OPINION: Some of the capital city's movers and shakers complain it is just too tough to get a seat at a high-end restaurant right now.
Interestingly, a person I sit down with at a café to talk about this distinctly big-end-of-town issue tells me it has nothing to do with Wellington's council-sponsored food festival, Wellington On A Plate .
He doesn't even realise the festival has already been running for nearly two weeks. Instead, he points to another source of the problem: the Government's festival of restructures.
My contact pulls out his phone and scrolls through LinkedIn notifications showing all the jobs going up. There look to be at least 10 in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet tied up with the health reforms, along with a bottomless pit of job ads in other departments.
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All of which could explain why some cashed up patrons are finding it hard to get a seat at a restaurant and also why the staff serving them food are finding it difficult to find a house.
Every new day we hear of a new housing disaster in Wellington from a dungeon , to a shipping container and, most recently, the $400 per week for a room you have to share with your “work from home” landlord.
Wellington city just isn't building enough. Consenting may be at record highs all around the country, but the gains in Wellington city are minimal .
With housing stock so limited those vying for high-end properties end up competing for stock further down the property ladder, forcing people bidding for once-affordable rentals or houses into bidding for even more precarious properties.
This means those people getting salary bumps are competing for limited housing stock against the same waiters and chefs serving their food.
Faced with such a situation you might think a council would instinctively reach for the housing lever and pull it even harder.
However, as reported by Stuff last year, when the pandemic hit and the economy looked like it was going into meltdown Wellington City Council instead pulled the lever on an $8m events fund to revive it .
We shouldn't single out Wellington. The capital's city councillors are by no means the only ones to instinctively reach for the event-funding lever to generate economic activity.
Over time, local government-funded economic development agencies all over the country have been merged with others promoting destination marketing, all driven by the idea that economic development is synonymous with events, festivals, tourism and conventions.
It is part of the reason we suddenly have three world-class convention centres going up in the middle of a global pandemic, sucking up construction resources during a major housing crisis.
The language we use around housing at a local government level is vastly different to how we refer to the ephemeral economic boon we get from things like events.
People who come to cities for events are viewed as a major benefit, even though they too need costly pieces of infrastructure like stadiums and convention centres.
Yet people who want to live in cities are the ones viewed as a threat to every ratepayer's way of life rather than as a potential source of economic growth.
For all the complaining from councils that these extra residents cause a major undue burden to them, councils all eventually get their money back through future rates.
Growth paying for growth is the clarion cry of every city councillor who views every new resident as a cost rather than an opportunity. Yet many of these same councillors will never insist convention centre visitors cover the full cost of the losses generated by the convention centres they visit.
If you provide new residents with the infrastructure for them to be able to buy a house, or live in your city forever, they will probably end up spending a lot more money in your city over their lifetime than visitors for one or two conferences or food festivals will.
This is all symbolic of a generational clash between a younger renter and "first home buyer" class and the different visions both of these groups have for our cities.
An entrenched group of property owners increasingly seem to view cities as museums or wealthy enclaves offering a good life to a few while locking out a better life for many.
Rush Digital chief technology officer Danu Abeysuriya sums up the situation the best when it comes to his hometown of Auckland.
He says it's really all about whether we want cities like Auckland and Wellington to be suburban versions of sleepy principalities like Monaco where people are wealthy, but do all their business elsewhere, or whether we want our cities to be "working" cities that attract younger people who work or can set up world-beating startups.
"If you have young people, they need to be able to afford houses. And you need migrants," he says.
"Whether you like it or not these people serve jobs that we need and if they can't afford to live here it's not their problem, it's our problem."
So how much are Wellington ratepayers actually paying to subsidise and publicise this festival for VISA Wellington On A Plate diners?
We actually don't know because WellingtonNZ is withholding details about the ratepayer money it is spending on the festival, on the grounds the deal is "commercially sensitive".
The extra boost to economic activity is likely being generated by the city's own residents. If it is being advertised to Aucklanders I haven't seen it, and a submission to Wellington city council backs this up.
The Wellington Culinary Events Trust (which runs the festival) says 75 per cent of the 300,000 "culinary experiences" during Wellington On A Plate in 2019 were paid for by locals.
However, a spokesman for WellingtonNZ did release a statement pronouncing, with great confidence, that the food festival generates millions of dollars in economic benefits.
Imagine if we had the same boundless faith in the economic benefits new residents could bring to cities too.
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