everything, from the mayor on down, is a work in progress. Because there’s a job to do. And we’re going to do it.
I’m excited to have signed on for this. I like that The Spinoff is a fast-growing media outfit, in a world where more than a few are managing their own decline. I like the commitment to new funding and transparent models: The Spinoff doesn’t do click-through advertising because it doesn’t see the value in it for commercial partners. Nor does it hide the true nature of its commercial relationships: you can click here to discover exactly what our deals are with sponsors.
I like the commitment to trying new things, new ways of writing about news and events. They’re enablers at The Spinoff, and because I’ve been working informally with them for the last few months I know they like to say yes and they like to make things happen. It’s very refreshing.
I like the discovery and nurturing of new talents, and I like the ethic – fast and fabulous, authoritative and utterly off the wall – with which they cover the events and issues of the day. I like that you’ll find different, opposing voices on the site: The Spinoff isn’t operating just inside its own bubble.
I really like the fun of it and I really, really like that they front up to serious subjects and find ways to engage readers with them. Last year with The War for Auckland they found a way to make local body politics exciting, and they were the only media organisation to poll Aucklanders on the mayoral race. The only one. The Spinoff isn’t mainstream media. It’s better than that.
I like also that for The Spinoff Auckland we have the support of Heart of the City. That Auckland has become an exciting place in which to live and work is, in no small way, due to their enthusiasm and activism – to the events and advocacy and heart they have brought to this place.
They get what we get. Auckland is full of problems and disappointments, all of which desperately need to be addressed, but it also abounds in opportunity and can be proud of many splendid achievements, and all of it, the hardship and the heroics, is soaked in natural beauty.
In this city, we’re on the edge of something great. The Spinoff Auckland will be a part of it.
The Auckland section is sponsored by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre for entertainment, retail, hospitality and business.