17 Aug 2018

Auckland youth hubs face closure despite popularity

2:08 pm on 17 August 2018

What was once the town's bikini swimwear outlet, the youth of Onehunga have now turned into a thriving community hub.

But despite the hub's instant success, it's now facing the threat of closure.

"This huge space takes up a lot of power," said co-founder Amiria Puia-Taylor.

"For the last five months we've been spending our own money just to keep the lights on."

That's around $NZ800 a month that volunteers and co-founders Amiria, Jamie Waititi and Sabrina Puia have been pulling out of their own pockets to cover the power bill and maintenance costs for their youth hub facility.

Four months in, they're struggling to keep up with costs.

Hub 312

Photo: RNZ Pacific / Indira Stewart

Locals say the street has come alive since the 312 Hub opened in March, with events like 'Kai and Korero', tattoo and art exhibitions, market days and many people using their facilities for creative work.

Inside the walls are covered in artwork by local young people, from the community's toddlers to its favoured Niuean family artists - the Palalagi sisters.

In one corner, a young mum runs 'Braids and Fades' where she works for a koha donation and in another corner, sits a DJ booth -, built by the youth out of recycled materials from around the neighbourhood.

While it's bustling with activity, it's also provided a significant space for young Māori and Pasifika youth to have their say in the community.

"As long as we know that people are keen to have their voices heard, we're going to fight and do whatever it takes to make sure that we keep the doors open," said Amiria

Their neighbourhood is one of Auckland's earliest settlements. But, as part of the Council's Auckland Plan 2050, which sets the direction for the city's growth over the next 30 years, it has been ear-marked by the Council for transformation.

The 312 Hub was a proposed pilot project to prove to the council that local young people wanted to be heard, especially in the face of the council's redevelopment plans for their neighbourhood.

Now they're calling on their wider community to help keep the hub open and have started a givealittle campaign called 'We want change, but we need your coins!'

"The change that we want is to see that our young people are in the governance spaces in the urban planning," explained Amiria.

"We've all been informed that there's some massive transformation changes going on. We're becoming that huge peto, or the centrepiece, of how people transport themselves throughout Auckland," she said

Onehunga's strategic central location means it is relied upon to host infrastructure for electricity, water, wastewater, transport and freight.

The Council plans for the suburb include building a light rail through it which will run between the city centre and the airport, the East-West Link motorway and the redevelopment of its Wharf.

Hub 312 art

Photo: RNZ Pacific / Indira Stewart

"With us having this hub, we can try and highlight and showcase - all the urban planners, the architects - all those that are building our infrastructure to go, these are the kids we need to help us inform what our decisions are," explained Amiria

"It's crazy how many young people are not at the table," she said.

"You've got landscape designers, architects and all these town planners that are changing what Auckland looks like for us, right? But when I enter into those spaces from a mana whenua lens, there's no young people."

Papakura space also under threat

In Papakura, South Auckland another creative space for young people is also facing a similar threat of closure if it can't secure more funding.

While Māori and Pacific people make up almost half of Papakura's population, they also make up a significant number of the youth who come to The Corner - another local hub.

"If I had a dollar for every time someone said 'gosh Papakura's needed a place like this for so long, you know we could fund another two years easily," according to The Corner's Creative Director Leonie Freeman.

She explained that while her local board and council had tried hard to engage with the youth, there was still a level of disconnect.

"As happens in every community, some voices are just heard louder than other voices. So it's trying to get those voices that aren't heard as often, a space to have that say," she said.

"Papakura is just heaving with young talent. Beautiful people with amazing things to say. They just need platforms to say it."

Papakura hub

Photo: RNZ Pacific / Indira Stewart

Amiria said more ethnic minority groups also needed to be engaged in the Council's consultations for redevelopment.

"There's none of our own people being heard at the table, so it kind of makes you think - like, who are you creating the city for? It's not for us."

Panuku, the council's development agency, said they've been working closely to support the 312 Hub, including giving them their facility rent free for the next two years.

Director of Corporate Affairs, Angelika Cutler, said their relationship with young people and ethnic minority groups in the communities they're working with is strong.

"Hearing the voice of the people that lives in these locations is very important for us to refine those plans for our areas.

"We find that engagement from different ethnic groups is very strong, and we have found them to be very active and very willing to give us feedback."

Call for more engagement with diverse communities

But Onehunga's local ward Councillor Josephine Bartley said council consultations lacked diversity and change is needed.

"Hardly anybody from our diverse community turns up. It's always a certain demographic that turns up at the meetings. So that is the voice that is the loudest."

Deahne Lakatini from The Creative Souls Project, a youth hub in West Auckland's Avondale, agreed and said Council needed to do better to engage young people and ethnic minority groups.

"One of the things that I always struggle with - those council words that's just thrown around. You know, innovation, collaboration, engagement," Deahne said.

"Some of the language that you're using, if you want to engage young people or even ethnic minorities - it's not that people don't understand those words, it's that they just have no emotional connection to what's actually happening on the ground."

Panuku has identified Avondale as an area of major opportunity and has set out its gentrification plans over the next 15 years.

Local ward Councillor Ross Clow said it's crucial that everyone has their say.

"We actually don't want to lose basically the soul and heart and colour of what Avondale offers now," said Mr Clow.

"Admittedly, it's a bit run-down and all that. But we've got great ethnic and cultural diversity in Avondale. So it's pretty crucial that all groups come through and of course with youth, it's vital."

And Deahne said this can't be done in a "middle-aged white way".

"Like work-shopping and consultation and all those things are not the way our people do things. You sit down around a table with some food, you celebrate, you share and you talk."

Manukau Ward Councillor Efeso Collins agreed.

"I have very low confidence in the way in which Auckland council engages with anyone who is not palangi.

"If you can speak English in this city, if you are older, whiter and male. You're more than likely to participate in the plans and strategies of Auckland Council. That's what the data tells us. It's very clear.

"What we've got to do at Auckland Council is make sure that we're reaching communities that don't normally participate."

Mr Collins said Council needs to do better when it comes to breaking down language barriers.

"We've got to have our brochures and pamphlets - just as a start - in Te Reo, Hindi, Samoan, Tongan and even Korean," he said.

"Often what it comes down to is the cost. Everyone complains 'Oh it's too costly'. Well that's the cost of democracy,"

"If we want to be truly representative of the more than 200 ethnicities that are represented in this city. Then we've got to do everything in a way that meets the needs of our communities."

Mr Collins claimed he's excited to see young people wanting to get involved and Council is willing to talk and see how they can do better its communities.

Hub 312

Creative Souls in Avondale Photo: Supplied

"I think the onus is on those of us who sit around the governing table at the moment to make sure that there's enough resourcing so that young people do in fact contribute and have input into the plans that we're preparing for them," he said.

"If we're not hearing from our young people then we're not really preparing a city that's going to include them in 30 years' time,"

"Worse off, it might not be the city that they want in 30 years' time. So it's really important for us to hear their voices."