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Saturday, July 03, 2004


Well well, now Russell Brown is having a bit of go at downtown Auckland: "Town might be a shabby strip full of Net cafes, food halls and Asian students, but it's really quite close to my 'hood, with its open spaces and summer beach."

I'll assume that he's being at least partly ironic in his complaints over the ubiquitous "Asian student", but let's have a look at this shall we? Would it be appropriate to say something like "Rotorua is a nice spot, but there are too many young Maoris hanging out on the street." I don't think so: at the very least such a comment would raise eyebrows. More likely, you'd be accused of racism. Why, then, is it appropriate to say that a large number of young people from Asian backgrounds on Queen Street (and thereabouts) are a problem? And I'm not criticising RB in particular here ... his comments are far more muted than those of the Garth George letter-writing brigade.

But where should these Asian students be? Is there something particular about downtown Auckland that makes young Asian people out-of-place? Would be prefer that they were elsewhere ... and where exactly would that be? They want to learn English and other skills, and they've got the money to do it, so why wouldn't we want them spending their money in Auckland? Would we prefer they spend it in Sydney, Vancouver, or London?

And what exactly about the presence of Asian people is so worrying? Sure, they don't speak much English when they're hanging out, but that's beside the point ... most of them are in NZ to learn English. Their limited skills don't exactly allow them to engage in free-flowing conversation with the hostile locals. And are critics similarly annoyed when they hear French, Portugese, or Samoan being spoken on the street? Honestly, who cares?

Asian students occasionally bother me on the "smoking and spitting on the street" front ... but if that's the worst you can say about a large group of relatively diverse individuals, then I say they're welcome. I've never felt threatened by an Asian student, and on the few occasions I've interacted with them, I've found them very polite.

And let's look at the big picture ... the fact is that there are people on Queen Street again! There are stores and shops open after 6pm. Your lunch options now go beyond McDonald's or a warmed-over meat pie (thanks Yamis for making this point to me earlier). When walking through the area after dark, you're not constantly looking over your shoulder for what used to be Queen Street's sole night-time occupant: the glue-sniffer.

As far as I'm concerned, Asian students are a useful and welcome addition to the city. Last night I ventured into downtown Vancouver to meet some friends and check out the Canada Day scene ... there were more young Koreans per square inch than anywhere outside of Seoul, and it was great. A couple of them even put on a break-dancing performance.

This was only my second trip to Downtown Vancouver in the last 3 months, and this brings me to my last point. Most people don't have much reason to go downtown unless they work there. I live 30 minutes Skytrain ride from central Vancouver - generally regarded as one of the more interesting cities in the world - and I simply have no reason to visit it frequently. I don't work there, my friends don't live there, and I have no shortage of eating and drinking establishments in my inner-suburb (New Westminster). Yamis lives pretty close to Seoul, and despite his fearsome reputation for partying, doesn't go down there too often either. The way some people carry on you'd think a central city was a 'failure' unless every occupant of the urban region wants to visit it at least once a week. I don't think that's how cities work.

Hi there - just noticed this. The point wasn't that I think there's any problem with there being a lot of Asian students in the Auckland CBD, more that it's not the Golden Mile of yore.

I tried to think about how a vistor would see it when I was strolling around one night, and decided Queen Street has its own scruffy, itinerant charm - offices converted to hostels, chintzy shops, net cafes, boy racers and yet more food halls ... it's a lot better than it was, say eight years ago, when it was scarily, and sometimes dangerously, empty on midweek nights. So anyway, that's what I meant ...


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