De-amalgamation a way forward

The amalgamation of Toronto is described by some as “the most disastrous public policy decision(s) in Canadian history [1]toronto

“Former Premier Mike Harris’s experiment to amalgamate Metro Toronto and the surrounding municipalities into the City of Toronto (“megacity”) has failed miserably. After 15 years, the social and economic fabric of the megacity has been gravely compromised, pitting the priorities of the suburbs against those of the downtown. This has created an ongoing lose-lose situation for all communities inside the City of Toronto and does not bode well for the future.[2]

So reads the introduction on the web-page dedicated to petitioning to de-amalgamate Toronto. What does this mean for the fate of Auckland, which amalgamated under the heading of ‘Super City’ (comparatively recently) in 2010.

orakei marae

Regardless of motivation (which deserves ongoing consideration and will no doubt be revealed in time) the implications for Auckland are nothing but scary. Linda Blincko the Creative Director of Depot Artspace addressed some of the growing concerns community organisations are dealing with as a result of Auckland’s amalgamation in her article Sustainability: The Enduring Community, below (first published in LOUD magazine, Issue 55, may-August, 2013).

“The simple and most apposite definition of sustainability is the capacity to endure. It is recognisable in the natural world where every component has a place in contributing to a thriving environment, something that happens without the intervention of humanity, whose place is largely superfluous and often highly destructive.

The closest approximation to sustainability in the human context, where every component has its necessary and complementary part which contributes to the whole, is community.

As a creative community the Depot Artspace is conscious of and strives for sustainability in all disciplines. This is implicit in its circular mantra, “creating an environment that encourages creating…”

The Depot does this by continually negotiating the balance between giving and taking, between supporting and surviving in the context of caring for what is around us. Geneticist and environmentalist David Suzuki refers to this as the sacred balance, recognising and responding to the interconnectedness of all things. This conscious harmony is elusive in a megalopolis whose expanding bureaucratic juggernaut takes no account of this fragile ecosystem, or to the qualitative aspect of sustainability.

A few are riding the rest have been run over. (Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862)

An increasingly bureaucratised environment developed to support the management needs of Auckland’s Super City is removed from and less likely to recognise the needs of the people it allegedly serves. There are 8000 people working for the Auckland Council currently, with numbers increasing daily as more people are absorbed from community positions into centralised hubs.

Instead of responding to distinctive communities, it attempts to operate a ‘one size fits all’ regime, where services are likely to be standardised and resourcing depends on generic measurements, a crude ‘bums on seats’ methodology.

Drowning Not Waving (Stevie Smith)

However, this methodology is overlaid on preexisting models which are both disparate and inequitably resourced. While some arts centres across the city are fully council funded, others, significantly those on the North Shore, receive only partial funding. Financial support from Council is currently approximately 15% of the Depot’s operational budget, yet the Depot must account to Council for 100% of its services, services that are funded from other sources. Other arts centres are also in this position and believing that equitable distribution of funding across the city would eventuate after amalgamation have developed services they are unable to continue. Other centres who have regularly applied to gaming outlets to top up tight budgets have been turned down as this becomes a more sought after resource.

Utopia or Oblivion. (Buckminster Fuller)

With the creation of fiscal equity across the city a distant dream – at least 2 years is an optimistic estimate – the Depot is aware that it needs to develop even more canny means for sustainability, a more considered symbiosis. Symbiosis means simply that we all do our best for one another and in doing so each one of us is well attended to. This is a realistic and realisable Utopia. Utopia is not a world centred solely on meeting individual needs or demands; that would be instead a recipe for chaos.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts (Aristotle)

A community is not just a place but an attitude and an understanding that shared experience and mutual responsibility are as much the sustaining factors as the structure that underpins it. As a creative community the Depot Artspace provides opportunities within this context.

In order to make this place possible at all, let alone accessible to everyone, we have needed a heavy helping of pragmatism and a large dose of elbow grease as well as a more considered understanding of the true nature of the whole, the components big and small, that keep the Depot’s wheels turning.”