Theoretically, I am a Whitianga resident. In fact, because for eight months I have been caring for my hospitalized son, I have been resident in Brisbane.
I am living close by one of Brisbane’s busiest arteries - Kingsford Smith Drive in Hamilton. Because Brisbane is booming, huge trucks related to excavation and construction roar not far from our front door night and day. But, move above street level, up the steep hillside are some of Brisbane’s most desirable and expensive apartments and homes, and everyone of them has a balcony to catch a view of the impressive Brisbane River and the day and night time splendor of the skyscrapers of downtown Brisbane.
Frequently, in the cool of the evening, I take the wonderful walk beside the Brisbane River. When I do this, I take time to look up at these gorgeous houses and privileged apartments - all of which have balconies. I have been doing this for months. To my surprise, no one uses these balconies. The chairs and the outdoor tables are there, the lights are on in the dwellings, but no one is sitting or standing on the balcony. It costs the owners or renters a great deal to have a balcony with this view but for some reason, maybe wide-screen TV, they stay inside.
It reminds me of a time when I was a guest at Florida Yacht Club. I was admiring the fabulous view of the bay with dozens of yachts and launches bobbing at their moorings. My host knew I was impressed. “See those boats, ” he said, “Most of them never leave their moorings. They are status symbols.” Puzzled I asked, “Who owns them?” “Almost all of them are owned by people in this lounge.” Close to us there were small groups engaged in animated conversation. “What are these people talking about?”I asked. “Food mostly”, he replied. “They get really excited when someone finds a new Salad Bar!” (Salad Bars in the US are self-service and can be all-you-can eat, featuring a vast array of cold meats, salads, dressings and a dessert bar).
I have read that a good view can add between 30% to 70% to the cost of a house or apartment. In fact, valuing the view is a fairly-recent development. I notice that homes and farmhouses built more than 60 plus years ago seem to ignore the view. Often the windows and the porches are facing away from the view. Their builders had other priorities. A pioneer in the Hot Water Beach vicinity told me that early settlers saw the hot beach sands as a disadvantage. To move their stock, they had to drive animals along the beach. The hot sands and hot water burnt the hooves of the stock making them difficult to manage. It never occurred to the pioneers that this phenomena would give the beach prominence and value, nationally and internationally.
Throughout my life, much of my work has involved older people. Consequently, I have spent a deal of time in retirement complexes. Years ago, I read a brilliant book by Bruno Bettleheim on designing community facilities for people with special needs, including the aged. It was titled, ‘A Home for the Heart’ (published 1974). At that time the boom in homes and facilites for older people was in its infancy. Bettleheim said a basic mistake was being made in locating these complexes. He wrote that it was assumed that what would be most helpful to seniors was wonderful views, expansive gardens and all of this ‘far from the maddening crowd’. On the contrary, he wrote that seniors wanted to be ‘kept in touch with life’. These facilities should be located where the residents could see and interact with the life of the city. He claims that for it to be good for the wellbeing of seniors, they need to watch the workers, the shoppers, the young adults and the children passing by. He reasoned those locations of this kind would be of more benefit to them than tranquil views. For my money Bettleheim was right.
Living on the Coromandel is like living in a picture postcard. But in my opinion the views are not enough to sustain life – well, not for most of us. They are like a splendid backdrop for a play. But the power and the impact of the play depends on the interaction of the players - the good, the bad and the ugly - that takes place in front of this backdrop.
I appreciate the privilege of living with this beauty; but the views by themselves are not enough to sustain me. I need relationships. I understand that some people are cranky and biased - and so am I. I know of some very annoying teens. Spoilt noisy children can get on my nerves. But in the end, relating to them, building bridges and mending fences, will be more important for my wellbeing than red sails in the sunset.