Wednesday, 3 February 2010

OPINION: An ancient empty city sits

OPINION

An ancient empty city sits

by Ross Johnston

Scientists estimate that if the western ice shelf of Antarctica
melts, sea levels will rise by at least 5 metres - if all of
Antarctica were to melt sea levels could rise by as much as 75 metres.

Excerpt from The Very Very Lonely Planet - 2060

Dunedin - Overview

Of all of New Zealand's drowned cities Dunedin is one of the most
spectacular. Once it must have been a proud and vibrant university
city but its current state is a permanent reminder of how foolish and
blind our species can be.

Dunedin was a defendable city. It had a
narrow harbour mouth and many believe the eastern coastline could
have been successfully reinforced if work had begun early enough.
Unfortunately, early in the 2000s the city was intent on spending
money on other things like the now derelict Stadium and later got
caught up in the Second Credit Crisis of the 2020s.

When sea levels rose Dunedin was not financially buoyant enough to
build the defences the city required. Once flooded, there was no
economic base to build
on or borrow against. Their loss, but certainly our gain as it is an
eerie, if rather desolate, place to visit. It's certainly an object
lesson in how financial decisions can have long term implications so,
if you can, take your children there.

Dunedin - Activities.

One of the most popular canal trips takes in what were the Railway
Station, the Court House, the University and the Stadium. Tickets are
available from the First Kirk Kiosk situated at the top of Bell Hill.
From there it's a short walk down the hill to the Burlington Marina
- Stop 6 on the old Vaporetto Loop Route. (At one stage Dunedin was
unsuccessfully marketed as the 'Venice of the South' and they named
the city's now defunct public boat system after the Venice
equivalent.) Single and double canoes are available on the left hand
side of the old Vaporetto stop. Try to organise your tour for low tide
as then it's much easier to get under the entry gate at the Stadium
and into the flooded arena.

Unless you are hooked on Victorian architecture this is the highlight
of the journey. There's a light and sound show that runs for ten
minutes on the big screens inside
the Stadium on the hour every hour from 9.00am till 4.00pm. Called
'A Cautionary Tale' the show tells the story of how the stadium came
to be and examines the reasons for its demise. Statements and
assertions made by those who supported the building of the Stadium in
the 2000's are intercut with what really happened.

On one level it's
an amusing spoof of earlier foolishness, but as you sit in the middle
of that forlorn arena you can't help but wonder how they managed to
get their priorities so disastrously wrong and can't help ponder the
long term consequences for those who used to live in the city.

It seems that at the turn of the century stadiums were a bit like
cathedrals in the Middle Ages. Every city thought they should have
one even if it pauperised them. Such stadiums quickly turned into
financial 'black holes' and some claim this one was partly
responsible for the Dunedin Rate Strikes of the 2010's and the Rate
Riots of 2022.

Rising oceans were only part of the story. Declining attendances at
rugby matches made the venture uneconomic well before the Stadium was
flooded. That decline was partly attributable to the high price of
admission as a result of the capital cost of the Stadium, but its
usefulness as a location for a sports event was absolutely scuttled
by the advent of the now ubiquitous 'Portable Transposers'. As the
advertisements of the time claimed, they provided an experience that
was 'As Good As Being There'. They became the way fans experienced
any games, anywhere, anytime, from any era. As a result real crowds
in stadiums were replaced by the computer generated ones with which
we are now all familiar. Once that technology was perfected, matches
could be placed in a virtual stadium with an appropriately partisan
crowd digitally created to match each subscribing fan's requirements.

The Stadium was put to other uses once rugby was played and recorded
elsewhere and a few of them are still evident. The cylindrical
objects in Section H are the remnants of compost bins from the decade
when the turf was turned into community gardens and the long boat
slide at the west end was part of an unsuccessful aquatic theme
park. Keep well away from the south wall as that is where the roof
collapsed during the Great Snows of 2045 and parts of it can entangle
your canoe.

As you paddle out you may be able to see an interesting piece of
graffiti painted just above the gate. Some of the lettering is
barely discernible - but if the light is right you can make out this
slightly twisted re-versioning of Shelley's sonnet 'Ozymandias'...

I saw a traveller on an old TV
Who said - One vast and empty stadium I saw
Stranded in water ... Near by.. swallowed by sea
An ancient empty city sits, whose fathers,
With wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
And ...mocking sounds of protest as they went
Built this great edifice... then, desires met,
Left citizens to pay for what they'd spent.
So on the golden plaque the words should read
'My name is City Councillor, Fool of Fools
Look on my works ye citizens and despair'
For nothing of worth remains. Round the decay
Of this colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level water stretches far away.


Canoes are hired by the hour.
Singles 2500 yuan. Doubles 4000 yuan.
Open October to March.
Waterproof gear essential.

Ross Johnston is a Dunedin television producer and director and a
Pūrākaunui resident


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