On a visit to Mount Maunganui a few years back my brother responded to my remark about the place changing significantly since my last residence there with a muttered, “I thought so…” I’ve guessed that people in town get so used to the gradual pace of change that they don’t appreciate it when it happens.

And I think you could say the same about Auckland. The place is still the same old nightmare of car-driven sprawl, but it’s definitely seen a series of changes that have vastly improved it. Downtown is much flashier for starters. My earliest impressions of Auckland are (strangely) of a bunch of pubs where sailors or bogans got drunk. Don’t ask me why. It could be because most of what I heard about the place while still living in the Mount was from school-mates who had gone into the Navy, and loved to get out in downtown on a little R&R.

Back in the day you’d find yourself a decent spot in the Occidental and start putting away pints, which just reinforced the image. There were a few flash bars and the like on High Street, and perhaps Vulcan lane,  but on the whole it was mostly a pub-driven scene. It sure doesn’t seem like that today. There are well-dressed toffs everywhere, expensive cars, and soul-less chain-store or boutiques for miles. It’s like someone compressed any big city in the world into a 100m sq. area.

Now, that shouldn’t sound like a criticism. I’m snobby about all corporate-culture outlet-land regardless of which city it’s in. Lambton Quay is in equal degrees both boring and banal.

As I’m settling more and more into my gradually accreting curmudgeonly ways I’m finding that I’m actually insulted by expressionless commercialism and consumption. The meaningless blather that makes up a central city (again, not just Auckland) is one of the drivers of an economy, but it never ceases to amaze me how much crap people put out for sale. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to consumption per se. I am however constantly amazed at the way in which cities spring into existence to provide people with all these things they think they need.

And my hasn’t central Auckland grown.

On the plus side, we did stop in at a quaint little market next to the Britomart Centre. Tell you what, there’s a development that’s done the city a world of good. The market could benefit from one of those spot in Metro to get a few more punters in there, but nice all the same. On the other hand, it made me wish we had a car to get out to Otahuhu.

Another plus is that, commerce being the driving factor in the city, shopkeepers and the like were a lot friendlier that I’m used to in Wellington. And that’s especially the case in any place that sold service (I got a damn got Ristretto, and an all-good attitude from the Barista). In Wellington service staff tend to be students from small towns just trying to put together booze money, so often the “I really don’t give a shit” attitude is entirely underwhelming. Here though? Very nice.

But. And there’s always a but. Try asking a question like, “where does the bus to Dominion Rd leave from?” We decided to ask a few people, and that’s a show-stopper right there. One girl actually looked at me like I was taking the piss out of her! 

In the end we settled for the first bus we saw. Which was to a suburban, car-destination mall…