The other day I was attempting to do some surveying about a local project in the Roskill shops. The person who gave me the most time of day was a young woman of Pasifika descent, I think she had a bible in her hand and had probably been to the Church of Christ just around the corner. I asked her a few of my questions and she struggled to answer one so I said "what don't you like about the area?"
The answer was quite shocking to me. I've lived in this area for 12 years, and spent a lot of my childhood staying with my Nana nearby or visiting her. My mum grew up here. She met her first boyfriend at the (then) milk bar across the road from where we were talking. I know it's a bit scuzzy, and not a great place to hang out these days, and part of the point of the survey is to work out how to fix that. I catch the 267 or 258 there regularly, at the bus stop we were talking at.
The young woman I was talking to told me that what she didn't like about the area was the random cars driving past trying to pick you up. And how they have strangers in them, and they won't leave you alone even when you tell them to go away.
Fool that I am, my immediate response was "Wow, that has never happened to me". Which was when I realised the cloak of privilege I wear within my own community. Which is why that has never happened to me. I didn't mean to be denying her experience, and quickly told her I absolutely believed her, and she told me a bit more.
On the one hand I want to share my cloak of privilege, to cut it up into bits that can be shared around as widely as possible. But on the other wouldn't it be better if no one had or needed one?
We had a bit of a chat about safety - how do you change a culture where that is happening, that sense of entitlement to young women, to harass them, to ignore their own agency? We didn't talk about it quite like that. All I could think of was making the town centre a nicer place to be, so that people will be around, will hang around and get to know others, where you can feel that you know some of the people that work in the shops, and go to them for help if you need it. Where asserting yourself against unwelcome behaviour will mean instant support from those around you, not a blank stare and a scuttle in the opposite direction.
Urban design can help make a place better, more people focused and friendly. But really the $500,000 we have to spend on the town centre upgrade isn't going to touch the sides of the real problem.