By Andrew Frame
I’ve just finished reading an article on NZHearld.co.nz that went as follows:
Art Deco ‘sinking under shop signs’
Napier businesses will be asked to ditch their sandwich boards and tidy up their signs under a proposal that seeks to preserve the city’s Art Deco heritage.
Mayor Barbara Arnott last night encouraged shop owners and businesses in the central business district to work together to rid the Art Deco capital of unnecessary sandwich boards and garish signs.
Only 60 shop and business owners out of an invited total of 700 turned up to hear her speak on the topic. But the support they showed was unanimous.”
[AF: Considering 60 out of 700 is a mere 8.5% that’s hardly what I’d call a) ‘Support’ b) ‘Unanimous’ or c) A startling number of yes-men and women, but I digress.]
“Mrs. Arnott wants shop owners and businesses in the inner city, particularly the Art Deco Heritage area, to do more to improve the city’s heart and its growing reputation as an interesting place to visit, work and invest.
As part of the continuing improvement, Napier City Council is about to review its signs policy, and Mrs. Arnott called the meeting with business owners and inner city stakeholders to discuss how Art Deco heritage can be enhanced while still giving businesses the opportunity to promote themselves.
Mrs. Arnott gave a presentation, showing the difference between Napier streets currently strewn with signs, and a proposed sleeker option of using less signs and Art Deco-style designs.”
[AF: Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical, but the only things that could be considered as “strewn” over Napier CBD streets are café tables and chairs – a culture the mayor and council are constantly pushing to visitors. This “sleeker” (read ‘uniform’) Art Deco option could likely become the architectural equivalent of writing an entire newspaper in ‘Times New Roman”. Except it would be, technically “Broadway”.]
“She was the first to admit the council needed to take its own street signs down and place them instead on walls or pavements – which she added would be made a priority so people could see the difference.
“A lot of the council signs for street names and parking are unnecessary and they don’t have to be on poles sticking out like a sore thumb. They can be included in the actual facade of the building instead.
“Napier is the Art Deco capital of the world. This is incredibly important to us as a city in New Zealand, and a city of our size. “But I think we can get smarter and add more value to the CBD.”
Hawke’s Bay Today – Thursday Apr 6, 2006
I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the date line of this item. Almost four years ago. Before the last local body elections. Around the time Mrs Arnott was “Convinced to run for mayor again by a group of the city’s “influential” people.” The Hawke’s Bay Today quoted the Mayor on 25th March 2010 as saying the “signage saga” was not shaping up to be an election issue. Just this time around?
Have the council parking and street signs been removed, as was the case with the “unlicensed” sandwich boards recently? No? Methinks more double standards are afoot.
I have major concerns if World Heritage status is given to Napier’s CBD. The Mayor and Council seem blinded by the potential prestige of the title.
You just have to watch one of those “Grand Designs” English television programmes to see the issues that the owners of National Trust-listed buildings in Britain incur when they wish to renovate or alter their homes. World Heritage standards would be a couple of levels beyond even that. CBD tenants and landlords could lose the ability to do anything structural or aesthetic beyond just changing a light bulb without permission from the United Nations. When planning permissions were granted, the cost would be astronomical. Combine it with increasing rents, fees and the cost of running a store in Napier’s inner city becomes even less palatable.
Now here comes the kicker. Rumours have been doing the rounds for years of malls and “Big Box Retailers” threatening to build in Ahuriri or on Napier’s periphery and killing off the CBD – as happened to Hastings’ Heretaunga St when Kmart and The Warehouse opened off St Aubyn Street. These have been largely forgotten due to the recession. But very soon could be their perfect opportunity to strike.
The promise of no silly signage rules or fees and lower rents would be very tempting bait for over-officiated, over-charged retailers. The Napier City Council could get their World Heritage precinct, but it could very well be a World Heritage ghost town.
I love my city the way it is. Buildings old and new – glass, plastic, linoleum and aluminium versus wood, steel and concrete. I like the people that make up my city even more, because without them, the city is just a shell. This aspect of the Napier City Council’s strategy seems to have forgotten that for now.
I say “for now” because this is an election year. You can expect to be surprised or jaded or cynical at just how much of a turnaround Councillors’ attitudes will take towards the middle of the year. You can expect to be even less surprised at how fast the insular, “hear no evil, see no evil, let’s do as we want” status quo returns soon after.
I wish they’d actually listen just for a change.