Alan’s article on “Turf Wars” is well-spoken, as always. I would, however, make a distinction between the wealthy lawyers, developers and sports stars who actually want to live here, to be part of the island, and those who only seek to maximise profit from their ownership of land here.
The former are responsible for the gentrification of Palm Beach, Church Bay and such. If they end up overwhelming the aging hippie population and remaking the entire island in their own self-satisfied image, well, I personally will be sad — but they did nothing that we didn’t do. The Rocky Bay hippies took over their paradise from a bunch of retired World War I veterans from Panmure, who I’m sure bleated about the loss of neighbourhood character. The veterans had taken it from the O’Brien farmers, who had taken it from Ngati Paoa, who had taken it from Ngati Maru and so forth. Turf wars indeed; the argument of prior occupancy cuts many different ways.
On the other side are the profiteers, like the owners of the atrocity at Wharetana Bay. These are not people who want to “live their island dream” or participate in island life in any way. They want only to sell Waiheke’s charm as if they had had a hand in its creation. They are parasites in the most literal meaning of the term: disposing for their own benefit of an asset that someone else has created. Their position is morally indistinguishable from theft, systemically indistinguishable from infection. They do not seek to remake the island, but to consume it. They intend to ingest it as it is, and once the maximum profit has been chewed out of it, to spit it out and move on to the next unspoilt paradise.
So, how to deal with these two groups, each of whom threaten the island’s character in very different ways? The first group, those who live here, are a social and cultural challenge, and must be handled in social and cultural ways: Give them a personal stake in the preservation of the island’s unique qualities. Invite them to enjoy the many walks and special places that Waiheke has to offer, or to join the Historical Society, or to drink an island-brewed beer. They are human, and were drawn to the island, whether they understand this or not, by a charm whose survival cannot be taken for granted.
The second group, the parasites, could not care less about the long-term survival of the island charm they seek to consume, any more than I cared about the long-term survival of the banana I ate this morning. Parasites can be dealt with in only one way: antibodies. These work by neutralising an invasive agent’s ability to pilfer nutrients from its environment. Short of actual violence, the only way to get this done here is through restrictive laws. Since our Rodney Hide-designed supercity will never implement anything of the sort, Waiheke’s future depends on its political independence. We are not talking about a cultural challenge here; the danger of the parasites is physical, not social. Once Wharetana Bay has been destroyed, it’s gone forever, or at least for all of our lifetimes.
The same can be said of our entire island. There is a great monetary incentive for profiteers to turn all of Waiheke into another Gold Coast or Miami Beach, a wasteland of absentee-owned vacation rentals heavily marketed to those who prefer their beaches endowed with the familiar noises and smells of urban crowding. The only way to block that nightmarish future is to make it unprofitable, and to do that we shall have to take control of our own political destiny. Regime change on the Local Board? Sure, that’s a feel-good tactical move; but as long as we remain under the parental gaze of the supercity, no number of Paul Waldens will permit us to rescue the island we all love.