Tuesday, September 05, 2017

In the neighbourhoods

The Tweet above describes a small thing that happened today. It was very small, trivial even, but also one of those things that happen and, despite being small, nevertheless demand attention. And attention it got.

I was in Papakura (well, Takanini, actually…) to pick up food for Bella. She’s on a special renal formula cat food, and the nearest branch of the vet that we take her to was in Takanini. So I did that first, picked up some things in the supermarket in the same shopping area, and then decided to pop into the Warehouse, which is sort of behind the shopping centre, but the only way to get there is to drive round, down three streets in a sort of giant U.

I parked and as I got out of the car I heard music blaring from one of the cafés in the complex, and I recognised it immediately: “In The Neighbourhood” by Sisters Underground, a NZ hip hop duo who had a NZ Top Ten hit with the song in 1994. In 2002, the song was used in channel ID advertising for TVNZ’s TV2 channel, and the song had renewed airplay. This video is from 1994:

I actually only heard a small part of it, because I wasn’t parked all that far from the door of the store. When I left a little while later, a different song was playing, and I couldn’t hear it well enough to make out who it was. I even rolled down my window as I was pulling out of my parking space in case I could hear it, but I couldn’t.

I didn’t investigate the café, but from the outside it looked modern and trendy and all that, and the music was “blaring” because of speakers on the outside used to try and entice customers in. I’ve seen the same technique used elsewhere, like the Viaduct Harbour, where cafés and restaurants are everywhere, and enticing customers is necessary.

In this part of Takanini, however—back behind everything, sort of tucked away—it was more like trying to entice the few people walking by. I suspect, but don’t know, that customers of discount retailer The Warehouse are probably not the café’s primary target market, but, instead, workers in nearby offices, and visitors to them, could be. Those offices are on the other side of the carpark, so a somewhat louder sound system would probably be the only way to entice customers in from that far away—or, at least, to get them to look over toward the several cafés there—and all of them looked a little out of place somehow, possibly because there were so few people walking around.

This shopping centre—a “strip mall”, as we used to call them in in my part of the USA—is all by itself, but so is the one I was at before that. And directly next to that is another separate shopping centre. It’s possible to walk to all of them (there are footpaths), but it’s a very long way from the farthest centre to the last one I visited. The reason is the same reason that the only way to drive from one to another—as a heavy duty shopper would: There are no direct connections.

To get from the one to the other to the other, one must go out on the road to the entrance of the next one, and then go back out on the road and drive down it to the next intersection, turn left onto another road, then left again on yet another road. These developments are the very opposite of what we want: They’re not a compact, walkable shopping precinct.

I wouldn’t be surprised if all three were built by different developers, so no thought was ever given as to how they might be joined up for pedestrians, and to make parking more convenient for pedestrians to be able to visit all three by foot. Instead, the silo approach to development means they’re all rigidly separate.

I don’t know that there’s any way to fix this now. One complicating factor is that between the two shopping centres that are side-by-side and the last one I went to, on the street behind, is a commuter rail line. You wouldn’t want pedestrians crossing the tracks at ground level. So, maybe this barrier would’ve made a unified development too difficult.

I don’t really like the area—Papakura or Takanini—and would much rather go to Pukekohe for most of the same stores (but not the vet or adjoining pet store where I get the dogs’ food). The two areas are roughly the same driving time, but in different directions. In Pukekohe, the shopping areas I go to are all on the same road, but so far from each other that driving is the only option (though there are footpaths). The old, original town centre—which is actually quite vibrant, and even quaint in some spots—is basically on the same road (“basically” because the direct route heading north goes off to the left and changes names, but it’s still the same journey). Still, the fact that driving is necessary means it’s not all that different, really.

However, Pukekohe traffic volumes are more manageable, and the place just doesn’t feel as hectic or frantic as Takanini can, and it’s in much better condition than Papakura is. All in all, I think Pukekohe is just more pleasant than Takanini, and a more welcoming town than Papakura. I suppose that’s really a subject in itself.

This all came about because for some reason hearing a familiar song played loudly outside a café made me more keenly aware of the realities of my surroundings today than maybe I usually am there—especially the things I like and don’t like about them. Maybe it was because to me the café and its music seemed out of place. That then made me once again do a mental “compare and contrast” between Takanini/Papakura and Pukekohe, and I still got the same results as always.

They say songs can transport us, so I guess it makes sense that they could also make us think about the physical places we find ourselves transported to. Or, maybe it was all coincidence. Either way, it really was “alriiiiiight”.

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