I was reading an article from 2010 about the proposed (and now completed) redevelopment of Fort Street, downtown in Auckland’s City Centre, into a shared space. Prior, it had been known mostly for crime, and had been dubbed the “Most dangerous spot for random street violence”.

I had a coffee at Ima on Fort Street one day last week, and the street was teeming with professional-types; relaxed and at home, and hard to believe they might have been out of place five years ago.

Walking through St. Kevins Arcade on Karangahape Road now is a strange thing. The foot traffic is thinner, and unfortunately so is the atmosphere. With the recent upgrades to its dingy floors, the streamlining of all shop frontages and signage, the glass ceiling that’s all of a sudden cleaner and brighter.

While lots of locals had plenty to say about the sale of the heritage building to a young property developer, many of its shopkeepers were actually kinda grateful that someone was making some effort now to maintain the beautiful space. But yes, now it’s a cleaned space.

Underneath the arcade still feels the same though- divey, darkly lit with the usual faces behind the bar- but there’s a new crowd too; a tidier, more professional type of person who’ll sit in Wine Cellar over beers with their mates. Don’t think they’ll brave Whammy, the final holdout, but it’s clear that the tides are turning and K Road is becoming more approachable.

For our City Centre Neighbours Day I was putting together some films to screen in case it was raining, and spent an afternoon watching archival footage of the city centre. One of the clips was from Top Of The Town, an old current affairs show, which featured a piece on the closure of George Courts. A man with very boofy hair made the call that it was K Road’s special brand of ‘sleaze factor’ that was harming the street’s economy, its red-light district reputation well established by the late 80s, and the cause of the closure of the department store.

What’s funny about that comment now is that by all means the ‘sleaze factor’ of K Road is its main economy. Flushing it out by means of gentrification so far has only made the street look cleaner- but the people of the street are still there, no matter how they might feel about sharing space with a growing yo-pro crowd.

It’s funny that existing communities can be ignored in the name of progress. Places have to change, but to suit whom? It’s funny because it has happened throughout history in colonisation, where a dominant group sees ‘needs’ in a space and figures out how they might improve it.

I’m not against updating and maintaining spaces to benefit people. I just want to point out that it seems like ‘progress’ happens for the benefit of certain people. When maintenance happens in an urban environment it’s usually helpful to ask, ‘what is the ‘need’ sparking this?’

Progress, in a word, is always a good thing. But progress in the way we hear it throughout the land of community and development, is a little more complicated.


- Charlotte Red