Looking out for their own backyard
The super city’s rapid development hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea. One grassroots organisation, just six months old, is gearing up to ensure its own central Auckland neighbourhood isn’t overshadowed by 25-year city plans. Teuila Fuatai reports.
Amiria Puia-Taylor begins her day at the large ‘boardroom table’ in Onehunga’s 312 Hub. On the far side of the room, she explains the newest mural to the space - a purple, cartoon-like extravaganza by Hong Kong artist Cath Love.
The piece is just one of the bursts of colour adorning the cosy, but impressively equipped cultural arts centre between Dress Smart and the main Onehunga Mall road.
“It used to be Kathmandu,” Puia-Taylor explains. When the shop lease finished, Panuku - the council’s development arm - offered up the two-level premise as a project space for the community. Puia-Taylor, who has worked extensively in public arts management, was asked by Panuku to head it.
“The area that we’re in is being earmarked for change.” But, until the deadline of February 2020, it’s home to the 312 Hub rent-free, she says proudly.
“This is our opportunity to get more young people involved in the planning, and involved in advising in what the changes will look like so this place is practical and functional for them.”
Puia-Taylor knows not all Auckland locals have had their say in the city’s development processes. The 29-year-old has her own bad memories of feeling ignored during consultations for the Wynyard Quarter’s Silo Park - also developed under Panuku.
“In that process, there were no young people …. and it felt like a fight to get heard at the table,” she recalls.
With Onehunga, Puia-Taylor’s home for the past three years, Panuku appears to be a lot more genuine in dealing with the community.
She says of the Hub: “We are youth-focused, and 15 to 24 is our age bracket. Eventually, [that group] will get their degrees, they’ll move to careers and if this place [Onehunga] doesn’t function for them as adults, of course they’ll lose their connection.”
The purpose of the 312 Hub is to “capture” what those young people want from Onehunga now, and “pass it” on to Panuku. “Not so they are ‘token’ voices, but so we …. can document it and turn it into something to train Panuku so when they start coming into Onehunga, and talk about ‘placemaking’, they know exactly what the placemaking needs to be."
Next week - the Hub’s six month birthday - Puia-Taylor is due to begin formally collating that information. Eventually, it will be submitted as official information to Panuku and other relevant organisations like Housing New Zealand and Auckland Transport.
So far, things have gone well, however balancing commitments at the Hub - which has two other full-time staff members - with its limited funding isn’t always easy.
“We [the Hub] get a couple of contracts here and there. Panuku have also been supportive. Our goal is to try and get more residual income and also create long-term contracts to help us out,” Puia-Taylor says. The gallery space upstairs - a stark contrast to the bright workshop space below - is also available for venue hire. Any fees earned go towards running costs of the Hub, and its three staff members.
Puia-Taylor also points to her arts management experience, and her work with young, aspiring artists, as an important point of difference from other groups set up to consult with communities.
“We do workshops, and while we’re physically doing work and making art, we just talk” she says.
“We don’t have recorders or pens and papers, we just sit and listen and process first, and then as a team we debrief and think about what the key messages are. For example, a lot of kids at the moment are complaining about not having anywhere to work. Yes, Dress Smart is cool, but they can’t afford a lot of clothes there.”
“I know what we’re doing and what we’re trying to achieve is what everyone else gets paid to do,” she remarks. “The only difference is that our art background enables us to do it in an easier way - we’re young, we’re relatable.”
Note: “312” is the bus service that runs between Onehunga and the central city. Recently it was scaled back, which has resulted in transport difficulties for some Onehunga residents, particularly elderly ones. The Hub is among those rallying to restore the service’s previous, more comprehensive route. It has also provided private, local transport for those elderly residents whose homes are now too far to walk from the 312 route.