By Nexus
Jul 08, 2019

Back To The (City Of The) Future

News Feature

For years now the Tron has been somewhat ironically referred to as the City of The Future. But up until now, have any of us really understood what that future was? Recently, Hamilton has been undergoing a renaissance. In the first of a series, Nexus examines whether Hamilton is on the verge of becoming the city of the future once again. However, as we started writing this, we realised we’re fucking idiots who may not actually know anything, so we have assembled a panel consisting of the only three Hamiltonians we know that aren’t planning on running for council this year: WSU President and friend of Nexus Nathan Rahui, Developer Matt Stark, and Labour list MP Jamie Strange.

A few years ago, Nexus gleefully asked our favourite follically-challenged National MP David Bennett “Does anyone actually give a fuck about roads?” Turns out he was right when he pointed out they did. While all of the projects discussed here have some potential to change the face of Hamilton for the better, none compare in size or scale to the behemoth that will be the Inland Port. Promising business relocation and a potential 12,000 new jobs, this port is going to form a key part of Hamilton’s identity for decades to come. Of course, progress isn’t going to come cheap, so apart from all the infrastructure, roading, rail and fibre developments in the area, Tainui is throwing down three billion dollars to complete the 822-hectare site. This in turn led to Bennett taking a victory lap of his own and pointing out to us that “The Inland Port represents both an opportunity and recognition of the role of the Waikato region. As an opportunity, we can see more jobs and businesses attracted to our region. This is good for students in part-time jobs while at study or full-time jobs once graduating.”
NATHAN RAHUI: Waikato University lies on the edge of Hamilton and even though it’s not extremely far to the city centre, the Inland Port brings some of the action right to the students’ doorsteps! Because let’s face it, overpriced Momento cabinet food isn’t quite cutting it; students will have access to more food options, more things to do, and jobs to bring in that extra money that Studylink doesn’t quite provide.

MATT STARK: A transformational project for Hamilton and I look forward to watching its success come to fruition. It is a real privilege to have organisations like TGH who have intergenerational thinking doing projects like this for our city.

While the idea to turn Hamilton into the Melbourne of Aotearoa may have started as the fever dream of then Mayoral candidate Julie Hardaker, the plan has developed into something that the majority of Hamilton seems genuinely excited about. It’s perhaps the unifying vision this city has craved and it has been embraced by business, developers and the arts sectors in the hope of truly giving Hamilton an identity that isn’t exclusively based on ice-cream, craft beer, or STIs given to you by up and coming DJs.

Hamiltonians like Matt Stark have taken the project as a personal mantra that is informing his vision for the city and we are starting to see truly excellent development right across the river bank. According to the council there are six specific themes to the River Plan: improving access to/along/across the river, promoting the enjoyment of the river, promoting development embracing the river, protecting and enhancing the natural environment along the river, celebrating arts and culture along the river, plus promoting and developing tourism along the river.

It’s also telling how quickly we are taking ownership of this idea. At this rate, we will get at least fifteen years of being the city on the river before climate change makes at least half the population of New Zealand “the city on the water.”

NATHAN RAHUI: Apart from The Hood, the Waikato awa really is the most beautiful part of Hamilton City. The recent outdoor seating area that overlooks the river and provides the good instas after your night out has been a hit since its development. To see that happen along the whole riverbank would enhance the nightlife even more.

MATT STARK: I think every Hamiltonian would agree this is a great idea, with the river being one of the city’s greatest assets. It will take big leadership from both city hall and private organisations to push this forward and to see it happen in our lifetime. Egos within politics will be the one that gets in the way of this happening. When turning the city around, there is great opportunity to incorporate into the design the cultural significance of what the sites hold and represent.

The new Waikato Regional Theatre will be a world-class venue situated on the Hamilton Hotel site in the South End of Victoria Street, between the Riff Raff Statue and Sapper Moore-Jones Place. Momentum Waikato, the region’s Community Foundation, is leading the theatre’s fundraising and planning effort. Chief Executive Kelvyn Eglinton says local students should be excited.

“Whatever you’re into – drama, rock, kapa haka, stand-up comedy, orchestras, hip hop, cirque, musicals, you name it – the Waikato Regional Theatre will be able to host your favourite world-class shows, right here in Hamilton” says Eglinton. “And it will be a bustling cultural hub with event spaces, cafes and bars, with a fantastic river outlook.”

A key element of the project’s vision is local young people having the chance to perform on the same stage where they can experience the best live acts. “The theatre is all about giving local talent the springboard to take on the world,” says Eglinton.

NATHAN RAHUI: I’m a sucker for a good concert...I think it’s safe to say a lot of the student body are too. The city currently has a lack of appropriate venues so this has huge potential. It could also bring student activities into the heart of the city for us to say “hey, we aren’t just pissheads waking up at 10, but we have real talent”.

MATT STARK: An exciting project that is going to play a dramatic part in changing the culture of the south end for the better - allowing people of Hamilton to perform in a world-class venue and also the potential to attract other quality acts from further afield.

Accompanying the South End Precinct development is the recently announced Union Square. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it to the uninitiated is that it will be a business-centric garden place. The vision for it is a simple one: Create a space for small businesses to share with fewer overheads, while also reinvigorating Hamilton City by developing some residential zoning and modern apartments. The proposal will contain a mixture of offices, retail and 14 apartment units with a total GFA (gross floor area) of approximately 45,848m2, accommodating approximately 3000 employees/occupants. According to the council, the proposal will also include the establishment of a 350-park carpark building with access onto Alexandra Street. A pedestrian link between Anglesea Street and Alexandra street is included. Not only would this modernise the city considerably but it could also create distinct identity hubs for a city crying out for structure. Business and innovation in Union Square, markets and family-friendly fun in Garden Place, as well as arts and culture in Embassy Park and the theatre district; it seems like it could be a great thing, but then again at one point turning the city into a track for V8 supercars was a good idea.  

NATHAN RAHUI: It wouldn’t be the first time something has been promised to a group of people and then taken away from them (cough TREATY cough). If the city goes ahead with this plan then students need to be at the forefront of decision making. I’d hope there would also be how this would affect parking in the CBD, because let’s face it, it’s already shit enough.

MATT STARK: This is a fantastic project which will further transform the south end of the city with the growing population of office workers. Love the concept. A big fan.

Leaving from a development at The Base, a new rail service starting mid-2020 would see regular trips to Auckland for concerts, sporting events, shopping trips and frequent Auckland Bar 101 nights out become a reality. The council says the Hub will include a park and ride facility for rail and bus passengers, including mobility spaces, electric vehicle charging spaces, drop off and pick up zones, and taxi stands. It will be an important new link for connectivity both within Hamilton and to Auckland. How often have you had to be the sober mate on a concert trip? No one EVER needs to be sober on a train. Add in wifi and the commute becomes a working one. We are still in favour of more light rail to Huntly, Ngaruawahia, TA or Raglan. A train to The Mount would be a solid investment too; it gives you all the benefits of Auckland without ever having to talk to Aucklanders. It’s the ultimate win-win.

NATHAN RAHUI: After recently returning from a trip to Aus, apart from the ridiculously cheap phone plans on offer, they have us beat with their trains: they’re fast, no damn traffic and dirt cheap! If the city can deliver something similar then you can guarantee I’ll be choosing the rail over the road (no, I’m not just saying that coz my dad drives trains either).

JAMIE STRANGE This is the start of moving towards a more diversified transport network, giving people opportunity.

Years ago people started using the phrase “HAMILTRON: CITY OF THE FUTURE” and it was never made explicitly clear whether the implied irony was apparent. Going through all of the development happening at the moment we wondered if we could once again be “The City of The Future” - the reality was a resounding no. Every single one of the projects we highlighted here is fantastic and we are willing to defend each of them as being ultimately beneficial for students. More than that, for the first time in a long time it seems that everyone is on the same page. The developments seem less sporadic and more complimentary of one another. But let’s not confuse that with being the city of the future. When we think about the city we want Hamilton to be, it has more to do with a compassionate view toward ending homelessness, proactive changes to ensure solar and renewable energy, recycling, lessening the dependency on vehicles by creating a best in class public transport system, warm and insulated cheap student accommodation, thriving student entrepreneurship, and a world-class University experience. While we are at it, can we add a bit more bilingual signage and celebrate the diversity of our city’s cultural melting pot? New restaurants are lower on the priority list than new recycling bins, and while a city facing the river is great, ensuring that river path is well lit, and can be safely walked without fear of being accosted by idiots is what (sadly) will make this city really futuristic. It bears repeating one final time that we are massive fans of the direction this city is heading and the unified vision it finally feels like we have, but let’s not let progress happen in isolation of people. If we truly want to be the city of the future, let’s do both in equal measure.

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