One of my learning tasks this week was to go on a treasure hunt of my local community to look at my learning environment. So lets go for a walk.
As an online student most of learning takes place at home in an old factory that was converted into apartments. Perhaps the most significant part of my learning space is right outside my window, Spaghetti Junction.
I often look at my window during rush hour and wonder about the poor people stuck in gridlock on the way home from work everyday. Why do people spend so many precious hours sitting in a car going nowhere?
The answer is found in Auckland’s urban planning. After World War Two Auckland’s city planners were presented with two different versions of the city. One with sprawling suburbs connected by motorways and another one with high density housing based along lines of public transport. We got a motorway which resulted in demolishing thousands of homes in the area. At the time the western inner city, which was home to a large Pasifika population, was seen as a slum so perhaps the desire for roading was as much about pushing the problems of central Auckland somewhere out of sight (and presumably out of mind) of Auckland’s local politicians.
Interestingly the school where I will do my next placement is amalgamation of 3 schools whose rolls plummeted as the local population disappeared to make way for Auckland’s motorway. That area is now going through a process of gentrification, there are a few state houses still spotted but in general the population of Auckland’s inner suburbs is most definitely wealthy.
If you follow the motorway down the hill from my apartment, then you end up at Auckland’s harbour.
Over the summer I took some Stand Up Paddle Boarding classes down at Westhaven marina. Stand up paddle boarding is basically a cross between surfing and canoeing. You get a long surfboard which you stand up on and then paddle around. Although I am not a morning person can you imagine anything better than starting your day with this:
To me there is nothing more calming than spending an hour out on the water watching the sun rise over the city.
During the winter months I spend of my exercise in time here, studio 1 of a large Auckland gym. I’m told its the biggest exercise studio in the Southern Hemisphere. Group fitness is the way that I counter-act the isolation of my life as an online student. Most of the classes I do tend to involve me dancing badly to 1980s and 1990s pop music with a bit of Lady Gaga thrown in for good measure. Yes I get to live out all my glee-related fantasies while getting some exercise in, I really should bring my hairbrush with me to the gym so I can sing along.
The Gym has obviously made an effort to be welcoming to its female members. There are creche facilities in the morning and a women’s only section of the gym which is open at all times. Given that the gym has a bit of meat market vibe during peak times, I tend to prefer to workout in the woman’s section of the gym if I am not doing group classes.
Over the hill is a large public space, Aotea square.
The Council has just spent a few million dollars on redevelopment mostly on strengthening the roof of the civic carpark that lies underneath the square and put in some chair for sitting on which has improved the space immensely however it still feels empty.
Next up is the Auckland central library which is always packed despite the current roadworks making the entrance look a bit inaccessible. And there is good reason:
Auckland library has free internet and wifi it also has meeting rooms which are often used by the Auckland members of my course as a place to study. But the thing I really like about Auckland’s central library is that is a welcoming space, there are displays on every level of the library and plenty of comfortable seating. The library has made an effort to be welcoming to different sectors of the community, there’s a children’s section and also a collection of books in different languages. The inter-loan facility, where a user can request books from any of the libraries in the Auckland region for free, keeps a book nut like me very happy.
Lets get something to eat.
Central Auckland has a large number of English language institutions catering primarily to students from Asia. One of the bonuses of this is that there has been explosion in global eateries in Auckland. Just across the road from the library is a place that sells my favourite Korean street food. Hotteok are like a fried bready pancake stuffed with cinnamon sugar and nuts inside which gives them a sort of nutty caramelized flavour. This store makes hotteok in different flavours however ‘sweet’ is the flavour traditionally sold on the streets of Seoul.
In Korea Hottoek are only available in the Autumn/Winter and aside from being a tasty treat, I also get a chance to practice my fading by the day Korean.
The one feature that strikes me about my learning space is that even during school holidays there aren’t many children around. According to the New Zealand parliament Auckland central has the lowest proportion of children aged under 15 (and people aged over 65) of New Zealand’s parliamentary seats. As a result there are no state primary or high schools in the central business district however there is a private primary school and two private secondary schools. There are a number of childcare facilities in the area for pre-school children but these children do not likely live in the area. Some efforts have been made to welcome to parents (gym) or child-friendly (library) but in general I get the feeling that the Auckland CBD is not a place for children. I can’t help but wonder if Auckland’s space is influenced by the planning decisions made long ago when the nuclear family with a stay at home mother was seen as the norm (or at least the most desirable form) of organizing a family.
Sadly children aren’t the only people who have been marginalized in Auckland. Over the motorway from my home is Karangahape Road. K’ road fell into decline after the motorway was built and was for a long time seen as a place of ill repute. In the mornings I’d often pass sex workers coming off work as I walked to my last placement and in the afternoon I used to pass a woman named Margaret who used to hold court each day at the entrance of Saint Kevin’s Arcade since time immemorial. I didn’t know much about Margaret other than that she liked her liquor and would often hit me up for a ciggie but was just as happy with a couple of dollars since I don’t smoke. After giving Margaret a few dollars, we’d have a brief conversation we’d part ways for a few days until she was in need of a fix and then one day she wasn’t perched on her chair any more.