This blog set about exploring the differences between town and country and how to reconcile them so we all get on better. Why do town and country folk have such different views, foolishly categorised in media as conservative versus liberal?
Country folk all have to visit and deal with the cities so know them at least superficially, but it is easy for city folk to exist without even thinking of the countryside other than as a possible Xmas holiday destination or noticing it on the tourism posters that all picture rural life.
Rural communities are very geographic forming around the nearest town centre with its pub, general store and the services needed just to exist. These people can’t avoid knowing people who are better off and also those who are poorer and struggling so they are forced into realising that all levels of society have their good, average and bad.
City communities are geographically suburban, but built around similar socio-economic parameters. Only the very well-off live in Remuera/Saint Heliers while the poorer live in Mangere/Otara. Similarly, immigrant groups form geographic communities and they are easily recognised by the shops and food outlets being closely linked to their predominant homeland.
This is all quite predictable and allows localised social cohesion but it does mean that these city dwellers really only interact with people very like themselves, so they discuss issues only to find full agreement, hence reinforcing the correctness of their own viewpoint, which is almost certainly wildly different from the residents of another suburb and socio-economic catchment.
Anyhow, how come this blogger chose Ponsonby and its local community including Grey Lynn? Well the central situation within walking distance to Queen Street and the variety of locals, restaurants, pubs, places and parks, coupled with views of the lovely Waitemata made it a standout for the city bach, especially compared with the cultural desert of life in the suburbs.
Ponsonby/Grey Lynn really does have a community feel, even if the evening population is a mix of suburban visitors. Like all vibrant communities it has its own published voice in the Ponsonby News, an unusually successful glossy proudly liberal in the views of their contributors, but slightly exposed to the huge predominance of Real Estate advertising just when the city is poised at the very top of a market almost guaranteed to follow Sydney and Melbourne down. The fact that Auckland had more agents than house sales last month is pause for thought.
Markets are great barometers of community as well as being an integral part of making life more fun and interesting. Grey Lynn’s market participants absolutely reflect the local resident population. Kids, mums, hippies and new urban dwellers mingle around fresh vegetables, baking that often looks better than it tastes, various odd-ball offerings making it totally appealing but still allowing the better-off top escape to Farro for the expensive and exceptional.
Not too far away Parnell’s French market on Saturday morning has a different flavour, larger, more affluent, more pushy but fun where you can bump into our former PM, John Key just getting stuff and shooting the breeze. Good wine and music add a bit to its flavour. Ponsonby Road’s occasional market days also add to the fun feel of central Auckland.
City visitors to country towns in turn find markets there a pleasant way to engage with the community. Matakana and Paparoa both offer interesting markets broadly based on the Farmer’s market concept. Further North, Kerikeri’s affluence is on display at their Saturday market, while Kaitaia’s huge rambling market with its laidback vibe and rangi flavour makes it a must-visit for locals and tourists alike, somewhat akin to Otara Market’s urban Polynesian cultural mix.
Rural communities are under pressure from well-intentioned and well-justified safety-type rules like the drink driving bans that have all but closed many rural pubs, denying these villages a place to congregate and debate local issues. Churches once fulfilled this need but they are empty of all but the aged.
Cities provide more places to meet and debate, but even in the cities, discussion is now placeless on the web. Amazon is attacking our retail sector and residents need to make choices between delivered cost and the fabric of their local street-scape. Ponsonby is making a bold show of fending this off with little clumps of cafes like the four on K Road just east of Ponsonby Road.
Good luck to them and make an effort to support local things wherever you are or they will be lost and with that community spirit that is what makes any place liveable.