Drain brains

Drain brains

Want to keep our bright young things? Let’s give them the cities they want

Want to keep our bright young things? Let’s give them the cities they want

Gena Tuffery

Strategy

The second 2025 Taskforce Report was nearly as worrying as its Times New Roman font. In 15 years New Zealand roads could be considerably less congested, it opined—not because of new motorways, tunnels, or flying cars, but because no one will be here to fill them. Never mind the trucks, Mini drivers, keep left of the visibility-impairing tumbleweed.

This is not a post-Armageddon picture, but one just as alarming: our Moses-shaming cross-Tasman exodus will result in ten percent of current Kiwis e- or de-volving into Kangaroos by 2025. That is, the report warned, unless bold action is taken. And what audacious suggestions did the Taskforce suggest we take? Lowering tax rates, upping the age of pension entitlement, privatising stuff, regulating and reforming other stuff, and other wise words of déjà vu-sparking blah blah blahness.

We were advised to throw money at the problem, because money is, after all, at the root of this evil. The droves are leaving for a bit of surf and sand, yeah, but we all know those greedy bastards are mainly off to fill their beach buckets with money. Aren’t they?

Well, the World Bank does estimate that highly skilled expats earn an average wage of US$116,000, compared to US$65,600 if they’d not said e noho rā. But our Oz emigrants are not necessarily the most trained and learned. As a New Zealand Treasury study found: we “consistently lose citizens to Australia, but they are not just the highly skilled. Instead they are representative of the general population ... There is no brain drain to Australia, but what might be called a ‘same drain’.”

And herein lies the overlooked problem. The general populace cares about other things besides money. And the Kiwis we’re most keen on keeping out of departure lounges, those with most of their economy-sustaining lives ahead of them, seem to be keen on one thing in particular—not the number of ‘000s’ on their bank statement, but how many ‘ooos’ they can justifiably add to the ‘whoooo!!!’ on their Facebook status.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but fun is a major concern for young people. And if you’re not into LOTR wonderlanding through unspoiled tourism ad fodder there isn’t much of that to be found around here. You can tick off inner Auckland, for instance, in six weeks of residing in it—never to be surprised by another bar, club or restaurant until the painstaking wait for the next one. And that can require extra-strength Nurofen, with many inner-city dwellers patronising K Road’s Ink for their entire adult life waiting for a better nightlife alternative. The only surprise to be found at the end of an alley, they soon discover, is a P-ed out machete wielder or, at best, a tin-gnawing rat— both of which could well have ended up that way through sheer boredom.

That’s not to say we should tear down the nikaus and shoot all the sheep to make way for more clubs, gallery-cafes and needle exchanges, but just that we should build up the cities we have, so the word ‘metropolis’ can be applied to something other than a downtown Auckland hotel.

Because, while Wellington has its own great unwashed culture of sorts, our new Supercity could do with some serious supersizing. All these new roads and boroughs have their place, but if we really want to retain talented people looking to throw their salaries back into the economy via tequila shots, we need to fill that Supercity with some superclubs.

While our missing persons file is large—as in, the largest in the OECD—it isn’t just New Zealanders leaving a young-person-shaped-hole in the economy. When I was living in Taiwan years ago, it seemed like every middle-aged citizen I met was planning their retirement in The Land of the Long White Cloud. Meanwhile, they moaned, the ungrateful offspring they’d sent to study in its mythical misty midst were plotting their escape by any means possible. Plane, usually.

So keep the green, blue and fluffy-white-dotted vistas, but for the sake of the thousands of residents who enjoy nightlife as much as, or more than, the sun shining “on our little piece of paradise”, let’s make our cities real cities. You know, places you can get something to eat past tea time.

Why pander to a few hundred thousand brats? Because it’s worth it—well worth it. World Bank research has found expats cost this country $14,000 each through lost tax and government services such as education and medical care. So come 2025, when one in ten of us is dodging natural disasters across the Tasman, New Zealand will be enjoying the airy pocket feeling of a missing $30 billion or so in loose change.

You could buy some proper clubs and alleyway surprises for that … and have heaps left over for motorways, tunnels and flying cars to accommodate the extra sober drivers trucking home the 412,000 tequila-soaked pats who didn’t become exes.

So let’s build. Upwards. And if any current Supercity dwellers don’t like the super city we end up with, may I suggest emigrating to the country and starting a hobbit tour. Perhaps with a superclub-funded subsidy.