Not everyone wears shoes

Erica Julian ponders Paekākāriki’s future and what makes us special. The first in a series of stories for Paekākā by young residents on what we will, or could look like in 50 years’ time.

Image: Mark Coote

In 50 years Paekākāriki will have changed forever. Its unique character will have been lost to demographic changes. House prices will have continued to rise as Paekākāriki becomes an increasingly trendy place to live. Many people who we now consider to make up this village will have been already forced out to cheaper locations. The rising living costs will be out of reach for artists, musicians and poets who take inspiration from our home.

Higher living costs will require working longer hours. The people who now volunteer at the school, or organise community events won’t have the time to contribute anymore. Community involvement will all but disappear.

Those who were attracted to the openness and acceptance of Paekākāriki will be closed down from the growth of conservative middle class residents who are able to afford the cost of living. Innovative community initiatives will be rare as people remain content with the status quo. The diversity of our town will decline.

Children will be forbidden from climbing trees as they’re labelled a health and safety hazard. Everyone will wear shoes!

That’s the worst case scenario. If current indicators are exaggerated that’s where we will end up. But this isn’t the Paekākāriki I want to see. The Paekākāriki I want to see is not unlike the one where I grew up.

This is a village which is open minded and accepting. It encourages diversity and celebrates many ways of life — from the LGBTQ community to Māori culture. When a kid gets stage fright at the school talent show everyone cheers for them to give it another go.

It’s a village which encourages exploration and risk taking. We climb the tallest trees and figure out how to get down again. A few bruises and grazes are okay because they help us find a new path. We’re encouraged to try new things without fear of criticism, and mistakes are alright! It’s a value that gives us strength in all endeavours.

This village is engaged, involved, and caring. A village of do-ers, volunteers, and advocates who will speak up and act. Apathy is unheard of. Our online community is a perfect example. One post on Paekākāriki Tauhokohoko and you’ll have countless offers of help. Baking supplies, or a 5am ride into Wellington, and always support of local projects!

This village is innovative and creative. If there’s a problem, a solution will be found. Initiatives such as the Paekākāriki Housing Trust come from residents who are unwilling to stand by and watch. The many talents of the village are always utilised to benefit the community. We have a thriving artistic community with countless concerts and a fair few plays, poetry readings and exhibitions. There’s always something going on, from juggling classes to Shakespeare productions, and even our own radio station.

This is what Paekākāriki was in my childhood and still is today.

Paekākāriki will change, there is no avoiding that. It’s been doing so for years. If Paekākāriki is to survive the challenges it will face it must hold on to the values at its core. These values are the essence of our community and they shape the people who live here.

It’s just about my worst nightmare to stay in the same small town my whole life. I don’t know whether this is a place I’ll come back to. But whether or not I do, I know I will take the lessons this village has taught me wherever I go. I will seek its values in the places I travel and the people I meet. Hopefully I can create an environment which is as much the definition of community as Paekākāriki is.