Monument to stupidity

Insights Newsletter
27 January, 2017

Public art can be a powerful thing. It can inspire, uplift, and even get us to think introspectively. Now that Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse has been unveiled on Auckland’s waterfront we can add ‘give rise to bitter irony’ to the list.

The piece is a near scale replica of a 1950s state house, and as the name implies it is meant to symbolise safe harbour and welcome to people coming to the city. Yet the most recent Demographia report shows that the city, as measured by its housing market, is anything but welcoming.

As Oliver discusses, the only cities the study found that were more expensive to buy a house than Auckland in 2016 are Sydney, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara. New Zealanders love stories where we top global rankings, but when it comes to housing this is a list of shame.

The artwork cost $1.5 million to build, which is only half a million higher than the average house price in Auckland. If the city’s current pace of house price inflation were to continue, it will only take four years until both prices are the same.

Bitter irony indeed.

Though unintentional, Parekowhai's piece might actually be a monument to the policies that have choked off the supply of housing, in Auckland specifically, but also New Zealand in general to some degree.

Chief amongst these is the Resource Management Act, which has trampled on private property rights and given nimbyism a steroid shot in the arm. The leaky building fiasco and central government’s regulatory remedy have also played a major role in choking off building supply by making councils jointly liable for third party building inspection failures. And Auckland Council also shares a major part of the blame by artificially limiting land supply within the city with an urban growth limit.

But perhaps I’m being unfair to the artist and his artwork. A better monument to our regulatory stupidity would be to leave the space empty, except for a plaque explaining that the void symbolises all the houses that could have been built, but never were.

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