Really?

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By Architect Don Bunting

 

I find myself falling back on the above rhetorical response more and more as current events unfold.

Whether it is national or local politics, news reports, or recent happenings in our own industry, truth, or even facts seem harder and harder to find.

Political commentator and writer Daniel Moynihan said: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.”

Sadly, this seems to have passed by our national and local leaders and their growing cohort of bureaucrats and fellow travellers.

Really? Yes, really.

James Comey, head of the FBI until Trump got him in his sights, called it “confirmation bias — to crave information consistent with what we already believe”. Ring any bells?

A recent article in The New Zealand Herald newspaper talked about what was described as “white noise”.

This was an attempt to explain the problem politicians and others have because they tend to hear from only the most outspoken and confident group in society — generally white and middle-aged.

Unfortunately, this one voice is often accepted without any attempt to dig into what those who remain silent want and need.

As Comey said, it’s about being happy with information consistent with your own beliefs.

 

Why does it take so long?

I have been watching with growing despair as Auckland Council’s project to upgrade Franklin Road in Freemans Bay moves blithely into its third year. Really?

Yes, really, and with the greatest respect to our dauntless cyclists, the work is being done to create cycle lanes down each side of the road, reducing traffic flows on this busy street to one lane each way. Really?

A cycle lane up and down a relatively steep street dappled summer and winter by overhanging trees? Plus the added danger of large, slippery leaves on the surface during autumn.

Well done Auckland Transport. Another accident waiting to happen.

Is it my imagination, or does construction take much longer than it once did?

I’ve been watching neighbours struggling for more than a year to get their contractors to build what is a mere 12 metre-long by three metre-high retaining wall behind their house.

And living in an older area where renovation projects are always on the go, I despair for the home owners having to wait far too long to get relatively modest projects completed.

Maybe Health and Safety has something to do with it? Yes, really.

 

Bullshit jobs

This is the title of a new book by anthropologist David Graeber, who notes that futurists in the early 20th Century prophesied that technology would see us working 15 hours a week before heading home in our flying cars.

Instead, we are all working longer hours and for more years, with no sign of any flying cars. And right across the developed world, three quarters of the jobs are now in human resources, public relations, finance or administration, many of which don’t seem to contribute anything to society. Bullshit jobs.

Worse still, it is the productive jobs and those that clearly add value — teaching, nursing, drain unblockers, cleaners and other such jobs — that are under-valued and receive the least reward. Really.

 

Think small

I always thought the secret to political survival was to under-promise and over-deliver.

This seems lost on our current government who continue to make wild and optimistic statements about change and what they see as progress.

For example, Kiwibuild — great name but poorly targeted — was always going to be a pig that failed to fly.

The answer is to think small — specifically, target struggling first home buyers looking for a truly affordable entry into the housing market.

Think 90sq m to 100sq m, single-storey, pitched roof, two-bedroom, stand-alone starter homes, backed by a government-financed mortgage scheme and protected by restrictions on selling within five years.

Visit any recent subdivision and see that the market is currently providing the opposite. Why? Because big houses provide the biggest and most assured profits.

It’s not rocket science, but it seems to be beyond the abilities of our current politicians and our industry organisations to change this mindset.

Someone should be showing some leadership and telling our industry what all levels of the market need and how to achieve it.

 

A question

Why can industry produce beautifully constructed pieces of high-tech machinery — the modern car — in a less than a day, but it takes months, sometimes years, to build a house?

And with no real guarantee that it won’t leak or break down in some way.

Imagine what a furore there would be if our cars were only as well and efficiently built as our houses?

What if you could buy a house that was as sleek, exciting and reliable as a Toyota or even a Mercedes? It’s not an impossible dream.

Back in the 1960s a group of Auckland architects came up with a scheme to produce modular, fibreglass houses, fully factory-constructed, and with the individual and easily transportable units bolted together on site.

I guess it ended up in the same place as the flying car. Too futuristic, too soon, and too expensive at the time. And too much buyer resistance because of the likely sameness of appearance. Instead, what did we end up with?

As Pete Seegar sang: Houses made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same. Really.