There's a right of way down the end of our street. Nothing unusual about that - the neighbourhood has short-cuts all over the place and it's what makes it special for walkers. This particular right of way had become overgrown with privet and tecoma hedges, blocking the one lamp which lit up the path.
So as a ratepayer-cum-walker I called up the Auckland City Council one day and told them the hedges needed a trim. When the operator answered I felt I'd called some company's call centre. She wanted to know the problem, then told me she didn't think this hedge trimming business was anything to do with the Council. Indignant incredulity on the other end of the line persuaded her to offer some options.
She asked if I would like to go through to Democracy Services. I said "What?" and she repeated it. Could have fooled me - I thought that's what councils did. I persisted, she resisted, then finally she found the department I wanted. "I'll put you through to the Rapid Response Team" she said and for a second, I thought the Police Armed Offenders Team would be swarming over our street, looking for the caller who'd committed Thought Crime by laughing at her mention of Democracy Services.
At Rapid Response Team HQ - once known as the Works Department - they had bad news. They wouldn't cut the hedge. Might trespass on the rights of neighbours living on the other side they said. I realised then that this was a hopeless crusade at this level, called our local councillor and told him I'd voted for him (a white lie in the interests of community). Within a week the overgrown pathway was trimmed.
So why is this little episode important now? Because Auckland is about to get another local Government makeover, amalgamating to meet the 21st century as some super city. Some, but not enough Aucklanders are now worrying about the loss of community, though it disappeared long ago. Disappeared in a gold rush which, led by developers and aided by this City Council transformed the City into its present ugliness. It vanished beneath a population explosion. Faded, because Auckland preferred to go to the beach rather than debate an issue.
My friend and I were standing waiting for some takeaways the other night when we started chatting with another customer who was from Tauranga. Halfway through our conversation he asked: "How can you guys live in a place like this?" It was hellish he said, bordering on chaos. We didn't want to hurt Auckland's tourist industry by telling him that soon it would become Super Chaos courtesy of the Government.
In the meantime if you've got a hedge that needs trimming, a road that needs cleaning, ring Rapid Response - while they're still around.