A little while ago I helped to write a book about Berhampore. In the very few years that have passed since then Berhampore has already changed. Even as that book was having its final edits done the church that had been in the community for most of a century – St. Cuthbert’s – was bulldozed and replaced by townhouses. Soon after that a couple of houses on Herald Street, that I walked past on the way to Berhampore School, were knocked down and replaced by townhouses. Another house and garages on Rintoul Street, near the shops, again demolished and replaced by townhouses. A two-storey, derelict shop on Adelaide Road that provided shelter at the bus stop was bulldozed in a day. Now it is a rectangle of dirt. Another old shop came down later at the intersection of Adelaide Road and Luxford Street. The two buildings next to that lot are now empty and for sale. Up Britomart Street two substantial buildings have gone leaving an old house marooned between two fields of dirt. The sign outside one advertises townhouses.
The sign is a Tommy’s sign. The same company that painted an old shop on Berhampore’s main road a violent green as advertising for its brand. As advertising for the service it provides: flogging townhouses.
One of those big historic buildings that came down on Britomart Street was the property of the Salvation Army. Another of their properties is being demolished on Constable Street. This is because they sold many of their properties to consolidate in a new monstrosity in Newtown. A monstrosity that required the demolition of a whole block of historic buildings. Organisations don’t care about their neighbours. The Anglican Church, the Salvation Army. No matter how long they sit in a community when the finances stop adding up they’re out.
Another group of people who don’t care about communities are property developers and real estate agents.
Property developers want to maximise return on land. They will build as much as they can on a space as a result. With the cheapest materials. What they build does not fit anything around it. Take the units on Herald Street. The houses on either side are single storey with slanting roofs. The new units are two-storey and rectangular. They look out over their surroundings uncomfortably. A square block in a row of triangles.
Across the road from these new units is a giant apartment complex. I’ve been in one those apartments. They are too hot in summer, and the bedrooms are dim and so badly designed you cannot get a double bed into them and have room for anything else. There’s not even enough room to walk down the side of the bed.
When you begin to accumulate ugly, functional, cheaply made buildings in a neighbourhood you begin to get views like this:
It’s not even that everything old needs to be preserved. The houses on Herald Street that have been replaced were small. They were in a hollow in the street and must have been damp and unpleasant with pokey rooms. But what has replaced them is not good. Not in character. Not in sympathy.
You can see the same thing on Adelaide Road in the Berhampore shops.
Between Tommy’s garish paint job and the two empty old buildings an ugly, tall, out of style block of apartments.
What do we want in Berhampore? Those old shops that still stand are 100 years old. They are handmade works of art built out of native New Zealand wood, and have been home to generations of shop-keepers and families. They are part of the identity of this place. Part of the history of Wellington.
Is there a plan here? Shouldn’t there be? If those two shops on Adelaide Road go the whole character of that area has gone. If more and more townhouse developments are constructed out of sympathy with the built environment then soon townhouses will dominate and they will set the character of this place.
I hate it. Change. Change upon change. Paint half the buildings green. Smash the rest down. Nothing lasts.