The Bad Guys Are Winning


THERE WAS A TIME when property developers were very definitely the bad guys. Back in the 1980s, especially, when they came to stand for all that was wrong with the brash new society Roger Douglas was letting them build. They had friends in the council bureaucracy, friends in the media, friends in the government. Yeah, property developers had it made – easy for them.

Which is why the first most people heard about their “developments” was when the lovely old villa next door was bulldozed flat and some ghastly excuse for a human dwelling took its place. No more weatherboard. No more eaves, No more window-sills. Just flat planes of beige. Hideous.

The walls surrounding these monstrosities were apt symbols of the property developer’s “art”. They looked solid, But they were hollow. Nothing but cheap cladding, made to look like solid stucco. Within a very few years they, just like the houses they surrounded, were leaking, rotting, disintegrating. Not that the property developers cared. They were long gone. Laughing all the way to the bank – or bankruptcy.

Definitely the bad guys.

Not anymore. To read Hayden Donnell’s “The Character Protection Racket” (Metro No. 435 Winter 2022) is to be introduced to the Property Developer as urban super-hero. A sort of caped-crusader swooping in to level the “character housing” suburbs that are all that now remains of what used to be one of the most beautiful cities in Australasia. What the developers’ wrecking-balls did to the magnificent public and commercial buildings of Auckland in the 1980s, their children’s bulldozers will soon be doing to the century-plus-old homes that the people responsible for all that style and beauty built and lived in.

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Suburb-smashers as super-heroes? Doesn’t that sound just the teeniest bit upside-down and back-to-front? Not at all. Because, you see, out of all that Kauri and stained-glass ruin, will rise the multi-storied, can’t-swing-a-cat-in-‘em – but affordable – apartments that Donnell and his generation have been longing for ever since the “FIRE” (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) brigade drove the humble Kiwi bungalow out of the entitled precariat’s price-range.

It’s a class war, masquerading as an intergenerational struggle, dressed up as a battle for the poor folks living in cars and motels. A class war fuelled by envy and rage.

Since the homes of the inner-city suburbs are gracious and spacious, shaded by leafy exotics, and superbly situated among sweeping, well-manicured lawns, it should come as no real surprise that only the very rich can afford them. What’s more, in a country with no Capital Gains Tax and no Inheritance Tax, these homes can be kept “in the family”. Deferred gratification not being the millennial generations’ strong suit, it would seem that they have decided that if they can’t have the sort of homes depicted in Peter Stillwell’s paintings (which, with exquisite irony, Metro chose to illustrate Donnell’s article) then nobody can. Bowl the lot!

Apparently, like Milton’s Lucifer, Donnell’s generation prefers to rule in architectural Hell, than serve in Auckland’s leafy Heaven. The same people who weep for a natural environment fast succumbing to climate change, haven’t the slightest compunction in laying waste the fragile urban ecologies that preserve cities as both living places and liveable spaces. The cityscape bequeathed to us by these hell-raisers will look nothing like Stillwell’s paintings. It will resemble the dark urban jungles of Japanese manga comics. A world run by ruthless corporations, corrupt politicians, and gangsters – with blank, angular, and essentially soulless architecture to match.

Which, if one is able to put aside the sick horror of the image, is actually a perfect reflection of the forces driving the demolition of Old Auckland. Remember the description of the 1980s property developer as someone with friends in the council bureaucracy, friends in the media, friends in the government? Well, isn’t that a pretty good description of the people who are out to destroy the “character protection racket”?

Donnell’s allies aren’t the members of grass-roots pressure groups (the grass-roots pressure-groups are all fighting to preserve the inner suburbs!) they are ambitious council bureaucrats, journalists employed by a mainstream media utterly dependent upon the advertising of the FIRE brigade, and members of a Labour Government eerily possessed by the spirit of the Eighties. A neoliberal decade that laid waste one of the most decent societies on earth – a society whose only tangible legacy are the homes its people used to be able to afford.

How strange that this is where we’ve ended up. With a government of property developers, by property developers, for property developers. A government which has actually made it illegal to protect character housing.

Not because this Labour Government wants to build the sort of Auckland envisaged 80 years ago by the Housing Division of the Ministry of Works. An Auckland of public housing for the poor, and the young, and families saving for a home of their own. No.

When the character housing suburbs Donnell so despises are flattened, what rises from the ruins will not be for the poor, it will be for the ten-percent. The professionals and managers whose mission it is to keep the world safe for the one-percent. The super-rich who will, long since, have abandoned the doomed leafy suburbs for vast penthouses at the summit of Auckland’s proudest towers. Or sprawling mansions in the countryside, up long driveways, safe from prying eyes – and clawing hands.

No, this Labour Government isn’t building houses for the poor. This Labour Government hates the poor! Why else would it leave them to rot in mouldy houses, squalid motels, and cheap imported cars? No, this Labour Government is building boxes – tool boxes – for its ever-helpful mouthpieces and apologists.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this Labour Government is building houses for people like Hayden Donnell.


  1. I’d guess Chris lives in one of those villas in the protected suburbs, because I can’t see how else he came up with this NIMBYs’ nightmare fever-dream.

    • Premise 1= government cuts red tape around Property development

      P2= urban planning adds one, maybe two levels or more to bungalow character buildings.

      P3= The Matrix cubical lifestyle trends.

      There for “Chris lives in one of those villas” doesn’t sound like a Chris problem – that’s an “ada” problem.

      If that’s not enough cope-ium for you ada, consider the consequences of bundling up thousands of low cost housing into a handful of mega development mortgage schemes has on the tax take.

      Low cost housing schemes is one of the worst because to quilify for low cost housing they all have to fit into government standards like number of rooms and overall square footage just to quilify for tax credits in order to lower prices. So to keep rents down developers are gifted tax breaks and Winz checks so that third-tier building suppliers can be elevated to fith-tier.

      It’s like the worst bits of every chapter of Jane Kelsey’s book The Fire Economy in one Book of New Zealands neoliberalism Bible.

    • Watch this @ CT. ( If you’ve not already done so. )
      This documentary is outrageous and alarming. It’s probably best to watch it in the morning or you’ll be up all night grinding your teeth like I did.
      ‘Inside Job’ (2010 Full Documentary Movie) An excellent piece of work narrated by Matt Damon.
      While there are four foreign owned banks doing most of the ‘business’ in AO/NZ we 99% are doomed to struggle.

    • Hi Ada, you want affordable housing for everyone and so does Chris. Trashing villas in the suburbs will not deliver affordable housing, but it will damage the beauty and livability of the city. Trashing villas won’t make housing affordable because private developers must maximise their profits and that means pushing the price as high as they can, or maintaining the price as high as they can. It’s nothing to do with increasing the supply of houses so they will drop in prices. e.g. the iPhone is much more expensive than the samsung and that has nothing to do with supply, there is a huge supply of phones. Same will houses – building lots won’t make the market cheaper. Just different people, like companies who want to hold them as rentals, will buy and charge high rentals. That is why this writer in Metro is so wrong. He doesn’t understand capitalism but he uses a marketing theory that characterised people into boomers, gen x etc. But that was developed just to sell things to different generations.

      • Bob – you are the one who does not want to see any fault in Right-wing parties: you harp only on the evils of Labour. Nats are worse for the poor: eg – Ruth Richardson was worse than any Labour minister.

        • Accept that to a point In Vino.
          Ruth Richardson not in the current National Party lineup.
          I guess my comments are a criticism of the Labour Government because they are in power.
          Anyway I accept your comments.

  2. They’re not too bright those Mels. Why would you want to live in a box?
    These Mellinial & GenZ’ers have got to be the dumbest gens ever. Can’t spell, can’t hold a job for long, and go mental at the drop of a pronoun!

    Whose fucking parents are these DNA fuck ups?

    How has this happened?

    Is it the ejewkashon n nu zilind that’s shite? Or is sumtjink else?

    • They are our academic leadership. 🙂 now lets cancel the student loans for these middle upper class clowns and use tax payers forced contribution to government to pay the government back the loans it gave to people who spend years not learning a single thing, also lets not reform our Diploma Mills and the cost of attending these Diploma Mills.

      • Haha. You know that’s coming. A desperate Labour always throws the hail Mary middle-class education bribe when faced with losing an election. Clark did it, Ardern did it, they just need to go the full hog now.

        Take it as fact that next year, Jacinda will promise to either offer free University for all or writing off student loans (or both).

        Nothing like looking after the middle-class and fuck the working class, because let’s face it no-one in Labour have any idea who the working class are anymore. Perhaps they are like that ‘river of filth’ that our mate Trev tried to get rid of because they made St Jacinda look bad.

  3. The people mobilising to protect character housing are the people who can afford to live in them, and have time and access to know what’s going on and mobilise. They’re also NIMBYs.

    Bring on row housing. 26 thousand individuals/families need housing right now, urban sprawl is stretching infrastructure and public transport reach and quality.. density has some significant advantages. And again, 26 thousand need housing now.

    Another option is one I think Bomber mentioned: public works acquisition of golf courses. That would protect some charactor housing from the current _need_ to be bowled and replaced with density.

    • it does have to be said there are very few NZ villas that would qualify as listed buildings elsewhere..nimbys just want to preserve their bucolic views from the window(bit like the UK ‘village romantics’) or more covertly ‘keep the darkies and other foreigners out’

        • Well Denny the UK has always been quite diverse. Danes, Jutes, Saxons, woolly mammoths, a lot of ethnicities ranged up and down Europe adapting to climate and animal life.

          The Queen’s family made it clear that they were English committed, Elizabeth and Margaret did war work, ambulance driving I think, and learning some motor maintenance.
          (I wonder if on the quiet the Palace got King Edward to abdicate in 1936 when Hitler was getting into his stride and Edward admired him. Wallis Simpson might have been a useful lever.)

          NZ’s big policy change was led by an Australian Michael Joseph Savage, who also committed to another country. NZ people were turned into a nation not just for the land-hungry rancher and those with class pretensions, Now we need another one like him!
          So watch the quips at other country’s history Denny.

  4. The issue is that we actually need to plan and build for the future. And we build rubbish houses that will be knocked down in 10 years to build another set of rubbish houses, rinse repeat. We are dumb and selfish, and people want their 5 brd, 5 toilets, 5 garage crab leaky house as it gives them the feeling of progress, making it and being ‘not poor’.

  5. As someone halfway between this leafy suburb and mid rise revision of Tamaki Makaurau; building up is a logical step in a polluted central city, and indeed inner suburbs, train catchments etc. The trees can filter some of the emissions drowning this city, but they are turning grey too, with the smog. On a sunny day with a light breeze, Auckland could be paradise. But all you can see is people in their private vehicles, killing us softly with emissions. The class war is real, but it needs to be termed in educational terms. The boomer generation were taught to go forth and conquer. My (pakeha) generation to not squander those gains. Decolonising and becoming attached to the maunga and moana of this Beautiful Pasifika Citadel; allows even the most cynical of us to believe in a better way. It is called communism but again that is not an understood word in this place, so best to avoid it. Although religions seem to be able to keep runnning their Gloriavales Sanitariums and Destiny Churchs so perhaps communism is alive and well in the very institutions that Marx wanted to depower. We are in a bad place, but we always have been. We all need a place to call home, and for someone who is only at home on the street, but not homeless, I can see hope. It is called EFESO!!!

    • Long live King Charles. New Zealand’s head of state. As far as ideological underpinnings go, colonisation is as apart of New Zealand as piggy mulroons version of communism is. All I am saying is like communism, it’s older sister, the monarchy, will live far beyond England’s economic and military colopse.

  6. no regulation means shitholes that leak…it’s not that difficult, developers will never take the ‘high road’ of their own accord…the added insult is kiwis pay through the arse for their little boxes of ticky tacky.

  7. Its the councils, especially signing off designs the leak as well as looking like shit.
    Major developements here in Grey Lynn, many look like total crap.
    They should never be approved.

    Ockham Residential are expensive and body corps are ridiculous but they are great design and sturdy. I have land in Grey Lynn that I wish to develop and yes I will make sure it will be admired and praised too.

    • the lack of independent inspectors and their incestuous relationship to developers coupled with the nats ‘light touch’ (non)regulation gave us the gift of leaky buildings frank as a ‘developer’ you know that

  8. No easy solution when successive governments have embraced population growth as a faux mechanism to ensure capitalism’s equally false demand for infinite growth.
    Sooner or later the strain on infrastructure that was never designed for the higher load, lifestyle degradation and decline in housing availability and housing standards will demand that the bill be paid.
    I’m amazed we’ve deferred for so long on truly starting the payment of the bill for the neoliberal experiment, I still think 99% of the iceberg remains ahead.
    No amount of bickering over aesthetics, nimbyism, middle-class entitlement vs homeless addresses the root cause: over population and the myth of obtainable eternal growth.

    • According to sensus data about 40% of western woman are passing away single and childless so how does an almost below replacement birth rate fit in with your overpopulation theory?

        • I don’t think hospitality is the same as migration.

          The big issue is to many intelligent people not having enough babies.

          Maybe we should cut cigarette taxes and let them smoke themselves to death.

  9. Chris, you made so many good points there, I don’t know where to start!

    Firstly, none of this need happen. As usual with NZ, it’s total own-goal. We live in an underpopulated country with vast tracts of empty land surrounding our largest city that has minimal agricultural value and could be covered in houses. For those that don’t like the idea of building out rather than up, we zone new suburbs for residential/industrial/commercial so as to take the jobs to the people. Furthermore, it is FAR less expensive and less disruptive to build new subdivisions than it is to infill because of the enormous cost of ripping up the roads to overlay services in existing suburbs and the ease of access for construction in greenfield construction. So why haven’t we done this?

    Just as Chris says, it’s the fault of the middle class ‘Karens’ who run Auckland Council. Most are just bureaucratic drones whose role is to prevent things being done. There’s a regulation for everything! To fix the problem we need a few simple things done:

    1. Central government must legislate to force local government to release land. Scrap the rural/urban boundary and open up land for development. This was Labour policy right up until they were elected in 2017, then it was dropped. One wonders which Labour Party power broker didn’t want his lifestyle block surrounded by houses…
    2. Central government must legislate to force local government to accept building products made to internationally recognized standards. It is complete bullshit to demand local brand names on building designs. Drywall is drywall. Not Gib.
    3. In order stop councils from pleading poverty when it comes to extending infrastructure, allocate a small portion of GST revenue to fund local infrastructure projects. This would need oversight to prevent willful councils spending it on sports stadia, bucket fountains and wind wands.
    4. Limit the scope of liability of local government when it comes to building consent. The main reason building consents are slow is because they’re terrified of approving a leaky building and getting sued. Central government could just as easily cut the legs out from under the building consent people by getting the entire portfolios of the major contractors approved by BRANZ.

    Under Key, National investigated this and gained an understanding of the issues but lacked the balls to trespass into the affairs of local government, whereas the current Labour government is just especially clueless: None of the current cabinet could hammer a nail or dig a hole without injuring themselves.

  10. yup john I can dimly remember when victorian buildings started to be ‘rehabilitated’ recently it’s been ‘brutalist’ buildings

    can’t remember who said it but
    buildings are like whores they get respectable with age.

  11. ” This Labour Government hates the poor! Why else would it leave them to rot in mouldy houses, squalid motels, and cheap imported cars? No, this Labour Government is building boxes – tool boxes – for its ever-helpful mouthpieces and apologists ”

    That statement sums up entirely where we are in 2022. There is NO representation of the constituency below the middle neo liberal class who are living in comfort but desire to move up to the next level.

    NZLP does not , will not ever represent the constituency they say hey stand for with their catchy ” # lets do this bullshit.

    Its a feel good modern technological marketing campaign

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